தமிழ்த் தேசியம்

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."

- Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

Home

 Whats New

Trans State Nation Tamil Eelam Beyond Tamil Nation Comments Search

Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of  Struggle for Tamil Eelam  > India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Tamil Eelam, Kurds & Bhutan

India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam

Tamil Eelam, Kurds and Bhutan
Nadesan Satyendra
July 1985

In early July 1985, the leaders of the Tamil guerilla movement which were fighting for the establishment of a separate Tamil Eelam state in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka, were persuaded by the Indian government to enter into discussions with representatives of the Sri Lankan government. The venue of the discussions was the capital city of Thimpu in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

This article written in July 1985 (during the period between phase I and phase II of the Thimpu Talks) draws some comparisons between the struggle for Tamil Eelam and the struggle of the Kurds in Iraq and examines the international frame of the Tamil Eelam-Sri Lanka conflict - an examination which continues to be of relevance.


Contents


Kurdistan and the 1920 Treaty of Sevres…

The Kurds are a people who live in the mountainous area that forms the borders of Iraq, Iran, the Soviet Union, Turkey and Syria. Around 3 million Kurds live in Iraq, about 3.7million live in Iran and around 8.5 million in Turkey.

The Introduction to the 1975 Minority Rights Group Report on the Kurds began:

"The Kurds are the fourth most numerous people in the Middle East. They constitute one of the largest races, indeed nations, in the world today to have been denied an independent state. Whatever the yardstick for national identity, the Kurds measure upto it."

In 1918, the aspirations of the Kurds, as a people, were recognized in President Woodrow Wilson's program for world peace, which stipulated that the non Turkish nationalities of the Ottoman empire would be 'assured of an absolute unmolested opportunity of autonomous development'.

The Treaty of Sevres, imposed by the victorious allies on Turkey in 1920, provided, amongst other matters, for the recognition of Kurdistan. But in the share out of power that followed the ending of the first world war, the Treaty of Sevres was not honoured. 

During the 1920s and the 1930s there were several Kurdish uprisings against governments which had nominal control over the Kurdish areas. The British fought the Kurds in Iraq from 1919 until their mandate expired in 1932. In Iran, the Kurds revolted in 1920- 23,1930, and 1931. In all cases the Kurdish revolts were successfully put down - and not least because there was no unity amongst the Kurds themselves.

World War II brought renewed opportunities for Kurdish rebellion. It also witnessed the emergence of Mulla Mustafa as a Kurd leader. As the end of the war approached the Kurds made vain attempts to gain recognition by the United States and the Soviet Union for an independent Kurdistan. 

In December 1945, the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was established in the Kurdish area of north western Iran with extensive Soviet support, including the protection of Soviet occupation troops in northern Iran. But in less than a year, the Soviets withdrew their troops and the Republic collapsed in the face of Iraqi and Iranian attacks.

Mulla Mustafa with 500 to 800 of his men retreated to the Soviet Union where he remained in exile for 12 years. The Kurds learnt that it was not enough to capture territory - it was also necessary to hold that territory against enemy counter attack.


Twelve years later negotiations with the Iraq government…

Twelve years later and a few days after the revolution of July 15 1958, which overthrew the Iraqi monarchy, the new head of state, General Quasim, promulgated a 'Temporary Constitution' which referred specifically to the Kurds as co partners within the framework of Iraqi unity.

Mulla Mustafa came back from exile and it was confidently assumed that the equality thus proclaimed would mean a considerable measure of administrative devolution, a fairer share than before of development projects and social services, and enhanced status for the Kurdish language.

On this assumption the various Kurdish organisations, in Iraq and abroad, rallied to the support of the new regime. But there was never any serious attempt by the Quasim government to implement the promises to the Kurds, implicit in the Temporary Constitution. In 1960, the Democratic Party of Kurdistan of which Mulla Mustafa had been elected President was declared illegal.


Renewed fighting in 1961 and ceasefire and talks in 1963…

Fighting broke out in July 1961 and continued until 1963 when a cease-fire was agreed to following the overthrow of Quasim at the hands of a military junta headed by General Yahya.

In March 1963, General Yahya visited Mulla Mustafa and the Iraqi government issued a proclamation recognizing 'the natural rights of the Kurdish people on the basis of decentralisation'.

The Iraqi scheme of decentralisation suggested that Iraq should be divided into six regions and that in one of them, Kurdish should rank as an official language together with Arabic. A Kurdish delegation was sent to Baghdad and it published a statement of Kurdish claims for home rule, which was intended as the opening move for further negotiations. But the statement was never discussed.

In June 1963, the Yahya government arrested the Kurdish representatives, issued an ultimatum demanding the surrender of Mulla Mustafa and launched an offensive against Kurdish positions.


Second ceasefire and talks again…

In November 1963, there was yet another change in the composition of the Iraqi government and President Arif assumed more direct control. This change of government was followed in February 1964 by a second cease fire and negotiations between President Arif and Mulla Mustafa.

The main points of the Kurdish demands put forward to the Arif regime were that:

1.full autonomy be granted to the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, whose geographical boundaries should be defined and recognized in the Iraqi constitution

2.the Kurdish Language be the official language of the autonomous region and the second official language of Iraq

3.the regime in Iraq should be democratic,

4.the vice president and deputy prime minister should be Kurds,

5.besides the central Parliament, a local assembly would be elected in Iraqi Kurdistan,

6.the Kurds would be represented in pro portion to their population in Parliament, in the government and in the central administration,

7.foreign affairs, defense and finances would remain under the control of the central government, all other matters would be transferred to the competence of the autonomous government,

8.Kurdish army units would remain under Kurdish command and would be placed at the disposal of the autonomous government,

9. the budget of the autonomous region would be derived from taxes levied in the Kurdish region plus a just share of the revenue derived from oil royalties,

10.any questions arising in the future concerning the status of the Kurds would be solved democratically through mutual agreement.


