Monday, 8 January 2007

Sri Lanka crisis and India's options

Subramanian Swamy

“This is the time for India to contribute effectively to the war against terrorism and to the promotion of democracy by targeting the LTTE sincerely and effectively." There is an urgent need for India to define its Sri Lanka policy and delineate its options, because of India's unique relationship with Sri Lanka. The Sinhala Buddhist community acknowledges umbilical links with the people of Bihar, Orissa, and West Bengal. It constitutes 75 per cent of Sri Lanka's population. The people of Tamil Nadu just across the Palk Strait have longstanding and continuing links with Sri Lankan Tamils who form a significant minority. India can play an effective role in stemming the crisis in the island since the two nations are bound by history, geography, culture, fraternal links, and national security concerns. However, for India to play a role, the genesis of the Sri Lanka crisis must be clearly understood. At present, international facilitators such as the Norwegians have not much of a clue about the cause of the crisis. Hence they flounder. Is the crisis rooted in religion, ethnicity, language, or terrorism? The answer is `no.' The problem in Sri Lanka, and the basic reason for the island being in crisis for five decades, is not ethnic since there is no ethno-heterogeneity among the people. Nor is the problem religious because Hinduism and Buddhism, the two main belief systems in the island nation, are, at the very least, not mutually antagonistic. Buddhism is a reform of Hinduism and respected as such. The Sri Lanka problem is a hangover of British colonial mischief in the sense the Sinhala community appears to bear a grudge against the Tamils for having got ahead by collaborating with the British rulers. It is completely unreasonable to bear this resentment after 60 years of Sinhala-dominated rule. Nevertheless, this is a mindset that needs to be addressed by India — if and when India intervenes for a solution. There are as many solutions as there are parties to the strife. A feasible solution can only emerge by first agreeing on who should be considered the legitimate parties in the current crisis. Obviously, the democratic, elected government of Sri Lanka is one of the parties. The difficult question is who should represent the Tamils: Should it be the LTTE, which seeks to be the sole representative of the Tamils, a claim surprisingly accepted by the fumbling and clueless interlocutors from Norway? Should there be a composite negotiating partner of all Tamil parties as the present Government of India appears to favour? Or should it be a rainbow Tamil coalition minus the LTTE, as this writer suggests? It is my considered view that any alternative solution that includes the LTTE is doomed to failure. More importantly, even if such a solution is found, it will be against India's long-term national security interests. For India, I contend that a solution is feasible and viable only if the LTTE is excluded. The LTTE needs to be dealt with as part of the problem — not part of the solution. Given this pre-condition of excluding the LTTE from any solution, there are only two options before India (I don't discuss more extreme options here). The first is to persuade Sri Lanka to adopt an Indian-type quasi-federal Constitution for a united, sovereign Sri Lanka. This is the minimum demand of the Sri Lankan Tamil people. India clearly cannot go below this demand. The second option is the partition of the island to create an independent sovereign state of Eelam. This would mean India making a long-term commitment to sustain the survival of Eelam — and risk Eelam becoming a future base for India's enemies (we did that with Bangladesh and paid a heavy price for taking that risk). On the face of it, this option is unacceptable to India. The first option is the least painful for Sri Lanka and feasible today, but time is running out for its acceptance by Tamils. If the situation deteriorates, it could pave the way for the LTTE to return with the help of anti-Indian forces, to force the pace against Indian interests. India's preferred solution must be a federal or quasi-federal Constitution. What is clear is that a unitary state of Sri Lanka will be a dead letter. Buddhist monks wrote its epitaph when they recently acknowledged that they had wrongly opposed the Indian Peace-Keeping Force, which they want back in the island. My friend, Rajiv Gandhi, has been vindicated at last. But we need to move forward. It is India's national security imperative, and an unavoidable moral responsibility to the Tamils, to get involved now to free the island of Sri Lanka from the LTTE's terror — if for nothing else other than securing its own environment and punishing those who assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. This is our obligation to Sri Lanka and to the Indian people. But there is a pre-condition. Only if Sri Lanka adopts and implements the first solution of devolution, does the obligation fall on India to intervene on the side of the Sri Lanka government and destroy the LTTE. Either Sri Lanka adopts this solution on its own, or India prods it in ways known to all. There is not much time to lose because India needs to fix the LTTE for the following reasons: First, India trained the LTTE in the 1980s and created the Frankenstein monster. It must atone for this grievous mistake by actions to disband and wind up the LTTE. Secondly, despite enjoying India's hospitality for years, and after welcoming the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement in 1987, the LTTE teamed up with the Sinhala hard-liner, President R. Premadasa. It betrayed India by killing more than a thousand Indian army personnel of the IPKF sent to the island to enforce the Agreement. The betrayal and loss of lives of our valiant jawans must be avenged to keep up the morale of the Indian armed forces. Thirdly, as the Home Ministry 2005 Annual Report to Parliament states, the LTTE has been targeting pro-Indian Sri Lanka politicians and assassinating them. For the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, an Indian trial court has declared accused no.1, the LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran, as a proclaimed offender. Interpol has issued a red corner notice for apprehending him. India is thus obligated to search for Prabhakaran and immobilise the LTTE enough to deter it from engaging in any murderous, terrorist activities against India and Indian interests. Fourthly, the LTTE interferes in the internal affairs of India by financing some Indian political elements, in providing training to certain Indian extremist organisations, and by extending insurgency infrastructure to bandits such as Veerappan. It also launders the black money of some Indian politicians through its illegal Eelam Bank in the Jaffna area. India cannot allow such erosion of law and order within its own borders. Fifthly, the LTTE must be understood to be part of an international terror network. It is involved in smuggling narcotics into India, circulating fake currency notes to buy medicines and diesel, and engaging in passport fabrication and hawala operations. This is the time for India to contribute effectively to the war against terrorism and to the promotion of democracy by targeting the LTTE sincerely and effectively. This is also in the larger national interest of security and national integrity. The international consensus against the LTTE offers a window of constructive opportunity. We must seize it now, provided the Sinhala majority overcomes its obdurate resistance to devolution, and takes the Tamils as equal partners in building the future of Sri Lanka as a democratic and peaceful nation.

Subramanian Swamy, an economist educated at Harvard University and a former Union Cabinet Minister of India, is president of the Janata Party.
(Courtesy: The Hindu, Nov. 30, 2006)

No comments: