By K. Arvind
“The world is a beautiful flower vase – filled with scorpions” – Taraghay, father of Warlord Tamerlane
In our on-going debate and the search for peace many well-meaning men and women of learning across the ethnic divide are sharing their thoughts and prescriptions to reach that goal all of us yearn for. But there are others too actively moving – though not exactly in the same trajectory. In Izzath Hussain’s “Indian factor and moral power”, the writer puts forward the bizarre suggestion that the Jaffna people – where the vast population are innocent and non-combatant men, women, children, infants, the sick, the infirm and others – be subject to starvation as a means to put down the armed rebellion there.
I quote Hussain: “the question has to be asked why the Sri Lanka government has not regarded as having the right to put down a purely internal rebellion – by ANY MEANS including the use of FAMINE’ (emphasis mine). He repeats the suggestion several times over. That such a cruel and insensitive suggestion should come in this enlightened 21st century from someone said to be a former career diplomat, ambassador and a noted contributor in matters of public interest – is indicative of the intensity of our prolonged conflict indeed had shattered many usually stable minds once capable of offering gentle succour and solace – but now remain twisted.
I expect the government, at whose direction Hussain’s advice is projected, will reject this with all the contempt that it deserves though the lethargic pace at which the matter is handled can go to support the argument that there can be within the State side elements, however small in number, whose hidden agendas are served by the shortage of essentials in the Peninsula.
Those of us who have read Hussain’s writing for some time note he has a particular kink against the Indian government in general and Tamils in this country – in particular. I recall his previous writings where he has mocked Tamil sufferings and generally placing the universally sympathized Tamil position in dubious light. Controversy is not something new to Hussain. The ink is still not dry on his last one in the columns of the “The Island” where he gave his own interpretation of history vis-`E1-vis Leonard Woolf – that was immediately challenged.
Transparently betraying his anti-Indian tirade, without any foundation or provocation at all, he astonishingly suggests India put forward a candidate to “sabotage” Dhanapala’s chances. If such a charge is unsubstantiated it will amount to an attempt to create hatred of India in the eyes of our nationals. It may be noted the Sri Lankan government, fortunately, has never ever travelled down this road of thinking on this subject. The fact is Sashi Tharoor is still joint hot favourite along with Korea’s Ban Ki-Moon and although Jayantha Dhanapala seemed to have most of the necessary qualifications to make the ideal UN-SG, whether one likes it or not, India has more clout in the international arena than we do and will naturally use it in favour of its own preferred candidate.
Personally, it would have pleased me immensely if Dhanapala, who has just withdrawn his candidature, was to grace that lofty position. Hussain goes further and – once more recklessly and without evidence, suggests “India is determined to sabotage all our chances for prestigious international posts and membership at executive levels in UN institutions. The intention, it was surmised, was to see that Sri Lanka was internationally regarded as a country of no account whatsoever in the affairs of the world.”Come, come, good man – there has to be first a rationale and then an end to your divisive games. Sri Lanka remembers Dr. Gamani Corea who occupied that high post of Secretary General/UNCTAD and worked harmoniously with senior Indian diplomats during his long tenure – marked by much acclaimed distinction. Giving a conspiratorial flavour to Steve Mann’s visit, Hussain tells us Mann was here to warn us “there is a real danger of Indian intervention” – obliquely suggesting the US was warning us to fall in line with Indian thinking – or else? Mann was here, it is widely believed in circles close to government, to give support to the theory of the international community that a National Consensus between the major South Sri Lanka parties will bring the country closer to a durable solution.
To suggest “India broke up Pakistan” is to betray again your prejudice against India and to display ignorance of the Indo-Pakistan conflict of 1971. Hussain then rediscovers his posture and says, “Pakistan government was wrong in denying Sheikh Mujibur Rahman his rightful place to lead Pakistan presumably in terms of having won the larger number of seats for the Awami League than Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP.
This is, in fact, what brought about the break of Pakistan. Indira Gandhi was no fool to sit and watch when so much that can affect the future of her vast country was happening around her. When the leaders of the East Pakistan rebellion called for Indian intervention and help, she naturally obliged. General Yahiya Khan did not “take power” in Dhaka after the elections – as Hussain casually suggests. He “illegally seized” power using his armed might against the weak and dis-organised to-be Bangladeshis. Then by his and the conduct of his troops in the following period Yaihya was responsible for the deaths of many thousands of East Pakistani civilians earning him the unenviable sobriquet “the Butcher of .” When I visited the University of Dhaka ten years later, I found the bitterness against Yahiya’s men still intense – particularly among women students there whose memory of the brutal desecration against their colleagues in 1971 remained still fresh.
For Hussain to suggest the imposition of man-made famine in Jaffna “as legitimate in warfare down the millennia” is preposterous and inhumane.
Hussain’s other macabre emphasis “to put down the rebellion – by any means” would qualify him to be in the inner circles of Saddam Hussain where over 5,000 women, children and others were killed by chemical warfare in Shanakhasiya and other villages in the Kurdish populated areas of Iraq in March 1988 – one of the many charges against Saddam Hussain being tried for war crimes presently. Resort to “by any means” was that part of the Final Solution the Nazi’s carried out against the Jews during WW2 – which a more compassionate, tolerant and enlightened world considered unacceptable.
The principle that wars should be regulated by rules is now the accepted universal norm. Treatment of both combatants and civilians under these Covenants rules out starvation or the denial of food, medicine and essentials as instruments of war strategy.
By the way, in strict legal terms, Sri Lanka is “not at war.” The Hague Convention IV respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land of 18/10/1907; the Geneva Conventions (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th) on Armed Conflicts and International Law which the Sri Lankan legislature certified on 26.02.2006 – are in support of this Dhaka principle.
In conclusion, whereas the political leadership in the country, analysts and historians are generally agreed LTTE is a product of aberrations from the side of successive Sri Lankan governments since the 1970s, Hussain strangely seems to suggest otherwise. While the LTTE have committed many crimes to be globally condemned for, it must be said they were born, indisputably, as the result of majoritarian chauvinism and the lack of political foresight and wisdom in different administrations of different political persuasions who alas failed to differentiate between “the wood from the trees” – at least so far as understanding the ethnic affair is concerned.
It has been said more than once if you remove the latter you simultaneously remove the former from the body politic of this lovely but troubled land – home to us all. Let us leave the business of suggestions and proposals in the search for our peace to those “without an axe to grind” in the issue.
Fortunately, we still have many in our society above prejudice and possessed of the intellectual wherewithal to map out an acceptable solution – hopefully soon. I might conclude using Hussain’s own chosen quotation in the hope we do not earn for ourselves the misfortune where “Fools and scoundrels guide the State.”