Should Sri Lanka’s Youth Get Ready To Confront Armed Intervention Two Years After The War?
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The proposal (decision?) made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to repeal the Emergency Regulations (ER) was a hopeful one. It was a significant proposal (decision?) which marked a significant moment in Sri Lanka’s post-war history. One’s heart swelled with joy; the rain had ceased, it was bright and sunny, there was a rainbow somewhere in the distance too.
But then, the real news strikes you: there is what is known as ‘The Emergency Consequential Provisional Bill’ which is to be presented to Parliament soon. Until then, new regulations have been introduced to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to legalize the continuation, for instance, of the High Security Zones (HSZ). The ER was repealed, but there were provisions which couldn’t be repealed too. So, the proposal (decision?) not to extend the ER was, in the end, not so problematic, not so praiseworthy, for there was a rush, unknown to many, to re-introduce some of those provisions which were repealed. In short then, what was told in Parliament was not entirely accurate: perhaps, greater honesty would have earned more applause. A question: Have the ER been repealed? An answer: ‘Yes-No’.
There are, of course, other questions too.
One question that had to be asked (and the JVP did ask that question) was how the Prime Minister, as well as the Government, thought a couple of weeks ago that there were credible reasons to believe that the extension of the ER was indeed necessary. The JVP might have missed it, but the Defence Secretary provided an answer to that question when addressing some representatives from the Muslim community regarding the ‘Grease Devil’ saga: If the President wants to extend emergency he can do it anytime, anyway, and there was no need to create a ‘Grease Devil’.
But there is that other question we need to ask too: why, really, did the Government decide to ‘repeal’ (the word now comes within inverted commas) the ER so suddenly, so hastily, if other legislative instruments were being drafted to reintroduce provisions which had to be retained? Why this rush? Was it due to the pressure exerted by India? Was it also due to the forthcoming sessions at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva? The answer is somewhat clear.
This, of course, brings one to a rather serious issue, a rather serious question: Should there be some measure of external pressure exerted on the Government to ensure that some progress is made on issues pertaining to human rights protection, accountability, and so on? Considering the manner in which things have been progressing for quite some time now, ever since the end of the armed conflict in May 2009, this Government seems to be, unwittingly, unfortunately, giving us a clear answer.
There is a fine balance that needs to be struck here, which is easier said than done. There are no clear answers, no textbooks, manuals or guidelines, concerning the kind, form or nature of pressure that needs to be exerted in the realm of politics. In broad terms, though, it needs to be acknowledged that there will always be a certain degree of pressure exerted when a Government does not act and act swiftly regarding matters on which swift action can and should be taken. And interestingly (even ironically) it is the Government which proves that pressure was indeed necessary (and is necessary): for one observes the Government doing that which it would not have done had it not been for external pressure. There are many such examples: from the establishment of the LLRC to the release of the report titled ‘Humanitarian Operation Factual Analysis’ and now the ‘repeal’ of the ER. The question that all responsible citizens should ask themselves here is: why did the Government have to wait until pressure was brought upon it to do the things it did? Couldn’t the Government have done all this before the sanctimonious West, for instance, told us what to do?
Here, without digressing too much, it needs to be pointed out that while one critiques the ‘West’ as one should, as regards some of its horrendous policies and practices, one should not only appreciate that which should be appreciated of the ‘West’, but also be able to critique the ‘Rest’ when and where necessary. The inability to do this has been one of the greatest weaknesses of Sri Lankan leaders and some of its policy makers. The problem of being attached to this or that camp – ‘West’, ‘Rest’, ‘Third World’, ‘Communist’, etc, etc – is that one turns out to be a ‘puppet’ of any one of them: one does not only become a puppet of the West, but can easily be a puppet of any other block of States too. As Judge CG Weeramantry so correctly pointed out way back in 1976, when writing about equality and freedom concerning the Third World:
“Western World, Communist World, and Third World, each with its most grievous shortcomings in this area, tend, all too often, to see the mote in the other’s eye rather than the beam in their own. The result has been a plethora of emotionally charged outpourings from all sides and at the highest levels. These have tended to obscure rather than clarify the issues involved, at a time when the underlying problems demand attention more urgently than ever before.” [CG Weeramantry, Equality and Freedom: Some Third World Perspectives, 1976, p. vii]
All this brings us, then, to another important issue: can we, without being so emotionally charged up, appreciate the problems confronting us and resolve them, being mindful of our responsibility (first and foremost) as a member of the community of States belonging to the UN? The Government, today, seems to imagine at most times that the survival of the State is at stake if it were to meet some of the demands made by other States concerning human rights protection and accountability, etc.
