"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 

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Selected Writings by Nadesan Satyendra
- நடேசன் சத்தியேந்திரா

The US Stand on Sri Lanka's Conflict
& Ambassador E. Ashley Willis

11 March 2001, revised 14 August 2004
[see also United States and the Tamil Struggle and
US Stand on Sri Lanka's Conflict - E. Ashley Willis,
United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka, 7 March 2001]

"That the representative of the sole remaining super power in the world, should have taken the trouble to visit Jaffna on 7 March 2001, to convey the message that he did was not without significance....A detailed response to some of Ambassador Willis' assertions appears at US Stand on Sri Lanka's Conflict - E. Ashley Willis, United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka, 7 March 2001... But, here we would like to address the central weakness in Ambassador Willis' address to the Tamil people in Jaffna. It springs from the stance that he  adopted - the stance of a neutral and disinterested observer concerned to speak simply as a friend of the Tamil people (and the Sinhala people). His credibility may have been less in issue, if he had taken the Tamil people into his confidence and admitted to the strategic interests that the US has in the region.."

That the representative of the sole remaining super power in the world, should have taken the trouble to visit Jaffna on 7 March 2001, to convey the message that he did was not without significance. It may be that he was persuaded by the views expressed by his Under Secretary of State, Thomas R. Pickering  at a  Press Conference in Colombo 29 May 2000 -  "...I think that while it is easy to dismiss diplomatic statements by governments as not having an effect, we are beginning to see, in fact, that it does have an effect..."

Ambassador Willis' explication of  US policy on Sri Lanka's conflict is helpful - helpful because the people of Tamil Eelam have been afforded an opportunity to  further their understanding of the international frame of the struggle in which they are engaged.  Helpful also because Ambassador Willis seeks to derive US policy on Sri Lanka's conflict  from 'moral reasoning'.  Ambassador Willis declared to his Tamil audience in Jaffna -"What does our moral reasoning tell us about Sri Lanka, and how does this translate into policy? Our approach to Sri Lanka proceeds from the following official US opinions: 

o this war must end, the sooner the better; 
o we reject the idea that there is a military solution to this conflict and favour a negotiated outcome - all that is needed is the political will to negotiate; 
o we are also convinced that in these negotiations neither side need be the loser, both can win; 
o the opportunity cost of the war in economic terms, and the human cost in deaths, injuries, displaced persons and dysfunctional families, are staggering and no longer tolerable; 
o that is why we, India, the EU, Japan and many other nations support the noble effort of the Norwegians to facilitate direct talks between the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE; 
o we reject the idea of an independent Tamil state carved out of Sri Lankan territory; 
o we regard the LTTE as a terrorist organisation and do not believe it is the sole representative of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka;
o we also are for Tamil rights; the Tamil people must be treated equally, respectfully and with dignity within a democratic Sri Lankan state whose exact political form should be determined by the people of this country; 
o we do not believe Sri Lanka, or any part of it, is the special preserve of any one ethnic group; indeed, we regard Sri Lanka as a multi ethnic, multi religious, multilingual, multi cultural state
o and although we are convinced that the solution to this conflict can and must be negotiated by Sri Lankans, we stand ready to assist in ways the principal parties find appropriate..."

He reinforced the US stand by adding:

"If anyone in this audience has contact with the LTTE leadership, please convey two messages from the U.S. Govemment: 

A: if the LTTE is still fighting for Tamil Eelam, please accept that that goal cannot be achieved; and, 
B: if the LTTE really cares about the Tamil people and about assuring their rights, giving up violence and negotiating are the way to go."

A detailed response to some of Ambassador Willis' assertions appears at US Stand on Sri Lanka's Conflict - E. Ashley Willis, United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka, 7 March 2001

But, here we would like to address the central weakness in Ambassador Willis' address to the Tamil people in Jaffna. It springs from the stance that he  adopted - the stance of a neutral and disinterested observer concerned to speak simply as a friend of the Tamil people (and the Sinhala people). His credibility may have been less in issue, if he had taken the Tamil people into his confidence and admitted to the strategic interests that the US has in the region and also openly related those interests to the view that he expressed that an independent Tamil Eelam was an unattainable vision. That which he did not say, was perhaps as significant as that which he did say.

