Izeth Hussain, in The Island, 13 December 2013, where the title reads “Against Duckspeak on Ethnic Reconciliation”
“Duckspeak” is a neologism used by George Orwell in his novel 1984. The rulers of the totalitarian state depicted in the novel dream of reducing the people to automata whose speech will sound like normal human speech but be quite meaningless, inane like the quacking of ducks, since it will be produced only by the larynx without the cerebral cortex coming into action at all. That is Duckspeak. Some readers will hold that Sri Lankan politicians excel in it without being manipulated or coerced by totalitarian rulers, since what they say is usually meaningless. But that is true of politicians all over the world who to varying degrees say meaningless things to fool the people. That however is a voluntary process whereas Duckspeak is involuntary, something uttered by human beings who have been reduced to automata.
Alleged war crimes: That is a preliminary clarification. I will argue in this article that there is a total incompatibility between investigations into alleged war crimes during the final phase of the anti-Eelam war and the process of ethnic reconciliation, and further, that the demand for investigations is a way of pressurizing the Sri Lanka Government into moving towards a political solution of the Tamil ethnic problem. For that purpose I will revisit my article “The Ban Ki-moon conspiracy” which was published in the Island of May 2, 2011. In that article I postulated what I called “a benign conspiracy” involving the US, Britain, and India, and it seems to me that we are witnessing the further unfolding of that conspiracy. The Government has not recognized that conspiracy. It is therefore glibly talking about holding our own investigations into alleged war crimes and at the same time moving towards ethnic reconciliation. It is so mindless that it amounts to Duckspeak.
I am writing this article at the present time because, quite suddenly as a result of CHOGM 2013, the question of war crimes investigations has become very urgent. It is now our major political preoccupation. The abrasive statements made by Cameron had nothing of the finesse characteristic of British diplomacy at its best. They were minatory, indeed peremptory, smacking more of the diktat than of the gentle suasion that ought to characterize relations between family members of the Commonwealth. He issued an ultimatum of the sort to be expected only when war is imminent: either carry out credible investigations by March 2014 or he would move for international investigations. His statements could be explained partly by his need to appease Tamil voters back at home, but only partly. We must take into account the sinister possibility that Cameron’s statements signify that some powerful countries could move towards concerted action on our Tamil ethnic problem.
We must take his statements in conjunction with those made by the Indian Finance Minister Chidambaram on December 1. Usually nowadays India conducts its diplomacy with us, particularly on the Tamil problem, with professional finesse and its statements are diplomatically exquisite. By contrast Chidambaram’s statements – just like those of Cameron – sounded rough and tough, and it would be foolish to write them off too as excesses due to electoral compulsions. I will give details about his statements as they represent a very important development.
He declared that India will not rest until 13A is implemented and those guilty of war crimes are prosecuted. “I vow in the name of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that we will ensure this”. It is a statement expressing a strong categorical commitment, with no ifs and buts about it, to ensure that Sri Lanka does certain things. He proceeds thereafter to lay the blame for failure squarely on the President: “We also hope that President Rajapakse will have a change of heart. If there is no change in Sri Lanka’s attitude, India will continue to press on the international forum for a detailed inquiry into human rights violations and killing of Tamils and punishment to those who are behind the killings”. A point to be noted is that while Cameron and other Western leaders speak about war crimes investigations and not about 13A, Chidambaram speaks about both in the same breath, implying that there is a nexus between the two in the Indian mind. Furthermore, he seems to be indicating that if Sri Lanka really moves towards a political solution through 13A, India will not press the war crimes charges.
Chidambaram goes to the extent of dropping a remark that would not be regarded as acceptable in terms of the prevailing norms of diplomacy: “Whether the people of the country have voted for the right person, it is for them to ponder over.” He then goes on to speak about difficulties in solving the problems of minorities, which India too has been experiencing. “Minorities” in the plural evidently refers, in addition to the Tamils, to Muslims and perhaps also to the non-mainstream Christians who have been ruthlessly harassed with hardly anybody to speak up for them. The Government has only itself to blame for having allowed it to become evident that the racist anti-Muslim campaign had the backing of powerful personages in the State apparatus. Finally, Chidambaram detonated a bomb by stating that the NP Chief Minister’s invitation to the Indian Prime Minister to visit Jaffna is still open.
