by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Now that we have a President with a magnificient moustache in Mahendra Percy Rajapakse quoting a Tamil proverb about a moustached man who had a fall may not be inappropriate. “Kuppura Vilunthalum Meesaiyil Man padavillai” (no sand on the moustache despite falling flat ) it goes. The proverbial saying is about trying to save face in spite of a defeat. The man who fell flat on his face boasts that there is no sand caught in his moustache!
[President Mahinda Rajapakse at the All Party Conference held after Geneva Talks – Photo TamilNet]
The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) delegation suffered a massive political debacle in Geneva. Apart from failing to achieve any concrete decision on issues outside the Ceasefire Agreement the GOSL was unsuccessful in even effecting changes to the CFA.After taking up the position that the ceasefire agreement was bad in law, anti – constitutional and anti – national security the GOSL has formally accepted and pledged to uphold the same. Furthermore the GOSL has indirectly admitted to its “influence” over the so called Tamil paramilitaries or alternative armed groups and consented to end their operations and also disarm them .
Puerile attempts however are on to distort the actual reality of Geneva. The assertion that the CFA was amended is one such instance. Another exercise is the pathetic bid to separate the opening statement from the joint communique. The opening statement was a victory but the joint statement drafted by Oslo was a defeat is the stance. What is being glossed over is that he joint statement was not evolved in a vacuum. It merely reflected the actual position in the talks. However distasteful it may be for the Sinhala hardliners the reality is that the Rajapakse regime swallowed humble “odial kool” in Geneva.
This does not of course prevent vested interests from trying to propagate an illusion that everything was “Jayawewa” In Switzerland. There are bids to derive vicarious satisfaction from the imaginary discomfiture suffered by the other party.One of these attempts is the disinformation campaign that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil eelam (LTTE) was compelled to participate in Geneva talks due to pressure from USA.
Apart from the public statements by Jeffrey Lunstead and Nicholas Burns , Uncle Sam had supposedly conveyed a stern “or else” message via Erik Solheim to the LTTE. Terrified out of their wits the LTTE went with tucked tails to Geneva is the story plugged by some.
There is nothing one can do if people want to believe such propaganda but the reality was somewhat different. The International community has been equally pressurising the GOSL as well as the LTTE. Rajapakse has been told to desist from moving towards a military confrontation. He has been asked to continue with talks and pursue a political settlement.
The president has also been discouraged about some of his views like disavowing federalism, denying the multi – ethnic reality of Sri Lanka, ruling out the concept of the North – East being the historical habitat of Tamils and Muslims etc. Since Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation in name most of these moves are not publicised by the parties concerned to avoid political embarassment to the government.
In that respect another irritant caused by the Rajapakse regime to the International community notably the USA was the opposition to Norway and the attempt to replace Oslo as facilitator by New Delhi. It does seem unbelievable that Rajapakse failed to realise that Norway was backed by the entire West in general and the USA in particular.
In a sense Oslo is a projection of the USA in this sphere. For reasons of its own , chief of which is a marked reluctance to get its hands soiled once again in Sri Lanka, India is prepared to go along with the current arrangement for now. There is for the moment a convergence between India and the USA on Sri Lanka.
The LTTE position on talks and Norway was welcomed by the West. Its insistence on Norway as the venue for talks too was helpful to indirectly “educate” Rajapakse of realities. Japan’s own ambition to hijack the facilitator role by exploiting the impasse and suggesting an alternative Asian venue may have been very desirable to Rajapakse but was certainly irritating to the others.
While the LTTE by its earlier intransigience on the venue for talks proved helpful in bringing home truths alive to Rajapakse that organization too was criticised for its unhelpful attitude in other areas.. Pressure too was exerted. The difference being that the direct and indirect pressure on Colombo was not highlighted for obvious reasons as opposed to that on the LTTE.
The LTTE is not a sovereign nation but an entity that has acquired belligerent rights. If Colombo continues to be obstinately stupid , Tamil Eelam could be a reality in the future but as for the present it does not have any international support or recognition.
The LTTE however deserved public chastisement for its own blunders felt the international community. As noted in these columns earlier the USA is performing the “hard talk” (Bhetha) role in this peacemaking exercise. Hence the harsh comments by Lunstead and Burns.
Why did the international community particularly the USA single out the LTTE for such harsh comments? The fault lies in the LTTE itself. The tigers extricated themselves from earlier messes and came out with the Interim Self – Government Authority (ISGA) proposal. Whatever the merits or defects of this proposal it deserved discussion and debate.
But Chandrika Kumaratunga upset the thambili cart exactly at this juncture. She whipped up a campaign against it and went on to dissolve Parliament. An alliance was formed with the “national socialist” Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna on a hawkish platform.
