Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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The Bigger Picture

by Nimal

We may also fairly suppose that there are interests other than that of only preventing the dread of war and violence that motivates the US in the case of Sri Lanka also. (Indeed JL’s statements about wanting the cost of war to be high and so on add to this supposition – because it can be seen as waving the red rag in front of the bull to tempt war and its consequences.)

Perhaps the US is after a base of some sort in Sri Lanka?

An initial reaction to The United States Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Jeffrey Lunstead’s (JL) speech on January 10th 2006, is to make many Tamils, and indeed also Singhalese, wonder where he has been all this time; it seems he has hardly, if at all, grasped what is going in Sri Lanka – though he is the United States Ambassador in Sri Lanka! Maybe it is because JL is not really interested. After all, it is not his country and soon someone else will take his place anyway. Even so, should not an Ambassador at least try to serve his own country by getting things right? But then perhaps this is all that is required of JL at this stage in the history of Sri Lanka, from the US point of view.

Perhaps there is a bigger game? A few months ago I met a Jordanian who was on a holiday/business trip; he was friendly and curious about the world. After a while our conversation turned to Sri Lanka/Ceylon. He made the following points: he questioned what present day Sri Lanka had to offer the wider world, economically or socially, and commented that, while Sri Lanka/Ceylon was well known and famous in the past, it was now internationally insignificant; that, instead of fixing their problems and building the country, the Sri Lankan people were fighting with each other. Perhaps if the problems were fixed first, then the fighting would also stop. He commented that Sri Lanka was looking for easy money by sending their women to work abroad as domestic servants and, if the country was fixed that exploitation would probably cease also. We also both agreed that many of the problems around the world are due to those in (and aspiring to) positions of power who are concerned for little else but their positions and their power.

Now, if this person is correct about present day Sri Lanka being globally/internationally insignificant, then it would follow that the US would hardly post their best people to such a place. Therefore, perhaps we should not expect great things such as a sharp understanding, deep insight or a suitable degree of sensitivity from anyone posted to such an insignificant place. The point of such a posting at this point in time may not be about dialoging as equal or mutually benefiting partners.

Nevertheless, JL is not on holiday and real people’s lives are at stake here. Talk such as “We want the cost of a return to war to be high” is crass, unconscionable and morally repulsive. The Ambassador seems not to realise or care that war is not a game like monopoly, but the costs are the lives of real people – Tamil, Muslim, Sinhalese and others; real people get injured, real people’s lives are shattered, real people die!

This is why we wonder where JL has been all this time, not only does he seem unaware of what is going on in Sri Lanka, but it would appear he has not even properly grasped what happens to real living people in a war. What kinds of Ambassadors see the lives of the people in the country to which they are posted so superficially and cheaply?

JL’s subsequent ‘clarification’ that what he intended was “not to encourage a return to war, but to make a return to peace more likely, by making it clear that a war will be more costly and unsuccessful.” is somewhat welcome, but seems disingenuous. The people of Sri Lanka (Tamils, Muslims, Singhalese and others) already know very well the cost and dreadful consequences of war and don’t have to be told it. The people of Sri Lanka know also that future wars will be more deadly and don’t have to be told that either.

Besides, the equation ‘high cost of war = high chance of peace’ is naïve in the extreme. For example, while the situations are considerably different in the two countries, nevertheless, as a general principle neither JL nor the Sri Lankan war mongers seem to have learnt the lesson of Iraq where the cost of the ongoing war is very high and yet there is no peace or prosperity for the people.

Such an equation would hold or make sense only if one side completely wiped out (or hoped to wipe out) the other, leaving no chance whatsoever for survivors or descendants to continue. Yes, and this has happened in human history! Is this genocidal barbarism what is advocated now in 2006 also? I am reminded of an episode in a play, from many years ago, where someone cut off another’s head in order to ‘cure’ the latter of his coughing and sneezing – and then there was peace from the sound of coughing and sneezing!

Having spoken of his desire for peace and prosperity in Sri Lanka, JL proceeded not to make any constructive suggestions or put forward any good ideas as to how to ensure that the peace process is re-invigorated and may be built on, but instead only went on to blame the LTTE and threaten a costly war.

