Foreign Intervention, Part 2

by Neville Jayaweera; The Sunday Island, Colombo, February 22, 2004


Foreign intervention and Sri Lanka’s changing fortunes
Part 2
The coming crisis

by Nostradamus

Part 1

We have seen that for securing the interests, primarily of the US and partly of India and Japan, intervention in Sri Lanka is an imperative. Already, the US’s frenetic interest in Sri Lanka has signalled this fact. The question is, in what form will this intervention come and with what consequences?

We may dismiss straightaway the notion that such an intervention may be motivated by considerations of benevolence. There is no such thing as benevolence motivating international relations. Not to the tune of $4.5 billion! So what is the bottom line?

Indian Ocean

The USA will want Sri Lanka pacified and modelled after its own image so as the better to serve it as a platform for its own strategic ends, and India will want additionally to ensure that Sri Lanka does not de-stabilise their own Union, either by allowing the LTTE to get too powerful or by allowing them to be obliterated altogether.

After first ensuring their own advantage, the US, India and Japan, will be guided by two dominant criteria. The first, that there shall not be a separate Tamil state, named Eelam or whatever, and the second, that the Sinhala polity will not exercise hegemony over the Tamil people or to deny them what they (the international community) have come to recognise to be their (the Tamils’) legitimate rights.

Consensus on Sri Lanka’s internal conflict

Already there is a consensus between the US, India and Japan about how Sri Lanka’s internal conflict should be resolved. They are agreed that,

1. There shall be no Eelam or a separate Tamil state and the unity of the Sri Lankan state must be preserved. The prospect of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, adjacent to Tamil Nadu will not be acceptable to India because of its potential for de-stabilising the Indian Union.

2. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which claims to be the sole representative of the Tamil people must formally renounce terrorism and violence as the way of redressing their grievances.

3. The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) must amend its constitution and convert the present unitary state into a federal state.

4. Within this federal state, the Tamil people must be given the right of full internal self-determination (its content has yet to worked out).

5. The Moslems will have adequate representation within the federal state and their interests will be guaranteed.

6. The principles of democracy and human rights shall be observed by all components of the federal state.

7. The release of the $4.5 billion pledged for the reconstruction of the country would be strictly contingent on the GOSL and the LTTE fulfilling these requirements.

The fulfilment of these conditions is proving to be more difficult than anticipated. However, the LTTE have renounced their ambition of an Eelam and have opted instead for internal self-determination within a federal union of Sri Lanka, although the content of that ‘self-determination’ has yet to be defined. GOSL itself has publicly acknowledged this gesture as a historic paradigm shift. Furthermore, without formally renouncing ‘terrorism,’ the LTTE have also given an assurance that they will not resort to war for securing their goals but will instead opt for a political solution. However, currently the problem seems to lie not with the LTTE but within the Sinhala polity itself.

The stumbling block

There is a naive belief, especially within the international community, that the quarrel between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Rail Wickremesinghe is the principal impediment to the Peace Process (PP). That is not so. Even if such a quarrel had not erupted, the PP was bound to grind to a halt, because the real impediment to its progress lies elsewhere.

The real stumbling block to the PP is that neither Kumaratunga nor Wickremesinghe can carry the PP forward within the parameters set out by fractious Sinhala politics on one side, the gridlocked SL constitution on another side and the expectations of the international community on yet another side. It is about as impossible as squaring the circle. Therefore the unpalatable truth is that the PP has reached the end of the road, and is unlikely to deliver on the pledge on federalism, and further progress towards that goal will require radical surgery on the Sinhala body politic.

This truth has already dawned on the US, India and Japan. However, the strategic needs of the US are so urgent that they are not likely to be thwarted by the contradictions of Sri Lanka’s domestic politics. If Sri Lanka cannot sort out their internal squabbles themselves, they will have to be assisted more directly, which is to say, that the US, working in collaboration with India and Japan, will somehow find a way to coerce Sri Lanka to come up with the new dispensation they want.

The commitment of the US to the democratic principle and to the concept of sovereignty, in its relations with foreign countries, has been notoriously fickle. In several countries across the globe the US has had no compunction about ignoring the democratic principle and the principle of national sovereignty (to both of which the UN is committed) quite cynically and callously, whenever they have perceived that it is in their own interest to do so, even unto supporting the most barbaric regimes. One can expect that in Sri Lanka as well, the US’s strategic interests in the Indian Ocean are so overwhelming as to justify in their eyes, not merely intervention in Sri Lanka but even installing a puppet regime in Colombo to do their bidding.

April 2nd and all that!

Paradoxically, it may be the Sandhanaya, the new alliance that Kumaratunga has cobbled together, that may supply the cordite for intervention.

To all those who have lived through the 1956 upheaval, the signs are unmistakable and ominous. A popular loathing for the incumbent government, generated primarily by their arrogance, corruption and insensitivity to public criticism, a religio-nationalist cauldron bubbling up menacingly, widespread labour unrest, an escalating COL, impending water and power cuts, a discontented rural populace, corruption and inefficiency throughout all the systems of governance, escalating religious persecution, and worst of all, a Prime Minister seemingly lacking in resolve and paralysed, seem to place the outcome of the General Election to be held on the 2nd of April, fairly beyond debate.

Regardless of such considerations, the fact is also that no government anywhere in the world, that experimented with the Neo-Liberal economic model, went to the polls after a mere two years of launching it, and survived.

