Does the Tamil polity have the wisdom and maturity to undertake a critical analysis of the strategies that need to be adopted in the post-COVID-19 world?

By Veeragathy Thanabalasingham

COVID-19, the pandemic that is claiming lives all over the world, has thrown global politics into disarray, crafting a new normal in which nothing will be the way it was.

Political scholars are writing extensively on the challenges that will characterize the post-pandemic world order.

This is the time for international cooperation and solidarity among the super powers. This is the time for world leaders to come together to deal with the challenges the pandemic has forced on humanity. But at a time of shared concerns, what we are being cautioned about is the danger of a new cold war.

The world is all too familiar with the 50-year cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Second World War. There has been no war preceding this current bout of unease, but the last three months have illustrated how a cold war between two economic superpowers, the United States and China, could create new camps of nations in the post-pandemic world.

In this context, countries will have to formulate strategies taking into account economic considerations and geopolitical advantages. At the same time, communities that are battling against authoritarianism and discrimination need to engage in a considered assessment of their future. There is no doubt that the plight of such communities will be determined by what transpires in the post-COVID context.

When viewed in this context, it is important to seriously consider the possible impact new thinking will have on the struggle of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka for a political solution to the ethnic problem, and for justice.

In the eleven years since the war ended in May 2009, the Sri Lankan Tamil polity has been formulating its strategies for peace and justice, based on faith in the goodwill and assistance of the international community. In other words, the Tamils have adopted political strategies based on the pressure the leading nations of international community can possibly put on the government of Sri Lanka.

The underlying reason for the over-reliance on the international community is the absence of a powerful polity amongst the Tamils. The polity has been unable to foster and sustain strong democratic movements that will put pressure on governments in Colombo to realize the imperative of finding a political solution to the ethnic problem.

The absence of a strong political community or polity is stark given the failure of peaceful political struggles of Tamil moderate leaders in the three post-independence decades, and the armed struggle in the ensuing three decades. Such a predicament is unavoidable for any minority community that has faced immeasurable loss of life as well as assets due to a long war.

However, the biggest mistake made by the political community that speaks for the Tamil people is its failure to learn any lessons from the experiences of past struggles and formulate strategies to suit changing realities.

All political parties spoke of a political solution even as they focused on accountability issues and sought to make the Sri Lankan State accountable for the violations of human rights and humanitarian laws that are alleged to have taken place during the last stages of the war. They had placed their faith in international mechanisms and processes, such as the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution adopted with the support of Western countries.

The contradiction or irony in asking the Sri Lankan government for accountability for war crimes and at the same time asking it to fulfil the legitimate political aspirations of Tamils through a negotiated settlement was not understood.

The current status of the many processes undertaken at the UN Human Rights Council regarding Sri Lanka, has once again illustrated the shortcomings of the international community in dealing with the Tamil problems. The wave of emotions created in the South about the processes in Geneva led to the architect of the war victory being elected the country’s President. No one would have difficulty in understanding the fate of the calls for accountability or a political solution.

Given the current state of affairs, particularly with the international community not being in a position to pay attention to the grievances of the Sri Lankan Tamils due to the rapidly changing global events, the Tamil polity has a enormous responsibility to seriously re-consider its future strategies.

But the question is: does it have the ability to understand the gravity of the responsibility, or the political will to undertake activities with a long-term vision? Does the Tamil polity have the wisdom and maturity to undertake a critical analysis of the strategies that need to be adopted in the post-COVID-19 world?

This short article has been written with the aim of provoking a discussion on what needs to be done to ensure that the problems of the Tamils aren’t disregarded or ignored while shaping a new global order.

(Veeragathy Thanabalasingham, former chief editor of Thinakkural, is Consultant Editor, Virakesari)