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Human Security and Extremism in Sri Lanka:
Synergy and Conflict - IV
International Conference on Human Security Approaches to Counter Extremism in South Asia 24-25 November 2009, BIISS, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Continued from Saturday

Synergy and Conflict

The rise and fall of the LTTE is a unique phenomenon in the post-colonial history of Sri Lanka. The emergence of the LTTE is closely related to the structural crisis of the post-colonial state which exploded at its weakest point, i.e., the state-nation relationship. The socio-political forces who took the reins of power since independence failed to integrate all the ethno-national identities in the country into the decision-making process. All attempts taken earlier by the ruling parties to restructure the state were abandoned in the implementation stage, even after the signing of agreements with Tamil parties, in the face of political pressure from a small section of Sinhala Buddhist extremist in society. There were stages in the course of alienation of Tamils from mainstream politics and from the state. The political leadership of the main parties who were in power alternatively failed to grasp and respond positively to the many early warning signals. It must be emphasized that recognition of the fact that there is an unresolved ethnic problem that gave birth to an organization such as the LTTE, does not justify all the extremism and violence perpetrated by the LTTE. The modus operandi of the LTTE presents a clear example of the extremism and terrorism associated with ethnic conflicts and ethno-political mobilizations in South Asia.

In the common sense of the word, extremism is a relative condition as well as a loaded term. Therefore, this term should be understood in a structural sense in relation to the given concrete socio-political situation. In the present South Asian historical and political context, it is not difficult to identify key properties of the phenomenon of extremism. In view of South Asia’s central location in the Indian Ocean and its age-old historical intercourse with a wider geographic area in Asia, a multi-ethnic, multi linguistic and multi-religious complexion constituted the fundamental character of entire South Asia. The acceptance and recognition of this fundamental feature is a sine qua non for co-existence, stability and peace in South Asia. The importance of notions and respect for plurality, tolerance, coexistence and accommodation of mutual interests in the political and social spaces needs to be understood in this context. Any violation of these fundamental features either in theory or practice generates a chain reaction and destabilizes the entire society. Extremism is manifested not only in ideology but also in political practice and behavior. It is not definitely a one-way process. Extremisms, though takes different stances, ideologically sustain each other in the long run and provide mutual justification for each others behavior. The dialectics of Sinhala and Tamil extremisms can be cited as a case in point. The extremist social and political ideologies and practices are a manifestation of a broader socio-political crisis. In Gramasci’s words, when the body politic is in crisis, morbid symptoms appear every where. Indeed, extremism represents one of such morbid symptoms in our body politics.

Many properties of extremism and its accompanying violence are well manifested in the political agenda, strategy, behavior and organizational structure of the LTTE. Its political alternative to the structural crisis of the state and to the failure to accommodate the multi-ethnic social order in the system of power and governance is a mono-ethnic state for Tamil people. The stark reality is that the majority of Tamil people in Sri Lanka live outside the proposed political space of Tamil Eelam. In the multi-ethnic context, many non-Tamils also live within the territory demarcated for Tamil Eelam. The attack on the ‘outsiders in the homeland’ and irredentist flushing out attacks on others to demarcate the traditional homeland created a serious human security crisis. In 1990 the Muslims who had lived in the north for generations were given only 24 hours to leave. The self-righteousness associated with ethnic zeal sets no limits to violence.

The strategy that the LTTE adopted to achieve its political objective was overwhelmingly based on terror and violence. Suicidal missions and ‘cyanide capsules became the hallmark of the political culture of the LTTE .The political assignations using suicidal attackers constituted a main element of its strategy. On the one hand it targeted political leaders such as heads of states, presidential candidates, ministers and other political personalities. On the other hand, the LTTE conducted systematic assassinations of other viable Tamil political leaders to don the mantle of the sole representative of the Tamils. Bomb attacks on economic and civilian targets in the south remained another aspect of its strategy. By conducting such attacks, the LTTE wanted to take the entire community in the south as ransom and to pressurize the state to yield to its demands.