We agree with Ambassador Willis that 'to demand perfection is to hold the charitable impulse hostage to personal traits'. And we also agree with him that  'nations, like people, can confront others even when their own houses are not fully in order'. But, nations, like people, will be listened to only when they speak honestly - and when they are seen to walk their talk. There may be a need for Ambassador Willis to attend to the words of Blaine Lee on The Power Principle : Influence With Honor

"...When you get on the platform, the first thing anyone wants to know is why they should listen to you... .How much congruence is there between your behaviour and your words? That's what credibility is all about... Have you actually done what you are inviting others to do? Have you been there, in the trenches, where they live and breathe struggle? Are you doing so now, under the same circumstances and in the same situations in which they must act? Have you earned the right to be listened to? Why should they believe you?... Trust comes when others perceive the match between your words and your actions...  It is always the life of the leader that gives credibility to the vision.... 'Walking your talk' is so obvious, it is common sense. But what is commonsense is seldom common practice... In critical situations, when you should speak up to stand for something, the words you don't speak may out weigh all the words you have ever deliberately spoken..." 

Ambassador Willis' Tamil audience may have found his silence on the role of US strategic interests deafening.

Geography plays a basic 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 in Cambridge. 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 continued existence of Taiwan, almost fifty years later reflects, perhaps, the long reach of US interests - and power.

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. Sri Lanka's  influence on the outside world and in turn the influence of the outside world on the affairs of the people in the island of Sri Lanka is a function, not 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. Unsurprisingly, therefore, both the US (as a world super power) and India have had an abiding interest in the affairs of Sri Lanka.

Tamils recognise that with the ending of the cold war, US foreign policy is directed to build on its position as the sole surviving super power and secure a unipolar world for the foreseeable future. Noam Chomsky in Dominance and its Dilemmas, 14 October 2003 spelt out some of the elements of this strategy:

"The new "imperial grand strategy," as it was aptly termed at once by John Ikenberry (a leading US academic on international relations) presents the US as "a revisionist state seeking to parlay its momentary advantages into a world order in which it runs the show," a "unipolar world" in which "no state or coalition could ever challenge" it as "global leader, protector, and enforcer". These policies are fraught with danger even for the US itself..."

On the other hand, the central plank of New Delhi's foreign policy is to deny (or minimise) any intermediary role to extra regional powers in the affairs of South Asia and to encourage the emergence of a multi polar world.  In this latter objective, New Delhi may count on the guarded support of the European Union, Russia and China amongst others.

Jyontindra Nath Dixit, currently India's National Security Adviser,  expanded on the rationale for India's involvement in the Tamil Eelam struggle in 'A Retrospective Evaluation in Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka, International Alert Publication, February 1998' -

"...The rise of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka and the Jayawardene government's serious apprehensions about this development were utilised by the US and Pakistan to create a politico-strategic pressure point against India, in the island's strategically sensitive coast off the Peninsula of India....Tamil militancy received support both from Tamil Nadu and from the Central Government not only as a response to the Sri Lankan Government's military assertiveness against Sri Lankan Tamils, but also as a response to Jayawardene's concrete and expanded military and intelligence cooperation with the United States, Israel and Pakistan. ...The assessment was that these presences would pose a strategic threat to India and they would encourage fissiparous  movements in the southern states of India. .. a process which could have found encouragement from Pakistan and the US, given India's experience regarding their policies in relation to Kashmir and the Punjab.."

It was the threat of 'politico-strategic pressure' by the US (and Pakistan) which led India to see an independent Tamil Eelam as a threat to its territorial integrity and for Dixit to conclude-

" It was.. my considered opinion that the LTTE's insistence on the creation of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, based on ethnic, linguistic and religious considerations, would have far-reaching negative implications for India's unity and territorial integrity..." 

And here let us be clear. The threat was not so much the potential rise of Tamil separatism in Tamil Nadu per se (by itself) but the threat that such potential may be used by the United States as a 'politico-strategic pressure' point to secure US foreign policy objectives. This bears emphasis.

