by Lionel Bopage
“War is the highest form of struggle for resolving contradictions, when they have developed to a certain stage, between classes, nations, states, or political groups, and it has existed ever since the emergence of private property and of classes” said Mao . Thus, a civil war in Sri Lanka which is a capitalist economy with its strong feudal remnants is to preserve the class interests, privileges and benefits of the ruling elite.
It could be argued that the recent political and cultural bashing of ‘the other’ in the Sri Lankan society commenced in a major way, following the signing of the ceasefire agreement (CFA) in 2002. The military and political weakening of the LTTE intensified in 2004 with Karuna Amman (Muralitharan) relieved or expelled from the LTTE, who was probably recruited by the pro-GoSL forces and RAW. By the end of 2005, the parties to the conflict were on the verge of an all out war against each other. Sinhala nationalist groups strongly backed Mr Mahinda Rajapakse’s presidential campaign, because they were convinced that he would tear down the CFA, demerge the north and east, disband the Norwegian facilitation and conduct a successful war against the LTTE. The LTTE’s direct involvement in preventing North-east Tamil votes in the presidential elections also helped Mr Rajapakse’s presidential victory.
The battle lines were drawn in 2006, when the Sri Lankan Security Forces (SLSF) and the LTTE confronted each other over the water supply from the Mavil Aru in the Eastern Province. In August 2006, the LTTE restored the water supply but the SLSF continued to strike at the LTTE until they gained control of the sluice gates of the reservoir and beyond. Despite the CFA, the resumption of full scale, but undeclared war had begun. The Sri Lankan Air Force had begun bombarding the LTTE held positions during this confrontation, which indicated the beginning of a long-term military strategy to drive the LTTE out of the East first and then out of the Vanni.
The declared aims of the current war effort of the government (GoSL) were to attain political, administrative and territorial unity of the people in Sri Lanka. To achieve this, Sinhala nationalist groups wanted to tear down the CFA, demerge the north and east, disband the Norwegian facilitation and conduct a successful war against the LTTE and these pledges seem almost completely fulfilled. A further aim according to certain Sinhala nationalist groups is to ensure the dominance of the Sinhalese over other Sri Lankans.
The aim of the LTTE is to establish a separate political and territorial Tamil Eelam, in which Tamils could exercise their dominance over other communities.
Before we can discuss future directions, we need to make a hard headed political assessment of the conflict as it currently stands. According to the government and its media allies, the LTTE has been completely defeated. The LTTE has lost almost all the territory it held during the time of the CFA and it has almost lost its entire conventional military capability. Therefore, GoSL and the nationalist forces supporting it seemed to have achieved their declared aims. Yet, the difference between defeating the LTTE militarily and destroying the LTTE politically does not seem to have been understood.
On a military level, what will be the cost of keeping this territorial unity? It would require enormous amounts of human, material and financial resources to be spent on maintaining it. Further, the psychological effects caused by the war on society as a whole, including the Tamils and armed forces of all sides to the conflict will continue to be challenging and daunting.
Political unity is becoming an ever receding mirage too. The Sinhala and Tamil people have become ever more distant. Some Sinhalese genuinely want to help Tamils rebuild their lives after more than three and half decades of conflict. Many others that I have met are obviously in a triumphant mood-set. In the context of the war, the Muslim population too seems to have been drawn into militant ways in the East and in the Puttalam Mannar areas.
The Tamil psyche is hurt as never before. Their feeling of subjugation will multiply when the conventional war ends. Most Tamils perceive this war as an invasion to grab ‘their land’. Their sense of anger and resentment will remain for a long time. The current war has accelerated the tensions and distance between the majority of the Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil diaspora.
The war has been the catalyst that has brought the majority of Tamils worldwide to unite in a single front against the GoSL, the Indian Central Government (ICG) and extreme forms of Sinhala nationalism. Previously, such sentiments were limited to Tamils living in Tamilnadu. This support should not be, as has been happening for some time, be instantly labeled as supporting the LTTE or a separate state.
The current war has brought the Sri Lankan national question to the forefront of international discourse, second only to the questions of Palestine and Darfur. It has become embedded in the maelstrom of conflicts that are currently inflaming large parts of Asia. The desperate and deadly situation faced by the many thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone will become a serious international issue.
