The unwise intent to keep the Tamil question unresolved

Assassination of Ketheshwaran Loganathan: Continuation of the unwise intent to keep the Tamil question unresolved

By Dr. S. Narapalasingam

The Indian daily ‘The Hindu’ on August 17 in its editorial titled ‘The LTTE’s war trap’ said: “The LTTE has used one provocation after another to draw a military response from the Government. It has no interest in a just, federal settlement for Sri Lankan Tamils in a united Sri Lanka. The killing of Kethesh Loganathan, deputy secretary-general of the Sri Lankan government peace secretariat and a dissident Tamil – a year after the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar – has reinforced this reading. Over the past two decades, Loganathan dedicated his life to finding a solution to the conflict that would allow Tamils to live as equal citizens with Sinhalese in one country. For this, the LTTE killed him ….” The editorial has also drawn attention to “Kumaratunga government’s plan to woo Tamils with constitutional reforms along federal lines (that) did not work, as an opportunistic opposition joined hands with the LTTE to sink the project. So it is not the LTTE alone there are other forces too hindering the resolution of the conflict despite the continuing killings and turmoil that are making life miserable for the surviving millions. This dilemma that is denying peace and prosperity to Sri Lanka is discussed in some detail later in this article.

The assassination of Ketheshwaran Loganathan, son of the illustrious C. Loganathan, former General Manager of Bank of Ceylon on August 12 has been widely condemned and his commitment to national unity and peace highly praised. At the time of the killing, Kethesh Loganathan was the Deputy Chief of the Government Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) and Secretary of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC). Kethesh joined SCOPP as its Deputy Secretary General in March this year, having resigned from his post as Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and Head of its Conflict and Peace Analysis Unit. He wanted to make a direct contribution to the formation of a Constitutional framework that will be the realistic basis for settling the national question, which has its roots in the unfair centralized governing system that made the minority ethnic communities politically powerless.

The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) on August 13 also condemned the murder of Peace Secretariat’s Deputy Head Kethish Loganathan. In a statement issued to the media, the SLMM said: “After having worked with Kethish Loganathan and for the last time met him on Friday, August 11, 2006, the message of his death came as a shock, not only to the SLMM but also, for all people longing for peace. Taking part in his experiences, his well founded arguments and his professionalism, has been a pleasure for all people who got to work with him. There are no words strong enough to condemn this new and cold blooded murder of yet another statesman living for peace”.

Bob Rae and David Cameron, who as members of the Forum of Federations participated in the Sri Lankan peace talks in their tribute (The Globe and Mail, Canada) to Kethesh said: “We learned last week that a distinguished colleague and friend of ours, Kethesh Loganathan, had been murdered in Colombo, in one of the countless acts of violence that have plagued Sri Lanka for decades. To the world, this is just a tiny footnote in an endless tragedy unfolding on a small island in an ocean far away. To us, and to Kethesh’s family and friends, it is an immense personal loss. He was a brave and honourable man who sought the good of his country, and cared greatly for his fellow citizens. For four years, we worked with him on the peace process during many trips to Sri Lanka. Kethesh represented the future so many fine Sri Lankans are struggling to build — pluralistic, respectful of human life and human rights, deeply democratic. His life stands as a symbol of what is good and right in the country. But his death is profoundly discouraging.”

Kethesh’s involvement in the struggle for a just political settlement to the Tamil question began after the 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom. The Muslim factor emerged after the ethnic cleansing in the North and the killings and harassments of Muslims in the East by the Tigers as part of their struggle for Tamil Eelam. He got engaged in Tamil politics as a member of the Eelam People’s Liberation Front (EPRLF). He was also a member of the Tamil delegation at the Thimpu peace talks in 1985. Along with Varatharajaperumal (who is now residing in India) he represented the EPRLF. Kethesh withdrew from Tamil politics and the EPRLF in 1994.

I will not forget the day Kethesh visited me and presented his book – Lost Opportunities – published in 1996 by the Centre for Policy Research and Analysis (CEPRA), University of Colombo, This book contains basic and analytical information which has been very useful to me in preparing many articles on the ongoing conflict. ‘Lost Opportunities’ has revealed the special analytical intellect of Kethesh. I was hoping he would publish the second volume as some more opportunities for settling the conflict had been lost since 1995. The entire country is now paying the price for the failures.

