A Second Look at US Assistance to Lanka Against 'Terrorism'

by Taraki, September 15, 2004

Sinhala Buddhist nationalists do not count their blessings. They keep complaining that the world is not helping them in any concrete way to crush the LTTE. One of them recently asked the US, "Where's the beef?" (Though it is unbecoming of a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist to ask for beef even metaphorically, the perceptive writer makes a well-reasoned, cogent argument for bringing about a happy confluence of American and Sri Lankan strategic interests against the LTTE.)

We often read articulate Sinhala Buddhist patriots who urge the US to match its words with deeds against the Tigers. That the world's sole super power is not bringing down its mailed fist hard on the LTTE's head irks some of them. America is hence scolded for its alleged double standard on the war on terrorism.                                                                              Cofer Black

Sinhala Buddhist nationalists should pause to study what the US has actually done to help them fight the LTTE and how US strategic interests in Sri Lanka are decidedly against Tamil aspirations, before they gripe further about the US not providing them "the beef".

The reaction of the Tamil National Alliance to the comments of Ambassador Cofer Black, the senior US Counter Terrorism official who visited Colombo recently, should make it amply clear to all that the Americans are solidly and sincerely behind Sinhala nationalists in their quest to wipe out the LTTE from the face of the earth and to eventually preserve Sri Lanka's sacred unitary character.

And in the past, just one instance would suffice to demonstrate the US military's commitment to tilt the island's strategic balance in favour of the Sri Lankan state. Well-informed politicians, academics and opinion makers in the south continue to believe that the Tigers came for talks because successful operations by the Sri Lanka Army's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRP) scared the wits out of them. The only way the LTTE could stop the LRRP danger was to sue for peace, according those who subscribe to this line of thinking. In this sense LRRP operations achieved what the massive Op. Riviresa, Op. Jaya Sikurui and Op. Agni Khiela could not do, they say.

But how many Sinhala nationalists, who grumble that the US is not doing enough to bash the LTTE, know about the US Special Forces' role in training the LRRP teams that penetrated deep into the Vanni and killed very senior Tigers?

One could list many other instances where Special Forces, Navy Seals and other elite arms of the US Army helped the Sri Lanka Army improve its fighting and planning capabilities immensely during the height of the war from May 1997 to April 2002.

But let us look at what the US is currently doing to stabilise the Sri Lankan state.

The Tokyo Declaration by donor nations was primarily designed to use aid as a carrot to persuade/coerce the Sinhala polity to fundamentally restructure the unitary Sri Lankan state into a federal form of government.

The architects of the Tokyo Declaration, particularly some member countries of the European Union, appear to have assumed that squeezing the flow of aid could hit the Sinhala polity below the belt and thereby make it compromise the unitary state.

Today officials of some EU countries lament that the US has sent the wrong signals to the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) by announcing that it is eligible for the Millennium Account facility. The GOSL would no longer be under any strong pressure to restart negotiations with the LTTE, they say. US ally Japan and the Asian Development Bank have followed suit in removing the 'coercive aid factor' from Sri Lanka's peace equation.

Therefore, given US commitment to keep the LTTE on the list of foreign terrorist groups and in the absence of the 'coercive aid factor' there is nothing today to compel the Sinhala polity to radically restructure the unitary Sri Lankan state.

Sinhala nationalists can now rest assured that they can totally trash the ISGA proposal and indefinitely postpone talks with the Tigers without having to fear any effective external coercion.

Of course, some EU countries and India appear to think that the US move to neutralise the 'coercive aid factor' would create conditions that can precipitate another war.

Also, the apprehensions of some Sinhala nationalists, when the US speaks of a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict along federal lines, are unfounded. Very obviously, the US strategic and political interests here are squarely behind the Sri Lankan state.

By keeping the LTTE on the Foreign Terrorist Groups (FTA) list and thereby insisting that it should give up violence as a means to achieving political ends in "word and deed", the US has created a singular advantage for the GOSL. This advantage totally obviates the need for restructuring the Sri Lankan state as a federation. How?

On the one hand, let us assume that the LTTE, terrified by America's might (!), agrees to give up violence in "word and deed". Then the Tigers will have to accept Sri Lanka's sovereignty in every part of the northeast and there won't be any need at all for the GOSL to change the constitution. Perhaps the LTTE could stage a Satyagraha in Jaffna demanding federalism - provided they get permission from the Police!

On the other hand let us assume that the LTTE tells the world's sole super power and its Sinhala nationalist allies to go fly a kite, then the GOSL would have full US backing to wage war on the Tigers if negotiations fail.

Either way there is absolutely no way that the US formula on the LTTE would permit a federal solution. The manner in which the US has formulated its stand on the LTTE is clearly designed to preserve the unitary Sinhala Buddhist state.

America, of course has to, as a matter of routine, pay lip service to a negotiated settlement. Sinhala nationalists should understand this when they lament that the US is talking about a negotiating a federal solution to the conflict.

This fact about the US approach to the conflict in Sri Lanka would become obvious to all as the days go by and as the peace process stagnates indefinitely.

In this context the desire to crush the LTTE militarily would inexorably come to the fore in the Sinhala polity. And then the strategic objectives of Sinhala Buddhist nationalists and the US may achieve a sweet confluence whether India likes it or not. And what of the Tigers? They are used to standing on their own feet.

Daily Mirror


Posted September 15, 2004