Peace is not the mere absence of war and prosperity is not guaranteed just because there is no fighting or actual fighting has stopped; there is a matter of the people having hope, trust and goodwill and it is necessary to have good and fair governance to ensure that peoples aspirations and hopes are supported (and not denied). JL seems to have got this upside-down as well. It is first necessary to attend to and fix the underlying problems and thereby give peace and prosperity an opportunity. Peace and prosperity will not simply jump up out of the blue and take off just because there is no fighting, and they certainly will not manifest under threats of costly wars.

It is true, however, that foreign interests and investments will have to back off in the event of a war, but peace between the peoples of Sri Lanka (and a sense of prosperity) is much more than that which can be bought off with the temptation of foreign investment. It seems also that in JL’s mind the purpose of peace is prosperity; that is, peace will allow various foreign schemes/programs to operate in that peace and everyone will feel happy and content because of the foreign investment and aid that has poured in. This equation is also incorrect: as a look around the world will show, monetary prosperity as shown on paper does not necessarily equate with peace or contentment in general across the populace. And even if we only desired to be prosperous, and we overlooked matters such as culture and values, who will benefit from that ‘prosperity’? – how will the matter of sharing the ‘prosperity’ be addressed? And where will the profits go?

If this is the way of JL’s thinking then it, too, suggests that  JL is out of touch with the realities and causes of the problems in Sri Lanka. There have certainly been heavy economic consequences, but the causes are not to be found in the realm of economic considerations and neither is the cure. Both JL’s carrot and his stick are not at all appropriate in relation to properly addressing the problems of Sri Lanka. Material carrots are no substitute for a sense of fairness, culture and values, and if at all the JL type stick is to have any effect it is perhaps being waved in the wrong direction. It seems that JL has simply relied on information supplied to him by the Sri Lankan war mongers and made assumptions of his own according to his own views without actually finding out for himself what the real situation is in the country he has been posted to. Or maybe JL is not required or supposed to get ‘involved’ at the level of the real lives and lived experiences of the people of Sri Lanka ?

Long ago I was told a story that went something like this: Two mice came across a large piece of cheese. Though it was bigger than them both put together at least one of the mice was unwilling to share it. And they started fighting. So busy were they fighting each other that a jackal crept up unnoticed and ate them both up together with the piece of cheese in one bite.

According to some reports the Sri Lankan foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, (MS) on his recent visit told the US media that “The United States must realise they [note the word “they”] are not dealing with a liberation movement but a ruthless killing machine more dangerous than Al-Qaeda.” And that this “ruthless terrorist movement,” the LTTE, is “the godfather of modern terrorism”, no less! Very scary stuff indeed! While it is true that the US has declared that the LTTE is regarded as a “foreign terrorist organization” – whatever that means –, even so, to use MS’s own words, he and the other warmongers should realise that the US “is not deaf and blind.”

If MS and others really believe that the US has been taken in by this sort of confused blustering hyperbole, then that is truly tragic for the Singhalese (and any others) in Sri Lanka whom they claim to represent. Recall how the Singhalese tried to mislead the Portuguese about the whereabouts of Kotte – unfortunately for them the Portuguese had their own compasses and were well aware of the ruse, and indeed played along. Furthermore the US is not so much interested in MS’s interests and words, but first and foremost in the US interests in the region; and US interests could well mean a complete policy change tomorrow!

Hate and self-interest seem to have stupefied the war mongers of Sri Lanka. Now, not only have the warmongers often requested help with fighting the LTTE, but have even expressed the open wish that the US should itself become directly involved! Thus, it is most clear that the US would be well aware of the thinking of these warmongers.

It is, therefore, in this context that we should read JL’s statements that seem, on the surface, to suggest at least some support in fighting the LTTE.  Whatever JL might say about clarifying what he really meant to say, we must remember how the Sri Lankan warmongers would have interpreted his initial speech and wonder at whether or not JL would have known that. As said before, if JL is not quite the best, then perhaps not, but otherwise of course he would have known and guessed before the speech was made.

For the war mongers of Sri Lanka, JL’s statements are encouragement to start fighting, ‘clarifications’ notwithstanding! The result of waving a red rag at a raving buffalo would be quite different to that of waving the same rag at a friendly cat or dog or human.

