August 11, 2009

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States do not have Permanent Friends: they have Permanent Interests

A long standing supporter of the Tamil Eelam freedom struggle and a friend wrote to me about a month ago -

"I picked up the Pathmanathan Pages from When I read the first piece it gave the impression that K Pathmanathan (KP) was trying more to project his image, appearing to claim as his prerogative the future leadership of the movement, instead of emphasizing the sanctity and importance of the movement and its mission, the merits of the leadership efforts, strategies, sacrifices, and the compelling need for concerted future efforts to achieve the goal of freedom. If the latter approach is followed, there might be greater probability of securing continued and more invigorated participation from those who were already involved in the Movement's campaign in the past, and more people may join in the renewed, if different, future strategy to achieve Tamils freedom. In the process, there might be a greater possibility of KP ending up as the chosen future leader in carrying out the campaign. KP's current narrative could lead to a public perception that KP is trying to stifle internal competition, leaping forward to be the successor, adding weight to anti-Tamil propaganda about dissension within the Movement and the fight for the "booty". "

I felt that it might be helpful to state my response in this forum to the concerns expressed - concerns expressed by a friend whose commitment to the struggle I have never questioned.

I myself do not take the view that KP is moved by motives of personal advancement. If that was so, I do not believe that KP would have committed more than 25 years of his life to do the things that he did to further the Tamil Eelam struggle for freedom. Nor for that matter would KP have received the blessings and support of Velupillai Pirabakaran.

Said that I do agree that KP's first blog may well have given the impression that he was trying to project his own image. But I feel that this may have been the result of KP's felt need to secure, in the first instance, his own legitimacy particularly in the context that much of the work he was involved in during the past several decades may not be in the public domain. At the same time, I agree that in the end legitimacy will be sustained only by a deep commitment to the work that has to be done - a commitment shown in deeds rather than in words.

Be that as it may, it is not that I do not have my own concerns. But those concerns arise for a different reason. The undeniable fact is that international actors and agencies who conspired to defeat the Tamil armed resistance movement, continue to devote their energies to influence the way that the Tamil diaspora responds in the future. States do not have permanent friends. They have permanent interests. KP will therefore have to secure his own integrity (and the integrity of the struggle) against the pressures that he will be undoubtedly face in the months ahead. I fear that given his personal situation (evidenced for instance by the restrictions placed on his travel) KP will be particularly vulnerable to such pressures and presumably he recognises that the rug can be pulled from under his feet should he stray too far outside the 'permitted' line.

I am not privy to KP's thinking but I would imagine that he and those around him may have taken the view that given the need of the 'international community' to pressure President Rajapaksa away from too great a linkage with China, the international community may regard the Tamil diaspora as an useful weapon in its armoury - additional, that is, to promised (and suitably calibrated) IMF loans and veiled (and not so veiled) threats of war crime trials. It may be the thinking of KP and those around him that this political space can be used by the Tamil diaspora to advance the interests of the Tamil people. I imagine that it is this which KP refers to as the path of 'diplomacy'.

But ofcourse the Tamil people have been there before. In the 1980s Indira Gandhi used the Tamil militant movement to move Sri Lanka back into India's orbit. Again, more recently Anton Balasingham was 'permitted' to function in a limited way (and address for instance Maveerar Naals, albeit called 'National Remembrance Day' functions in London) in the United Kingdom though the LTTE itself was banned by UK in 2001. Clearly it served UK's foreign policy objectives during the Norwegian sponsored Peace Process to adopt what may have seemed to some as an 'ambivalent' approach. Constructive ambiguity enables one to advance ones strategic interests - and that is a general rule in international relations. Here I am reminded of something that the Shah of Iran said many years ago...