The overtly militaristic behavior of the LTTE had not changed in accordance with the global politico-strategic environment. The LTTE originated as a war-machine and it remained so throughout. There was a political section but it was always an appendage to the military section. In politics, after a careful analysis of possible opportunities, it is necessary to compromise and bargain. There is no room for that in extremism. The LTTE failed to grab many opportunities offered by the Sri Lankan government because of over-reliance on its military strength. The authoritarian character of the organization and its leadership cult deprived it of the means of hearing the true pulse of the Tamil people living under its control. The LTTE was of the wrong perception that the Tamil people would be behind them under any situation because it was fighting for the Tamil cause.

The misperception of the LTTE about the allegiance of the Tamil people paved the way for its final debacle. In order to understand the modus operandi of the LTTE in its last phase, it is necessary to read its strategy correctly. The LTTE was very well aware of the fact that it was not possible to have its Eelam by military means only. The recognition of a new state is very restricted according to prevailing international conventions and practices. During the ceasefire environment the LTTE tried to have a transitional arrangement by presenting a proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) in November 2003. If it had been implemented, there would have been only one or two steps to cross the Rubicon after five years. The plan failed due to the intervention of President Kumaratunga. The LTTE has realized by then that even a vey long period of military tenacity over a tract of land does not politically baptize a separate state. The Bangladesh case of genocide and oppression on ethnic grounds could be a valid reason for secession. After the failed attempt of establishing the ISGA, the LTTE hoped to create conditions for a ‘grave humanitarian crisis’ that warranted international intervention, a subsequent transitional authority under UN supervision and a plebiscite after a certain time frame. The LTTE was planning for these three steps to achieve its political objective of Eelam. The LTTE systematically planned this scenario by taking over two hundred and fifty thousand ordinary people with them and hoped to keep them till such an eventuality took place The LTTE firmly believed till the last minute that these Tamil people would remain with them. But, as soon as the GOSL forces broke the siege, the people deserted the LTTE leaving them vulnerable to attack.

The collapse of the LTTE cannot be adequately explained only in terms of the factors and conditions operating on the military strategic plain. The defeat of the LTTE was possible due to its own political collapse. Terrorism has a limit as a political tool. The relentless killing of Tamil political opponents and its failure to utilize the space opened up by the ceasefire to change its image politically weakened the LTTE. The terrorist face of the LTTE, rather than of the liberation fighters, was illustrated more and more by nihilistic-type assassinations. The extortions and other forms of intimidation of the people in the North and the East by the LTTE became more intolerable during the ceasefire. At the same time the validity of the political alternative of the LTTE to the structural crisis of the Sri Lankan state has been questioned more and more in the light of global socio-political trends and geo-political realities in South Asia. Disillusionment with the LTTE goal of a separate sovereign state for Tamil people and the enormous destruction and severe pain caused by war eroded the earlier support base. War-weariness of the people in the war-torn area was reflected in every nook and corner of society. Over-reliance on arms and military strategy rather than on social forces and political strategy, and the ruthless suppression of ‘other’ voices in Tamil society dissipated the moral justification of their struggle. The continuous displacement and destruction of livelihood denied the Tamil people the bare minimum of civilized life. The culture of violence and the creation of a garrison community destroyed the human dignity and spirit of the people who once laid claim to a rich and dignified culture and instilled a feeling of pervasive helplessness.

The human insecurity that prevailed in Sri Lanka in the last five decades brought into focus the synergy and chain reaction of violence and extremism that undermined basic human values and democratic practices necessary for peace, stability and collective coexistence. The security of the state should organically be linked with the security of all collective identities, communities and the individual as a member of civil society. In a context where the authority of the state is challenged on ethnic lines, the entire ethnic collectivity would be treated as a security problem by the state. When the state treats a section of its own citizenry as a national security threat, the very foundation of the security of the state is shaken. The use of terror and violence against the state provides a convenient rationale for the state to employ violence against all other political opponents curtailing the democratic space of the country further. It would exacerbate the insecurity of the individual, as well as the ethnic collectivity as a whole. The concept of Human Security which emphasizes the importance of multiple references of security and diverse aspects of security essential for human life, provide a possible way out of this vicious cycle. The military collapse of the LTTE offers Sri Lanka an opportunity to move from conflict to post-conflict society. In order to go forward in that direction Sri Lanka needs a new security agenda. The evolving concept of Human Security could provide the necessary guideline for a new security agenda.