Should the Sandhanaya win, realising the folly of her callous opportunism, and sensing the ferocity of the genie she has uncorked, President Kumaratunga may try to coax the genie back, sadly however, with no more success than her father had way back in 1959 when he tried to cork back the Sinhala Only frankenstein he had raised to life, and may even be with a similar tragic outcome!

Within a few months of a Sandhanaya victory, fissures will begin to appear along the already visible fault lines within the alliance. Sections within it will want to return to negotiations with the LTTE, with international mediation, but other sections within it will reject international mediation altogether. Some within the alliance will ask for devolution and others will agree only to decentralisation. Some will want capitalism with a human face, and others will ask for a mixed economy, while still others will want socialism. Some will want to press on with modernisation while others will want to put culture in command and go back to status quo ante 1505. In short, Sri Lanka will be taken over by a group of voodoo economists and politicians and in the ensuing darkness, investors will be frightened away, the COL will continue to rise, growth will again fall towards zero, fissures will widen within the alliance, and Sri Lanka will slide into a mayhem, not unlike that of 1970-77. Consequently, the very people who voted the new alliance to power will, within two years at the most, weary of them and turn round on them with a ferocity that will exceed anything we saw in 1977.

However, we must not run away with the notion that the US will pull the carpet from under the Sandhanaya. The US’s interests are so fundamental, and history has proved this time and time again, that they will support even the devil should he be willing to do their bidding.

Unable to cut through this impenetrable jungle, the LTTE will turn to the international community, and in particular to the US, India and Japan, who have already committed themselves to the federal principle, and say to them ‘Didn’t we always tell you so? Now you can see for yourself why we have had to fight these past thirty years. It is not we who are intransigent and impossible, but the Sinhala majority. Why must we have to suffer because they cannot solve their problems.’ There is already an enormous sympathy for the LTTE’s point of view particularly within the European Union (EU) and even within the US and Japan there is growing exasperation over what they perceive to be the Sinhala people’s intransigent, divisive and fractious ways…

There is likely to be a great deal of violence and civil disorder within the Sinhala polity, not dissimilar to that which prevailed in Chile in the early 1970s, or during the 1987-90 second JVP uprising in SL, before the Sinhalayo are coerced into conceding the federal principle. Eventually however Sri Lanka will have a federal constitution with internal self determination for the Tamil people and adequate representation for the Moslems as well. However, the hegemony of the Sinhala people will finally have been broken.

A new economy based on the Neo-Liberal model will also be installed and in order to facilitate it, perhaps a puppet regime propped up at the centre, say, for ten to fifteen years. As a concomitant, in the interim, social and political protests will also have to be be suppressed ruthlessly and even democracy as we have known it, dismantled. However, investments and aid will flood the country and within few years even in the midst of deep social inequalities the economy will grow rapidly and the standard of living of all sections will rise sharply, though very unequally.

‘The clash of civilisations’

To understand how Sri Lanka will develop over the next fifty years or more, we must climb out of our national propensity for morbid myopia and place geo-politics at the centre of our thinking. We must learn to think outside the box and keep the big picture also in focus. To that end, we might consider Samuel Huntington’s thesis on the ‘Clash of Civilisations,’ as a useful framework within which to speculate. This thesis basically states that the future of the human race will be shaped not through the clash of economic or political power blocs, but through the clash of the two rival civilisations, the Western Christian civilisation with the Islamic-Confucian (Chinese) civilisation.

An important concomitant to this thesis is the inevitable confrontation the West will have with superpower China within the next fifty years. The principal arena where this titanic clash will be fought out will be the Indian Ocean and converting neutral Sri Lanka into a staging post for the West is a part of the grand design, as building up Germany, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea as bulwarks against Communism, was the dominant plan of the 1950s-70s.

In the clash between the Western civilisation and Jihadism, the USA is like a lumbering elephant trying to fend off a swarm of enraged wasps. The simple technology of the dedicated suicide bomber has proved the great equalizer and almost overnight, America’s awesome military might has been rendered obsolete and their military hardware at Diego Garcia reduced to junk.

Within this context, Sri Lanka assumes a new significance for the West and its internal affairs will no longer be the prerogative of Sri Lankans to decide. The principle of sovereignty which seems to be at the centre of the Sandhanya vision, seems as obsolete as the steam locomotive.

Yes, the worst fears of the Sandhanaya may come to pass and a new colonialism may descend upon Sri Lanka. However, the Sandhanaya must realise that over the decades it is precisely the myopia that they represent today, that has brought Sri Lanka to this pathetic pass!

However, because the prospect of material prosperity has an amazing capacity to seduce even the most die-hard nationalists, one cannot even be sure that the broad masses will rise up against the new order. Consequently, a decade or two down the road, Sri Lanka’s territorial configuration, its internal political structures, its economy, the balance of power between ethnic groups and its entire culture may have been transformed so radically that the new Sri Lanka will be hardly recognisable to those living today.

Those who, like the partners of the Sandhanaya seek to place culture in command and take Sri Lanka back to the status quo ante 1505, are out of touch with reality and are living in a time warp.

The alternative to the federal-neo-liberal scenario, unsatisfactory as it is, is that Sri Lanka will spiral away into the abyss of a new dark age, characterised by escalating internal strife, deepening poverty and a rapid disintegration of its social fabric, not forgetting the entrenchment of Neanderthalism, from which, one cannot foresee how, or when, or even whether, it will ever emerge.


Originally published April 18, 2004

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