|Skylla, Charybdis and Medusa
fatal shortness of vision; nay fatal poorness of character, for that is the root of
by Tisaranee Gunasekara
Sri Lankas descent into the abyss is neither pre-ordained nor inevitable. In terms of policy there are viable alternatives which can still pull the country back from the brink. Our doom will be sealed by the absence of any alternatives in terms of political leadership.
One year of D. B. Wijetunga turned Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga into an idea whose time has come. One year of Ranil Wickremesinghe has been even more calamitous it has turned both Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and a Tiger dominated Thamil Eelam ideas whose time has come.
In just one year PM Wickremesinghe has facilitated the metamorphosis of the LTTE from a pariah terroristic outfit into a state in waiting with growing international legitimacy from Oslo to Tokyo. And in just one year PM Wickremesinghe has facilitated the metamorphosis of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga from a failed leader to the only available alternative.
This crisis in the making will be compounded by the fact that the leadership of the biggest single political party of Sri Lanka, the party of Independence, the party of D. S. Senanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa continues to be hogged by an inorganic leader whose anti-national and anti-popular record will make the UNP unelectable in the foreseeable future.
These three phenomena form the contours of the tragedy that is looming ahead.
Policy wise, it is still possible to find a way out of the crises. On both economic and negotiations fronts course corrections are still possible, despite the colossal errors made so far.
Cornering the Tiger
According to the latest media reports global shipping is facing an unprecedented threat from terrorist attacks by fundamentalist groups either trained/inspired by the LTTE: "The Maritime Intelligence Group, a Washington-based think tank, said members of a Southeast Asian Islamic militant group, the Jemaah Islamiah, had been trained in sea-borne guerrilla tactics developed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), one of the worlds most feared rebel armies.... "We know that Jemaah Islamiah has benefited from the capabilities of the LTTE," Kweilen Kimmelman, a senior analyst at the Maritime Intelligence Group, told a conference on shipping security. "They have had training in our estimation certainly in terms of suicide diving capabilities and ramming." "Ramming" involves loading a boat up with explosives and steering it into a target. It is one of several chilling techniques honed by the Tamil Tigers in their 19-year civil war against the Sri Lankan government." (Jihad Unspun 25.1.2003; emphasis mine).
While George Bush is planning to launch a yet another criminal assault on the long suffering people of Iraq on the unproved grounds that the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction and that they are in cahoots with Al Qaida the LTTE is being feted across the globe from Oslo to Tokyo. Hypocrisy? Yes that too; after all the Tigers are not Islamic and they do not present a direct threat to US interests or US citizens. But primarily the credit for this anomaly, this irony should go to our government, which is working tirelessly to win international legitimacy and acceptance for the LTTE. The LTTE is being let off the terrorist hook in the main thanks to the intervention of the Wickremesinghe administration. For example when the Nepali government accused the LTTE of training Maoist guerrillas in Nepal, it was the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Nepal who rushed to the defence of the Tigers. As the para-LTTE website Eelam Nation proudly stated: "This is the first time that Sri Lanka ruled out any possibility of LTTE links with foreign movements" (31.5.2002).
Ever since the LTTEs chief procurement officer, Tharmalingam Shanmugan Kumraran, alias Kumaran Padmanadhan or KP, who is based in Thailand, visited Afghanistan via Dubai and Karachi in early 2000, Western intelligence agencies began to keep an eye on any possible link up between Al Qaida and the LTTE. Consequently on July 24 2000, the Interpol issued a Red Notice or an international warrant for KP (he was also wanted by India in connection with the Rajiv assassination). Thus in the aftermath of September 11, the Tigers could have had something of a rough time had it not been for the protection and patronage of the Wickremesinghe administration. The protective umbrella of the Sri Lankan government came just at the right time. With all that global hype about terrorism, one more year of Lakshman Kadirgamar as Foreign Minister would have been unaffordable for the LTTE. No wonder the Tigers backed the UNF so wholeheartedly in the 2001 election, thereby gaining for themselves one year of Ranil Wickremesinghe a year in which they made more advances than they did in 20 years of war.
The Tigers are still training suicide bombers, still abducting children for military purposes, still refusing to renounce the use of violence, still engaged in arms smuggling, still abducting and killing political opponents, including elected officials. All these are practices condemned by the international community in general. The LTTE has been able to engage in these practices with impunity because of the backing of the Wickremesinghe administration. If the government of Sri Lanka ceases covering up for and defending the LTTE, the fact that the Tigers indulge in these abhorrent practices can be used to drum up international pressure which can at least slow down the LTTEs forward march to statehood. For example it would not be difficult to bring international pressure to force the Tigers to disband their suicide squads under international supervision or face the consequences of refusal. That way the peace process can cease to be an appeasement process destined to bring about the birth of a new state lorded over by a psychopathic deity "who has dispatched more suicide bombers than anyone" (New York Times 10.4.2002).
On the economic front too there are urgent remedial steps that can be taken to provide a measure of relief to the masses and thus avoid a Southern conflagration. A recent media report stated that the farmers are facing ruin due to the inability to get a decent price for their next harvest. Meanwhile the price of rice remains unaffordably high with the middleman benefiting from the growing gap between lower prices for producers and higher prices for consumers. This is the inevitable outcome of the laissez faire policy towards paddy marketing adopted by the PA and continued by the UNF. The only immediate solution is for the state to re-enter the paddy market as purchaser and distributor, probably using the CWE. Unfortunately both the President and the PM are slavish believers of a hear nothing, see nothing, do nothing government (as President Franklin Roosevelt termed it) and of the cult of the entrepreneur (as distinct from and opposed to both producer and consumer). This fundamentalist belief is preventing the UNF (like the PA) from providing a modicum of relief to our overburdened people. That belief is as much of an impediment to economic policy correctives as the Black Tigers are to any course corrections in the peace process.
A combination of factors from ideological blinkers to cowardice and power hunger is keeping the President and the PM from acting to save the country and to relieve the people, singly or together. The PM having made a Faustian bargain is either disinclined or incapable to try to stop the march towards bifurcation of Sri Lanka. The President is waiting until that the results of that Faustian bargain become self-evident and undeniable so that she and her family can have an easy ride to and a long stay in power.
Since Ranil Wickremesinghe embodies the disastrous politico-economic policies of the past year, his replacement as the leader of the UNP by one or more national popular personalities would alleviate the crisis to some extent. Since the UNP is not a Family-centric party such a change is still theoretically possible; whether it can happen in the real word is quite another matter given the limpet-like way Mr. Wickremesinghe clings to the Party leadership. (Reminds me of a joke in Erasmuss Julius Excluded written on the eve of the greatest schism in the Church, a schism to which Papal errors contributed in no small degree. The corrupt and unpopular pope Julius II dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter aware of the tragedy that is looming due at least partly to the disastrous policies and practices of this Pope asks him "Is there no way of removing a wicked pope?" The wicked pope answers promptly " Absurd! Who can remove the highest authority of all?").
So the UNP will continue to flounder more and more with this albatross round its neck thereby making a SLFP-JVP coalition seem like the only available alternative. Such a coalition can have the advantage of blunting the PAs laissez faire zeal and the JVPs economic and political extremism. But it is also a concoction which can go disastrously wrong with both parties enhancing each others negative qualities and making compromises which enables each to do it worst, rather than the best. The JVPs conversion to democracy was the result of the defeat it suffered rather than any genuine change of heart; so far there has been no word of self-criticism from the JVP about its anti-democratic policies and barbaric practices of the mid-to-late eighties, including the brutal murder of Vijaya Kumaratunga.
The attempts at whitewashing the JVP of its crimes still continue at all levels of society; for example a teledrama on Sirasa (shown on Monday nights) perpetuates this myth of the JVP as eternal and innocent victims murdered and tortured by a bestial state (it is hardly surprising that a TV channel which tries so hard to depict the LTTE in roseate hues despite its ongoing depredations is performing the same service for the JVP). The conduct of JVPers in places where they are dominant, such as the universities, demonstrates how little the JVP has really changed. With a slice of state power in its grasp the JVP can very well resort to some of its less endearing practices of the past, thereby making our lot somewhat similar to that of the Tamils of the North and the East living under the jackboot of the LTTE.
The future is becoming depressingly clear: a fascist Tiger state in the North; an administration in the South which combines the worst of all worlds, from feudalism to economic neo-liberalism and vindictive anti-democratic practices; and a UNP which is made unelectable by its anti-national, anti-popular leader who is clinging to the party leadership till death do us part.
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