The warzone, via Times Of London
The Sri Lankan government has killed thousands of civilians in its civil war. Thousands more are now held in camps they cannot leave. Much of the West, led by the Times Of London is calling for punishment of the Sri Lankan government so this will never happen again. I agree that these actions were terrible and inhumane, but I disagree with their way forward for Sri Lanka. The West seems to think that punishment will somehow improve lives here. It won’t. The times have changed. Sri Lanka right now is trying to unite and move forward, and much of the Global South is supporting us. The UK should consider this and try to help.
The people who conducted this war are brutal, cruel and unforgiving. They are not nice guys and I’m personally scared of them. However, they also won. I believe that they have killed and detained many innocent Tamils, threatened and terrified independent journalists, etc. Even now they are controlling aid and access too tightly, I believe, at a cost of human lives. However, they won.
Please understand that this is a big thing. The same Times Of London writes glowingly that “Facebook Pakistanis unite against terror“. Perhaps they would understand in context of that ongoing war which has displaced over 3 million and killed over 5,000. Sri Lanka has had much of its territory occupied by a terrorist group that has exploded more suicide bombs that Al Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad combined. The reason we cannot explain this to you coherently is because they assassinated our Tamil Foreign Minister Laksman Kadirgamar and we simply don’t have any spokesman left of his calibre.
However, this is also at a huge cost. Personally I believe there was another way, buying out and breaking apart the LTTE bit by bit, a la Karuna. However, Prabhakaran was never willing to negotiate. He had gotten away with enough – hacking villagers, killing worshipers in Anuradhapura, blowing up the Central Bank, killing Rajiv Gandhi, attacking leaders, etc – that he was going to go hell bent for Eelam. He was not especially negotiable and this mid-level conflict would have likely gone on until he died in his sleep.
What this would mean is thousands dead over a longer period, the North reduced to abject poverty under an unrecognized terrorist dictatorship, and the South impoverished by the constant drag of terrorism.
In case you think this is a cold economic argument, please see some of the poverty in this country. Economics isn’t the word that comes to mind, it’s humanitarian. This war has reduced the Northern economy to rubble, and that means real suffering for human beings. They are less healthy, more likely to die in childbirth, get poorer healthcare, worse education, etc. These things can improve under a united Sri Lanka. Also, the South has been crippled by terrorism and the economy dragged down by, hitting the poor the worst.
The Unforgivable Cost
Thousands have died in this war, for whatever cause. I have seen children without legs and almost every single affected person I’ve met has one member of their nuclear family dead, often killed in front of them. The Times Of London thinks this cost is too high. I sorta agree. The fact remains, however, that the cost has been paid.
The war was almost finished by the time the UK started paying attention and at a certain point turning back was not a viable option. The damage had already been done. Now at least there is a result – the decapitation of the LTTE – which can have positive results. At terrible human cost. But what matters now is what we do to move forward.
Attack The Government
One option is to attack and change the government of Sri Lanka. They kinda suck, I understand. However, though the West has the trappings of power, they don’t actually have power anymore. They cannot organize a cohesive multi-lateral boycott which would have an effect, at best they could organize something US/Cuba style (which actually entrenches the local power). They cannot withhold aid cause they don’t actually give much. They can’t attack Sri Lanka economically or militarily, so all this condemning and lecturing is, quite frankly, impotent nonsense. Worse, it weakens whatever diplomatic card they actually could play.
Deal With It
China and India are not stupid and they play stuff in terms of their own self interest. They understand that this government is popular, has won a war and is the one they have to deal with. So they deal. UK – driven a lot by a vocal voting Tamil diaspora – is going for bluster and noise to quell the protests at home, but they misunderstand the geo and local politics entirely. And so they fail at accomplishing anything. Honestly, it’s an epic fail. It both fails in its maximal goals and closes the doors to any influence at all.
Personally, I’ve visited some northern hospitals and am going again tonight. It’s obvious that these are shelling injuries, and the few people I’ve talked to say it’s coming from the government side. I have also walked around Colombo and talked to people from Hambantota to Galle and up and people are generally relieved and want to move forward without the LTTE messing everything up all the time. People grieve, not enough I think, but they also view this through the crushing of our Sinhala uprising at the cost of 65,000 lives, many innocent, which yet prevented this country from becoming a Khmer Rouge style Cambodia.
Whatever the Times Of London is calling for has zero probability of being enforced locally. The people of Sri Lanka would gladly accept poverty and isolation over dictates from the former colonial masters (let alone their media). UK would literally have to attack and reoccupy the country to enforce anything, and I don’t think they could actually defeat the Sri Lankan Army right now.
People living here are able to process this terrible calculus and deal. The Times of London sees it as a moral cause. Perhaps it is. But their impotent bluster serves no moral ends. To put it plainly, it doesn’t work. Punishing this small country may make the UK feel better about themselves and quell the protests in London, but it helps not a solitary soul here.