Long War, Long Book
by Michael Patrick O'Leary
Reflections on Long War, Cold Peace by Dayan Jayatilleka.
This review appeared in the Sunday Island on June 30 2013.
As the paper’s website does not allow comments, I am posting it again here.
As well as being a diplomat, Dr Jayatilleka has been an urban guerrilla, political activist, active politician and academic political scientist. His book on the political thought of Fidel Castro was published by Pluto Press in London. His latest book brings much inside knowledge to a detailed narrative of Sri Lanka’s war and links it to issues of global significance.
Realism – Justification of War
Other reviewers have drawn out a particular emphasis on the ethics of violence and the concept of a just war. Jayatilleka argues that violence is common in the real world and it is often necessary for the state to sanction violence to protect itself and its people. This does not justify ‘‘terrorism targeting unarmed, non-combatant civilians; torture and arbitrary execution of prisoners; executions within the organization; and lethal violence against political prisoners’’.
When he was Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva he was able to fend off international criticism of the way Sri Lanka had won its war. In the book he rehearses the argument he made in Geneva.
“Sri Lanka was fighting a war within its internationally recognised and uncontested borders. Sri Lanka was not founded on occupation, dispossession and disenfranchisement of the indigenous. Both major Sri Lankan communities had been present on the soil for millennia. Sri Lanka had not economically embargoed the Tamil people and had not merely sent food but run schools, hospitals and paid the salaries of public servants in separatist terrorist occupied areas.”
Hearts and Minds- Myths about Insurgency.
Many repeated the old mantra that a guerrilla insurgency arising out of genuine grievances and nationalist aspirations could not be defeated by military action. This view was reinforced by vague memories of Michael Collins in Ireland and Collins’s ‘pupil’ General Giap in Vietnam.
General Westmoreland did not share this view – “Grab ‘em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow”. His notable lack of success has somewhat discredited the military option. The Vietnam War was not ended by negotiation. It was ended by the USA being defeated militarily by the Viet Cong. The LTTE had gone beyond guerrilla warfare and possessed an effective navy and a rudimentary air force. It was no longer relying on small-scale attacks and suicide bombers but (and this is one of the factors contributing to its defeat) was fighting large-scale conventional battles.
Why Not Negotiate a Peaceful Settlement?
Jayatilleka supports my own Irishman’s view that, despite well-intentioned visits to Sri Lanka by John Hume and Martin McGuinness, there was no useful parallel to be drawn between Northern Ireland and the fight for Tamil Eelam. The Provisional IRA had Sinn Fein as a parliamentary proxy but successful candidates did not take up their seats at Westminster. TNA MPs did take their seats and served as a parliamentary proxy for the LTTE. They did not emulate Sinn Fein and negotiate with the Sri Lankan government. Dr Jayatilleka notes that in the 2004 election, EU observers were highly critical that TNA members had the protection of the LTTE under the slogan that the LTTE was the sole representative of the Tamil people
The LTTE left no room for negotiation. “Tamil Eelam was an axiom, thus non-negotiable. His [Prabhakaran’s] commitment was absolute, fundamental. No alternatives were admitted as possibilities. Philosophical and psychological closure had been effected from the outset. The mindset was hermetically sealed…Only the modalities of secession were up for genuine discussion. The talks , the negotiations, the third party mediation, the path of peace that Prabhakaran mentioned … was just the small change- to buy time, to neutralise opinion, to divide and deceive the enemy, to secure the withdrawal of troops…”
Consequences of concessions
When the CFA was signed on February 22 2002, there were no pictures of a shared signing ceremony. “Mr Prabhakaran treated himself to a separate table, a separate office, a separate signing ceremony, and as conspicuous wall decor, a separate map showing his projected separate state on it in a shade of colour separate from that of the shrunken Sri Lanka depicted there…”
The CFA was lopsided because it disarmed those Tamil groups that accepted the unitary state but did not even entertain the issue of phased, internationally supervised demilitarisation of the Tigers. Unlike Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka was not to have its General de Chastelaine.
Under the CFA, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe conferred legitimacy on the LTTE, as did President Kumaratunga, and allowed them to operate a de facto state in the aftermath of the tsunami. The Tigers continued to kill SLA soldiers after an accord was signed but were allowed a preponderance in the regional committee set up to deal with the tsunami. “No state could afford not to monopolise the means of significant armed violence, and therefore the Tigers had to be disarmed as well as rendered bereft of the capacity to re-arm.”
Why Not Allow Secession?
Jayatilleka argues that allowing the LTTE a separate state was never an option. “Colombo could not trade Tamil Eelam, i.e. the North and East, for peace, because, even if such a Faustian bargain were struck, peace would not be the result. The Sri Lankan state would not have been able to withdraw into its southern cocoon and lived in tranquil prosperity.”
He continues: “An independent state of Tamil Eelam could legitimately secure any kind of weaponry it wished to and build up one of the strongest fighting forces in the region, thus upsetting the entire power balance and strategic environment. The geo-strategic salience of Trincomalee, which would have fallen within Eelam, would have endowed a Tamil Sparta with a military and economic value of extra-regional significance, again a seriously destabilising prospect”.
Sri Lanka’s Strengths
Dr Jayatilleka writes that Sri Lanka was not powerful or influential, but it had strengths: “One of these was the resiliency of its multiparty democracy under conditions of extreme duress, its eschewal of military rule and totalitarianism of the Right or Left. Another was the maintenance of comparatively decent labour standards and social indicators. Yet another was the synergy of civil society and state that made its recovery from the tsunami more impressive than those in Indonesia (Aceh) or post-Katrina Louisiana (according to Joel Schumacher of Refugee International).”
The story goes that, although Jayatilleka was a success in Geneva, he was rewarded with removal because he was too vocal in his support for the 13th amendment and devolution. He still maintains that it is necessary to have a Sri Lanka “which remains unitary but contains an irreducible autonomous political space for the Tamil people of the North and East”. This continues to draw fire from some critics who choose to regard him as a puppet of India. In this book, he does not hide India’s complicity in the growth of the LTTE but recognises India’s difficulty in coping with Tamil Nadu.
Jayatilleka argues: “Human rights are not a Western invention or booby-trap, to be decried and shunned like the devil. Though there is a constant attempt to use human rights as an instrument to undermine national sovereignty, the answer is not to shun human rights or to pretend that these are intrinsically inscribed in our culture and therefore automatically observed, but to protect them ourselves and to maintain verifiably high standards of human rights observance nationally”.
Towards the end of the book, Jayatilleka declares that Sri Lanka’s future is “best defended by a Sri Lankan state which represents all its peoples, acts as neutral umpire guaranteeing adequate space for all ethnicities on the island. Sovereignty is secured by a Sri Lankan identity which accommodates all the country’s communities, paving the way for a broadly shared sense of a multiethnic yet single Sri Lankan nationhood.”
Other reviewers have taken issue with the author’s gratuitous tagging on of profundities from Marxist writers. I did not find the Marxism too much of a distraction. Indeed, the author comes across as protean and pragmatic. His brand of realism stresses the world as it is rather than the world as it ought to be.
In this book Jayatilleka claims that his position has been consistent, even though to an outsider it looks as though he has changed direction a number of times. After being associated with revolutionary politics, the SLMP, the NEPC, the Premadasa government, he served with distinction as ambassador for President Mahinda Rajapaksa. He is now writing articles critical of aspects of the Rajapaksa government and seeing virtues in Premadasa’s son. It will be interesting to see where the author goes from here. Quo Vadis, Dr Jayatilleka?