1 Commission on Human Security, Human Security Now, New York: Commission on Human Security, 2003, P.4

2 Antonio Gramsci, Selection from the Prison Notebooks, Quitnin Hoare and Geoffrey, Nowell Smith, eds. And tr. New York: International Publishers, 1992, p.210.

3 I.D.S. Weerawardena, "The Minorities and the Citizenship Act", The Ceylon Historical Journal, 1:3, 1951, p.242.

4 For answers to these questions See G.B. Keerawella, "The 1971 uprising and the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna," Social Science Review (Colombo) 1:2 (1980): 01-55

5 See. G.B. Keerawella, "Political Anatomy of Southern Militancy: The Insurrection of the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna," in Security Dilemma of a Small state: Internal Crisis and External Intervention in Sri Lanka, K.M.M. Werake & P.V.J. Jayasekara, eds., (New Delhi: South Asia Publishers, 1995), 147-175.

6 See. G.B. Keerawella, "Crisis of the Post-Colonial State, Political Process and Political Violence in Sri Lanka," in Indian Ocean Issues for Peace, Rama S. Melkote, ed., (New Delhi: Manohar,1995), 71-92

7 People identified the alternative authority as ‘punchi ?nduwa’ (small government) which was sometimes influential than the state.

8 Quoted in A. Sivarajah, "Indo-Sri Lanka Relations and Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Crisis: The Tamil Nadu Factor", in Selton Kodikara, ed., South Asian Strategic Issues -Sri Lankan Perspective, (New Delhi: Sage Publications ), p.142.

9 India Today, in MARCH 1984, presented a vivid picture of the activities of Tamil militant groups in operation in Tamil Nadu. In mid-1980s, it is reported, Tamil Nadu harbored 39 military training camps in which 3,00 Tamil guerillas were undergoing training.

10 On 3 May 1986, a LTTE bomb exploded an Air Lanka jetliner killing 14 passengers. Four days later a bomb near the Central Telegraph Office (CTO) in Colombo killing 14 people and wounding more than 100. Anti-state violence has come to the heart of Colombo.

11 All together, six rounds of talks were held until 11 April 1995. During these negotiations and also in the exchange of letters, the LTTE carefully avoided discussing any political issues directly related to a sustainable solution to the ethnic problem. The LTTE demand during this period of dialogue that the Sri Lankan army should vacate key military positions indicated that they were not yet ready to think of a negotiated settlement.

12 This military operation, code-named ‘Riviresa’, was carried out at a heavy price—600-700 soldiers were killed and 3000 wounded.

13 The strategy of the PA government seemed to be two-pronged: military and political. In July 1995 the concept paper on constitutional reforms which was identified as the devolution package was published. The government initiated a dialogue with the main opposition party on the devolution package and started the legislative process to have a new constitution to give political expression to multi-ethnicity13. The new constitution initiative of the PA government saw a dismal end when ‘A Bill to repeal and replace the Constitution’ was finally rejected by the opposition in August 2000.

14 The second round was held at Rose Garden in Thailand from 31Oct.-November 2002, the third one was in Oslo, Norway in 2-5, December 2002, the fourth round was held again in Thailand during 6-9 January 2003. The fifth one was in Berlin during 7-8 February, 2003 and the sixth one was held in Hakone, Japan, during 18-21 March 2003.

15 It began after the LTTE closed the sluice gate of the Mavil Aru reservoir on July 21and cut the water supply to 15,000 villages in government controlled areas. Initial negotiations and efforts by the SLMM to open the gates failed. The GOSL Air Force attacked LTTE positions on July 26 as ground troops began an operation to open the gate.

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