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It's the war, stupid

by Dayan Jayatilleka

Sri Lanka has a bizarre intelligentsia. Some don’t really mind the LTTE. Others do but that’s because they also mind any Tamil who speaks his or her mind. Still others mind the LTTE but think that they aren’t the country’s main problem. There are very few whose threat perception of the LTTE is of the correct dimensions, but are also sensitive to the need for a more enlightened consciousness and drastically improved inter-ethnic relations.

SIPRI, the famous Swedish institute of peace research, the pioneering outfit in the field, classifies Sri Lanka’s conflict as a "major conflict". Some others in this category include Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine and India/Kashmir.

The even more famous FBI classifies the LTTE as among the world’s worst terrorist group.

A major conflict involving one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the world, fighting a secessionist war on a small island, cannot but amount to the main, the most serious, the worst, the most dangerous, the primary and the principal threat facing that country. It cannot but be accorded highest priority.

The great liberal thinker Prof Isaiah Berlin pointed out the painful truth that public goods are not always compatible and that often one has to make choices. In Sri Lanka’s case the choice is the one of the toughest: Guns or butter? In any other country, it would hardly be a choice. If a powerful separatist movement were waging a war against the state, especially a state that had no geographic defense in depth, i.e. is a small country, then the question of priority would not even arise. Nothing would be allowed to compromise the security of the country.

It must be made clear that this is a question of survival in several senses, many of them fairly basic. If the Tigers are not defeated totally, they will continue to murder our people, we and our loved ones will have to live in perpetual insecurity, as we do now.

If the Tigers are not totally defeated, they will continue to murder our leaders until the Sinhalese and democratic Tamils are decapitated, leaderless.

If the Tigers are not totally defeated, they will bleed our resources until the economy is anemic.

If the Tigers are not totally defeated they may make a comeback and eventually achieve their goal with external help as the Kosovo separatists did – and a totalitarian Tiger state on our soil will be transformed into a heavily militarized entity, a Sparta like garrison state, which will launch air-raids and artillery barrages on a shrunken Sri Lanka any time it chooses.

If on the other hand, we win, then our natural endowments alone will revive the economy: the blockaded Cuban economy is buoyed by a million tourists a year.

What we need is to bring this conflict to a close, and given the character of the enemy that can only be by means of a military defeat inflicted upon it. What we need to win is the political will and resolute determination to push on despite all external pressures, and the superior practice of the art and science of warfare.  We also need secure political space externally (regional and international) for our armed forces to do the job. That should be the primary task of our foreign policy and diplomacy.

What we do not need is the wrong set of priorities or a confused mixture.

The reunification of the state, the defense of its territorial integrity and sovereignty, are classically political questions, and as Lenin said replying Bukharin, a brilliant political economist, "politics cannot but take precedence over economics. That is the ABC of Marxism". Mao Ze Dong correctly paraphrased it as "Politics in Command". If Lenin and Mao did not have this clarity, and reduced the politico-military to economics, neither the Russia Revolution nor the emancipation of China would have been possible.

Then again, the dominant if unconscious heritage of the Sri Lankan intelligentsia has been Trotskyism, and that mindset has been critiqued (Regis Debray, Nicholas Krasso, Kostas Mavrakis) for its "sociological reductionism", "economism" and inability to grasp "the radical autonomy of the political instance". This is why the major party of the Lankan Left waged strikes when the world was fighting fascism and Ceylon was threatened by Japanese militarism. This is why the LSSP was launching strikes when it should have been supporting the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact of 1957 against the Sinhala chauvinist forces of the UNP and within the ruling coalition.

That is also why the JVP, which Wijeweera injected with neo-Trotskyism in the post 1971 (actually post 1973) phase, has decided on a campaign of trade unionism, de-stabilizing our military’s rear area, just as Tiger bombs do, while decisive battles are looming against the Tigers in the Wanni.

What we do not need is to take our eyes off the ball. Economics is the base but the politico-military (war plus devolution) is the "key link", to use Lenin’s phrase of which Mao was so fond. Or to put in purely Maoist lexicon, economics is the "main force"but the war is the "leading force".