Talks that failed again…

Arif's representatives began negotiations in February 1964 with Mulla Mustafa's representatives. The Kurds insisted on their demands for autonomy, while the Iraqis were not prepared to make any concessions on this point claiming that Kurdish autonomy would inevitably lead to the secession of the northern region of Iraq.

Arif proposed that the Kurds waive their demand for autonomy, in exchange for which he revived proposals for the decentralisation of the Iraqi provinces, the same proposals that the Kurds had rejected two years earlier in 1963.

No progress was made and full scale fighting broke out again in April 1965, and the Iraqi government committed even larger forces than before against the Kurds.


Kurds appeal to United Nations…

In February 1966, Mulla Mustafa sent a memorandum to the United Nations Secretary General asking for a UN Commission of Inquiry to be sent to northern Iraq. He alleged that the Iraqi government was conducting a scorched earth policy and deporting thousands of Kurds from their homes after bombing their villages in an attempt to exterminate the Kurdish people. Despite the Iraqi's concentrated military effort and some initial set backs, the Kurds gradually assumed the initiative toward the middle of 1966.


Arms supplies from Iran to the Kurds…

"During the time frame we have been examining, Iran emerged as the largest supplier of outside aid to the Kurds. The Shah of Iran permitted Mulla Mustafa's forces a limited amount of refuge in the Iranian border area adjacent to Iraq. Humanitarian relief was supplied to Kurdish refugees fleeing from fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan."

"The Kurds also received military supplies from Iran, including rifles, medium range artillery, anti aircraft guns, and ammunition but no airplanes or tanks. The Shah was anxious that Kurdish enthusiasm for an independent or autonomous Kurdish state did not spill over to affect the Kurds in Iran. After all the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad had once existed on territory claimed by Iran. "

"The Shah, however, did want to see the Iraqi army occupied with the Kurds for as long as possible, primarily in order to prevent challenges to Iranian hegemony in the Persian Gulf" (from Judy S.Bertelson's excellent study in 'Nonstate Nations in International Politics, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1971)


Third ceasefire, talks and 12 point settlement of 29 June 1966…

In May 1966 the Iraqi army suffered its worst defeat of the entire war when two battalions were nearly wiped out by Kurdish forces. After a period of intensive retaliatory bombing, the third formal cease-fire was agreed to in June 1966 and a new civilian Iraqi Prime Minister broadcast a 12 point programme which was accepted by Mulla Mustafa as a starting point for discussions.

The main points of the 29th June declaration were

1.recognition of the 'Kurdish Nation' to be confirmed in the permanent constitution

2.enactment of a Provisional Administration Law providing for decentralisation and the transfer of wide powers to locally elected councils

3.use of Kurdish language for administration and public instruction

4.representation of Kurds in all branches of the public service in proportion to their population

5.the appointment of Kurdish officials to Kurdish districts

6.a general amnesty 'when violence ends' to include all persons already convicted

7.reappointment of absentee officials as far as possible to their previous posts

8.formation of a special ministry to supervise reconstruction and compensation for sufferers in the 'north' and to coordinate administration in the Kurdish districts

9.resettlement of persons evicted from their homes, release of all political prisoners

The original Kurdish demand that only foreign affairs, defense and finances should remain under the control of the central government, and that all other matters should be transferred to the competence of the autonomous government, was now, not surprisingly, diluted to a Provincial Administration Law which would provide for the rather familiar "decentralisation and the transfer of 'wide' powers to locally elected councils".

Also, significantly, the June 29 declaration made no reference to the original Kurdish demand that Kurdish army units would remain under Kurdish command and would be placed at the disposal of the autonomous government - a demand which had clearly recognized that the in the end, the implementation of any settlement was not unrelated to the power that flows from the barrel of the gun.


But June 29 settlement obstructed by frequentchanges of regime in Iraq…

But a settlement even on the basis of the June 29 agreements was obstructed by frequent changes of regime or cabinet within the Iraqi government during the period 1966 to 1968 - again, perhaps, a not unfamiliar scenario to the Tamil people. In July 1968, the Arif regime was overthrown and General al-Bakr took control. By February 1969 the Iraqis had launched another, even larger, full scale offensive.


Failure of Iraq offensive, talks and the 1970 Peace Treaty…

By the end of 1969 it was evident that the Iraqi army had again failed to suppress the Kurds and in November peace talks began. Again the Kurds demanded full political autonomy. Once again, the Iraqi government regarded the concession to such demands as constituting a major step towards secession.

Eventually, Mulla Mustafa was able to convince Kurdish 'hard-liners' to sign a treaty. The March 11, 1970 peace treaty between the Kurds and the Iraqi government was not published, but its main points were included in a special proclamation by the Iraqi leader, al-Bakr:

1. Recognition of the Kurdish nation. To this end the provisional constitution of Iraq was to be amended by a section sta ting that the republic of Iraq consists of two main nations, Arabs and Kurds.

