Terrorism, independence or what?
By N Sathiya Moorthy
For their supporters and sympathisers maybe, a terrorist, an insurgent or an independence movement are one and the same. The goal from their perception is the same: But not under common laws and understanding on civilian states and civilised sections of the society. Most Governments the world over recognise independence movement whether or not they approve of the term’s application in a given case. Most of them also de-recognise the legitimacy of such outfits if and when they cross the Rubicon. Anti-State militancy up to a point, and terrorism that targets the State and common man alike are a sure no-no.
The world’s mood changed especially after 9/11. But not for all Americans, it now seems. And America and American nationals were prime targets and victims of the catastrophic terrorism unleashed by Osama bin-Laden and his Al Qaeda network. America hunted for perpetrator in chief for years without giving up, killed thousands of innocent victims of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, a nation that Bin-Laden held hostage almost as a whole. It did not give up until the job was done. And, they did it. The US sent out a message that terror-targeting of the homeland would not go unpunished.
Yet, funny are the ways of the US. They went after Osama bin-Laden, the non-representative, self-proclaimed ‘amir’ of Afghanistan, or parts thereof. I reserved a near-similar ending for Saddam Hussein, who however was an elected leader of Iraq. Washington had done it elsewhere earlier, continues to do it today, and will not rest tomorrow, either. They refuse to accept any overseas militant/terror or even political movements to the all-American cause as an ‘independence movement’ or whatever. To them, their enemy’s enemy in any client or vassal State is their own enemy – at times, even more.
It is thus funny that the LTTE-sympathetic TGTE continues to operate in and from the US homeland, with the ‘prime minister’ of their ‘virtual government’ remaining more than ‘virtual’ in flesh and blood on American soil. Such facilities are available, and are at times made available, to rebel groups from select nations, inside the US and elsewhere, too. But as long as they do not cross the Rubicon or that is what the world too is told.
Virtual govt in virtual space
To be fair to successive administrations in the White House, they have at least wholly or more than partially subscribed to this position. Even at the height of the decisive separatist war in Sri Lanka, the US continued to aid and assist the legitimate State structure with crucial intelligence on the LTTE’s movements, going as far as to torpedo the Sri Lankan terror outfit’s attempts to buy weapons elsewhere, by sending its own decoys as prospective suppliers.
The same cannot be said about the US providing home-base for political fronts of terror movements, dead or alive, to keep the flag flying and the torch burning in full glow, as long as their activities stay within the four corners of American laws on freedom of speech and political action. A good way to look at it, yes, but there is a fall side to it. If the intention of the US State, or any other in its place is to kill terror-intent along with acts of terrorism and the terror outfit, that purpose may not be served. Instead, it gets defeated, as if one hand of the US State does not know what the other is doing, or intend doing.
The problem with a fine-line division approach is this. It allows political fronts of terror movements, again dead or alive, to continue to propagate the very ideas for which a functional or defunct organisation took to terrorism in the first place. In the case of an outfit as dead as the LTTE just now is – or, is presumed to be – the intention of the political front is also to keep the cause alive and pass it on to successive generations of their own peoples until such time the old outfit is revived, or a new one is founded in its place.
In this, a lot depends on the emergence of another leader-tactician like Prabhakaran, who made it all possible with and for the LTTE. It is precisely a ‘charter agenda’ of the TGTE, if there is a charter, since inception only weeks after the conclusive end of the ‘Eelam wars’. A ‘virtual government in a virtual space’ was the name of the game when plotted out. It remains so to date, a decade and more later. There is nothing to suggest that their motives and methods have changed, either.
It is in this background that a recent resolution moved in the US House of Representatives assumes greater significance. No marks for guessing, The resolution was moved to coincide with what the Sri Lankan State declared as ‘Victory Day’ (over LTTE terrorism) and the pro-LTTE elements of the Tamil community, nearer home and overseas, continue to observe as their martyrs’ day. Some of the latter class even observe it as ‘genocide anniversary’.