We must not imagine that Chidambaram should not be taken too seriously as he is not, after all, the Indian Foreign Minister. India conducts its foreign relations in a very responsible way, as befits an emerging great power, and it is hard to believe that Chidambaram was speaking out of turn. We have to take it that he was strictly expressing the Indian Government’s views. Those views, like those of Cameron, have more than a touch of the minatory and the peremptory about them. Perhaps the most important detail in Chidambaram’s statements is the clear indication that India has no confidence in the Sri Lankan President. Other leaders may share that view, judging from the fact that some time ago Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore declared that President MR is a “chauvinist” and that there was no point in talking to him. The future looks threatening. Our Government has been sensitive to this fact and has therefore been responsive to the South African Premier Jacob Zuma’s offer to share the South African experience and expertise in making its Truth and Reconciliation Commission outstandingly successful. But I can’t see that the TRC model is going to be successful here.
The situation in Sri Lanka is entirely different from the situation that prevailed in South Africa at the time the apartheid regime collapsed. There it was mainly the defeated, the whites who had to confess, repent, and be forgiven in a process of ethnic reconciliation. Here it will be the members of a conquering army who are to be put in the dock. Can we believe that they will readily confess and repent, after which they will be forgiven by our Tamils? Another difference in the two situations, also a crucial one, is that in South Africa the defeated whites acknowledged that they were wrong in practicing apartheid. Here, neither side will admit that they were in the wrong in any way. The truth is that the kind of mindset that is requisite for ethnic reconciliation on the South African model quite simply does not exist in Sri Lanka.
Investigations by the SL Government into alleged war crimes will have to follow the usual procedures: accusations will have to be made against armed forces personnel and others, witnesses will have to be produced, elaborate processes of investigation will have to be set in motion, after which the guilty will have to be punished. That process will take many years to complete. The whole project looks fanciful because of one fact: a climate of fear still pervades this country, so that it is difficult to believe that many will be willing to come forward as accusers and witnesses. A Witness Protection Act could help, but only up to a point. However, I am willing to concede that substantial numbers of accusers and witnesses could come forth if the TNA plays an active role as a protector with the backing of some powerful countries. But the plain fact is that the process of investigations is bound to generate much hatred. That means that the process of ethnic reconciliation will have to go into abeyance for many years.
Some of the most powerful countries of the world have proposed international investigations into war crimes, and in order to evade that our Government has committed itself – without weighing the consequences – to holding our own internal investigations. At the same time we talk glibly about carrying out the process of ethnic reconciliation. All such talk amounts to Duckspeak. We would have done better to point out that we are against war crimes investigations, external or internal, at the present stage because they are incompatible with our seriously engaging in a process of ethnic reconciliation. As a sovereign nation we have the right to give priority to ethnic reconciliation, putting off war crimes investigations to a later stage after the process of ethnic reconciliation takes hold. That position would commit us to seriously pursuing a political solution to the ethnic problem, Why not? We should now give priority to establishing whether a compromise on police and land powers under 13A might be possible.
There is much that is relevant to our present situation in my article of two and a half years ago on “The Ban Ki-Moon conspiracy”, which I cannot cover in this article. I will limit myself therefore to just one point made in that article. I postulated a “benign conspiracy” in that article involving the US and Britain, and I included – “heretically” as I put it – India also in that conspiracy. I was apparently indulging in irresponsible speculation of the sort that should be eschewed by serious political analysts. Later, at Geneva, India quite unexpectedly supported the US resolution against Sri Lanka. That seemed to provide spectacular substantiation to my conspiracy theory. We are at present witnessing what looks like a further stage in the unfolding of that benign conspiracy – a further stage because those most undiplomatic remarks of Chidambaram which I pointed out above suggest that the Indian Government has little or no confidence in President MR. Duckspeak might be self-destructive at this stage.