2. Recognition of the Kurdish language, in the form of a constitutional amendment laying down that both Kurdish and Arabic will serve as official languages in those districts in which the Kurds are a majority

3. The legal powers of the districts are to be increased by legal amendment. A new Kurdish district would be formed, with the same enlarged administrative powers and a Kurdish governor

4. A Kurdish vice president will be appointed, and the Kurds will enjoy proportional representation on all executive and administrative bodies, including the government and the army

5. Administration officials in districts with a Kurdish majority must be Kurds or at least speak Kurdish

6. The national right of the Kurds to the development of Kurdish culture is recognized in every aspect, including the establishment of a Kurdish University, the publication of Kurdish books, Kurdish language broadcasts and telecasts, and the recognition of Kurdish customs and holidays

7. All Kurdish students will be permitted to return to their studies and their educational standards will be improved

8. The Kurds will be permitted to establish youth and adult organisations

9. A general amnesty will be proclaimed for all who have taken part in the Kurdish rebellion, and Kurdish public servants and soldiers will be reinstated in office

10. All Kurds who have left their villages would be permitted to return, and for those unable to return for different reasons, new housing would be provided

11. Kurdish soldiers would be granted pensions, and dependents of fallen Kurds would be compensated

12. A Committee for the Rehabilitation of the Northern Districts and Compensation of War Damage would be established and an economic development plan for the Kurdish region would be drawn up and implemented with all possible speed

13. Steps would be taken to assure the speedy implementation of land reform in the Kurdish regions. Also all land debts of Kurdish farmers for the last nine years would be cancelled.

14. The arms held by the Kurdish fighters would be surrendered to the Iraqi government during the final stages of the implementation of the treaty. The same applies to the secret Kurdish broadcasting station 'Free Kurdistan'

15. A high commission consisting of representatives of the central Iraqi authorities and of the Kurds would be established to supervise the implementation of the treaty.


Four year armed truce, but settlement was not implemented…

There was to be a four year interim period during which the provisions of the agreement were to be implemented. In practise the ensuing four years became an armed truce. The Iraqi government carried out few of the terms of the agreement. Some economic development in Kurdistan was begun; a Kurdish University was opened; however essential Kurdish demands - political autonomy in Kurdistan and a Kurdish share of power at the centre - remained unfulfilled.

The March 1970 Peace Treaty, constituted the beginning of the end of the struggle of the Mulla Mustafa led insurgency. An agreement which spelled out a four year period for implementation was necessarily weighted in favour of the party which occupied the established seats of power.

A resistance movement tends to be weakened by a prolonged truce as it becomes increasingly difficult for the leadership to retain its influence on a rank and file which recognizes that despite the rhetoric, the direction of the future is one of compromise and adjustment.

The March 1970 Peace Treaty failed to spell out any binding 'international guarantee' for the implementation of the agreement despite the covert involvement of the Soviet Union, the United States and Iran in the Kurdish struggle and that was a failure that proved fatal.


Soviet aid to Iraq…

Whilst Iran supported the Kurds, by 1974, Iraq had become the Soviet Union's principal ally in the Persian Gulf area. The Soviet Union had by that time supplied Iraq with 188 combat aircraft, 1300 artillery guns and 20 small naval ships.

In March 1974, Soviet Defence Minister Marshall Grechko visited Iraq and openly condemned the Kurdish 'revolt'.

The Kurd leader, Mulla Mustafa who was once an exile in Moscow was no longer in favour. He was a victim of the changed geo political interests of the Soviet Union in the Middle East.


United States and Iran assist Kurds…

On the other side, Iran was the primary supporter of the United States in the Persian Gulf. In May 1972 President Nixon visited Iran. The Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. House of Representatives (under the chairmanship of Otis Pike) disclosed, on November 1 1975, that the Shah had been able to convince Nixon during the visit that the United States should provide covert aid to the Kurds.

After the visit Nixon ordered the CIA to deliver millions of dollars worth of Soviet and Chinese arms and ammunitions (some of which were collected in Cambodia) to the Kurds. The Pike Committee Report charged:

"The President, Dr. Kissinger and the Foreign head of state (the Shah) hoped our clients (the Kurds) would not prevail. They preferred instead that the insurgents (the Kurds) simply continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of our ally's neighbouring country (Iraq). This policy was not imparted to our clients (the Kurds) who were encouraged to continue fighting. Even in the context of covert action, ours was a cynical enterprise."


Massive Iraqi attack on the Kurds in April 1974

In early 1974, despite the terms of the March 1970 Peace Treaty, the Iraqi government proclaimed its new constitution and said that they would impose it unilaterally, with or without the consent of the Kurds.

In April 1974, the Iraqis launched another offensive sending seven Iraqi divisions, including two armoured divisions, supported by 200 bombers and fighter bombers, into Kurdish territory along three fronts.

On March 6 1975, the Shah of Iran concluded the Pact of Algiers with the de facto ruler of Iraq, Sadam Hussain.

Following his return from Algiers, the Shah summoned Mulla Mustafa to Teheran and told him that Iran was withdrawing all aid to the Kurdish resistance and recalling all arms and sup plies; the Shah ordered Mulla Mustafa to halt all military operations against the Iraqis.

On March 18, 1975, 16 years after his return from exile in Moscow and after three cease fires and interminable 'negotiations' Mulla Mustafa gave the order to the Kurdish army to abandon the struggle. This time round, Mulla Mustafa obtained refuge in the United States!

The Shah, in return for withdrawing support from the Kurds, had received a favourable settlement from the Iraqis on Iranian navigational rights on the Shatt al Arab waterway.

Once again, the Kurds of Iraq found that they were the victims of the changed geo political interests of their allies - this time, the United States and Iran.


Some lessons…

In her study on Non state Nations in International Politices, Judy S. Bertelson concludes:

"The Kurdish strategy for attaining their basic goal of autonomy within Iraq was to fight the Iraqi central government until the resulting stalemate might cause a change to a regime in Baghdad more favourable to an agreement with the Kurds.