It is not as if Rep Deborah K. Ross, the prime-mover of House Resolution 418 of 18 May, expected it to be passed, now or even later. The idea was for her to flag the issue, keep it alive and also get it discussed / agitated in the US House of Representatives or in a House panel, or both. In this case, the resolution has already been referred to the House Foreign Relations Committee. Going by American parliamentary practices, the House Committee can invite individuals and institutions, to depose before it, make statements and face questions from panel members.
The Sri Lankan government will be damned if it appeared before the American legislative panel and respond to queries. It would be damned if it did not. Of course, the Colombo dispensation can be expected to issue daily responses to claims and accusations made in the US panel, but the publication of and publicity for the responses will be lesser than for the original statements – which again may not receive a great Press inside the US.
Sure enough, the Tamil Media in Sri Lanka is going to highlight the accusations. The Sinhala and sections of the so-called National Media (English language Press and TV) will keep their focus on the Government’s responses. On that note the arguments will end. But it is yet another sure-fire way for pro-LTTE elements of Sri Lankan Tamils, to keep the issue alive.
One soldier, two civilians
US House Rep Deborah’s resolution is noted for its assertion that in some Tamil areas in Sri Lanka there is ‘still one soldier for every two civilians in most war-affected regions’. By no stretch of anyone’s imagination can this be taken as actually true. While over-doing it may be allowed in fiction, stage-plays and even other political speeches, it is anybody’s guess if that kind of claim can be made in a legislative forum, and in writing, that too as among the causes for the legislature to mark off time and discuss the issues concerned in some detail.
There is then the question of ‘traditional Tamil homeland’, which is but a matter of detail, if one were to slip into arguing such details going beyond vey conceptualisation. In a sweeping way, the Deborah resolution refers to Sri Lanka’s North-East as such, which yes, a predecessor Government, that of President J R Jayawardena had accepted as such. The Sri Lankan Parliament too acknowledged it.
But the ground reality now is different. Until and unless the (Tamil-speaking) Muslims in the Eastern Province agree to the formulation that their polity accepted under different circumstances and ground conditions, it is again a non-starter. Already, the previous Rajapaksa Government of President Mahinda, now Prime Minister, acted in double-quick time to enforce a Supreme Court decision on ‘de-merger’ as far back as 2006.
There can be no doubt that if only the Rajapaksa Government then, and the Rajapaksa Government now (under President Gotabaya) had fast-tracked political negotiations in the post-war months and years with equal alacrity, then there might not have to be a resolution now in the US. It is another matter that it takes two hands to make sound, noise of even to shake each other’s.
The Tamil side, represented then by the TNA, as if they were the inheritors of the LTTE’s self-styled ‘sole representative’ title, too, were equally unsure of themselves. They let the Diaspora Tamils and their western backers to dictate terms to the Government – not because of war-crimes as they saw then, but because of the other’s pre-occupation with China in Sri Lanka. Or, so it seems.
There is a pattern to it all. Before the US House, you had the Ontario State legislature in neighbouring Canada passing a resolution of the kind in recent weeks. Legislatures likes of those in Malaysia’s Penag State had done it years ago. If you take other western nations, the list is endless, or at least cannot be counted in a single hand.
It is here that the reference to the LTTE and other one-time militant/terror groups as ‘armed Tamil independence organisations’ in Rep Deborah’s resolution in the US House assumes significance. The natural question should arise if LTTE is an ‘armed independence organisation’, then what was Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution movement in Shah’s Iran was in a bygone century? The comparison may sound odd and hard, but it is the kind of assertions that Sri Lankan (read: Sinhala, Buddhist or not) critics of the western scheme and system are bound to ask themselves and ask one another.
All of it boils down to only one thing. That the Diaspora Tamil campaigners / propagandists for their cause are smarter than the Sri Lankan State apparatuses through the post-war years as they were during the war and pre-war eras, too. There is continuity in their thought process and there is continuity in their leadership and its ‘unwavering’ (?) thinking. There is a lot the Sri Lankan State can learn from the LTTE rebels, as much at present as during the war-time past.
At least in the case of ‘armed Tamil independence organisations’ in Sri Lanka, the LTTE ensured as much – but by annihilating fellow-Tamil groups, both militant and moderate political class. It is anybody’s guess if Rep Deborah is aware of it all, and is also alive to the same.
(The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: [email protected])