Russia’s 9/11 and CBK’S defining moment
by Dayan Jayatilleka

The fatal flaw of both the Sri Lankan political class and the intelligentsia across the ideological spectrum has been their incapacity for strategic – let alone ‘Grand strategic’ – thinking.

The iconic editor emeritus of The Times (London), William Rees Mogg, a man of magisterial pronouncements on behalf of the Establishment, is not given to sensationalism. His comment on the massacre of Russian schoolchildren by Chechen separatist terrorists bears the caption " a tragedy of historic proportions and flow-on effects". Classing it with Pearl Harbour and 9/11 he says: "Potentially it changes everything `85 Strategically Beslan pushes Russia, which is a major power and a nuclear one, towards working with the US against terrorism and in the Middle East. China and India have similar motives and a similar form of terrorism".

Now for God’s sake, don’t drop this catch as well. We fumbled the 9/11 catch with President Kumaratunga’s speeches at the LSE and in Delhi where she wimped out, declaring that "terrorism cannot be solved by military means `85 blah, blah, blah". If she had said military means alone, she would have been right, but she didn’t. Of course the catch was well and truly- and deliberately – grassed and her bad timing dwarfed into insignificance, by Ranil Wickremesinghe’s criminal treachery, when he functioned as a human shield for Prabhakaran during the US global war on terror and sabotaged our finest counter-terrorism instruments, the DMI, the LRRP/LRP and their Tamil assets.

Second Chance: CBK at UN

Now we – and she – have a second chance. And it is the last chance we shall get. Much can be achieved during President Kumaratunga’s UN visit. It is a defining moment in her presidency and the Lankan crisis. She can turn the whole international situation in her – and our - favour if she gets it right. There is no margin for error. The trick is not to spend time reassuring the world that everything is fine and dandy with Sri Lanka, the peace talks will resume, the Tigers won’t go to war (she thought the same in 1995!), the JVP is for power sharing, only the UNP is being horrid etc. etc. The thing is to be frank and honest before the world, win it over, in her speech and (hopefully) numerous media appearances. As Amilcar Cabral said: "Tell no lies, claim no easy victories. The best propaganda is the truth".

She must seize the moral high ground with her General Assembly address, which must be as memorable as those by her father in ’56 and mother in ’71. Ride the new anti-terrorism wave. Reiterate the case made so brilliantly by Foreign Minister Kadirgamar in his Eastern European speech months before 9/11, of the indivisibility of the fight against terrorism, an address that had a ring of ‘all for one, one for all’. Develop it by making the point that the propaganda against the war on terror, namely that it is a crusade against Islam, can only be countered by the example of firm stand against a non-Islamic terrorist army like the Tigers, which has exploded more suicide bombs that all the Islamic fanatics put together, has a pirate navy which potentially threatens international commerce and oil transport through the Indian Ocean, and is responsible for murdering Rajiv Gandhi, a man who had addressed that august assembly and the son and grandson of two illustrious leaders who had done so.

President Kumaratunga must directly appeal to her audience of fellow leaders: the Tigers killed Sri Lanka’s President Premadasa and strove to kill her, blinding her in one eye: if there are no commensurate consequences for the Tigers who have targeted more heads of state than any other terrorist group, then every terrorist group will consider it open season on the world’s leaders – her UN audience. She must call for the global war on terror to be driven by a global strategic alliance as in World War 2 and undergirded by a second tier of regional collective security arrangements.

Make a firm commitment to the Oslo agreement on federalism, state our case, lay it out, show the intransigence of the Tigers, explain why the ISGA is unacceptable in its present form, and set out the substantial autonomy reforms she is offering, expose the Tigers’ horrid violations of the rights of their own people especially the children (in this post-Breslan moment), point out resumption of suicide bombings, underscore the dangers to the volatile region and the world, and then ask for support.

Seek support in two forms: advice and assistance to restart the peace process and this time manage it more successfully. This can take the form of joining the process, turning the facilitation/mediation into a multilateral exercise or supplementing the facilitator with a mediator. Having thus convinced them of her sincere commitment to a negotiated peace, she must simultaneously seek help in a sweeping series of meetings with heads of state (who must not be kept waiting!) for the strengthening our defences against surprise attack. This means strategic alliances with the US, Russia, China and India; advisors, training, equipment, a variety of joint working groups and defence protocols in the face of the threat of terrorist war; and active support in the event of one.

The Norwegian Question

We never liked the facilitator, whoever it was. Remember G. Parthasarathy, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s envoy? He wasn’t a "white, Western, Christian, imperialist", far from it - and yet, there was this huge outcry from exactly the same quarters, against him and the agreement he stitched together, Annexure C. Remember the break-up of the All-Parties Conference of 1984? If we had implemented Annexure C in ’84, we wouldn’t have experienced the airdrop of ’87 and the Indo-Lanka Accord, or be facing the ISGA today.

It was smart to get a facilitator. It was dumb to get the Norwegians. They are now almost as much a part of the problem as of the solution. But we can’t throw them out except at great risk to us. Yet we have to do something about it. Can we? Yep. We needed a facilitator because the two sides weren’t talking and we needed to show the world we were ready to explore all possibilities of a negotiated solution. Why did we need to show the world? Because we needed the money, stupid - and we still do.

Why were the Norwegians a bad choice? Because they could not possibly be neutral umpires: in 1987 they co-sponsored a resolution against us at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. In 1987 mind you, not 1983 when it would have been amply justified. By 1987 the Government of Sri Lanka was willing to negotiate and had agreed to the devolution of power. By 1987 the Tigers had burned hundreds of Tamil youth alive in the streets of Jaffna, attacked pilgrims at Anuradhapura.