At the same time the Kurds tried to gain as much external support as possible from international organisations and from nation states opposed to the Iraqis."

"This strategy had several effects on the international context. First of all, the inability of the Iraqis to put an end to the 'Kurdish problem' for 14 years contributed to the instability of the central Iraqi government in Baghdad. This instability, combined with the constant need to deploy a major segment of the Iraqi army against the Kurds, severely limited the Iraqi government's actions in the international arena and also diverted funds from Iraqi development projects."

" For other nations, Iraq's 'Kurdish problem' allowed them a certain amount of leverage in their dealings with the Iraqi government. If the Iraqi government acted in a belligerent fashion toward Israel, Kuwait, Syria or Iran, then these national governments could retaliate by aiding the Kurds."

"In the end the Iraqis had to concede to Iran navigational rights on the Shatt al Arab waterway (a major point of contention in Iranian Iraqi relations for years) in order to stop Iranian aid to the Kurds...

The Shah of Iran was never willing to go as far as he could have for the Kurds, even in terms of weapon supplies. Kurdish nationalism in Iraq was in the long run, disadvantageous for Iran.

For Iran the Kurdish fight against the Iraqis was a convenient way of keeping Iran's chief rival off balance. When it became advantageous for Iran to come to an agreement with Iraq, the Kurds were abandoned"


Some lessons for the Tamil struggle as well…

The story of the Kurds of Iraq has some lessons for the Tamils of Eelam whose leaders have been persuaded by the Indian government to participate in discussions with the Sri Lankan government at Bhutan.

  • Let us learn that the struggle of the Tamils of Eelam cannot and will not be permitted to take its course in 'mid air'.
  • Let us learn about and understand the international frame of that struggle.
  • Let us learn that each state has its own interests and that it is those interests that it pursues, whether overtly or covertly.
  • Let us learn the importance of identifying the nature and content of the interests of those states that are concerned with the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.
  • Let us learn that the interests of a state are a function of the interests of groups which wield power within that state and that 'foreign policy is the external manifestation of domestic institutions, ideologies and other attributes of the polity'.
  • Let us learn from the failure of successive Iraqi governments to deliver on the promises that they had made.
  • Let us learn that they failed to deliver, not because these governments were constituted by evil men but because the reality of the power structure in Iraq prevented them from acceding to the 'just and reasonable' demands of the Kurdish people - demands which had been so recognized by President Woodrow Wilson in 1918.
  • Let us learn that power centres always act in ways which perpetuate or enlarge their own power.
  • Let us learn that the pious declarations in the 12 point programme of 1966 and the 1970 peace treaty, about the 'recognition of the Kurdish nation' remained just that - pious declarations, and that they paved the way for the annihilation of the Kurds in 1975.
  • Let us learn from the failure of the Kurds to secure international guarantees for the implementation of the Peace Treaty of March 1970.
  • Let us also learn that the eventual success of any struggle is, not surprisingly, a function of the capacity of a leadership to mobilise its own people and its own resources at the broadest level. A leadership which fails to do so cannot lead and must inevitably fail.


The international frame of the Tamil struggle…

Let us therefore first turn our attention to the international frame within which the struggle of the Tamils of Eelam must necessarily take place.

"Structural and other attributes of the international system shape and constrain policy choices to such an extent that this is the logical starting point for most analyses." (David J.Singer - The Level of Analysis Problem in International relations - World Politics, 1961)

Geography plays a basic though often silent role in the affairs of a people. It was many years ago - sometime in 1956 or so that the late Krishna Menon was addressing an English undergraduate audience. The United States Navy was patrolling the waters around Taiwan and it was a period of some international tension.

A youthful questioner stood up and asked: "Mr.Menon, Sir, what are your views on the position of Taiwan?" Krishna Menon's response came in a flash: "The position of Taiwan is that it is a few hundred miles from China and several thousand miles away from the United States of America." The audience dissolved in laughter. The visit of President Richard Nixon to China twenty years later underlined the significance of that which Krishna Menon had said.

The position of Sri Lanka is that it is a few miles from Tamil Nadu and the Indian sub continent and several thousand miles away from the United States of America. Its influence on the outside world and in turn the influence of the outside world on the affairs of the people of Sri Lanka is a function, not so much of its size, but of its location near the large land mass of the Indian subcontinent and in the centre of the vast expanse of the waters of the Indian ocean.

"Situated almost in the midst of the Indian Ocean, the island of Sri Lanka has in India the nearest land mass across the 23 miles of the shallow waters of the Palk Straits. The next nearest land mass, whether in the south, east or west is hundred of miles away. And though the technological revolution has minimised such distances to a considerable extent, the fact of such geographical proximity of India to her southern neighbour cannot be ignored altogether.

In 1971, for instance, when Sri Lanka was rocked by the youth uprising and then Premier Mrs.Bandaranaike sent an SOS for help to several countries, Great Britain was the fastest to move from its base in Singapore to be followed within hours by India, whose navy, in consultation with the Sri Lankan government, virtually cordoned the coastal areas to prevent the possibility of outside help to the insurrectionaries..." (Urmilla Phadnis - India Sri Lanka Relations in the 1980s in Strategic Environment in South Asia, edited by D.D.Khanna)


Bipolar world structure…

We live in a bipolar world dominated by two super powers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union. If history serves as a guide, the confrontation between these two powers would have, in the ordinary course of events, led to war and the supremacy of one or the other as the sole world power. In time, ofcourse, the hegemony of the emergent sole world power will itself decay and give way to a multipolar power structure, leading again to a bipolar world and so on.