Assuming, and we may assume this with great certainty, that the US has not empty headedly swallowed the confused blustering of the warmongers, the question to ask is what does the US have to gain in this game? If the evidence of Rwanda is to be taken into account where it was not in the US interests to intervene at an early stage on a purely humanitarian basis, even though the genocidal massacre that was going on was known, then we may also fairly suppose that there are interests other than that of only preventing the dread of war and violence that motivates the US in the case of Sri Lanka also. (Indeed JL’s statements about wanting the cost of war to be high and so on add to this supposition – because it can be seen as waving the red rag to tempt war and its consequences.)

Perhaps the US is after a base of some sort in Sri Lanka? If that is the case, then the warmongers of Sri Lanka (who are using the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists for power and position) can be absolutely sure that the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists will not thank them one tiny little bit. The extremist ride cannot be moderated and a case in point is the fate of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike.

How much US influence, if any, will the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists accept or even tolerate? Given their violently anti-Christian stance this is not a question to be overlooked. How will the US handle the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists who are currently the dominant force in Sri Lankan politics? (Before continuing, it is necessary to point out that the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists are neither pro-Sinhala nor pro-Buddhist, but scoundrels in the name of patriotism; they promote neither the Sinhala language, literature and culture nor the principles of Buddhism. The ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists’ stance is simply one of anti-everybody else!)

Now back in 1990 on July 25, in the Presidential Palace, Baghdad, even while Saddam Hussein’s (SH) troops were massed and ready on the Kuwaiti border, the US Ambassador April Glaspie (AG) told SH, “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary of State James Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960's, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.” The result was that on August 2, 1990, just 8 days later, SH's massed and ready troops invaded and occupied Kuwait. (See for example

Now given the context of massed troops and character of the man, it would have been obvious how SH would have interpreted what AG said. And sure enough, as might have been predicted, SH took that as a sign to go ahead and invade Kuwait. Now did AG intend to trick SH? We don’t know. But at least we do know that SH was fast falling out of favour with the US at that time.

Now, similarly JL has made some statements that are more than likely to be interpreted by Sri Lanka’s warmongers as encouragement to start a full scale war against the LTTE. But does the US know something more of the LTTE’s intents and capabilities? We don’t know. Would the US find it easier and more straightforward to deal with the LTTE rather than the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists? We don’t know. Again, what about the Indian factor?

The US is surely sharp enough to see through the ravings of the ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists, and the rest of the warmongers, some of whom claim that the LTTE and the Tamils have global designs and that, in fact, after Tamil Eelam intend to take over the rest of Sri Lanka and then the whole world, which will be treated as the Tamil Lebensraum! Given the context of these sorts of bizarre claims and, for example, MS’s extreme ravings about the LTTE being “the godfather of modern terrorism” and more dangerous than even Al-Qaeda, perhaps we may also interpret US statements that the Sri Lankan government has shown restraint as not primarily a statement of fact, but as a condescending pat given to one who serves their interests?

And, again, the US knows full well and acknowledges that the Tamils have genuine grievances and that that is the cause of the fighting and the reason for the emergence of the LTTE. As JL himself said on the 17th of January 2006 in his clarification statement “Sri Lankan Tamils have [note the present tense “have”] legitimate grievances which must be addressed in any solution.” That is, it is clearly acknowledged, that 58 years have passed since Ceylon gained independence from the British and its future placed in the hands of the Singhalese politicians; Sri Lanka is, now in 2006, well into the second generation of post-independence politicking and STILL, in 2006, the “Sri Lankan Tamils have legitimate grievances.”  And, of course, this is all that is the concern of the Tamils, there are no global designs waiting in the wings.

The US is not “blind and deaf.” And given JL’s statement about “legitimate grievances”, (note the word “legitimate”), it does not look like that the US will exclude the Tamils in pursuing their own interests in the region. And more recently US Undersecretary of Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns (NB) has also agreed that “Tamil community here [in Sri Lanka] has legitimate grievances and legitimate issues that ought to be addressed.” This will, therefore, cause more angst and rage among the implacable ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists; and this rage, in time to come, will be directed against the US (not so much for admitting Tamil grievances), but just for being the US!