These developments do not bode well for the GoSL or the Sinhalese, though Sinhala nationalist groups and the GoSL will try to put a positive spin on the situation. Almost all Sinhala nationalist groups seem to see this phenomenon as of a transient nature, which they believe would go away when the ‘massive’ infrastructure development programs for the north and east are jump started.
Regardless of the reconstruction work which is said to have commenced already, delivery of security and stability to the people of all ethnic communities living in the East remains to be fulfilled. A simple question could be posed here. How could the capitalist ruling elites of the island, who have never been able to engender and sustain such development in the South of the country, be expected to undertake such a development in the North and East of the island?
This brings us to the question of where to from here.
Many serious economic think tanks point to the fact that Sri Lanka is facing a dire economic situation, a fact that the GoSL and many Sinhala extreme nationalist groups continue to glibly dismiss. However, reality seems to be seeping in, at least among some government ministers who imply that an extreme balance of payment crisis exists. This is evident from the willingness of the GoSL to go for a ‘stand-by’ arrangement with the International Monetary Fund.
The current fiscal crisis has been engendered by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka issuing treasury bills worth Rs. 200 billion since September while the country’s foreign reserves were depleting. This situation will be exacerbated greatly when the current global financial crisis starts to bite. I leave this issue to economists to ascertain whether we will soon be following Zimbabwe and Sudan in economic and political terms.
Even if the expectations of the GoSL, SLSF and Sinhala extreme nationalist groups of a manageable low intensity guerilla warfare are achieved, the Sri Lankan people would expect the current high costs of essential commodities to reduce, more employment opportunities to be generated, the provision of better health facilities and other things.
The Tamils, specifically, would demand the GoSL to implement whatever current constitutional provisions that exist so that they could communicate, correspond, educate and carry out their day to day activities in their mother tongue. Furthermore, they would expect the GoSL to devolve power so that they could attend to their developmental activities in coordination with the GoSL. Given the GoSL’s track record and that extreme Sinhala nationalist forces have already commenced a campaign to give nothing to the Tamil people, this might not materialize.
Another aspect to consider would be the stance of those who benefitted from the war situation in terms of material, financial and social privileges. Some of these elements may create conditions to continue the war in other forms. The war has engendered a force of about 300,000 including SLSF and its auxiliaries. Support industries such as provision of human resources, commodities and services to the SLSF and its auxiliaries would not welcome a peaceful resolution to the conflict either.
Adding to this volatile mix, a village economy dependent on wages, salaries, incomes and compensations received by the participation, death and destruction of their folks in the war effort needs to be reconstituted. Given the current economic crisis, the parlous state of the economy and the greed and corruption of the elite, this task will become an impossible juggling act as there would be no war and the bogey of the LTTE to distract the masses.
My firm view is that the way forward lies in the paradigm change Sri Lanka needs to go though, which is alien to its current political traditions. Firstly the equitable distribution of the fruits of economic development and participatory democracy are essential for the society to progress, especially, when the majority of people are surviving from one meal to the other.
Internationally, as demonstrated these days in London during the G20 summit, there is a widespread demand for a refashioning of the world economic order, an end to the unconscionable arrogance of the wheelers and dealers and a call for governments to be more accountable for the welfare of its people. Sri Lanka needs to understand this reality and act accordingly.
Secondly, while recognizing the specific problems facing the Tamil community, the injustices faced by the Sinhalese, and Muslims due to the conflict and challenges they all face due to capitalist globalisation also need to be recognised and addressed.
Whoever values humanity, peace, democracy, freedom and liberty needs to rise up and show that they oppose the current repressive political culture bequeathed to us by both the state and the LTTE.
The Sinhala and Tamil expatriates that helped perpetuate the conflict could now make a positive contribution to its resolution by engaging in dialogue within and outside their community. I believe that there is a need for a political movement that could unite working people on the basis of a democratic socialist policy platform that would reject special privileges for any community and discard all forms of chauvinism.
Even if the Government and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces manage to significantly weaken, defeat, or eliminate the LTTE militarily, a political solution is required. People who value democracy, equality and equity needs to pressure the Sri Lankan state to take immediate action towards a meaningful and just power sharing arrangement. That is the only way to ensure security and the dignity of the peoples of Sri Lanka.
If peaceful coexistence through power sharing is not achievable, the only other solution that would be available will be secession.