A key factor that must have led to the view that Kethesh is a ‘traitor’ to the separatists’ armed struggle is his visionary outlook of the future of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. He believed strongly lasting peace can be secured only by meaningful power-sharing arrangement at the centre and ‘maximum’ devolution of governing powers to the regions. A system that bestows a reasonable degree of self-rule with shared rule was Kethesh’s well-considered view for regaining the lost peace. As enlightened Tamils know, durable peace without unity is just a delusion. Kethesh was a committed nationalist, who knew the limits of Tamil Nationalism in a multi-ethnic society. He was committed to freedom of _expression, democracy and human rights.

Three principal actors

There are three actors at the centre, whose actions and counter actions are helping to sustain the violent conflict. They are the Southern polity (this includes the Government), Tamil Diaspora and the Tamil Tigers.

The very forces responsible for the unilateral abrogation of the 1957 Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact and subsequent failed attempts to settle the Tamil issue, by their supremacist stance are opposing moves to settle it through substantial devolution of power to the regions. They are in effect providing vital support to the Tamil separatists in their determined efforts to continue fighting for separate Tamil Eelam, an aim rejected bluntly by India and the rest of the international community.

Bob Rae and David Cameron have said in their tribute to Kethesh: “The LTTE is unwilling to make the transition — as did the African National Congress and the IRA — from guerrilla army to political party. The government is unable to present a coherent plan for a constitution that would give important powers and guarantees to the parts of Sri Lanka that have historically been the homeland of the Tamils”. It is foolhardy for any rebel movement to ignore the ground realities when the people suffer endlessly incurring unbearable losses and the prospects of achieving the original aim are dim to end the fighting and join the democratic system as a distinct political party on some agreed terms. What many have failed to recognize here is the unique makeup of the LTTE that makes it very different from the ANC and the IRA.

From another angle too the LTTE is unique. It eliminates intellectuals in their own community, who have different views on the resolution of the dispute. Ketheshwaran Loganathan is the latest victim. Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council in his tributes to Kethesh said the assassination was “unbefitting of a national liberation struggle.” The same applies to the immoral killings of other Tamils committed to peaceful resolution of the conflict. Kethesh was critical of the peace process because of its main aim to sustain the ceasefire rather than seek a speedy resolution of the conflict. Jehan Perera has now vindicated Kethesh’s honest stand.

Although the damage to Tamil culture due to the sole dependence of violence to settle differences within members of the community is visible, there is hardly any collective concern about this ghastly trend. The recent tragic events affecting the Muslims in Muthur and Tamils in the North as a result of offensive operations by the LTTE aimed at capturing more land should open the eyes of the supporters of violence which is destroying the community. The attacks by the government forces against LTTE targets are now more offensive than defensive contrary to President’s claim. And the casualties include innocent civilians. The main aim of the liberators is to ensure that the land after liberation is solely under their control. The danger to the future of the Tamil community lies in this egoistic goal.

The Diaspora provides considerable financial support to the separatists’ war effort and the vital non-financial support is being provided by the Southern polity. The financial support of the Diaspora is sustained by the political stance of this polity and the military actions. Any hostile action that hurts the Tamils in Sri Lanka (as the recent aerial bombings in the North) helps to sustain the funding to the Tigers. Thus, the destruction and mayhem happen in a vicious circle. The shouts and pleas of third parties, including the powerful U.S.A. EU and Japan have not broken the cycle. India’s reluctance to get directly involved in the peace effort is also helping the principal actors to continue with their hostile activities. Specifically, the absence of concerted effort to change Sri Lanka’s present structure towards a federal model as agreed at the Oslo Peace Talks (November 2002) and recommended by the donor community in Tokyo in 2003 is also supporting the continuation of the war for independent Eelam.


