06 November 2007
The targeted killing last Friday of Mr. S. P. Tamilselvan, the LTTE's Chief Negotiator and the head of its Political Wing, along with five other LTTE officials, by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) shocked the Tamil community. Across Diaspora centres and in the homeland, there is palpable grief and anger. The specificities of the attack - whether the SLAF knew Mr. Tamilselvan was at the location, for example - are irrelevant: the military has been trying repeatedly to kill him for years, frequently bombing his offices, residences and convoys. The assassination is a quintessential reflection of the Sinhala mindset. President Mahinda Rakapakse, along with the vast majority of Sinhalese, see the island's ethnic problem purely as a Tamil terrorist challenge. For all the lip-service (and there's not much of that about now) about power sharing, the south is single-mindedly focused on a military victory. The abandon with which the military has for two years blasted Tamil villages, driven hundreds of thousands of Tamils from their homes and continues to abduct, torture and murder Tamils is underwritten by the confidence the international community, despite its distaste, is nonetheless solidly behind Colombo’s war.
Both the Sinhalese and the international community have their legitimating theories. For the Sinhalese, once the LTTE is destroyed, the Tamils will docilely accept whatever limited (and decidedly undeserved) powers they are given. The leading members of the international community in Sri Lanka agree. But they also believe that once the LTTE is destroyed, the island can be 'developed' whereupon Sinhalese, Tamils and, for that matter, the Muslims, will come to see each other as fellow Sri Lankans and live happily ever after. Despite the decades of Sinhala oppression the Tamils have faced by successive governments since independence (i.e. three decades before Tamil militancy was triggered), the international community bases its strategy today off a utopian vision of an ethnic harmony to come. It is not that such a vision is impossible that is staggering but, rather, the belief it can be realized by enabling a violent Sinhala conquest of the Tamils followed by economic development.
The various reactions to the Sri Lankan military's assassination of Mr. Tamilselvan should serve as food for thought for anyone out there who still believes either that peace talks might end the bloodshed or, even more naively, that the international community will act to protect the Tamils against the rampages of the state. As President Rajapakse crowed in Parliament this week, he has secured the assistance of the international community to defeat the Tigers. As we have argued before, for all the noise about human rights (and much of that has dissipated now), the state actually wants for nothing. Ironically, the more the international community is convinced the LTTE can be defeated, the freer the hand the Sinhala state will have.
Let there be no mistake; irrespective of the extent of the casualties or suffering the Sinhala military inflicts on Tamil civilians, the international community will not restrain the state. Not, that is, until the military is checked on the battlefield by the LTTE's counter-violence. At that point, as in 2001, international peaceniks will rush back to help Tamils and Sinhalese solve 'their' problem. The insistence by some international actors, especially those who proudly proclaim their support and assistance for the Sinhala state, that 'there is no military solution' is duplicitous. The solution must be political, we all know that. But it can be rammed down the Tamils' throats on the end of bayonet. Which is why several members of the international community advocating 'peace' in Sri Lanka have also banned the LTTE.
When Sinhalese unite
Last week Sinhalese reveled in Mr. Tamilselvan's assassination. Traditional drums were played in the street. Parties were organized at home. Some Buddhist temples held all night celebrations. For any Sinhalese who genuinely desires a negotiated solution, the killing of the other side's top diplomat should have been deeply worrying and regrettable. But very few in the south feel this way, something the Tamils need to bear in mind as they make their way in the time to come. For decades, when faced with violence and brutality by a Colombo government, many Tamils have rushed to the feet of the Sinhala opposition, voting it into power in a laughably futile effort to end their suffering, if only for a while. They have chased after the SLFP and UNP in turn, insisting, despite the evidence of their past suffering, that this time round it would be different.
In reality, for the Tamils, there is nothing to choose between the main Sinhala parties. This is because all of them are beholden to the sentiments of the majority of Sinhalese voters who, as is now starkly clear, bitterly oppose sharing of any power with the Tamils. The point was underscored this week by the reaction of the UNP - still the darlings, incidentally, of the 'peace through development' international community - to Mr. Tamilselvan's assassination. Firstly, the UNP hailed the killing as a 'great victory' for the (Sinhala) Air Force. It then went on to tacitly back Rajapakse's brutal war, saying there is 'no point' negotiating with the LTTE. Let us be clear; whenever the LTTE negotiates with the state, it is about the rights, powers and extent of self-rule that we, the Tamil people, are to have. The UNP, drunk with the same confidence in Sinhala military victory that the SLFP regime is, believes, like the government, that there is no point in negotiating with an enemy who is about to be defeated. The optimism may be misplaced, but the UNP sees no reason to hide it.
This week Tamils in the homeland and abroad have mourned Mr. Tamilselvan and his colleagues killed last Friday. We join them. Both Mr. Tamilselvan and Lt. Colonel Anpumani (Alex), who was also killed in Friday's airstrike, were friends of this newspaper. From the outset of the Norwegian peace process, concerned that the Tamil people be kept informed of developments, they, along with the LTTE's then Chief Negotiator, Mr. Anton Balasingham, went out of their way to ensure we were briefed on the peace process. We will miss them.
A time to struggle
Despite its bans on the LTTE, as the international community has openly acknowledged, every time the Tigers sit across the table from the Sinhala state, the interests they are negotiating for are those of the Tamil people. Whether it is a political solution - remember the fuss about the LTTE giving up independence for federalism? (Now the movement is thought to be weak, no one wants to use that word now) - or an interim administration or international aid for the Northeast, the Tigers were accepted by the state and the international community to be negotiating on behalf of the Tamils. Yet there is thundering silence after the Sinhala state assassinated the Tamils' chief negotiator. The international community has thus made it clear that any rights the Tamils secure depend entirely on the outcome on the battlefield. We therefore have to brace ourselves for an even more brutal military onslaught in the time to come. We must therefore be united in our resolve. Despite our skepticism, Tamil efforts to argue our case abroad, to win hearts and minds, must continue. But not in naïve optimism. If the state fails to defeat the LTTE then it will be compelled to negotiate with the Tamils. If it wins, we are lost. But, then, it was ever thus.