Our finest "development President", Premadasa, whose far-sighted thinking anticipated both Mahmood Yunoos and Amartya Sen, prioritized development over the war and died as a result of that mistake, and with him died the realizable dream of Sri Lanka as another Malaysia. We can ill afford to dwell in the halfway houses of the past quarter century.

The tragedy of Premadasa and the ensuing fate of Sri Lanka confirm that over the past quarter century, the war has not only been the most dramatic or dominant factor in the country’s contemporary history, but also the determinant factor, the motive force of development of the historical process.

A characteristic of Trotskyism is the inability to understand that processes have interlinked yet distinct, distinguishable stages, in which there are different tasks and alignments. We are in the first stage, which is national and democratic, where the tasks are to reunify the state, protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and devolve power through democratic elections to the provincial councils in keeping with the13th amendment. This is being undertaken. As the late Prof Urmila Phadnis’ last student and protégé, Sudha Ramachandran, a trenchant critic of the Sri Lankan government, wrote recently, the dream of a Tiger Homeland encompassing the Northern and Eastern provinces is dead.

The economic development and public welfare agenda will be the second stage. A post war boom may result from reconstruction and inflows of foreign investment. The Human Rights crisis which in wartime follows a tragic situational logic, will drastically improve in the second stage. The reckoning and reconciliation that takes place in post-conflict peace-building situations cannot realistically be expected in the midst of a major, mid-intensity conflict. The electorate will insist on these post-war tasks.

(These are the personal views of the author)

17 Comments

The ends do not justify the means. Using the LTTE's terrorist label to justify disgraceful human rights violations is unbecoming of a competent leader.

For a moment, please refresh your memory to a time when the LTTE was not highly active. Remember the ethnic riots, rapes, torture, and enforced disappearances of helpless civilians, mainly of Tamil ethnic origin, prior to 1983? All this still continues today but is justified using the LTTE's existence. Even now when people are enduring terrible hardships the GOSL has the audacity to propose the 13th amendment as a solution and supporting another terrorist group, the TMVP.

The continuous violations of human rights and lack of accountability has become the hallmark of the Sri Lankan state. Good work ambassador, by justifying and continuing these actions the GOSL is simply driving ethnic Tamils to the LTTE camps, you and your government are the best thing that could happen to the LTTE.

Posted by: N | June 14, 2008 11:52 PM

Hello Dayan

I am surprised that you are a part of the war mongers in Sri Lanka. I am surprised that you haven't mentioned anything about human rights violations in SL in the name of the "liberation of the country".

Please urge Rajapakse brothers to improve the human rights, then some countries would assist SL with it's economy. Please ask to be aware of freedon of speech and free the journalists, who are in prison without any charges. If you do so, you would be capable to carry out a job within the human rights matters. Otherwise it is like recruting a theif as a policeman!

Posted by: HUMAN | June 15, 2008 12:56 AM

According Dayan Jayatilleka, SriLanka's "bizarre intelligentsia" does not comprehend what is going on.
But he, a politician, does and supposes that it is his duty to put the intelligetnsia right and in their place.
Now it is of course totalitarian politics that has always hated the intelligentsia and the freedom of expression.

Yet Dayan Jayatilleka wants us to be concerned about a future Tamil totalitarianism that may or may not eventuate.

Should we worry about the present totalitarian tendency (that hates the intelligentsia, the freedom of the media, etc.) or some imaginary future that may not ever happen?


Posted by: N2 | June 15, 2008 02:59 AM

Since it is difficult to understand what Dayan writes due to his tendency to fill his articles with unnecessary references to historical figures, I have decided to paraphrase what he wrote for everybody else:

Dayan said "Sri Lankans, despite inflation and the spiraling cost of living that the war causes, you Sri lankans must still continue to support the war, because after the Tigers are defeated then the Sri Lankans will have a glorious future. Sri Lankans must completely support their government in order to annihilate the terrorists during these last 2-3 years of Eelam War IV."