However, the years after the end of World War II did not lead to direct war between the two super powers. The nuclear deterrent prevented direct conflict. But the confrontation between the two super powers continued unabated after 1945. It was a cold war - sometimes less cold and sometimes more so.

The Prussian military theorist Clausewitz remarked in the 19th century that war is a continuation of politics by other means. Nikolai Lenin, some years later, characteristically and brilliantly restated the proposition and said that politics is a continuation of war by other means. 1984 appears to bear witness to the emerging Orwellian truth that war is peace and peace is war. It is this that is sometimes called 'detente'.


Wars by proxy in the third world…

In the years after the second world war, the two super powers, whilst avoiding direct armed conflict have fought many wars by proxy, in the third world and elsewhere and have sought to influence and direct the actions of many 'independent' states, indirectly, some times by exerting economic pressure and sometimes by engaging in under cover activities intended to de stabilise unfriendly governments. The bipolar world lives in seeming peace, but, often, war continues by other means.

Again, given the nuclear deterrent, and the avoidance of direct armed conflict between the two super powers, a movement towards a more diffused multi polar power structure has already begun. New power centres have arisen in Asia, Africa, South America and for that matter in Europe as well. Both China and India are 'big' powers in the Asian region and have the potential of becoming increasingly influential powers of the world of tomorrow.

"The strength of our defence is that we have been good learners; we have sophisticated our equipment to a great extent without remaining too long dependent on foreign advisers. The very fact that 90% of our requirements can now be produced in India gives us confidence. This factor of defence production is crucial..." (Jagat S.Mehta, Foreign Secretary, Government of India at National Seminar on Defence Studies, Allahabad University, March 1978)

But today, even India and China find the need to lean toward either the Soviet Union or the United States from time to time.


The international frame which Sri Lanka has sought to manage…

These are some of the realities of the international frame which the Sri Lankan government has sought to manage so that it may be left in peace to 'deal' with the Tamils of Eelam. On the one hand the Sri Lankan government has sought to reassure the Indian government that the Sinhala people have no conflict with New Delhi. After all relations between New Delhi and Colombo were reasonably cuddly during the thirty years after independence in 1947.

"Till India has a centre strong enough to keep its States under control, the secession cry of a segment of Tamils in Sri Lanka may not find its echo in Tamil Nadu. In the event of the centre becoming weak and centripetal tendencies asserting themselves in India, this may not be so.

It is in this context again that any government in Colombo will perceive the regime stability in Delhi as a vital factor for its own survival as a unified state. And on the Indian side too, an unstable Sri Lanka may well portend threats to security - stability parameters in the south..."(Urmilla Phadnis - India Sri Lanka Relations in the 1980s in Strategic Environment in South Asia, edited by D.D.Khanna)

More recently, Indian Foreign Secretary Romesh Bhandari declared in a magazine interview:

"...a united Sri Lanka is in our national interests. We have no reason to encourage secessionist forces...the greater the instability in Sri Lanka, the more it will look to outside powers. That is exactly what we do not want..."

Sri Lankan National Security Minister, Lalith Athulathmudali, in a speech he made at the 87th Mahapola which was held at the Sinhala Vidyalaya, Kahatagasdigliya stated to a Sinhala audience on the 27th of May 1984:

"If victory was to be achieved, it could not be done by uniting all opposing forces but by dividing them and creating dissension among them... Sri Lankan Kings never opposed the entirety of India. When there was conflict with the Pandyans, they sought the aid of the Cholas and acted against the Pandyans. When the Pandyans and Cholas combined, they sought the aid of Kalinga. Sinhala Kings had that high intelligence and knowledge of statecraft..."

Both Delhi and Colombo have a shared interest in managing a rising Tamil consciousness and President Jayawardene is presumably not unaware of the Kurds of Iraq and Iran.


Consequences of 'open economic policy'…

At the same time, President Jayawardene's reliance on an 'open economic policy' had certain necessary consequences. It was an economic policy which led to and which was at the same time the result of an increasing polarisation amongst the Sinhala people themselves and the creation of a new economic elite which was dependent on and linked with foreign capital - a scenario not unfamiliar to many Third World countries.

"...To participate actively in the world economy as a late comer, it is necessary to enter on terms that serve that wider market at the expense of the domestic population. If the world economic situation is buoyant and the domestic political framework reasonably honest, then there may be enough of a capital surplus generated by economic growth to combine satisfying the greed of the rich, while taking some action to alleviate poverty and hardship.

But the logic of the global market is such that a Third World country...has little to offer other than commodity exports (that generally divert productive resources from the domestic economy) and cheap labour (that attracts foreign investment). This cycle has dreadful political effects as well; the export compulsion capitalises agriculture at the expense of marginal peasants and domestic demand, while the investment compulsion both depresses real wages and represses the efforts of workers to resist.

In such a context a Third World leader is necessarily alienated from his people, serving interests that are primarily external to those of his country, a situation that is psychologically salvaged by personal aggrandizement, including a sharing of payoffs with a tiny indigenous elite that gets rich whilst the masses are drawn ever more forcefully into a maelstrom of poverty and intimidation..." (Richard Falk in Development Debacle - The World Bank in the Phillipines, Institute of Fodd nad Policy, San Francisco 1982)

The fruits of 'development' did not filter down and were it not for massive earnings from expatriate Sinhala workers in the Middle East, which helped to inject wealth at middle and lower income levels, the government may have been hard pressed to retain its already tenuous hold on the seats of power. But even with such earnings, the Sri Lankan government had become increasingly dependent on aid and investment loans from the Western world.


With trade and aid came new political alignments…

Again with trade and aid, came political alignments and the Sri Lankan government had in recent years, taken stances, more in line with Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore rather than with the late Indira Gandhi's India.