"...The Shah of Iran once said that in his role as the gendarme of the region he had two main weapons for dealing with the revolutionary threat which existed in the region. First, was direct intervention. This was applied in the case of Oman in 1973, and also in the case of Baluchistan when the Shah provided armaments and military finance for the Pakistani state's repression in the area. The second weapon was internal subversion of the national liberation movements among the various nationalities. This method was applied in Kurdistan. The goal, ofcourse, was to allow the national movement to grow in a particular direction in order to defeat it. The case of Kurdistan was classic. The Shah said openly that the Kurdistan operation was relatively cheap for him. With 30 million dollars the job was done. He simply supported Kurdistan to destroy it. " (Murad Khan of the Baluchistan People's Liberation Front, speaking to Raymond Noat - Interview quoted in Tariq Ali's 'Can Pakistan Survive')

The role of the US in relation to the Kurds was interesting - and educative. Iran was the primary supporter of the United States in the Persian Gulf and in May 1972 President Nixon visited Iran. The Select Committee on Intelligence of the U.S. House of Representatives (under the chairmanship of Otis Pike) disclosed, on November 1 1975, that the Shah had been able to convince Nixon during the visit that the United States should provide covert aid to the Kurds.

After the visit Nixon ordered the CIA to deliver millions of dollars worth of Soviet and Chinese arms and ammunitions (some of which were collected in Cambodia) to the Kurds. The use of Soviet and Chinese arms was intended to mislead Iraq into thinking that even their then allies such as the Soviet Union were covertly helping the Kurds. The Pike Committee Report charged:

"The President, Dr. Kissinger and the Foreign head of state (the Shah) hoped our clients (the Kurds) would not prevail. They preferred instead that the insurgents (the Kurds) simply continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of our ally's neighbouring country (Iraq). This policy was not imparted to our clients (the Kurds) who were encouraged to continue fighting. Even in the context of covert action, ours was a cynical enterprise."

The goal was simply to continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of Iraq - and had little to do with Kurdistan and the freedom of the Kurds. The plan was to allow the national movement to grow in a particular direction so that it may be more easily managed. And when the strategic interests of the international community are secured, if the national movement does not fall in line, annihilate it. To do that the international community will at all times be vigilant to prevent the national movement from building its strength from its own people.

Here, I am not unmindful of the fate of the (permanent?) Tibetan Government in Exile. Fifty years after the formation of the Tibetan Government in Exile, Tibet is no closer to securing its freedom from Chinese rule - though ofcourse the Tibetan Government in Exile has been a useful 'human rights' weapon for the US to beat China with from time to time. Meanwhile, Tibet itself has been settled (colonised) with Chinese and its demography radically changed. And the Tibetan Government in Exile with a Tibetan Parliament in Exile (elected by a 'grass roots' Tibetan diaspora) is left with websites which promote the justice of the Tibetan cause. Unsurprisingly there is no shortage of websites: Government of Tibet in Exile, Central Tibetan Administration, Tibetan Parliament in Exile, London Office of the Government of Tibet in Exile, Office of Tibet in New York, Office of Tibet in Pretoria, South Africa and so on. The short point is that Tibet will not get freedom until the Chinese empire (like the Soviet empire and the British empire before it) disintegrates.

Again I do understand the point made about "internal competition" faced by KP. That internal competition may have arisen from the structural deficiencies within the LTTE itself - structural deficiencies of an armed resistance movement driven by the primary need to collect funds and secure arms. The fund collection division of the LTTE headed by Castro and the 'political division' of the LTTE often appeared to be acting on parallel lines. The incarceration of Tamil activist Rajasingham Jeyadevan on the orders of Castro and Jeyadevan's subsequent release is a case in point. Presumably, the parallel lines did meet in Velupillai Prabhakaran. But today, without Velupillai Prabhakaran, some of that internal competition may have its own sponsors in the so called international community - after all, the international community is not monolithic. Also the international community has not shown itself averse to playing the Jeff and Mutt Act i.e. the good cop, bad cop routine. Twin tracks are better than one. Norway and the United Kingdom may sometimes appear to adopt different approaches but the goal of advancing the interests of the trilaterals (US - EU - Japan) will always unite them.

Here, I have to say that despite the efforts of the BBC and such like institutions, I do not believe that the future leadership of the Tamil people will come by English speaking Tamils speaking to each other in English - or for that matter from 'part timers' whose full time occupations are heavily dependent on retaining the goodwill of the 'establishment' in the states in which they reside. If such a 'leadership' does emerge from English speaking Tamil 'part timers', it will be a rootless wonder - and being rootless will all the more readily become a willing tool (whether knowingly or unknowingly) of international actors and agencies who are concerned to advance their own interests in the Indian Ocean region. The words of the British civil servant, A.O.Hume who helped found the Indian National Congress in 1885 come to mind -

"Every adherent of the Congress, however noisy in declamations, however bitter in speech, is safe from burning bungalows and murdering Europeans and the like. His hopes are based upon the British nation and he will do nothing to invalidate these hopes and anger that nation."