It sees Egypt, Syria and then Libya, and is shaken, shaken to the core. And when it is unable to take bold and principled decisions, fear sets in. It develops fear, unreasonable fear, about all things and concepts, such as the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) for instance. That there are serious questions concerning the real intentions of some of those who were involved in developing the concept is undoubtedly a serious concern, as well as the fact that attempts are being made by certain elements to misinterpret its purpose, its objectives. Yet, the more critical issue today for Sri Lanka and its politicians – in this post-war phase, in the absence of armed violence – is whether we are able to appreciate the positives of the concept which is gaining immense popularity [that R2P is a serious concept is easily realized today when considering the fact that even basic textbooks on international law now dedicate a separate chapter to the topic: see, for example, the third edition of Malcolm Evans (ed.), International Law (Oxford University Press, 2010, and Chapter 17 by Spencer Zifcak therein)]. How can we act responsibly, for instance, by acknowledging R2P as a ‘means of broadening the scope of international obligations than merely as a vehicle for intervention’?
Armed intervention and armed training
When a government cannot appreciate this, external pressure, all of a sudden, threatens the regime: too much for the stomach, too much to stomach, too much. It begins to see most and many out there, beyond our shores, as elements ready and willing to intervene, not just diplomatically, not just politically, but militarily too. It begins to see power slipping away, and the safest thing to hang on to becomes the weapon. There is then a call for vigilance and to be armed too: be vigilant, be armed, be ready. Things will not be bloodless. The worst-case scenario is not far away.
One is suddenly struck and disturbed by the more alarming and even horrifying passages in contemporary interventions in the press! One wonders: is it time to be armed, ready to shoot, if necessary?
One such passage, in an otherwise excellent analysis, comes to us from Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka. It reads as follows:
“Our deterrent capacity cannot depend upon a vastly expanded army of almost half a million, as a former commander mistakenly called for, because the economic costs would sink the country. Nor should anyone envisage compulsory national service in the form of a draft because the USA itself learnt to its bitter social cost that the best army is an all-volunteer army. However, a recent successful experiment has been conducted in Sri Lanka with the armed forces’ support, for an orientation course of university entrants. In preparation for a worst case scenario, that model could be expanded to provide a huge youth/student populace, including women, trained in the use of weapons, and which could make any invader, secessionist or irredentist puppet regime (and its ‘rebel army’) bleed from death by a thousand cuts. As Fidel Castro once said when Cuba was under threat of intervention, “we shall arm even the cats!” (Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, ‘Libyan lessons for Lanka’, The Island, 31 August, 2011).
Before getting to the issue of arming the ‘cats’, the question that springs to mind initially (springs like a cat) is this: is the cat out of the bag?
To be sure, if one reads the article carefully, the author clearly argues (and this point has always been appreciated) that intervention is to be avoided through the creation of modern democracy (not ethnocracy). The author has been an advocate of the implementation of the 13th Amendment, and has been, in that respect, almost a lone voice within the Government at a time when no one would dream of talking about the 13th Amendment.
But the author also argues clearly that the inability to build or rebuild ‘regional and neighbourhood solidarity’ will result in the opening up of space for intervention for which the youth should be trained in the use of weapons so that the enemy can be made to ‘bleed from death by a thousand cuts’.
One broad question that arises is whether this – this issue about training the youth – was actually an ulterior motive of the Government’s plan to give ‘leadership training’ to those selected to University. The Government argued that it has no such intentions. But then, if the above author is to claim that the ‘recent successful experiment’ could be expanded in a way that encapsulates an element of armed training, the question that we are made to mull over today is: how much more seriously would the Government have considered that option? Isn’t it considering that option, already, and if so, what of the future of the programme? Wouldn’t the Government be willing to accept the above suggestion?
The other question is: is the Sri Lankan situation so bad as to make one argue that the ‘worst-case’ scenario is to be expected? If it’s not the case, then why this serious suggestion re. the need to train the youth?
Thirdly, and more pointedly, what if the non-implementation of the 13th Amendment in the North, for instance, results in some form of external/military intervention?
