Political Solutions, Military Responses and Zero Sum Perceptions - 26th October 2007
|Political Solutions, Military Responses and Zero Sum Perceptions - 26th October 2007
Peace in Sri Lanka : The Official Website of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP)
Some years back I was told by a friend who had been to Harvard Graduate School - and then settled down in America - that the zero sum approach of Sri Lankans worried her whenever she came back home. Having had a less modern education in an earlier era I had to ask what she meant.
The zero sum mentality, she said, was one that assumed that, if someone benefited from something, then someone else had to lose. Therefore we tended to be excessively competitive, not just to advance ourselves, but to hold others back, on the grounds that if they went forward we would ourselves go back. In a more modern world, she said, people realized that they could themselves benefit from the success of others, that many situations were potentially win-win ones, where by helping others rather than holding them back you could also do well yourself.
I was reminded of her analysis when I read newspaper reports on the Counter Terrorism Conference arranged by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies. There were those who claimed that it had been a great fiasco because some of those who spoke had not said what the government was supposed to have wanted them to say.
In itself this is an absurd claim. The LKIIRSS had invited scholars of repute, and scholars of repute will obviously not be bound by what they think will please a government. On the contrary, since this was intended to be a serious analytical exercise, the purpose was to share ideas for the sake of helping to develop coherent policies. If scholars had something unwelcome to say, the sensible response was to consider it seriously in deciding on future actions.
But many articles claimed that some of these scholars had embarrassed the government by saying what they did not want to hear. The most vociferous claim in this regard I found very strange because it referred to the keynote speaker Dr Gerard Chaliand, whose speech had seemed to me very helpful in analysis as well as recommendations.
The claim however was mainly on the strength of an interview he had given a foreign correspondent, and of course we have no idea of what exactly he said. Remembering what happened with regard to John Holmes; who regretted the blowing up of a single phrase he used 'in response to a question', one realises that such a foreign correspondent must necessarily indulge in selective emphasis. But even if Dr Chaliand meant exactly what he is reported to have said, there seems little reason to suppose that an assertion of the undoubted abilities of the LTTE is contrary to what appears in the printed text of Dr Chaliand's speech. Indeed it lends greater weight to his prescriptions, which are in accord with what the government has been doing, in theory as well as in practice though some journalists ignore this.
Dr Chaliand ended by saying that we need a political solution, which is absolutely the government position. But he also emphasizes that this is because this is a political problem. He sets that 'apart from the military dimension of the conflicts' that States like ours face. In the previous paragraph he says, as the government does, that 'no military solution can solve the Tamil problem' - but then he adds the word 'alone', which makes it clear that he differs fundamentally from those who say that, because a military solution won't solve the political problem, there should be no recourse at all to military action. In short, he seems there to endorse the government position that terrorist activity demands a military response, but we have always to keep in mind that that alone will not do, and there is a political problem, affecting Tamils - as distinct from the LTTE alone - and that political problem must be solved politically.
The reason for distinguishing between Tamils and the LTTE he made clear earlier in saying 'LTTE has brutally eliminated all other parties or groups willing to represent the Tamil...No peace seems possible with V Prabhakaran as we have seen from the peace process of 2002-2005 which was but a tactical truce.
Earlier he had made it clear that the thought the LTTE the 'most efficient terrorist movement in the world at present...able to confront and sometimes defeat the Sri Lankan army'. This is a fact, but it certainly does not mean that it is now always able to defeat the army, and it certainly does not mean - whatever spin a journalist might choose to put on it - that it will necessarily remain permanently efficient and able to defeat the army sometimes.
That after all is what the recent developments in the army have been all about, enhancing its resources and abilities to deal with such an efficient enemy. Of course there will be drawbacks, but the answer is not to give in - for, as Dr Chaliand says, such giving in will be useless - but to enhance abilities further, whilst also pursuing a political solution for the political problem.
In pursuing that solution, whilst we continue to hope that some elements at least in the LTTE will lend support, I fear that that is a dream that will prove increasingly elusive. Certainly it seems unlikely that we can count on our counterparts in the LTTE Peace Secretariat, though I had been earlier informed that the Secretary General there was a jovial character who might prove positive. I had tried to send messages to him through the hotline and the Norwegian Embassy and the SLMM, suggesting we should at least talk, but after a long period during which I continued to hope the SLMM brought back a message to the effect that he did not think it appropriate.
This week I understood why. After the recent attack on the Anuradhapura air base, a member of my staff received pictures of 'Anurathapuram Attack LTTE Black Tiger team and of the LTTE Air force that supported the attack from air, posing with the Tamil National leader V Prabakaran'. They had been sent here by a former colleague who had received them from the LTTE Peace Secretariat.
This Peace Secretariat has takn a lot of criticism recently for its press releases, being described most recently as the 'Secretariat for Coordinating the War Process.' This was by one of our more intelligent journalists, but it is indicative of the totally unreal world in which so many of our supposedly sophisticated urban commentators live. What more could they say of the government Peace Secretariat if it sent around pictures of twenty young men and women posing with their supreme commander before going on a suicide mission?
Do the Norwegians still fund the LTTE Peace Secretariat? If so, does it care that the jovial Secretary General of that outfit is responsible - perhaps with their funds - for taking carefully posed photographs of youngsters about to be sent to deal and receive certain death? Do our cosy Sri Lankan commentators, in calling us names, realize that the Sri Lankan armed forces are not like that, that the Sri Lankan Peace Secretariat does not glorify war and suicide cadres? Do they recognize that unless terrorism is dealt with firmly, more and more families will have to sacrifice one member and then two to such practices? Do they care about anything at all, or is it more important to claim, without studying Dr Chaliand's speech, that he embarrassed the Sri Lankan government, and isn't that tremendously funny?
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
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