Posts Tagged ‘LTTE’

21 March, 2012

The American War That Nobody Has Heard Of

On August 3, 2006, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelem (LTTE),slaughtered over 100 Muslim civilians including women and children at Pachchanoor, Sri Lanka. Before then, the LTTE butchered 103 Muslims while they wre praying in the grand mosque of Kattankudiy in the coastal city of Batticaloa. You can see the images of these attacks here. It is not pretty. The Tamils had no cause to fight the Muslims, their grievances – imagined or real – were directed at the Sinhalese majority. The LTTE, however, and its leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, were committed to the matter of ethnic cleansing in the North. The attacks on the Muslims were part of that effort which also left entire villages of Sinhalese peasants murdered in cold blood in a war that lasted thirty years.

These are events that merit mentioning given the current effort by the United States to table a resolution alleging that the Sri Lankan government perpetrated war crimes during the last days of the war. For the past week there have boysbeen demonstrations at the Hague by pro-LTTE groups alleging that the Sri Lankan government set out to kill the Tamil civilians trapped between the army and the terrorists (The LTTE has been referred to by the FBI as the most ruthless terrorist organization in the world and it was banned, albeit only after 9/11, by the girlsUS and the UK). It is an easy thing to imagine: a government out of patience with repeated ceasefires and the interventions of foreign governments committed to speaking on behalf not of Tamils but of the LTTE, sets out to murder all the Tamils in the North (the 54% of the Tamils who live outside the North and East were, presumably, safe, odd as that may sound given the allegations).

Except that it isn’t true. Civilians died, yes, though not in as great a number as they did in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at the hands of the United States military. But not only was there no massacre of all the civilians trapped in the North, most of them, over 100,000, were rescued between April 20th and April 22nd, 2009, from the LTTE which fired on them and placed a suicide bomber among them as they tried to reach the refugee camps.

Sri Lanka fought this war for thirty years against the interference of powerful foreign groups, and in the midst of a tsunami Sri Lanka War Victorythat devastated the country, leaving 40,000 dead and 1.5 million people displaced, and the struggles of a small country caught in a failing global economy. It fought this war against a terrorist organization while, simultaneously, providing the entire civilian population controlled by the LTTE (as well as LTTE cadres), with water, electricity, infrastructure, education, and all forms of social welfare available to the rest of the island, including food and medicine. This has to be a first for any government in the world.

The war in Sri Lanka ended in May, 2009. Since then, the economy is thriving with unprecedented investment child in infrastructure from the South to the North. Sri Lanka instituted the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC), and conducted hearings in the immediate aftermath of the war. The Government of Sri Lanka is engaged in implementing the recommendations of the LLRC, despite being blamed for being “slow.” southafricaConsider that we were willing to wait for two years of hearings to be completed by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (between 1996 and 1998) in South Africa. Consider that we were willing to wait four more years, until 2002, until the last of the reports from that commission were presented to the President.

It is politics. Geo-politics. Always. A country with a president who watched its military murder a terrorist-leader, Osama bin Laden, in cold blood after having violated all rules of sovereignty in Pakistan, then disposed of that body out of public view, hardly has a moral leg to stand on when it comes to decrying the death of a terrorist leader who was killed in a final battle at the end of thirty years of war that held a country hostage. This resolution is not about Sri Lanka, it is a play by the US for power in South Asia, a play that is causing the US to call in every favor they’ve ever been promised, and includes the investment of millions of dollars in buying-off and buying-up.

Which brings me back to those Muslims. The LTTE was a group that, repeatedly, demonstrated a particularly virulent hatred for Sri Lanka’s Muslim population, a minority group that has always remained within the democratic system, a group that has never, not once, in the history of that nation, ever perpetrated crimes against their fellow citizens. Pakistan recognizes this as do other Muslim nations. Can the United States, in the wake of riots after the burning of copies of the Quo’ran and the murder of 16 Afghan civilians by Robert Bales, not to mention its decade long occupation of Iraq and years of invading Afghanistan and the drone strikes on innocents in Pakistan, including 160 children between 2004 and the end of 2011, afford to align itself with yet another anti-Muslim organization? Particularly one that is proscribed by its own state department?