"Don't complain about your economic woes, only support the government efforts to wipe out the terrorists. We must wipe out the terrorists at all costs! Now is the best opportunity we have ever had in our history to eliminate the terrorists. So all Sri Lankans must put their full support behind the war effort. Afterwards, We will build a great Sri Lanka! Onwards to Kilinochchi!"

The truth is that (despite what Dayan wants you to believe) - it will be very difficult for Sinhala nation to impose a military solution. The Sri Lankan Army has been bogged down in the Vanni jungles for 1 year now. What makes you think the army will have a breakthrough in the next 2 years? Colombo can only sustain the offensive for maximum 2 or 3 more years.

Dayan, you are in a high-up position in the Sri Lankan government. So, when you spew this pro-military solution rubbish you only validate the Tamil claim that the Sri Lankan government is unreasonable and therefore separation is the best way forward for both communities to live in peace. I think you do more harm to Sinhala nationalism than you do good. But then again you only write these articles because it is in your self-interest to fawningly tow the government line.

Posted by: Murugan | June 15, 2008 05:06 AM

Dr.Dayan Jayatilake would be wise to remember his EPRLF(What does EPRLF stand For, by the way) through which he became a prominent player in the Tamil conflict.
Then DR DJ saw the Sinhalese as the villain who created this ethnic divide and the subsequent LTTE Monster CORRECTLY.

No war is winnable if the Tamil People are lost forever. War can bring down LTTE but not the Tamil People as with the Eastern People who are losing their teenage girls to TMVP goons for rape and seual subjugation which Dr. DJ is well aware of.

EPDP goons in the north and TMVP goons in the east. This is the solution Dr. DJ's masters ie Rajapakshe brothers have. This will not work.

borrowing Bill Clintons election slogan "Its the economy stupid", is eactly what driving the world food crisis to oil crisis and all COL + problems of Sri Lanka. Rajapakshe won't get a second term with the rise of COL + the bombings in South except for his thugs to stuff ballots to win by crook. This is what Dr. DJ calls Democracy and voice of the people. Stuffing 49% of eastern provincial council elections by an armed group is what called the democracy Dr.DJ? n armed group gang up with SLFP and win the elections by crook rightly objected by EU to not to meet the gangster Chief Minister. What kind of country are you representing Dr. DJ?

You haven't got an iota of credibility or shame on you Dr.DJ. Your masters are the biggest thugs in the history of Sri Lanka.Rajapakshe cannot run the country for development or for the people. He is running the country for his own family sake with stooges like DJ rooting for Rajapakshes.

Posted by: R.Goonetilake | June 15, 2008 07:41 AM

Look who is talking. he is started preaching britain to get rid of monarchy.

Posted by: j.muthu | June 15, 2008 09:37 AM

The Author who failed to defend Sri Lanka on Human rights abuse is trying to resurrect his image with some soft ball game.

Posted by: nam | June 15, 2008 12:06 PM

correction: It's the stupid war.

Posted by: Gini Appu | June 15, 2008 09:56 PM

Hi Mr. DJ,

It' not the war Stupid, it's the violations of fundametal rights of the citizens you zombi.

Welcome back. I meant to the TamilWeek.

I hope you are enjoying the EURO 2008 live in Switzerland.

I guess the mud sticks, as clearly demonstrate with your writing.

Rajapakse bros are disgrace to Sri-Lanka. The country is rapidly becoming another Somalia

I have respect for genuine human beings especially those of Sinhalese noble men like late Brigadier Larry Wijeratne (The entire Point Pedro will agree with me), former Nuwara Eliya M.P Mr. Ranasinghe, Senkadagala MP Shelton Ranaraja etc, but wish nothing but failures to you and your racist superiors.

What is exactly is your mandate? as a Tamil I'm quite puzzled.

Please try to use your leverage and bring goodness to this world especially to Sri-Lanka rather than justify the actions of the murderers and thugs.

Peace in Sri-Lanka for all and please no more kidnapping of young Tamil girls by the TMVP and S.L. security forces.

Live and let others live!!!!