"...the sheer volume of aid, investment loans and trade with countries like the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. is massive and the political spill over effects of such dependence have already been felt in some cases.

Thus Sri Lanka's soft pedalling on the issue of Diego Garcia at the Non Aligned summit, its response on Falkland islands supporting the British case, its rather subdued response on the controversial map published in a US Joint Chief of Staff pamphlet showing Trincomalee as one of the ports available to the US Navy personnel for rest and recreational facilities, its grant of certain significant facilities to the Voice of America under the renewed agreement of 1983, making Sri Lanka in the process an important 'listening post' of the United States, do seem to be political pay offs for economic support...

'I seek to make foreign policy', stated Foreign Minister A.C.S.Hameed, as early as 1977, "an effective instrument of economic advancement.'.."(Urmilla Phadnis - India Sri Lanka Relations in the 1980s in Strategic Environment in South Asia, edited by D.D.Khanna)


The evolving Indian - US Axis…

President Jayawardene recognized that India may be moved to destabilise his government not so much because of the political pressure of the Tamil electorate in Tamil Nadu but by the increasing presence and influence of the United States in the Indian region - a presence and an influence which India may regard as a threat to its own role in the Asian region.

President Jayawardene was aware that too close a linkage with the United States may provoke that which he sought to avoid. Again, although the political move towards the United States was facilitated by the open economic policy of the Sri Lankan Government which had linked Sri Lanka with the Western world, President Jayawardene was mindful that in terms of market size, India afforded much greater opportunities to the United States than little Sri Lanka.

"Indeed, American arms manufacturers have seen India as the better prospect in the region, and put pressure on the U.S. government in 1972 to lift an arms embargo as much to gain access to India as to Pakistan." (Stephen P.Cohen and Richard L.Park - India Emergent Power, National Strategy Information Centre, New York 1978)

In an interview with an Indian magazine in early April 1984 President Jayawardene said:

"...I know the whole situation. No country in the world would like India to be annoyed with it. Because you are 800 million people, you are a big market for trade purposes. It is not just the British who are shopkeepers. The Americans are shopkeepers too..."

Clearly, President Jayawardene was not unaware, that for him, the United States was not so much a 'resource' which he could use but an 'environmental factor' on which he was dependent and which in turn could use him to reach to and manage India.


Matrix of the power balances in the Indian region…

Again, the role of India in the region must be necessarily related to the balance struck between the two super powers. In the ultimate analysis, the United States would balance the benefits of Sri Lanka's strategic location against the predominant role that India must be accorded in the Indian region, if the United States was intent on securing not so much India's support but its strict 'non alignment' in the continuing confrontation between the Washington and Moscow.

"At the minimum, the United States can and should do nothing to challenge India's regional leadership. This does not imply the abandonment of equally legitimate (though less important) U.S. interests embedded in its relationships with other regional states... even smaller states such as Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka would not appreciate an American policy that unqualifiedly rested upon a recognition of India's hegemony in the region.

That India now holds regional dominance nevertheless is the starting point for any rational U.S. policy for the 1980s...At the maximum, the U.S. must consider the alternative of actively sustaining India's regional leadership - although again, the legitimate ambitions and goals of other regional states need not be ignored...

…a wise Indian leadership will recognize that America's concern for India's neighbours does not represent - and for many years has not represented - an attempt at containment or harassment. Such an activist diplomacy will also identify many areas of mutual cooperation and support..."(Stephen P.Cohen and Richard L.Park - India Emergent Power, National Strategy Information Centre, New York 1978)

The Tamils of Eelam must recognize that we may well be seeing today such 'an activist diplomacy' which has identified the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict as one of the areas for 'mutual cooperation and support' as between the United States and India. And there may be other areas as well.

Let us at the same time recognize that though the interests of India and the United States may 'converge', their interests are not identical.

The Soviet presence in Afghanistan and the role of Pakistan cannot be separated from the geo political frame of the Indian region. Again it would be in the interests of Pakistan to encourage the influence of China in the region, as a way of protecting itself against the day when the United States may veer too much towards India. Further, India will seek to interpret a 'strict non alignment' policy as a way of securing its own influence and power in the Indian region.

The evolving matrix of power balances in the Indian region constitutes the structural frame within which the Tamil national struggle must, of necessity, take place. It is a structural frame which is therefore, a logical starting point for any examination of the rationalities relating to that struggle and those who choose to ignore it will do so at their peril.


India's foreign policy objective in relation to Sri Lanka…

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi seeks to manage the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka in such a way as to further the foreign policy objective of securing India's influence and power in the Indian region - a policy objective which is sometimes expressed as securing a 'non aligned' Indian region.

India knows that the subjugation of the Tamils of Eelam by a Sinhala government will pave the way for Sri Lanka to make its own alliances with one or the other of the super powers in the years to come and to that extent India has a need for the Tamils of Eelam.

To put it bluntly: to secure its foreign policy objective of securing the return of Sri Lanka to the 'non aligned fold', India needs to exert pressure on Sri Lanka through the threat of a continuing 'Tamil problem'.

On the other hand India also recognizes that the creation of a separate Tamil Eelam state would destablise the Indian region and that even apart from the effect on neighbouring Tamil Nadu, there may be difficulties in securing that such a new state would not, immediately or at some future date, align itself with one or the other of the two super powers and thereby increase super power presence and influence in the Indian region.

Again, India knows that any 'via media' which involves a 'just' solution to the ethnic conflict short of the creation of a separate Tamil Eelam state, would depend on the willingness of a Sinhala government to accept such a solution.