The same is true today of many Tamil disapora forums and organisations. Their hopes are based upon the state in which they reside and they will do nothing to invalidate these hopes and anger that state. Again the notion of a liberal national news media is one of the most enduring and influential political myths of our times.

"The notion of a "liberal" national news media is one of the most enduring and influential political myths...the larger fallacy of the "liberal media" argument is the idea that reporters and mid-level editors set the editorial agenda at their news organizations. In reality, most journalists have about as much say over what is presented by newspapers and TV news programs as factory workers and foremen have over what a factory manufactures. That is not to say factory workers have no input in their company's product: they can make suggestions and ensure the product is professionally built. But top executives have a much bigger say in what gets produced and how. The news business is essentially the same. News organizations are hierarchical institutions often run by strong-willed men who insist that their editorial vision be dominant within their news companies. Some concessions are made to the broader professional standards of journalism, such as the principles of objectivity and fairness. But media owners historically have enforced their political views and other preferences by installing senior editors whose careers depend on delivering a news product that fits with the owner's prejudices. Mid-level editors and reporters who stray too far from the prescribed path can expect to be demoted or fired. Editorial employees intuitively understand the career risks of going beyond the boundaries..." Robert Parry in Price of the 'Liberal Media' Myth, 2003

Here the case of Anita Pratap is in point. [see Anita Pratap on 'Lessons to be learnt from the rout of the LTTE' - Et Tu Anita Pratap, 31 May 2009]

The Tamil struggle for freedom is in for the long haul and we must learn from our past. To do this we must first admit to and openly discuss our own past mistakes. It is not enough for the Tamil people to simply put the blame on the machinations of the international community. After all did we not know of those machinations? And what was our response to those machinations? To do the same thing and expect different results is a test of insanity. Here, I firmly believe in something which Aurobindo said many years ago..

"Our appeal, the appeal of every high souled and self respecting nation, ought not to be to the British (read international community) sense of justice, but to our own reviving sense of manhood, to our own sincere fellow feeling - so far as it can be called sincere - with the silent suffering people of India (read Tamil Eelam) . I am sure that eventually the nobler part of us will prevail, - that when we no longer obey the dictates of a veiled self interest, but return to the profession of a large and genuine patriotism, when we cease to hanker after the soiled crumbs which England may cast to us from her table, then it will be to that sense of manhood, to that sincere fellow feeling that we shall finally and forcibly appeal."

We will not go forward by becoming a nation of petition writers and pleaders � whether on the web or elsewhere. Websites have a minimal role to play - and that includes

"It is a vain dream to suppose that what other nations have won by struggle and battle, by suffering and tears of blood, we shall be allowed to accomplish easily, without terrible sacrifices, merely by spending the ink of the journalist and petition framer and the breath of the orator."
"அலங்கார மேடைப் பேச்சுகளினாலே, தமிழ்த் தேசியத்தை வனைந்தெடுக்க முடியாது. அடிப்படையில், அது நிபந்தனையற்ற தமிழர் சுயாதீனத்தை வலியுறுத்துவது. தமிழ்மொழி மூலம் தமிழருடைய வாழ்வையும், வளத்தையும் அரண் செய்வது; அணி செய்வது. கலை-இலக்கிய வாழ்க்கையிலே தமிழ்ப்படைப்புகள் மூலம் சுகம் பெறுவது. தமிழின் வளத்தையும் ஞானத்தையும் புதிய உச்சங்களுக்குக் கொண்டு செல்ல உதவும் அந்த மகத்தான உந்துதலுக்கும் உணர்ச்சிக்கும் பெயர்தான் தமிழ்த்தேசியம். அது தமிழர் சமூகத்தை ஊழல்களிலிருந்து மீட்கும் மந்திர சக்தி பெற்றது"

Said that it is also true that the internet allows people to escape from the constraints of the doctrinal systems, to explore and investigate and discuss crucial issues with one another, and to plan and organize.

