Responding to Kebettigollawa

The Kebettigollawa attack defies comprehension.

Our hearts go out to those who lost everything in a single moment – those dead perhaps more fortunate than ones left behind to deal with a loss too great to bear. The denials of the LTTE regarding the atrocity are very hard to believe, since the organization never seems to move from denials to the active support of an investigation into the incident.

A brief look at the nature of terrorism may be helpful to help understand these acts that seemingly defy logic. The LTTE and by extension, terrorists, operate within what can be termed the paradox of comprehension – the need for the LTTE to help the world understand its struggle for Eelam that is in opposition to the active resistance to efforts made to understand the inner logic of the organisation.

On the one hand, the LTTE requires legitimacy for its avowed struggle for Tamil rights and a homeland in the North and the East of Sri Lanka. This legitimacy is required in particular from the international community, especially in a world that after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on 11th September 2003 has little patience with terrorism. It also requires the legitimacy of the diaspora community, who support willingly or by coercion, its military and administrative machinery. The random killing of innocents is not collateral damage – that can be countenanced to an extent in conditions of open (and urban) warfare. It is sadistic and unpardonable – unlikely to win the hearts and minds of those who support Eelam even from afar. Finally, it requires the legitimacy for its struggle by those living in the North and the East and by its representatives in parliament, the TNA – a task made very difficult by the active targeting of civilians.

On the other hand, to be understood is to be defeated – to understand how and why the LTTE operates is to possess the capacity to think ahead and mitigate its ability to launch attacks and use strategies that hold the State hostage to its demands.
So while the LTTE requires the world to acknowledge and understand its core struggle for Eelam, it will, as any terrorist organization, resist efforts to explain it away by the logic of conflict resolution theories which lay claim to clarify the inner logic of the organization – what makes it tick.

This is an important distinction to make since it informs our appreciation of the nature of the beast we are dealing with. Terrorism and the LTTE are both essentially inexplicable – that is their power. We do not and cannot know what really drives them. We may guess as to what gave rise to the LTTE through an examination of Sri Lankan history, but the best explanations still cannot explain the essential mentality of the man who really defines what the LTTE is – Mr. Prabhakaran.

The central disconnect between conflict resolution theorists and the essential nature of terrorism lies here – we do not really know the logic that drives terrorism, a logic so alien to us that we cannot even imagine it. It is a logic that driven by a rationale and psychological imperatives that may make little sense to us – the capture of the Jaffna peninsula, in this light, can be considered as a very real objective of the LTTE despite the myriad of arguments that can be made against such a course action by those outside of the organization.

The LTTE in this light needs to be seen as an organization that cannot only be engaged by speaking with those who staff its Peace Secretariat, or the constellation of experts that guide its constitutional and political dialogues. For sure, the strategic use of such dialogues may in the long term be the creation of channels of communication that form the bedrock of a political settlement. This is not going to happen in the short term.

Until we have acknowledged the failure of efforts within the ceasefire process to transform the LTTE into a organization that eschews terrorism and engages in democratic dialogues, we cannot begin to think of strategies that lock them in to what we desire as a peace process.

This failure is two-fold. One, the erroneous assumption of those of us in the conflict resolution field that engagements with the LTTE on matters of governance and democracy would prise open their heart-strings for a negotiated settlement to the conflict. As noted above, it is clear that the transformative results of such engagements were extremely limited with outcomes that didn’t permeate to the higher leadership of the LTTE, which we must now believe is as committed to terrorism today as it was before the CFA.

On the other hand, the political parties in the South need to recognize their pathological failure to establish a cohesive and inclusive national consensus to draw up political options in response to the LTTE’s ISGA proposals. We must not forget that to date, there hasn’t been an official response to the ISGA from the State, an exploration of how the ISGA can be a basis for negotiations on a political settlement, alternatives to aspects of the ISGA untenable for the State to countenance or the promotion of multi-party dialogues to promote the need for a political settlement amongst the core constituencies of each of the three largest political parties – the UNP, SLFP and JVP.

So what now?

It is inevitable that Sri Lanka’s tryst with peace will result in many move lives lost. A peace process that takes more lives is difficult to digest, but necessary to strategically plan for. And it is in strategy that the incumbent Government is the weakest. Bereft of those who can envision a process that locks-in the recalcitrant LTTE and opens channels for dialogue at various levels, the Government is bedeviled by the paucity of advice that strengthens the existing peace process and a glut of advice from advisors keen to promote a military effort. This needs to change urgently.

Many claim the Kebettigollawa incident to be the last straw in the peace process. In this light, those in support of peace need to now consider the limited uses of violence to secure that which we hold most dear to our hearts – an end to conflict. However, the violence contemplated here isn’t necessarily in the nature of military offensives.

It is the violence of the anger and despair in voices of the people – the millions of whom across Sri Lanka are as disgusted with the LTTE’s continued use of terrorism as they are with the State unable and unwilling to bring about the necessary foundations to strengthen a peace process. It is this voice that needs to be strengthened, amplified and overwhelm, by sheer numbers, those who seek to pursue terrorism. It is the animation of a civil society larger, middle class and business community to actively get on the streets, get on the phones and organize civil campaigns that bring together people to literally shout their approbation of continued killings. Well organized, strategically envisioned, carefully managed and sustained over the medium to long term even in the face of spikes in violence, we know that as with the most recent case of people power in Nepal, there is the possibility of progressive change.

Even with a need as never before, this will possibly not occur – Sri Lanka’s socio-political make-up isn’t one that supports long term social movements in support of peace especially if the trigger events of terrorism that galvanise the voices of peace to action follow an unpredictable pattern and are spaced out. We are, after all, known for our art of forgetting.

Which brings us to the elites in society who need to champion peace in a manner that policy makers cannot ignore. A resounding clarity of purpose towards the pursuance of dialogues with the LTTE based on clear political proposals from the South, a concerted effort that bombards the LTTE with creative constitutional options backed by the full force of a national consensus, is in reality a progressive policy that costs far less than pyrrhic military offensives. The resources for such a process are in abundance – in the knowledge capital within the elites, experts in substantive constitutional theory and process design within Sri Lanka and elsewhere and most importantly, in the aspirations of people tired of violence but articulate in their designs for a just and lasting peace.

Surely, to talk about the end of the peace process is premature when in reality we have not even begun it?


Related posts on the web I found interesting to read:

WAS IT THE BUTLER? – Reflections on some recent slaughters in Sri Lanka

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