New Delhi was not unaware that despite the support that the Tamil Eelam struggle received from some Tamil leaders from Tamil Nadu from time to time, caste divisions and parochial loyalties within Tamil Nadu had prevented the rise of any serious separatist threat. Periyar had failed to deliver on the promise of Dravida Nadu and Annadurai and the DMK gave up the demand in 1961. Again, New Delhi had every reason to have confidence in the influence it wielded within Tamil Nadu through a centralised administrative service and expanded economic links across state boundaries whilst at the same time nurturing Tamil language and culture through the symbolism of a Tamil linguistic state. The recent promise to make Tamil a classical language is a case in point. New Delhi knows that without US and foreign involvement, separatism within its boundaries can be managed. The real concern that India has is that an independent Tamil Eelam may become a staging post for the US  "given India's experience regarding their (US & Pakistan) policies in relation to Kashmir and Punjab".

New Delhi was not persuaded by LTTE protestations to the contrary.

"...As a revolutionary liberation movement committed to anti-imperialist policy we recognise India's security concerns in the region and support her cardinal foreign policy of making the Indian ocean as a zone of peace free from interference of extraterritorial powers. In this context, we wish to point out that it was the LTTE fighters who put up a heroic and relentless fight against foreign mercenaries. It was the LTTE fighters who shed their blood to contain these evil forces. Our liberation movement is not opposed to India's interests. We have no objection whatsoever to India's strategic aspirations to establish her status as the regional superpower in South Asia. We always functioned and will continue to function as a friendly force to India. We would have extended our unconditional support to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord if the Agreement was only confined to Indo-Sri Lanka relations aimed to secure India's geopolitical interests..." - Tamil National Struggle and Indo Sri Lanka Accord  paper presented by the Political Committee of the LTTE at the World Tamil Conference in London, 30 April 1988

New Delhi was not persuaded  not because it did not trust the LTTE - after all if it was a question of trust, New Delhi may have explored entering into appropriate treaties with an independent Tamil Eelam to secure and enforce India's strategic interests. Again the action taken by India in 1987 and the attack launched by the IPKF pre dated the Rajiv Gandhi assassination of 1991 and it be will be simplistic to relate India's foreign policy stand to the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.

New Delhi was not persuaded because even a trusted friend may not continue in office. New Delhi was not unmindful of that which happened to the friendly Mujib Abdul Rahman in Bangladesh. There was also a further and more important concern. Support for an independent Tamil Eelam would lead Sri Lanka to align itself even more closely to the United States and thereby enhance US presence in the Indian region rather than reduce it. New Delhi's foreign policy was therefore directed, (at every stage during the past 27 years, since the advent of the President Jayawardene to power in 1977)  to secure a friendly Colombo government. In Chandrika Kumaratunga (with her left of centre politics) , New Delhi believes that it has found the right partner - and this belief may be held more firmly by a Congress (I) led government than by a BJP one.

The US may have found the United National Party of Ranil Wickremasinghe and its open economic policies more to its liking but as a super power, it may be prepared to do business with whoever was in power. Sufficient, perhaps, has been said to demonstrate that the policies of the United States and New Delhi on Sri Lanka are not congruent. But that is not to say that the United States  will not cooperate with India. It will. It will cooperate 'as a super power' - and it believes that it has sufficient instruments in its armoury to do just that.

One such instrument is the Norwegian sponsored Peace Process. It is a peace process which helps the United States to attain its foreign policy objectives. Indeed some may  regard that as its purpose and intent. This explains the enthusiastic support that the Peace process has received from the United States and its allies. It also explains why the US may find it difficult to walk away from the Peace Process and leave an unfettered role to India. It also helps us understand the 'wait and see' approach from India - wait to see whether the end result secures India's own strategic interests and ensures that the private assurances that the US may have given are kept.  US Under Secretary of State, Thomas R. Pickering, chose his words carefully at the on-the-record Press Conference in May 2000 -

"Q: Ms. Suzy Price, BBC Correspondent: The government has also talked about the possibility of a "joint effort" between the United States, Norway, and India. Do you see yourselves in a supporting role with Norway as the chief mediator or what?

A. US Under Secretary of State, Pickering: I think that's fair to say that, given Norway's background and experience in this, both we and India are prepared to defer to their leadership. Because in fact they seem to have done an effective job, and we have both offered our support and assistance in backing it. We are particularly conscious that India believes it has an important role to play in South Asia and wants to -- and obviously we are prepared to defer, too, to that role. But at the same time, we are deeply concerned by the situation, so there may be ways from time to time in cooperation with others that we can contribute. Rather than a joint effort, I would say a cooperative effort would be a better description of diplomatically what's happened. And maybe others will join."