Norway could not be a neutral umpire for structural reasons: it had a large and powerful Tamil lobby. Yet President Kumaratunga in her wisdom picked Norway out of several dozen countries that had stepped forward as facilitators! The Tigers had turned down the French, but Colombo made no mileage out of that by exposing it to the outside world as evidence of the LTTE’s inflexibility. But I’ll say one thing for the Kumaratunga administration: it was capable of course-correction. When Eric Solheim was manifestly tilting, Foreign Minister Kadirgamar successfully lobbied to dilute his pernicious role by getting a higher-ranking Norwegian representative to handle the facilitation. Under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe though, it got way out of hand.

Brother, Can you Spare a Kroner?

I do not know whether the Norwegians imparted military instruction to the LTTE, and I think the jury is still out on that one. That’s not the main point. Let us for a moment accept the Norwegian explanation. Could they kindly tell us (with some evidence please) whether they extended the same courtesy to the PLO and the Guatemalan URNG guerrillas, before a settlement, while they were playing their facilitating role and negotiations were on? And if not why not?

The Americans played a far more successful role in ending protracted armed conflict El Salvador and Ireland. Can you imagine for a moment, the Salvadoran FMLN being gifted radio equipment and touring a US military facility before they were decommissioned and while Secretary of State James Baker III was still negotiating? Or the IRA being given satellite equipment and touring a US army installation while Senator George Mitchell was brokering the Good Friday agreement? C’mon, gimme a break.

So either the Norwegians are perfidious or they are plain stupid, and whichever it is, it doesn’t qualify them for a decent facilitation effort. But we can’t kick them out. The umpire may be a hora, a crook, but we can’t invade the field and throw him out. We cannot afford to. What we need are the third umpire and the match referee. Meaning we have to do some damage control and dilute the Norwegian role by putting some one alongside or atop them or both.

See You Later, Facilitator

The Kampuchean crisis was resolved by a multilateral exercise, ASEAN plus China. We should be able to interest some countries in helping resuscitate a negotiation process by being co-facilitators/mediators.

I’d suggest South Africa. It has already engaged on the margins, with Ebrahim Ebrahim, Senior advisor to the Vice President, visiting Sri Lanka fairly often, talking to the Tigers while helping both the President’s and (then) Prime Minister’s advisory staffs during the Mano-Malik talks. Ebrahim was very senior in the ANC’s military and intelligence apparatus, spent 16 years on Robben Island with Mandela and is a man of great integrity. South Africa’s Justice Albie Sachs, a highly respected ANC activist and architect of the country’s new constitution, who lost an arm in a bomb attack by the apartheid regime’s secret police, has also visited Sri Lanka twice, in relation to the peace process. Former Defence Minister Roelf Meyer, who was the apartheid regime’s chief negotiator with the ANC during the historic transition to freedom, is thoroughly acquainted with our crisis, as is Prof. Nick Haysom who is an advisor on the Sudanese peace process. While the ANC has relations with the Tigers, that’s a reason that the Tigers will find refusal costly. It has not played fast and loose as Norway has, and most of these South African personalities have good relations with President Kumaratunga and Foreign Minister Kadirgamar.

That’s one way to go. There’s another. Pick one or more Eminent Persons as a superstructure or penthouse atop the Norwegian effort. Nobel Prize winner John Hume has already volunteered, and he can swing the funds. He heads the bloc of Socialist MPs in the European parliament, the biggest single bloc within it. At a meeting convened by his Lankan host and the only ‘civil society’ peace activist whose integrity, sincerity and non-mercenary nature I tend to trust, inpact’s Tyrol Ferdinands (who is also Ebrahim Ebrahim’s Lankan link), he told a small group of us that his friend Fernando Solana could fund the effort on behalf of the EU. Hume has an excellent relationship with both Delhi and Oslo, so there shouldn’t be a problem.

If one is not enough, we can constitute an Eminent Persons Group: John Hume, ex-President Jimmy Carter, East Timor’s Foreign Minister and Nobel Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta (a personal friend of Colombo University’s Prof. Laksiri Fernando who is on a presidential peace advisory panel) are names that come to mind. Interfacing with Lakshman Kadirgamar and Jayantha Dhanapala (with his top level UN negotiating experience), this would be a powerful peace-making team.

Interim Modus Vivendi

What would be the purpose of such a project? At the Alliance for Progress founding conference in Punta Del Este, Uruguay in 1961, Ernesto Che Guevara and Richard Goodwin, John F. Kennedy’s advisor had a long discussion. Che said that an understanding between the two states was impossible but that Cuba would like "a modus vivendi, or at least an interim modus vivendi" (Gleijeses: 2002, p 15). If it was good enough for Che, just months after the Bay of Pigs, in regard to Yankee imperialism which he considered not only Cuba’s but humanity’s great enemy and gave his life fighting against, it should be good enough for any of us in relation to the Tigers.

The Cuban initiative never succeeded, and the US is a democratic imperialist state unlike the LTTE, which is an armed totalitarian movement. So what if Prabhakaran refuses? There’s no downside for us. The Tigers would thereby betray their true nature to the whole world - all we have to do is blow the whistle. The international media would pick it up anyway. That would put us on a much better footing in a war.

And yes, despite the whistles in the dark and ostrich postures of analytically-challenged columnists, veteran diplomat Nanda Godage (The Island, Sept 07) is right: there is a danger, a threat of war in the face of which we must not be provocative (or I might add, provoked), but resolutely prepared.



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