JVP and JHU think the way to seek peace is to defeat the Tigers militarily. They want the war to be intensified so as to annihilate the Tigers. The JHU tried to disrupt the August 17 anti- war rally organized by the National Anti-War Front (NAF) in Colombo for the same reason. The violent disturbances, the Saffron clad men caused must have embarrassed the enlightened Buddhists. Military victory has not been possible for the past two decades not only because of the fighting strength and shrewd tactics of the Tigers but also due to the fact in major air attacks the casualties will be many innocent civilians. The Tigers have used this constraint to their advantage. Leaders of main political parties know that the international community will not permit this kind of assault. India’s opposition to air attacks was evident from the recent tragic events in which several non-combatants (including children) were killed. It also showed the relevance of the Tamil Nadu factor when there is a real danger to the safety of the civilians.

The fundamental problem that is preventing the country from advancing like many countries in Asia-Pacific region is the politicization of almost everything that should really be outside party politics. The ethnic issue was no exception. It emerged from the power struggle within the Sinhalese polity and hindered the settlement of the ethnic problem for the past fifty years. From the belligerent stand of the JVP and JHU the extremists too are an obstacle to peace and prosperity. Any government that is influenced by the views of these extreme parties cannot succeed in freeing Sri Lanka from the predicament she had been driven by the divisive forces.

Dayan Jayatilleka in his comments on the killing of Kethesh Loganathan (Daily News 14 August) has quoted the article his slain friend wrote a year ago highlighting the obstacles in the South to consensual political solution to the ethnic problem and by extension to peace. To quote: “This absence of ‘enlightened self-interest’ in my opinion, although now largely rectified in relation to Indo-Lanka relations but not necessarily irreversible, continues to dog the Colombo political establishment on other matters relating to the peace process, and has provided the LTTE its very mode of existence. The confusion between engagement and appeasement of the LTTE is a case in point. Another is the failure to forge a southern consensus on the Ethnic Question based on self-rule and shared-rule…” (Kethesh Loganathan: “Mervyn’s Insights were Foresights”, Sunday Observer, June 19th 2005)

Pluralism and democracy are unimportant to the separatists because their focus is solely on gaining control over the land in the North and East. Dayan also agrees that “the LTTE’s conditions of existence are not supplied by the LTTE itself but by others, including those who claim to oppose separatism and terrorism. There are two types of people and policies which furnish the Tigers with their mode of existence”. Amongst the policies the critical ones are those which obstruct power sharing, self rule as well as the very recognition of the existence of an Ethnic Question by the international community. A sea change with regard to the Ethnic Question is needed from the Sinhalese polity, if the existing conditions supporting the armed conflict are to disappear.

The current approach to reach a consensual political solution to the conflict has not given the momentum needed for completing the task early. The need to expedite the work is now greater than ever before. The mechanism that has been set up is more appropriate during peace time but not when the country is in a desperate situation. Over 1000 civilians, militants and security personnel have been killed this year. Moreover, tens of thousands of Muslim and Tamil families have been displaced from their habitats. Around 10,000 Tamils have fled to Tamil Nadu since the Eelam war restarted and are living in refugee camps with minimum basic facilities. SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem visited this week New Delhi and discussed with Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan the issue of the vast number of people internally displaced due to the latest bout of violence in Sri Lanka’s North and East. He sought India’s assistance to the government of Sri Lanka to resettle the IDPs belonging to both the Muslim and Tamil communities. There are nearly 100,000 IDPs who need to be resettled.

Kethesh with his knowledge of the Indo-Lanka Agreement and recommendations of previous committees, particularly the Mangala Moonesinghe Parliamentary Select Committee process tasked at formulating a constitutional solution to the national question would have helped the APRC in speeding the work on matters decided earlier with regard to the proposed constitutional change. The earlier works on devolution have useful proposals for consideration. The right path to peace is through a new balanced governing system that gives administrative powers to the regions as in a federal configuration. The suggestion to dispel the misgivings on this issue is given below.