In the larger frame of the pressures from the Islamic world, China and even the European Union, the inexorable logic of  US foreign policy in relation to the conflict in Sri Lanka, suggests that it is founded on the belief that the maintenance of  its super power role in the world, will be furthered at the present time, by broadly supporting the New Delhi line on Tamil Eelam. The approach will be a 'calibrated' one and the  remarks of Jyotindra Dixit in 1992 about India's own calibrated approach to relations with the US, continue to retain their significance. Again, Ramtanu Maitra's comments about the US and its  'Covetous eyes on Sri Lanka's Strategic Jewel' in the Asia Times on 30 January 2004,  may reflect some of  India's continuing concerns. Additionally, ofcourse, in the short term, the 'good cop, bad cop' Jeff and Mutt approach may be seen by both the US and India, to be not without its advantages in dealing with that which may be regarded as a recalcitrant militancy.

Be that all as it may, Tamils will be forgiven if they see the US stand on Tamil Eelam as having little to do with the democratic right of the people of Tamil Eelam to govern themselves (or for that matter concern for human rights) - and much more to do with that which the US administration perceives to be its current strategic interests. That which Dixit said in relation to India in February 1998,  that  'inter state relations are not governed by the logic of morality' and that 'they were and they remain an amoral phenomenon'  appears to have a general validity. Many  Tamils may conclude that appeals for justice to a non existent morality are an exercise in futility - and that they too may need to adopt a calibrated approach to both the US and to India.  Perhaps it was this which led Velupillai Pirabaharan, the leader of Tamil Eelam to declare on Maha Veerar Naal in November 1993 -

"We are fully aware that the world is not rotating on the axis of human justice. Every country in this world advances its own interests. Economic and trade interests determine the order of the present world, not the moral law of justice nor the rights of people. International relations and diplomacy between countries are determined by such interests. Therefore we cannot expect an immediate recognition of the moral legitimacy of our cause by the international community... In reality, the success of our struggle depends on us, not on the world. Our success depends on our own efforts, on our own strength, on our own determination..."

At the same time,  the US  as well as other states concerned with securing a stable world order, may want to recognise that, whatever the short term results, in the longer term, their interests, whether moral or amoral, will not be served by furthering the rule of one people by another alien people. Sinhala rule is alien rule and why that is is simply stated.

"Sinhala rule is alien rule because the Sinhala people speak a different language to that of the Tamil people;  because they trace their history to origins different from that of the Tamil people; and because their cultural heritage is different to that of the Tamil people. It is Sinhala rule, because the undeniable political reality is that the political consciousness of the Sinhala people and the way they  exercise their vote, is clearly determined by their separate language, by their separate history and by their separate cultural heritage - in short by their own separate Sinhala national identity. The practise of democracy within the confines of a single state has resulted  in rule by a permanent Sinhala majority." The Charge is Genocide - the Struggle is for Freedom, 18 July 1998

Thousands of Tamils have died in resisting that alien rule. Others have been tortured and raped. Thousands have simply disappeared. Many thousands more have been displaced from their homes. Families have been split and live as wandering nomads in many lands and across distant seas. It should not be matter for surprise that the idea of an independent Tamil state has taken firm root in Tamil consciousness and will not go away.

".. to have suffered, worked, hoped together; that is worth more than common taxes and frontiers conforming to ideas of strategy... I have said 'having suffered together'; indeed, common suffering is greater than happiness. In fact, national sorrows are more significant than triumphs because they impose obligations and demand a common effort. .. A nation is a grand solidarity constituted by the sentiment of sacrifices which one has made and those that one is disposed to make again. " (Ernest Renan: Que'est-ce qu'une Nation? Paris 1882)

In 1987, a Jewish academic met a fellow Tamil academic at Cambridge University. It was soon after the signing of the Indo Sri Lanka Accord.  The Jewish academic asked his colleague whether the Accord will resolve the conflict. When the reply was in the negative, the Jewish academic laughed and said: "Well, if the Indo Sri Lanka Accord works, it means that the Tamil people did not in fact have a problem before!". His response tempted his Tamil colleague to ask: "Tell me. How did you all succeed? How were you able to create the Jewish state?" He replied: "Do you want a short answer or a long answer?". It was the Tamil's turn to laugh. He said, give me a short answer. The Jewish academic responded: "The short answer is that we never gave up the idea."

