Global Tamil reaction to two key events has been rather interesting: One is Navi Pillai’s visit to Sri Lanka and other one is American response to the Syrian conflict.
While Navi Pillai’s visit has been highlighted positively and welcomed for her attempts to meet with the victims and survivors of the war, American attempt at intervention in Syria is seen in negative light.
Tamils protested in 2009 in global capitals seeking help to halt the massacre of their brethren in TamilEelam. Those protests did not yield the expected results. There was no government that was willing to intervene. And today Tamils are hoping for an independent international investigation into that war through a UN mechanism which Sri Lanka opposes for obvious reasons. NaviPillai’s visit is seen at least as a limited acknowledgement of continued UN interest.
On the other hand, there are no visible protests on behalf of the Syrian people in western capitals yet the US is willing to intervene citing humanitarian grounds. A stronger case for humanitarian intervention, since Kosovo, has solidified from the beginning of Arab Spring.
In a world of Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda, would the Tamils have seen a different global reaction had the Tamil Genocide of 2009 happened in 2011 in the midst of the Arab Spring? The answer would still be a No.
Geopolitical conditions do not favor Tamils for a direct intervention by anyone other than India. UN, despite its shortfalls, offers meager hopes if personalities like Navi Pillai continue on that position. Words of an American policy maker with UN experience, during a conversation in April 2009, still echo true. According to him policy decisions are often made with looking at the number of variables at play. And then seeing how many of them can be used in your favor to achieve your policy goals. In his calculations LTTE was an unnecessary variable that needed to be eliminated. He was convinced that there are multiple other variables that could be used to achieve the same policy goals rendering LTTE and Tamils expendable. And on the flip side, a stronger Tamil variable could potentially make things unmanageable. Both as analogous to too many balls on the air as well as making future turn of events unpredictable. A unipolar regional power, India, does not allow international intervention in its backyard. Delhi, with the help of Karunanidhi, also ensured that TamilNadu will not get involved in the last stages of the war. A refugee crisis was also preempted by a tight Srilankan and Indian naval cordon. And Delhi continues to stifle any diaspora attempts at International Investigations into Sri Lanka. Forculpability reasons as well as to prevent precedent.
There is a lesson for Tamils in the Syrian “great game”. Until recently Syrian regime was tolerated by the west and the Israel. Assad was seen as a known devil and in the name of stability, confrontation was avoided. If there was no public protests, they may have been content to maintain the status quo.
How did that policy change?
Unlike South Asia, the middle east is intentionally a multi polar region. With the exception of Iran, many countries are friendly to the west. In recent times, Syria, in order to remain in power, has firmly thrown its weight behind anti-west elements such as Hizbullah and Iran. America’s cover story, used as justification for intervention, is saving lives (implied and real threat of Syria using chemical weapons again). But the real worry is that the Chemical weapons falling into the “wrong” hands. President Obama used national security as the concern while his proxies used the humanitarian concern to get public support for the intervention. So the status quo is no longer the best option. Because of that, the west is now willing to change the regime to even riskier and little known entities. So like in Egypt, alternate plans can be worked out over an extended period if the immediate concerns are taken care of.
Tamils have been struggling to make the case for R2P in the international arena. Any intervention on humanitarian grounds should help build the case for future developments. It continues to add validity to this expanding R2P doctrine. Knowing that the unitary, Sinhala, Buddhist, Sri Lankan state is inherently violent and oppressive, Global Tamils should welcome the American intervention on the grounds of R2P instead of being cynical. Just as the Assads need to cling to power tipped the policy initiatives of the West, Rajapaksas authoritarianism will take the same path, limiting the policy options of the West and India. Tamils seeking a UN mandate for International Investigations and supporting a US intervention in Syria are not contradictory.
Tamil discourse is now juxtaposed in between the likes of ever compromising TNA on one hand and never relenting Tamilnet on the other. And then there are those Tamils who are gullible enough to want a regime change in Sri Lanka, mis-diagnosing the problem entirely. Changing the current Western and Indian policy of status quo through a regime change in Sri Lanka will not address the Tamil national question. This is just an other variable floated by the West and India should push come to shove.
Only when Eelam Tamil problem becomes a national security issue for India, would there be any direct intervention. This is why a stronger and inseparable relationship with the people and leaders of TamilNadu is a predestined safety valve for Eelam Tamils. A interconnected trade and travel alliance with Tamil Nadu should be a strategic policy goal of the Eelam Tamils and the diaspora. That is when Tamils become a necessary variable that the rest has to deal with and solve for.