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‘Pentagon blighting Tamil cause may turn counter-productive to US interests’

[TamilNet, Monday, 17 January 2011 09:32 No Comment]

James Clad was earlier US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia. “The Sri Lankan government does have supporters in the U.S., particularly in military circles. Senior officials told me that their government owed much to a Pentagon official named James Clad, ‘a great friend of Sri Lanka.’ Clad was the Bush Administration’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, in charge of the Pentagon’s dealings with India and Sri Lanka, until he was replaced by the Obama Administration in January, 2009,” wrote John Lee Anderson in Newyorker.com last week, adding that in order to reform Sri Lanka’s public image, Clad, who recently retired from the Pentagon’s National Defense University, recommended to Gotabaya Rajapaksa that he host a meeting on maritime-security concerns in the Indian Ocean to “get out of its box as a ‘single-issue country’ and reconnect it with an earlier maritime heritage,” Anderson cited Clad, advising Gotabhaya.

“Clad has known the Rajapaksas for many years. He referred to the President’s brother Gotabaya, the defense minister, as Gota,” says Anderson.

The then Indian Foreign Secretary and the present National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon also had that ‘privilege’ according to a video ‘testimony’ of Gotabhaya in which he implied the complicity of the Indian establishment in the way the war had ended.

In the Galle Dialogue, a two-day conference organized in August 2010 as advised by James Clad and was attended by senior naval officers from more than a dozen countries, Brigadier General Stanley Osserman, of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Command, said, “Sri Lanka has a lot to offer in the field of terrorism prevention and maritime security.”

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in return congratulated the American observers: it had been the U.S. that helped locate the Tigers’ ships.

Later, the Sri Lankan terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna in the gathering underscored much of what Gotabaya had said, assuring that “no Sri Lankan soldier deliberately killed a civilian,” reports Anderson.

Unofficially, the United States had provided some help to Colombo in the war, says Anderson:

“Sri Lankan diplomats and military officers acknowledged to me privately that U.S. satellite intelligence had been crucial when, in 2008, Sri Lanka’s Navy sank seven Tiger ships loaded with military cargo. The ships—members of the Sea Pigeons fleet, which sailed without identification from various Asian sea- ports—were cruising in international waters, as far as a thousand miles from Sri Lanka, when they were attacked. They carried war material worth tens of millions of dollars, and their destruction deprived the Tigers of their traditional means of military re-supply just as the Sri Lankan Army ramped up hostilities. From then on, the Tigers were on the run, herded ineluctably into shrinking territory.”

The former Pentagon official James Clad, when contacted by Anderson recently justified the role he played:

“Citing official oaths of secrecy, he demurred when it came to questions about U.S. aid to the Sri Lankan military, but he made it clear that he had been supportive of the Sri Lankan government’s war effort, and that he felt that the criticisms expressed by the West had been counterproductive to Western interests.”

* * *

Anderson, in his article “Death of the Tiger” smacks of his ‘counterinsurgency’ orientation when he describes the war as “Sri Lanka’s brutal victory over its Tamil insurgents.”

“To the extent that a counter-insurgency campaign can be successful, Sri Lanka is a grisly test case for success in modern warfare,” Anderson says.

But he could very well able to see the failure of the US policy and the way it handled the crisis in the island:

“General David Petraeus and others have placed great hope in a doctrine of counterinsurgency that tempers military action with nation-building and careful community work. But it should not be forgotten that the more effective counter- insurgencies, like Sri Lanka’s, are hideous in practice. They involve killing many people and terrorising many more.”

“We know that Sri Lanka’s conflict ended in a bloodbath, even though it occurred, as intended, out of sight.”

“The Sri Lankan Army designated a series of “no-fire zones” and told civilians to assemble there. It then shelled those zones repeatedly, while issuing denials that it was doing so and forbidding journalists access to the area.”

“There were later reports, which the government denied, that as many as forty thousand civilians were killed during the Army’s final offensive, and that their bodies were burned or buried in secret mass graves.”

“Dozens of unarmed Tamils, including several senior Tiger political leaders and their families, were also shot dead by soldiers as they walked out of the kill zone carrying white flags. Their surrender had been personally approved by Sri Lanka’s President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, after being negotiated over a satellite-phone link by the U.N.’s special envoy to Sri Lanka and Marie Colvin, a correspondent for the Sunday Times of London, whom the Tamil leaders had asked to be their intermediary. “This was not the chaos of battle,” Colvin said. “It was a negotiated surrender. Promises were made and they were broken.”

* * *

When the Obama Administration came to power, political observers cautioned the optimists that given the nature of the way the US system functions, any changes in the trend would take some time to come to effect.

