|Accountability, reconciliation, democracy|
While the most stridently unambiguous criticism of external military invention in Libya has come from the leftwing leaderships, governments and movements of Latin America, which know a thing or two about revolution, counterrevolution, imperialism and national sovereignty, Prof Muni drew attention to the abstention by the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and the dissenting remarks by India during the Security Council debate on Libya. Echoing the more recent criticisms made by the BRICs, he ventured the suggestion that these would emerge as the moral, ethical and Realist centre of the world community, not engaged in warlike activism and risking overstretch, but in peaceful economic expansion and cooperation.
The most direct impact of the events in the Arab world on Asia were seen to be economic: the hike in oil prices and the possible diminution of remittances from migrant labor, which could constitute a shock effect on Asian economies and living standards, thereby triggering social unrest.
It is against the backdrop of these developments that the current commentary on the external challenges to Sri Lanka must be embedded.
Governments the world over certainly do point to external threats to shore up domestic power and legitimacy. Sometimes these threats are real, sometimes not. Sometimes they are real but exaggerated. Sometimes the threats could have been better met with a different government or existing governments could themselves have better met the threats had they conducted themselves differently.
One would expect oppositional or dissenting political discourse to differentiate between real and unreal threat, accurately depicted and exaggerated threat, and treated and untreated external problems. That, however, is not the case in Sri Lanka. Here, criticism of the government with regard to external challenges falls into two equally absurd categories. One is that there is no such threat and that all mention of such external foes or challenges is but a ploy of the Rajapaksa regime which must be exposed and rejected as fake by all brave and discerning souls. Another argument is that yes, there are challenges looming but those external forces are not a threat to Sri Lanka and its people — only to the ruling elite, and liberation through ‘regime termination’ will someday be at hand by the blessed intercession of these external factors and forces.
Taken together, the anti-government discourse is that there is no external threat to Sri Lanka as a country, a state, and if there is, it is to be welcomed as a lever to prise out the incumbent administration.
A dissenting discourse less irrational than this would have yielded a different line of argument, namely that there is an external threat which should be combated but that there are better and worse ways of so doing; choices between projects of defending national sovereignty and defeating the secessionist and pro-secessionist forces in the Cold war being waged against Sri Lanka.
Yet, this is not the case made by the local oppositional ideologues. The decisive and virtually complete decimation of the military apparatus of the LTTE is used as argument that there cannot be any external threat because there is no LTTE to constitute that threat. This argument is absurd on two counts. Firstly, it is manifestly the case that while the Tiger armed force was wiped out, or to put it differently, the Tigers were wiped out as an armed force, the Tiger movement or network based overseas could not be wiped out and remained intact, simply because it was out of the physical reach of the Sri Lankan state. Secondly, winning a hot war in no way precludes a Cold war.
Recent developments in the global arena demonstrate the truth of the old cliché that lies at the heart of the Realist discourse from Thucydides onwards: the world is a dangerous place. In such a dangerous environment, states must be watchful of their independence, interests and power.
Our old enemies, the secessionists, seek to resume the struggle by other means, and win by them. These enemies are manipulating the dangerous trends in the world arena which threaten national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. The overseas-based secessionists hope to leverage these external trends and factors so as to isolate Sri Lanka.
While the Rajapakse administration may be accused of many a sin of omission and commission, it did not create the Global Tamil Forum, the British Tamil Forum, the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam and the pro-Tamil secessionist tendency in Tamil Nadu. Nor is it responsible for Tamil nationalism’s imprudent refusal to regard the existing Constitutional provisions for Provincial autonomy and power sharing as the point of departure for political dialogue.
There is an inherent contradiction between the call for a so-called independent international inquiry into the conduct of the legitimate Sri Lankan armed forces in the closing months of the war, and the imperative to defend a popular war of national liberation and reunification and the armed forces that waged it on behalf of the nation.
There is also an inherent contradiction between those who claim to stand for greater democratization and post-war ethnic reconciliation, and the call for an inquiry, with its inevitably attendant lacerating and polarizing implications. Developments in the Middle east highlight the crucial role of the armed forces, and those with the armed forces ‘on side’, enjoyed a peaceful denouement or development. It is an impossibility to retain the support or neutrality of the armed forces, itself a bulwark of peaceful democratization, and simultaneously advocate an external or externally induced wide-ranging inquiry into its conduct in recently concluded, necessary and nationally popular war.
In conclusion I confess a certain perspective. To my mind, the more valuable debate in the Sri Lankan media would be over how external threats should realistically be countered, the armed forces best defended, national sovereignty best protected in the inclement international weather, and the historic military victory made permanent. This debate is currently not taking place. Instead there is a three way split between those who acknowledge a threat but see it as emanating from every quarter and are unwilling to display the pragmatic flexibility to counter these threats ; those who assert that the threats are imaginary and denounce the country’s elected leadership for attempting to alert and resist, and those who, with little hope of electoral legitimacy, are awaiting the landfall of those inimical external trends onto Sri Lanka’s shores.
www.island.lk By Dr DAYAN JAYATILLEKA