Sri Lanka has many friends. Sri Lanka is also a predominantly Buddhist country, used to thinking about the evolution of events in terms of lifetimes, not a 24 hour news-cycle. Whether they win or lose in Geneva, Sri Lanka will endure. graffiti-waving-american-flag-graphicsThe coordinates are different for an America struggling to hold on to a semblance of relevence on the world scene. In a time when the Muslims are out in force against the United States – Pakistan, Aghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Palestine, are but five – the United States has but one democracy it can count on as an ally: Sri Lanka. India has, under internal pressure, expressed its support for the US, thereby alienating the second largest population of Muslims in the world, its own. Today, the Muslim population of Sri Lanka joined the ranks of their brothers and sisters in the rest of South Asia to protest the actions of the United States.

It is governments that control airspace, ports, resources and investments. Not terrorist groups. And the Sri Lankan government will turn with great ease toward China and toward its allies in the Muslim world. The last thing that the US needs is to provide further proof that it is, by policy, military exercises and deliberate intent, anti-Muslim. It is not time for a resolution against Sri Lanka. It is time for the Obama administration to rethink its strategy.

Note: The photographs above depict, in order, former female members of the LTTE, former child soldiers recruited by the LTTE (original photograph first appeared in the Washington Times), injured Sri Lankan soldiers on parade, Sri Lankan child post-war, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and de Klerk after the end of apartheid and a graffiti version of the American flag)

13 January, 2010

America’s Dementia: King-Making in Sri Lanka

This was an article that I wrote which was was intended for a news source here in the U.S. I am re-posting it here with the necessary links.

On Sunday, the NYT put Sri Lanka at number one on its list of places to go in 2010:

“For a quarter century, Sri Lanka seems to have been plagued by misfortune, including a brutal civil war between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority. But the conflict finally ended last May, ushering in a more peaceful era for this teardrop-shaped island off India’s coast, rich in natural beauty and cultural splendors.” (NYT, January 10th, 2010).

It seems, however, that the Obama administration is not quite as delighted with the peaceful state of affairs in Sri Lanka.

On January 26th 2010, Sri Lankans go to the polls. They vote for the first time in thirty years without the looming threat of terrorism. The incumbent President, Mahinda Rajapakse, is tipped to win this one, albeit by a closer margin than many imagined possible given the extraordinary support he had in conducting the war against the LTTE militants both from the public and moderate Tamil politicians. That war ended on May 18th, 2009 and, unlike in most countries where such victories are followed by the consolidation of power, President Rajapakse devoted his time, among other things, to the internal matters of clearing landmines from previously rebel-held territory, repatriating the displaced Tamil population and inviting the Diaspora to return and participate in the rebuilding of the North. Despite the extraordinary powers held by an executive presidency, the kind of power that could lead to equally widespread abuses and has in other countries where a head of state has had such tools at their disposal (Robert Gabriel Karigamombe Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Than Shwe of Burma and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia– a country with which the U.S. continues to have close ties – come to mind), Sri Lanka’s president chose to put his presidency to the test in the space of six months, announcing the election in November of that same year. Meanwhile, nearly a decade after 9/11, America’s searchlights mark the skies each September as if searching for help from God while its memorial honoring the victims of terrorism remains unbuilt, the 9th Ward lurches from day to day with its dispirited inhabitants flung across several states looking to recourse from Brad Pitt and the Make it Right Foundation, and we shall not even begin to discuss Iraq because America’s efforts at compensating that nation for its assault on its soil is, actually, laughable.

During the last year and a half the United States, perhaps due to its own preoccupations with the distribution of power between the Man of the Century, Barack Obama and the equally redoubtable Hillary Clinton, played two games. On the one hand, its back-channel negotiators attempted to maintain that they were against terrorism (as Senator Clinton did during her elections), and would welcome an end to the vice in which the people of Sri Lanka and, thereby, those within the Diaspora on American soil, were being held by the LTTE. On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made successive statements decrying President Rajapakse’s government and expressing “concern” based not on fact but on conjecture, and pushed international organizations to sanction his government. (Hillary Clinton’s ability to be undiplomatic is, par for the course, as demonstrated by her comments about Pakistan on the eve of her visit there). Meanwhile, not far from Sri Lanka, America launched a new and improved war in Afghanistan, assaulting it with indiscriminate aerial bombing and pressuring the government of Pakistan to crackdown on so-called Islamic militants in exactly the same way in which it was asking Sri Lanka not to crack down on its lunatic fringe. But perhaps that was just American tunnel vision.We cannot seem to look at more than one country at one time and, like the multitude of Americans who are routinely diagnosed with dissociative disorder, our leaders cannot seem to remember what they learn in one place and use it to address a problem faced in another.