Here, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi presumably recognizes that if India seeks to pressurise the Sinhala government beyond a point, this may result in an increasing United States presence in Sri Lanka, rather than a decreasing one. The point beyond which he may not go may be a function of the foreign policy objectives of the United States in the Indian region.

In this, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi may be more of a pragmatist than his mother, the late Indira Gandhi. The actions of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appear to reflect the need of a 'regional power' to recognize that in the end its role tends to be limited by the policy objectives of the super powers. But this again, is a dynamic relation and not a static one. The 'political space' within which India may act is also a function of its own strength.


India is not Iran…

It is not surprising, therefore, that unlike the Shah of Iran in 1975, Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandhi in 1985, has not, ordered the guerilla leaders to call off the struggle, unconditionally. He seeks instead to engage both the Tamil militant leaders and the Sri Lankan government in a 'talking process' to work out a 'just' solution.

He is also not unmindful that any perception that India has abandoned the Tamils of Eelam will in the long term tend to alienate the Tamils of Tamil Nadu from the Indian body politic and revive Tamil separatism, not openly, but as an underground movement whose nucleus may well be the Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka.

Such an underground movement would gather momentum if India fails to find answers to the basic economic problems confronting its peoples in the coming years, because in a multi national state, there will an increasing tendency for those faced with economic deprivation to attribute that deprivation to the failure of the centre to give wider powers to the nations which constitute the several states of the Indian Union.

The 'talking process' is both a way of 'massaging' the reaction in Tamil Nadu and also a way of managing the return of Sri Lanka to the 'non aligned fold'. The reality therefore is that India's commitment to a 'just' solution must be taken seriously. It is not only that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is not the Shah of Iran - India is not Iran and the Tamils are not Kurds led by Mulla Mustafa.


And so, by all means let us talk at Bhutan…

Therefore, by all means, let us talk at Bhutan. The Tamils are not an unreasonable people. But please, let us not talk endlessly. Let us talk with some purpose and direction.

Let us not talk endlessly about the so called 'devolution' of power. Devolution means that power 'devolves' from some higher body, legitimately clothed with the power of the state. Devolution means that the power that is so devolved is subject to the control and direction of that higher body.

The Tamils of Eelam do not seek a so called 'devolution' of power which is subject to the control and direction of a Sinhala government - but let us say that we are certainly prepared to sit and talk, as equals, about the way in which power may be shared in Sri Lanka. We are not an unreasonable people.

At the very outset let us ascertain the good faith and the political will of those who seek to talk with us. Let us ask: with whom do you say that you wish to talk? Do you accept that you are talking with the representatives of the Tamil nation? Or do you say you are talking with some 'bandits and terrorists' with whom you seek to do a 'deal' to overcome a temporary difficulty that you face in your attempt to 'absorb' and 'integrate' the Tamils of Eelam? Let us ask, loudly and clearly : do you recognize the existence of a Tamil nation in Sri Lanka?


Let us call for open recognition of the Tamil right to self determination…

Let us openly call upon those who have sought to assist us so that we may secure justice, to declare their own position on the question whether the Tamils of Eelam constitute a nation. We recognize that as a sovereign state, India would be reluctant to espouse the division of another sovereign state and therefore we can understand though we may not agree with, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's declaration that he does not support the creation of a separate state for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. We can also understand Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's declaration in the light of India's own foreign policy objectives in the Indian region.

But that which we ask from our friends in the international community today is not a declaration in support of the creation of a separate state: we repeat - we ask them to state their position on the question whether the Tamils of Eelam constitute a nation.

We do not plead for fairness. We do not beg for justice. Too many Tamils have given their lives to permit us to do that. They have died so that we, who have survived may have the courage to stand up for that which is right and just. And so we patiently and respectfully request our friends in the international community to make their position clear.

Do they agree that the Tamils of Eelam constitute a nation and that there is a need for the representatives of the Tamil nation and the representatives of the Sinhala nation to sit together and discuss a constitutional structure where the two nations may live together in peace and in harmony? Do they take the view that the Sri Lankan government today, accepts that which was implicit in its own 1978 constitution which provided that Sinhala and Tamil shall the two 'national' languages of Sri Lanka - namely that there were two nations in Sri Lanka, at least in 1978?

Or is it that the provision in relation to the two 'national' languages was a mere window dressing, and that the Sri Lankan government, which made constitutional provision for two 'national' languages, denies the existence of two nations in Sri Lanka? And is the position of the Sri Lankan government as that stated by President Jayawardene's brother, Mr.H.W.Jayawardene on his return recently from Bhutan:

"It is clear that a political settlement of the Tamil question cannot be made...on the basis of the claim to be a separate nation or nationality, distinct from other racial groups that are citizens of Sri Lanka..." (Sri Lanka Sunday Island, 18 July 1985)

If it is the case that the existence of a Tamil nation in Sri Lanka is denied then it must follow that the constitutional structures that are suggested on the basis of such denial, are intended to secure the evolution of a single homogeneous Sinhala identity, whether under the cloak of a so called single 'Sri Lankan nationality' or otherwise.

We are entitled are we not, to ask the Sri Lankan government and the international community - 'please, what does your reason say? What does your conscience declare?'

How many more martyrs should be born before it is recognized that the togetherness of the Tamils of Eelam is the expression of a matured national consciousness? Does anybody believe that a resolution of the conflict is ever possible except on the basis of the recognition that Sri Lanka, today, is a multinational state ? By all means, let us talk but let us about the essentials - let us not get lost in sub clauses and sub sections of rules and enactments because in the end all these rules and enactments will be worthless without the political will to recognize the existence of two nations in Sri Lanka.