The future

SCOPP Peace Secretariat Chief Dr. Palitha Kohona declared at the press conference held the day after Ketheshwaran Loganathan was gunned down at his home in Dehiwala that Kethesh has “joined the long list of Tamil dissidents who have sacrificed their lives because they chose to defer from the LTTE.” Dr. Kohona also stressed “the freedom to dissent must be protected and they all must ensure his death will not be a waste”. This is a pious statement and its realization requires as a matter of urgency a political solution to the national problem that respects democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Here comes the contradiction in government’s approach to political settlement. The fact that any political settlement within united Sri Lanka is anathema to the LTTE is well known. The UNF government made the grave mistake of using the peace talks to buy time, hoping the LTTE will eventually abandon separation. The so called ‘international safety net’ on which the then government relied heavily also failed to prevent the collapse of its peace plan.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said in Parliament on August 23: “It is now time for the LTTE to focus on the substantial core issues of devolution of power rather than chase an unattainable chimera of a mono-ethnic separate state which does not belong in today’s civilized world”. He also said: “The only way to resolve the conflict is through negotiations and the Government remains fully committed to a political process to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil speaking people of this country”. If the government is going to wait for the LTTE to shun violence and join the democratic mainstream even to deal with the Tamil grievances let alone a political settlement, it will be a very long costly wait. Even one life lost in the conflict in Sri Lanka is too many to ignore. Government leaders continue to reiterate the commitment to a negotiated political settlement and this seemed to have misled many including the foreign governments to believe this is feasible. The reason for being skeptical should be clear from the foregoing analysis and no further elucidation is necessary.

According to August 20 PTI report, India has offered a devolution formula based on the Sarkaria Commission’s recommendations, which could take care of the interests and aspirations of all sections of the society of the island nation.” Given the past failures in drafting well-balanced constitutions, Sri Lanka should accept India’s offer to provide expertise in devolution of powers within a structure that guarantees the unity and territorial integrity of the island nation.

Even when drafting the 1972 and 1978 constitutions, it is the political interest of the ruling party and that of the majority Sinhalese that mattered most. Speaker of the House W.J.M. Lokubandara, a UNP senior politician said recently: “The 1978 Constitution was drafted and adopted by the UNP with the sole intention of ensuring a UNP rule forever in the country and making Prime Minister J.R. Jayewardene the Executive President of the country,” Although JR succeeded in ensuring that the UNP retains power even in the opposition, he did not think of the problems the country would face with weak governments and an obstructive opposition as has been the case during the past two decades. The immediate challenge is to shun narrow interests and for all parties to give importance to national interest in the efforts to settle the conflict and restore peace throughout the country.

In a compassionate and moving article, “Love and protect thy neighbour especially if he is a Tamil”, published (Daily News 14 August) in memory of Lakshman Kadirgamar who was also assassinated a year ago, the author has said: “The name of Neelan Tiruchelvam comes to my mind. A man who resolutely fought for a solution to the ethnic question. The memory of Neelan and the contribution he made to stall the ethnic strife is kept aloft by his dear wife and the institution which he funded. But, is that sufficient? As Sinhalese are we grateful to these men who sacrificed their lives to bring peace and harmony to this country”. The article must have been written before the assassination of Kethesh Loganathan. The sentiments expressed have been underpinned by the loss of another contributor to the same objective on August 12.

The author has said two principles are important for a political solution to the ethnic problem. These are: “(1) to allow autonomy as much as it is necessary; (2) to ensure safeguards against any type of disintegration, break away or secession. We also believe that given current international developments and the challenges that our country is facing we need to have a rather strong system at the centre as well. Therefore, we propose considerable power sharing at the centre in addition to devolution of power to the regions or the periphery.” All seeking a just settlement to the conflict should take note of these sound principles. Kethesh in his own way was also striving for a constitutional change along the same line. Present fighters were not born when there was tranquility and peace in the entire country. They would not know the sense of pride we had then as Ceylonese. The author has also reminded in the pre-56 era, “Even the lower middle classes had enough money and time to spend in pursuit of happiness. The Tamils, the Sinhalese and the Muslims lived in peace, harmony and tranquility”. Ceylon was poised to become a growing high income country but then our leaders had other priorities in their minds.

“Who will do what is right?” is the question posed by Kathleen Rutledge, Country Manager, World Concern Sri Lanka after seeing the suffering children, mothers and fathers in the conflict stricken Eastern province. The moderate Tamils like Kethesh though they want to do what is right cannot by themselves do much to liberate the people caught in the war trap. Hopefully, the assassination of Ketheshwaran Loganathan will move our Sinhalese brethren to take the same view of the national problem as the compassionate author of the abovementioned article. The political initiative needed to break the vicious loop and restore peace is entirely in the hands of the Sinhalese polity. Those who disrupt doing what is right are lending support to the project to divide the island along ethnic line.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Print this page