JL, in his clarification statement (that is in, take 2), spoke of a “modest US government military assistance program in Sri Lanka” – note the word “modest.” It is also interesting to note that in his clarification statement JL has said, “As the US has made clear many times, if the LTTE renounces terrorism in word and deed, US policy towards the LTTE can change.” It would be clearer still if JL spelled out what renouncing terrorism in word and deed actually means in the Sri Lankan context; as it is it sounds a bit like the joke “have you stopped beating your wife?”

But note, “US policy towards the LTTE can change,” even though, for now, they are supposedly declared to be a “foreign terrorist organization” – the US would never ever make such a reconciliatory statement in regard to the Al-Qaeda (as the US President Bush and NB have recently made clear)! And this, despite MS claiming, with a straight face no doubt, that the LTTE, “the godfather of modern terrorism,” is even more dangerous!

However, many things still remain unclear. While the US, it seems, agrees and accepts that the Tamil community of Sri Lanka does have legitimate grievances, even now in 2006, and those legitimate issues ought to be addressed, because they have not yet been addressed even to this day in 2006, whom does it see as representing the Tamil community?

Whatever reservations some Tamil civilians have about the LTTE, even these Tamils by no means truly support any of the paramilitary groups. The recent blatant written threats by a certain group against Tamil families certainly has not put that group in anyone’s favour.

So whom does the US believe properly represents and has continued to, by and large, represent the Tamil community and has stood up and called for the community’s legitimate grievances to be addressed? Perhaps it is in the US interests to keep this obscure? But, nevertheless, NB has said “And there ought to be a dialogue, a better dialogue, between the government and the Tamil community. But the responsibility here lies with the LTTE…” So does this mean the US does admit that the Tamil community, in regard to having its legitimate grievances addressed, is in fact represented by the LTTE? In that case, while it is not necessary for the US to openly hold hands with the LTTE, it is surely extremely important to strongly impress upon the Sri Lankan leaders (and especially the warmongers among them), that the US does recognise things that way? 

Would that not help enormously with the peace process? – If that [peace] is what the US is really interested in?

Now the US verbal condemnation of the violence of the paramilitaries and of the excesses of the Sri Lankan armed forces is most welcome, however what measures has the US proposed if they continue? It is odd that NB, in reply to being asked about military and other violence against Tamil civilians seems content to say, “I must say that the response we received from the government is that the government leaders also believe that those attacks must stop, and they must not be carried out in the future.” Does he (NB) really believe that just because he (NB) has spoken about it and the government leaders he spoke to nodded, that they will be true to their word? Does NB really believe that after all these years of acting in one way that he NB has made these government leaders finally see the light in a short meeting? Does NB or anyone else for that matter really believe that “the government leaders also [really and truly and sincerely] believe that those attacks must stop”? If so, when did they come to that realisation? – Before or after NB?

Assuming that we may credit NB with some noodle, it is doubtful if NB actually does believe any of that. So why utter empty words? What counter measures does the US propose if those attacks do not stop and are carried out in the future? Do the Sri Lankan government leaders and NB hold that flagrant written threats against Tamil families and killings by the paramilitaries are “reprehensible”? How do such things continue to happen under government noses if the government leaders are of the moral conviction that such things should stop? Are these not provocations? But then we must remember the example of Rwanda in relation to US interests.

Either way, whether JL inadvertently blundered when he said, “We want the cost of a return to war to be high,” etc., or whether the US is playing a complex game, either way, ‘the cheese’ must be shared fairly. This is something that the warmongers and ‘Sinhala-Buddhist’ extremists do not seem to understand. They also completely fail to see possibilities of the bigger picture (according to which it may turn out that they are merely expendable pawns).

Finally, that there are so many Sri Lankan women domestic workers abroad is also of concern and indicative of the problematic mindset and apathetic socio-political will of those in positions of power: is that all a Sri Lankan woman can aspire to under the present socio-economic governance regimes of the country? That the fighting does not escalate will not alleviate the plight of these women and their families and, if the war is resumed, they will be even worse off. But it serves the interests of certain powerful and self-ambitious persons to keep the common people struggling and to promote war – and strangely and incongruously they do this while waving a flag of Buddhism!

And does the US have any opinion on this?

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