"...Popular movements are the hope for a decent future. They of course have to have access to information and modes of interaction. In addition to alternative print and video, to a very large extent they have relied on the internet, which allows people to escape from the constraints of the doctrinal systems, to explore and investigate and discuss crucial issues with one another, to plan and organize...another world is indeed possible..." Another World is indeed Possible - Noam Chomsky Appeal for Z-net, September 2004

I am heartened by the fact that among Tamil speaking Tamils some of the issues that confronts us as a nation of people are being discussed openly and fearlessly and I believe that it is from them that the future leadership of the Tamil people will emerge. Meanwhile, in the short term, where no way forward is clearly seen, every way may seem the right way. Deprived of direction some may be intent on getting there fast. But experience is a strict instructor. And we will learn. We will learn that freedom is never given - it is taken. We may then find the need to pay more careful attention to the words of Subhas Chandra Bose, some 76 years ago in 1933 in Friars Hall, London -

Subhas Chandra Bose
Subhas Chandra Bose
".. Every great movement starts from small beginnings.. Our first task will be to gather together a group of men and women who are prepared to undergo the maximum sacrifice and suffering which will be necessary if we are to attain success in our mission. They must be whole-time workers
- 'freedom-intoxicated' missionaries - who will not be discouraged by failure or deterred by difficulty of any kind and who will vow to work and strive in the service of the great cause till the last day of their lives.When these 'morally prepared' men and women are available they must be given the requisite intellectual training, so that they may be able to realize the magnitude of their task.
They will have to make a scientific and critical study of the freedom movement in other lands, so that they may understand how similar problems have been solved in other countries, in spite of similar difficulties.
Side by side with this they must also make a scientific and critical study of the rise and fall of empires in other ages and climes.
Armed with this knowledge, they should proceed to make a scientific examination of the strong and weak points of the British Government in India in relation to the Indian people and a similar scientific examination of the strong and weak points of the Indian people in relation to the British Government. ..
When this study is completed - and not till then - shall we be able to form a conception of the magnitude of the task that awaits us... When this intellectual training is completed we shall have a clear notion of the plan of action that will be necessary for the conquest of power and also of the programme that should be put into operation when the new state is brought into existence after the seizure of power." Presidential Speech by Subhas Chandra Bose at the Third Indian Political Conference at Friar's Hall, London, on Saturday, June 10, 1933

And today we may need to make a scientific examination of the strong and weak points not of the British empire (which is no more) but of an Indian empire which seeks to masquerade as a 'nation' and as a 'state'. India is an empire in denial. And it is in the disintegration of the Indian empire that the freedom of the Tamil people lies - just as much as it was in the disintegration of the British empire that the freedom of India lay. But just as much as the disintegration of the British Empire did not come from the efforts of the Indian people, and just as much as the disintegration of the Soviet Union did not come from the efforts of the Ukranians, Latvians and Lithuanians, the disintegration of the Indian empire will not come from the efforts of the Tamil people. Subhas Chandra Bose was right to urge 'a scientific and critical study of the rise and fall of empires in other ages and climes'. Gramsci was right when he said -

"..Man can affect his own development and that of his surroundings only so far as he has a clear view of what the possibilities of action open to him are. To do this he has to understand the historical situation in which he finds himself: and once he does this, then he can play an active part in modifying that situation." Gramsci (quoted in James Joll's Gramsci, Fontana, 1977)

And Mahalingam Maha Uthaman was right when he pointed out many years ago -

"..One aspect of the deprivation of the Tamil nation is the paucity of intellectual investment made at a local level. Like capital on a global scale, the intellectual resources of the Tamil people too have been drawn towards metropolitan centres, within Sri Lanka and abroad, leaving the peripheral Tamil nation impoverished and void of knowledge. However, the dialectics of oppression is such that, even as impoverishment is imposed at every level, vigorous resistance and the emergence of self confident patriotic consciousness has been nurtured by the same process. In spite of this heroic response, the existence of an intellectual void within the nation has not only been obvious but its effects highly damaging...There are two models ... The first model emphasises theoretical excellence and originality; the second effectiveness in making a practical intervention. The first could dismiss the second as eclectic; the second could criticise the first for being elitist. However, each of the two approaches are indispensable, for effective action is impossible without guidance by sound ideas, and sound ideas alone are useless if not accessible for the process of social transformation." Mahalingam Maha Uthaman, 1988