Posted by: Nalan, Trincomalee | June 15, 2008 11:47 PM

Hi all my bros & sis (damila & Sinkala)
We've waited 32 year ,why not wait for anather 2 or 3 may be 12 years (2 PR teams).

one more ..... FYI, actual eelam war started 106AC (King Dutugemanu's war to vanish king Elara(Eela rajha))

God bless Our Motherland!!!!!

Posted by: andy lingam | June 16, 2008 06:47 AM

Dayan Jayatillaka has nothing to comment on the fact that journalists are hunted down and killed like dogs in the streets of Sri Lanka.

Posted by: Reasonable Man | June 16, 2008 07:14 AM

Prabhakaran is not the WAR MONGER????

Oh, only in the Bizzaro World of the Diaspora is the Sri Lankan government the antagonist in this War. The LTTE started Eelam War IV....

None of these problems we are in would be the case if the LTTE adhered tot he CFA they signed in 2002. It is the War, Stupid.... or should I say Stupids!? Funny how the comments above are more concerned with Human Rights without caring about the Tamils in the North. I guess forced conscription of Children is "NO BIG DEAL" in Tamil Nationalist Circles... but OH NO! A few LTTE Financiers and Underworld figures go missing in the night and its "Hand across Canada" for them!

Earth to the Diaspora.... No one is listening to your Lies and your whining anymore...

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | June 16, 2008 11:56 AM

Articles by Dayan Jayathilake never fail to fascinate me.

He always quotes from Marx, Lenin, Mao, Castro and Che but always out of context, just a bombastic name dropping.
This article is no exception.

According to Dayan FBI classifies the LTTE as among the world’s worst terrorist group. What is the relevance?.

True Marxist never fails to identify US imperialism as the main enemy and FBI is the internal intelligent arm of the USA. Does this not mean that LTTE will be favorably considered by Marxist? Where does the Marxists stand between these two arch enemies-LTTE and USA?

The great liberal thinker Prof Isaiah Berlin never wanted to make a choice between butter and Gun. Only our humanist Dayan wanted to choose gun over butter because he was so assured of his butter thanks to the Rajapakse regime he can afford to choose gun without any regrettable consequences.

I would like to remind Dayan that the Russian revolution was about peace and bread and Russia under Lenin made the greatest concession on the sovereignty for peace! And Lenin choose Peace and bread over sovereignty and land unlike Dayan.

Again Dayan says that a major party of the Lankan Left waged strikes when the world was fighting fascism and Ceylon was threatened by Japanese militarism.

When was this?Was this true? Did LSSP was waging strikes during 1940-1946 when Ceylon was threatened by Japanese invasion? LSSP was underground during this period and was in hiding rather than waging strikes!

Another irrelevant statement from Dayan is that the LSSP was launching strikes when it should have been supporting the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam pact of 1957 against the Sinhala chauvinist forces of the UNP and within the ruling coalition.

Now the Sinhala chauvinist forces including the greatest chauvinist of them all –Dayan are confined to the UPFA making it easier for all the democratic forces to form a United Front and destroy chauvinism from the country once and for all.

Posted by: Sri | June 16, 2008 01:08 PM

i could not understand why srilankan people have been fooled by their leaders.

where is chandrika ? and her uncle who have given jafffna to her, all are living better life, people only suffer, the same thing will happen to rajabakse & co, most of them will steal from srilanka and settle down in usa. people who voted for them will suffer more, see what happen to ERITIREA EAST TIMOR AND KOSOVO, SOON TAMIL EELAM.

Posted by: jj | June 17, 2008 04:13 PM

Hi
Is any war provide prosperous to the country? try to direct the innocent people in the proper direction.

You just carefully examined the ethnic struggle of the world either past or current ,there are three type of solutions.......

1.separation
East timore
Kosova
Erithria......

2.devoulution
Ireland
Ache
Qubec

3.Destuction of both parties
Palastine
Kashmir
africann
Tibet


Posted by: gnanakiddu | June 30, 2008 03:31 AM

Reading through the responses to Dr. Jayathilaka's article - "Its the War, Stupid", I am reminded of a famous quote - It is wiser to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt."

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Posted by: Ken Garza | September 23, 2008 01:29 AM

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