“Until the very end, Prabhakaran believed that the international relief community, the U.N., and Western governments would save the Tigers. The L.T.T.E. continued to read the world as if it was pre-9/11,” Anderson wrote citing Jayampathy Wickramaratne, an adviser to Sri Lanka’s past two Presidents.

The ‘test-case’ failure of the US was written on the wall at the end of the war, affecting the credibility of the US and the countries tagged behind it, in the worst possible way in recent times.

Anderson didn’t fail to highlight the historic defeat of the Western civilisation in the war in Sri Lanka:

“A week after the war’s end, the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva was the scene of a political standoff between a bloc of Western nations that called for an investigation and another—led by Sri Lanka and including Brazil, Cuba, India, and Pakistan—that called for a resolution praising Sri Lanka for the “promotion and protection of all human rights.” The latter resolution won, with twenty-nine votes in favor, twelve against, and six abstentions.”

A Chinese arms dealer had advanced ammunition to the Sri Lankan government throughout the military campaign and the debt was later satisfied by arrangements that gave China commercial advantages in Sri Lanka, the former Pentagon official Clad, cited by Anderson, said in defence of his strategy of supporting Colombo to prevent inroads of China.

But the ilk of Clad, despite their appeasement and complicity, could not achieve anything other than failure to the US.

Anderson cited a Western diplomat in Colombo saying: “We don’t have a lot of influence here. We’re not a big fish. China is. It’s pouring in billions of dollars.”

“In the not too distant future, Sri Lanka may be seen as an early skirmish in a new “Great Game” of influence between China and the United States and their proxies,” concludes Anderson, citing Harim Peiris, former advisor to a Sri Lankan presdient, saying, “Sri Lanka has read the situation and seen that the West’s influence is diminishing,”

* * *

There are many who question the wisdom of the LTTE rejecting the 13th Amendment of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and later allowing Rajapaksa to come to power that ended the West-initiated ‘Oslo Peace’.

Some in the West boast that they had a solution up in their sleeves during the Oslo Peace, and also say that had the LTTE listened to them and had surrendered during the war, 40,000 lives of Tamils would have been saved.

But reports that leak one after the other show that neither India nor the West was genuine in finding a practical and honourable solution to the long-lingering crisis of Eezham Tamils in the island. Rather they competed in being in the good books of genocidal Colombo that was blackmailing through the China card. India was not happy about Oslo-initiated peace, some analysts say.

Human rights organisations anticipate that war crimes investigations in the island would take a very long time to come out with any results, because of the involvement of bigwigs in the establishments of powers.

A big question now being asked in the Eezham Tamil circles over the failure of Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 and Oslo-facilitated CFA of 2002, is whether India and the West for their own failures, premeditated a collective punishment to the nation of Eezham Tamils.

If so, the Eezham war has taken the toll of not only lives in the island but also the war has taken its revenge on India and the US that were long deceiving and blighting the righteous cause of Eezham Tamils in the island, commented a diaspora political observer.

Whatever the course of events and the post-mortem analyses could be, the net failure of the US and Indian outlook is self-evident in the post-war scenario.

Anderson cited a pastor who managed to escape the war in Vanni:

“It is in my mind. When I sleep, automatically it comes out—things I only saw in films in my youth. Bodies without heads. Bodies with the stomach open and the liver coming out.” He added, “At the end, we were walking out through fire and past dead people, and the soldiers were laughing at us and saying, ‘We have killed all your leaders. Now you are our slaves.’ You can imagine how I feel about my country.”

Anderson also cited a Sinhala politician in Colombo to the edification of those who were vainly calling for ‘reconciliation’:

“Is it over?” I asked a Sinhalese politician in Colombo. “The war is over, but the conflict is not,” he replied. “The problem goes be-yond the existence of the L.T.T.E. The problem is that this country does not accommodate its minorities well.” Several of Sri Lanka’s governments had at-tempted to make political accommodations to the Tamils, he said, but Sinhalese nationalists had always vetoed them. “This is the perfect time to offer an accommodation to the moderate Tamils who have rejected violence.” But, he said, “I think Rajapaksa will not make conciliatory gestures, because he is him-self an ardent Sinhala nationalist.” The politician explained that he needed to speak off the record, because, although he knew Rajapaksa personally, it would be “counterproductive” to voice his criticisms publicly.”

But whether the US and India would work together in restoring confidence on them in the region by delivering justice in the test case of the national question of Eezham Tamils or whether they would succumb to the deceptions of Colombo and would lose the region of South and Southeast Asia to the new ‘domino effect’ of the crude money-power of China in Asia, is the question.

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