Today’s New York Times (International Herald Tribune) demands that IDPs be allowed to leave, presumably now. However, they are not in a position to demand, and it is not as easy as it looks. First off, you don’t get anywhere demanding anything from this popular government. Like India, it pays to be diplomatic. By speaking quietly and giving big donations, India is helping the IDPs. By speaking loudly and coming empty handed, the Times is not. Furthermore, there are serious security and safety issues letting people go.
Tigers In The Midst
Any person with any sort of capability was in the LTTE economy. I personally know of pharmicists, teachers, translators and government servants who were ‘affiliated’ with the LTTE. Many people have told me they came north to ‘visit relatives’ just as the war starts, which I’m beginning to think is not entirely true. Many people did choose to move with the LTTE.
I don’t think a LTTE pharmacist needs to be too thoroughly screened. However, there are other levels of people who would have been fighting, and many were doing labor, forced or otherwise. For the country that won and then lost Afghanistan, they might want to consider the security issues. You can say that the cost (human rights, rule of law) is too high, but at least consider the issue as a rational one.
Empty Is The Fist
Furthermore, the real players in this game are diplomatic. India shapes things up on the low and then pledges money to resettle IDPs. The Times makes a bunch of public demands and allegations, but their ‘side’ doesn’t have the hard or soft power to back it up. Instead, it just inflames resistance here and makes it harder for local moderates to operate. It’s a pada show.
I think the Times/IHT need to take a page from Barack Obama and begin approaching the rest of the world as partners, not as vassals. As he said:
“America will not seek to impose any system of government on any other nation – the essential truth of democracy is that each nation determines its own destiny. What we will do is increase assistance for responsible individuals and institutions, with a focus on supporting good governance”
The Times is obviously not a government, but instead of lecturing it might be more productive if they supported the parts of Sri Lankan government that are working (security forces, medical teams, military engineers) and then offered constructive criticism. Based on respect.
Me personally, I think the government should let people with receiving families ‘post bail’ and go. I think everyone else should be given a choice, though the roads to most of the Wanni should remain closed till demining is done. I still think these Sri Lankans should have the choice. However, I don’t demand stuff because a) I’m not sure and b) it’s not constructive. But I do ask, diplomatically. I do try to support the institutions that work. Basically, I’m not a dick about it.
My message to the Times is, more generally, ‘What are you talking?’ In Sri Lanka that’s a phrase that comes up in many arguments. It refers not to the content but the tone, as in ‘why are you so rude?’ If the Times wants to actually help Sri Lanka beyond the casual rant then they may need to learn how to talk.
photo by Noodle Pie