To those who doubt the existence of the Tamil nation in Sri Lanka let us talk about the togetherness of the Tamil people. Let us talk about the time in the life of a people, let us talk about the stage in their history, when they become increasingly aware of the links that link them together, of the bonds that bind them together - and let us say that the Tamils of Eelam living in many lands and across distant seas, have today, become increasing aware of their togetherness. Let us talk about a togetherness which is rooted in a common history, a common culture and a common language.

Let us say that it is a togetherness which springs from a common past, but that it is not a function of the past alone. It is a togetherness which has been pressed into shape by the discrimination and oppression of a continuing present, a discrimination which sought to treat separately and which has inevitably nurtured that which was separately treated, an oppression which sought to annihilate and inhibit but which inevitably consolidated and strengthened that which it sought to oppress.

Let us say that the togetherness of the Tamils of Eelam is not a function of the past and the present alone. It is all that and more. It is a togetherness which is given purpose and direction by a growing resolve and a growing determination that we, as a people , will build a future where we, and our children and our children's children will have the opportunity to grow to the fullness of our potential and where we may return not only to a home but also to a homeland. It is a togetherness which has slowly but surely matured and which seeks to cry out openly and aloud, in pain and in joy: 'Yes we live in many lands and across distant seas, but we, too, are a people.


But we are not chauvinists…

But let us also say that we are not chauvinists. Neither are we racists. The togetherness of the Tamil people is not the expression of an exaggerated nationalism. We do not say that our language is the sweetest in the world but we do say that our language is sweet to our ears. We do not say that our culture is the oldest in the world but we do say that it is a culture of great antiquity and that it has made a rich contribution to the world. We do not say that our thinkers are the most influential that the world has known but we do say that their thoughts have left the world with a greater understanding of itself. We do not say that we are the chosen people but we do say that we, too, are a people, and that we are entitled to live our lives in the way we choose.

The growing togetherness of the Tamil people, is but a step in the growth of a larger unity. We know that in the end, national freedom can only be secured by a voluntary pooling of sovereignties, in a regional, and ultimately in a world context. Let us say that we recognize that our future lies with the peoples of the Indian region and the path of a greater and a larger Indian union is the direction of that future.

It is a union that will reflect the compelling and inevitable need for a common market and a common defence and will be rooted in the common heritage that we share with our brothers and sisters of not only Tamil Nadu but also of India. It is a shared heritage that we freely acknowledge and it is a shared heritage from which we derive strength. And so, let us talk about the larger regional context of the Tamil national question.


The larger regional context of the Tamil national struggle…

Let us remember the fate of earlier agreements with Sinhala governments and request those who have come to assist us: 'How can you guarantee that that which is agreed will be implemented? How can you guarantee that that which happened to the 1970 Iraq - Kurd peace treaty does not happen to any agreement at Bhutan?'

Should we not ask: 'Is it not the reality that competing Sinhala political parties have nurtured a chauvinist mythology around the latent fear that the Sinhala people have for the Tamils of Tamil Nadu? And is it not the reality that so long as that latent fear exists, sections of the ruling Sinhala elite will always use that fear in their efforts to jockey themselves into positions of power.

Is it not true that it was only an year ago in April 1984, that President Jayawardene declared in a magazine interview: "How can I say I want regional councils when everybody else is against them?... I am a prisoner...of circumstances, the law, the constitution and the political parties. I cannot throw my weight about and say: do this, do that. I am not a dictator".

Is it not the reality that the 'circumstances' will not change unless answers are sought in a larger regional context? Let us ask whether the time has not come to openly recognize that the Tamil national question cannot be resolved except in an international frame.


To negotiate and negotiate with dexterity is the only rational course...

So, by all means, let us talk at Bhutan and if the need arises elsewhere as well. After all we are not an unreasonable people and we are not afraid to talk. Let us have regard to the words of the Basque political leaders many years ago:

"To negotiate, and negotiate with dexterity and foresight is the only rational course that the Basques must follow in order to salvage from ruin the sacred objects of their cult [Maximiano Garcia Venero: Historia del Nacionalismo Vasco, Madrid 1945]

But let us remember that Bhutan is not a mere exercise in skilful advocacy. Let us learn that at the end of the day, we must secure our own strength in order that we may secure that which is right and just. Justice is not an empty platitude and perhaps there is no need to reiterate that particular truth amongst those of us who trace our origins to the land of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

To give justice the thick edge of action, there is an urgent and immediate need to identify and mobilise the entire resources of the Tamil people - and if circumstances compel us then this must be done whilst the talking goes on and the talks themselves must be directed to bring about this mobilisation

We must recognize that it is only in this way that we can handle the reality of the evolving matrix which constitutes the international power frame in the Indian region and within which, our struggle must inevitably take place Unity is strength but let us recognize that unity will not come from pious pleas for unity. Unity will grow around that which is perceived as the right direction.

Where no way forward is seen, all ways are right. But, as a struggle progresses and matures, more and more begin to see the right way and it is around that 'right way' that unity can and will be built. Today, the struggle of the Tamils of Eelam for justice and fair dealing has reached a watershed.

It is not enough to have and claim a right. We must know the direction in which we mean to exercise it. There is a compelling need for Tamils everywhere to move to create a forum where the 'rationalities' may be examined and thereby assist in giving direction and cohesion to a struggle for that which is right and just. Let us learn from the experience of the Kurds of Iraq. It is said that fools fail to learn even from their own experience. Wise men learn from the experience of others. We are a people - not without wisdom.

 

Mail Us Copyright 1998/2007 All Rights Reserved Home