Given the dissatisfaction among the rank and file of America’s military (think Major Nidal Malik), and the security breaches on its airlines (think Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab), one would imagine that America’s foreign policy makers might consider the lack of prudence evident in deciding to back a ruthless former General, a military man with no experience at political leadership, to run what is, for now, a relatively stable landing-ground for American diplomats and personnel – both by air and by sea – in the supremely important neighborhood of America’s new war. America has had difficulties with President Rajapakse, there is no disputing that. Its difficulties arose not only because it presumed to dictate the conduct of internal affairs in Sri Lanka, but by its blocking of a much-needed loan from the IMF and by its determined effort to scuttle the end of the war even as the LTTE remains proscribed in the United States and even as its ties to the ongoing piracy on the high seas around the Horn of Africa – which has affected American industry – and its history of training suicide bombers in other regions of conflict with which the U.S. professes to be concerned were being established by America’s own intelligence personnel. But most of all, their relationship with President Rajapakse was strained by America’s obstinate refusal to engage with him as an equal and because they began to exert pressure on him by turning his top General against him.

American has had and continues to have some difficulty in understanding the vital role of cultural knowledge when it comes to dealing with countries whose beliefs run counter to its own. The failures in Iraq (after the original sin of invading it), can be traced back to that shortcoming and the continuing failures in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iran and in Palestine all leave a clear and uncluttered trail that demonstrate the fact that American policy makers choose to shoot now and ask questions later. A policy which leaves nothing resolved and many people dead; a policy which, sadly, overshadows the considerable good intentions of many within the State Department who take up their positions with great faith in the power of diplomacy. The response of South Asian leaders as well as those who lead predominantly Islamic countries has always been to close ranks behind family when threatened. President Rajapakse’s response to American pressure has taken that familiar route – he looked to China, Pakistan and Japan, countries with which Sri Lanka has deep and long ties and, at home, to his closest advisers, including his family. The only people reeling with surprise and feeling betrayed are the Americans.

To work with the leader that the Sri Lankan people chose to take them out of the dark ages of terrorism into the freedom of peace, no matter the points of disagreement, would have been the way to go. Instead, America now finds itself anointing a military man with no experience in statesmanship, with a track record of brutality against the Tamil people and who, unable to stand on his own abilities has cobbled together a motley collection of dissatisfied political groups including the UNP and the JVP (which were, together, responsible for the murder of thousands of youth, most of them students, and whose combined shenanigans closed down the universities of Sri Lanka for the large part of two years). But it ain’t no entrance if you cannot make one on your own and you can’t lead – much less unite – a country when you are nothing more than the puppet of several warring factions who have merely come together for the purpose of ousting the one man who managed what none of these groups could: end the war and make it possible for Tamil people to once again speak their language freely in the streets of Colombo. It also finds itself in the surely untenable position of saying that it is alright with America to have people with American permanent residency vie to become head of state in a different one although here in America one cannot stand for election without first renouncing such fealty to any other places of domicile.

But perhaps a stable Sri Lanka is not in America’s best interests. Its former president was clearly comfortable with not merely making lists of bad countries and checking them twice, but actively attempting to shove the “good” ones over to the dark side. And our new President, deep though my support runs, has proved that he is not that different from the last with regard to his foreign policy. Either that or we are living with two presidents: the one who runs the country, and the other, Hillary Clinton, who is ruining the world. On January 26th, Sri Lankans may yet prove that she does not. If and when they do, the only hope lies in those top tier American policy makers who have had the opportunity to live and work in Sri Lanka and therefore understand, perhaps, a little more about what it takes to build a partnership with the leader of a nation whose literacy rates, equality of pay between the genders as well as the inclusion of women in positions of political office, thriving media, highly educated trilingual third estate and all round civic participation places it, in all these respects, above the United States.

The Books:

The Books:

On Sal Mal Lane

In the tradition of In the Time of the Butterflies and The Kite Runner, a tender, evocative novel about the years leading up to the Sri Lankan civil war.

A Disobedient Girl

A Disobedient Girl is a compelling map of womanhood, its desires and loyalties, set against the backdrop of beautiful, politically turbulent, Sri Lanka.


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