The reason why this latter question in particular is raised is because it has been argued by others that if the 13th Amendment is implemented, then, there could be a bloodbath. I am referring here to the views of Malinda Seneviratne, who wrote in June this year:
“India has aspirations. India has problems… If they are planning to prey on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s anxieties and Mahinda Rajapaksa thinks that Manmohan Singh is his friend-in-need and dumps his constituency, the constituency can very well think along the following lines: ‘All this war-crimes stuff is rubbish, we know this. Mahinda should know that those who benefit from these moves will not thank him with a single vote anyway. He is free to choose his friends, but he cannot expect us to fall in love with the enemies of our country. If he wants to hang himself, fine. He cannot hang us.’ The last time India ‘helped’, we lost 60,000 people… This time around if this dhal-without-dhal deal goes through, it will not be bloodless either.” (Malinda Seneviratne, ‘How many cauldrons of blood for a fistful of dhal, bhaiya?’, Sunday Lakbima News, June 2011)
The case Malinda Seneviratne is making here is very clear: the full implementation of the 13th Amendment for instance would lead to another bloodbath, for the 13th Amendment will, according to the opinion of the writer, ‘legitimate the lines of the Eelam map’. According to this view, one believes that violence would be directed on the Indian Forces.
If then, the point that Dr. Jayatilleka might need to clarify is this: Would Dr. Jayatilleka be able to critique the Government if armed intervention takes place due to the non-implementation of the 13th Amendment (in other words, due to the inability of the Government to do what Dr. Jayatilleka has been advocating for quite a long time)? Where does the Government stand: closer to Seneviratne? Closer to Jayatilleka? Neatly in the middle? But isn’t the distance between Seneviratne and Jayatilleka, in an odd little way, close too, closer than we think?
Dr. Jayatilleka writes, however:
“The most durable defence against interventionism is by simultaneously changing our ‘target profile’ and ‘target hardening’. This can be done only by repairing our internal fragility; removing the discontent and disaffection of the minority at our strategically sensitive Northern periphery.”
Yet, it is not clear whether the inability to do the above (‘removing the discontent and disaffection of the minority’) would still justify the rush to argue that training of the youth may be necessary. There would be many who would undoubtedly be willing and ready to confront armed intervention with the use of armed force, and I do not think there is a need to train the youth in this regard. But is Dr. Jayatilleka suggesting that the youth should take part in this (hitherto hypothetical) confrontation irrespective of the inability or unwillingness of the Government to implement the 13th Amendment for instance?
From the above, a very strange, curious and dangerous message seems to be emanating: Be Ready! Should Sri Lanka then get ready to counter armed intervention? Should her youth be ready too, be ready with arms? All this talk of getting ready for the ‘worst-case’ scenario, of killing and injuring if Constitutional provisions are implemented, sounds amusing. But they are not meant to be so, and that’s what one should realize sooner, rather than later. They have the effect of driving in unnecessary fear into the minds of the youth, and that is a very dangerous thing to do.
External pressure, if stretched beyond a point, could certainly end up in violence. That considerable pressure is brought to bear upon the Government by numerous external forces should not be forgotten too. But then, is Sri Lanka – are we – so helpless, so hopeless, to be thinking about armed intervention so soon after the end of the armed conflict in 2009? Should we be frightened to read (in the articles written by numerous international writers) ‘Sri Lanka’ and ‘Libya’ in a single paragraph? What has led to so much pressure in the first place?
I do not think that there is a threat of any armed intervention, especially when it did not come during the last stages of the war. It is this belief that makes one seriously question whether all this talk about the need to train university students how to confront intervention with the use of arms is a tad too serious given the post-war context we are in right now.
The situation, so soon after the war in May 2009, cannot get more hopeless than this; if, as they say, we are to think seriously about the worst-case scenario too. How sad, how sorry.
It is dangerous, but suddenly, dream-like too. In that state, in that dream-like state, our student reaches out screaming, gasping: Mother Lanka! What would Mother Lanka, observing all this from somewhere, say: How stupid, child, to be dreaming about armed intervention? How sad and frightened you look? Now go back to sleep, it’s a dream my child! Is she correct, this Mother Lanka? Or is Mother Lanka, unknown to the student (stupid little child), armed too, armed to the teeth, getting ready to arm the student even before s/he enters the classroom?