Monday, March 26, 2012

Can you blame him?

Published in my column in The Nation on March 25, 2012 
By Darshanie Ratnawalli

I wonder if it behoves me to say something about THE CURRENT ISSUE instead of being so stuck in the past and its different presentations. I could, but then there is very little emotional satisfaction to be had in holding up a spotlight to mediocrity. “To employ Pinter’s language, too many Sinhala wives and too many Sinhala children wanted peace, and so we killed as many Tamils as necessary. We just killed them. And for so many today, that’s ok.” That is Sanjana Hattotuwa providing the mediocrity (in his column last week in this very newspaper). And here’s Godfrey Gunatilleke providing the spotlight (in 'Truth and Accountability : The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka', an evaluation of the UN panel report on SL);
“…it is difficult to understand how the Panel ignores the facts given in its own account of the LTTE regarding its use of the civilians as buffer. …all clearly indicating that the LTTE deliberately integrated the civilians into the battlefield. The Panel…describes the army action in breaking into the NFZ and dividing it into two to separate the civilians from the LTTE cadres and freeing about 100,000 civilians. (para 109)It also reports how soldiers rescued civilians who escaped the LTTE killings during a mass attempt by civilians to break out. It also accepts that the eventual outcome of the operation was the release of the vast majority of civilians over 290,000 who were held by the LTTE. And after all this evidence which the Panel itself has collected, it concludes that the operation was aimed at the indiscriminate and systematic killing of a large section of the Tamil population and that the release of hostages was not an objective of government. The panel refuses to consider the government position that the military operation was launched with the objective of defeating the LTTE in order to free Sri Lankan citizens from LTTE control. In the panel’s view the government was operating in total disregard of the civilian population.

…There are significant omissions in the report. The report omits all mention of past actions and polices that may provide a more informed approach and better understanding of the actions of government in the Vanni operation than what is provided by the panel. There is no mention of the transformation the army had undergone and their visible improvement in discipline in respect of humanitarian rules of war. There is no reference to the war in the East immediately prior to the Vanni offensive and the very low level of civilian casualties in that operation which also had a hostage situation in Vakeneri. Such an account would have given credence to the government’s policy of “zero civilian casualties”. There is also no mention of government’s uninterrupted delivery of social welfare services to LTTE controlled areas prior to the commencement of the operation.”
Back to Sanjana; “Accountability is most stridently demanded and advocated today by an international community that tacitly supported the present government to treat collateral deaths of Tamil civilians as inevitable and necessary to end the war.” This is an untruth, the result of retrospective projection. There was no tacit acceptance at the time. The particular international community he means, best exemplified by Hilary Clinton were foaming at the mouth, braying for cease fire and pawning the ground preparatory to charging. They would have charged if they could have but were strategically held at bay and checkmated at every step of the way. The next spotlight (Michael Roberts: Realities of war: Frontline: written end April 2009) is switched on to show how.
“On April 22, Hillary Clinton told the world that “a terrible humanitarian tragedy” was taking place in Sri Lanka and demanded a halt in the fighting so that “we could secure a safe passage for as many of the trapped civilians as possible”.
The lady didn’t know it but she stood checkmated;
“Remarkably, for a superpower leader with access to up-to-date information Clinton appeared to have been some 48 hours behind breaking events: namely, the escape of some 107,000 Tamil “civilians” (doubtless including Tiger cadre who had given up the fight) from their hell-hole situation after a commando operation carried out by the Sri Lanka Army on the night of April 19-20. Alternatively, one must conclude that Clinton read this miraculous tale as something that spelt a humanitarian disaster – hence the use of the egg metaphor.”
Today, it may be convenient to forget the totally unexpected and innovative twists that deterred much awaited responses by challenging the stereotypical base on which they were invited;
“As I arrived in Sri Lanka on April 17, I told Kumari Jayawardena that the ground situation facing the army was labyrinthine. I could not, I said, see how it could move forward without generating disastrous death rates. Yet, today, we know that the commando operation was one for the textbook: it resulted in relatively few non-combatant deaths and created a path for streams and streams of Tamils to cross the lagoon and the beach over the next 2-3 days, roughly 110,000 people making this little epic journey. This, for me, was better than the tale of Moses crossing the Red Sea. It was both elevating and saddening.

It was distressing because of the condition of some of these people, displayed so starkly on camera, bespeaking the privation they had undergone in the immediate past. Indeed, as one or two died of dehydration or starvation while being bussed or airlifted by the military to the nearest hospitals in Vavuniya, one knew, now, why “the people of Tamil Eelam” had turned their back on the Eelam demand and the LTTE.”
Then too, the numbers game itself, as played at this stage, held the interventionists at bay.
“Take Nirmala Rajasingam’s passionate appeal in the British newspaper Independent on April 24. … Rajasingam also insisted that the government’s claim that there were few civilian casualties “defy reason,” and spoke of “huge civilian losses through indiscriminate fire”. …But what exactly is the count of those “civilians” killed as against those who have fled the coop in the past 5-6 months? A U.N. report dated April 24 estimated the death toll among civilians at 6,432, with those injured being estimated at 13,946. These figures must be qualified by two sets of facts: (a) they include individuals who stepped on LTTE mines and those shot by Tigers (or killed by suicide bombers) as they fled; and (b) a few of these civilians would be new conscripts who had not been issued with uniforms. Our adjectives must be relative. So, let us place these numbers in a comparative context beside the figure of 1,75,714 people who reached the government lines by April 24, with roughly 68,000 having escaped before April 20 and 107,000 in that remarkable moment between April 20 and 23.

The dead 6,432 make up roughly 4 per cent of those who have survived. Add the injured, some 13,000 according to the same U.N. report, and one has 20,000 casualties [caused by both sides] set against roughly 170,000 freed. While the figures are not to be laughed at, the death score is not “huge” while talk of “extermination” in “Dark victory”, displays mind-boggling bias and/or credulity… If there had been no restraint at all in the army offensive during the past six months, I can assure her that we would have had a death toll in the 30,000-50,000 range. As caveat let me stress that this claim does not mean that there was no cavalier bombing and artillery fire on some occasions.”
Indeed it was only after the war was over that somebody got savvy about the inadequacy of the pickings accruing from the numbers game and belatedly upped the stakes to 40 000 and more to fit the charge of unrestrained violence.

Talking of proportionality, I am sure to be in violation of its rules in using these particular spotlights on this particular mediocrity. Much too powerful for the task. Instead of merely showing up the mediocrity in the target statements, they also reveal the primary source of that mediocrity and end up exposing the dimensions of Sanjana’s mental equipment. Now did we really need to see that? This is why I prefer looking at the distant past. Much more exciting and the exposures are rarely so indecent.

No comments:

Post a Comment