At the time that Mahatma Gandhi was engaged in the Indian struggle for freedom in the 1920s, there may have been some like Ambassador Willis and US Under Secretary of State, Thomas R. Pickering (persuaded by the view that diplomatic statements do have effect) who may have trekked to Gandhi's abode and told him that "we reject the idea of an independent India". Privately, they may have even impressed upon Gandhi the futility of engaging in a struggle against the British Empire, the most powerful that the world had known at that time, a British Empire which spanned the globe and on which, reportedly,  the sun never set. We can only conjecture as to what Gandhi's reply may have been. It is possible that Gandhi may have reminded them of the 1776 US Declaration of Independence -

"..When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it..." 

Today, 228 years later, the United States may want to recognise that a stable world order will not come by labelling organisations that are fighting for the freedom of their people as 'terrorists'.

"...The peoples of the world are engaged in a fundamental series of struggles for a just and peaceful world based on fundamental rights now acknowledged as sacred in a series of widely endorsed international legal conventions.... The terrorism of modern state power and its high technology weaponry exceeds qualitatively by many orders of magnitude the political violence relied upon by groups aspiring to undo oppression and achieve liberation... It is a cruel extension of the terrorist scourge to taunt the struggles against terrorism with the label "terrorism". We support these struggles and call for the liberation of political language along with the liberation of peoples. Terrorism originates from the statist system of structural violence and domination that denies the right of self-determination to peoples..." The Geneva Declaration on the Question of Terrorism, 1987 - UN General Assembly Doc. A/42/307, 29 May 1987

"..The most problematic issue relating to terrorism and armed conflict is distinguishing terrorists from lawful combatants, ... in terms of combatants in legitimate struggles for self-determination ...States that do not recognize a claim to self-determination will claim that those using force against the State’s military forces are necessarily terrorists. ..The controversy over the exact meaning, content, extent and beneficiaries of, as well as the means and methods utilized to enforce the right to self-determination has been the major obstacle to the development of both a comprehensive definition of terrorism and a comprehensive treaty on terrorism. The ideological splits and differing approaches preventing any broad consensus during the period of decolonization still persist in today’s international relations..." Final Report of the Special Rapporteur, Kalliopi K. Koufa on Terrorism and Human Rights  at the UN Sub Commission on the protection and Promotion of Human Rights, 25 June 2004

The United States may also want to recognise that a stable world order will not come by the so called 'developed world'  building alliances with ruling Third World governments to suppress non state nations. It will not come, because stability within Third World States will not come from a new version of the 'melting pot' theory.   It will be futile to believe that  in the island of Sri Lanka, peoples speaking different languages, tracing their roots to different origins, and living in relatively well defined and separate geographical areas, will somehow  'melt'. And in any case, a 'third world' economy will not provide a large enough 'pot' for the 'melting' to take place.

Political structures need to accord with the political reality on the ground - and not the other way round. Nations and states cannot be made to order. It is the right of every people to freely choose their political status and self determination is not a destabilising concept - it is the refusal to recognise the right of self determination that destabilises.

"...Let us accept the fact that states have lifecycles similar to those of human beings who created them... hardly any Member State of the United Nations has existed within its present borders for longer than five generations.... Restrictions on self-determination threaten not only democracy itself but the state which seeks its legitimation in democracy..." Self Determination & the Future of Democracy  - Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, 2001

The Fourth World is emerging as a new force in international politics and stability lies in securing structures where different peoples may voluntarily associate with each other in equality and in freedom.

And if this be perceived by some as an unattainable vision, the European Union (established albeit, after two World Wars) may help to focus our minds and our hearts - and serve as a pointer to the future. Strange as it may seem to some, the struggle for an independent Tamil state, is not in opposition to many of the underlying interests of the parties concerned with the conflict in the island - and that includes Sri Lanka, India and the United States.

"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.... we recognise 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." (Nadesan Satyendra, Tamil Eelam, Kurds and Bhutan, July 1985 - quoted also in States, Nations, Sovereignty - Sri Lanka, India and the Tamil Eelam Movement by Sumantra Bose)

 
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