After winning the elections Kumaratunga was ready to be flexible on the ISGA but found herself shackled by the JVP. The end result was that nothing worthwhile happened. Even the tsunami tragedy failed to bring about unity. The GOSL was badly exposed as being discriminatory towards the tsunami affected North – East.
The P- TOMS took a long time to evolve but never got off the ground thanks to the JVP and the Supreme Court decision. It appeared that Colombo was increasingly incapable of addressing the needs of the North – East through existing structures.
The International Community is no lover of the LTTE. Even Oslo makes love to Kilinochchi through necessity and not through ideological affinity. The LTTE with its intolerant neo- fascism and anti – democratic authoritarianism is repugnant to the West and even other democratic developing nations.
It regards it as being “terrorist” with some countries legally proscribing its activities on their soil. Nevertheless the International community “tolerates” the LTTE and is prepared to engage in “limited” business with the tigers. It also encourages Colombo to interact with the LTTE .
This has led to predictable resentment in Southern Sri Lanka, Why are these countries asking us to be flexible with the LTTE while being rigid with other terrorist entities is their grouse. On the other hand LTTE and pro – LTTE elements are disappointed that some countries have banned the LTTE while promoting the tigers in the peace process. Despite these misgivings the International community is acting on certain principles and set plans with regard to Sri Lanka and its self – made ethnic crisis.
The first of these is the unity, territorial integrity etc of Sri Lanka. At the same time the IC wants the minorities particularly the Tamils to have their rights restored in a democratic, pluralistic federal or quasi – federal set up. As far as the LTTE is concerned the International community abhors its current attitudes and approach. Yet it is prepared to do business with it for certain reasons chief of which is that the tigers through their tactics and methods have thrust themselves on to centre stage and made themselves virtually indispensable.
They have developed themselves into an effective fighting formation capable of retaining territorial control. They have proven their strength in both offensive and defensive operations. They have demonstrated their destructive power through operations like the Katunayake attack. By eliminating Tamil leaders and terrorising others into submission or insignificance the LTTE remains the chief if not sole representative of the Tamil people. Engaging the LTTE in a peace process therefore becomes imperative.
The west would hope for two things. One is for the LTTE to transform itself into an acceptable democratic entity over a period of time. The other is for it to fade away or lose its power gradually even as the peace process develops further. A “leadership change” too may be on the cards if possible.
A major reason for the West’s leniency towards the LTTE is due to recognition of the fact that the root cause of the Sri Lankan problem lies in Sinhala chauvinism and resultant policies. Though Sinhala revisionists would have us believe that the Tamils are the aggressors impartial analysis decrees otherwise.
Historically the victims of Sinhala oppression have been the Tamils. The cry for separation and armed struggle arose because of this. The LTTE is only a virulent by – product of this. The emergence of the national socialist JVP and Sinhala supremacist JHU help reinforce these beliefs. The election of Mahinda Rajapakse on a chauvinist mandate is another pointer.
So for the west or even India to crack down on the LTTE and leave the field clear to the Sinhala fascists and chauvinists is simply not on at this point of time. This is something the Sinhala hardliners fail to understand and if recent history is an indication never ever will. The best friends of the LTTE are the Sinhala chauvinists. If there is one segment of Sri Lankan society that is not under LTTE threat it is this chauvinist element. The LTTE needs them badly.
[Ilanthirayan (Marshall), member of LTTE Geneva team speaking at a diaspora event in Geneva – Photo TamilNet]
The western nations also understand that the LTTE cannot be a direct threat or danger at any time. The historical evolution of the Tamil liberation struggle never regarded the West as an enemy but always as a friendly force. The violence of the LTTE would not be deliberately directed against the west though accidents or unintended consequences may occur.
In that situation the violent methods of the LTTE do not pose a direct threat to the west. The threat if any is on par with the reprehensible ideology of the Sinhala chauvinists. Though the LTTE may be banned in the USA and Britain no hard action is likely to be taken against its members for the time being.
What the LTTE or even its opponents have failed to realise is that it is the plight of the suffering Tamil people that is of paramount importance. The fundamental truth is that despite 25 years of armed struggle the Tamils are yet to get their rights. The tigers for all their proud boasts of negotiating from a position of strength have failed to win any meaningful rights, worse still is that the armed struggle has caused much upheaval in Tamil society, destroyed its economy, brutalised values and dispersed it demographically to the South and various parts of the globe.
If the Tamil predicament is to be resolved it can only be done through a political settlement. For that credible negotiators are needed. The LTTE is the only force available now. So despite doubts and misgivings the International community wants to work with the LTTE. So the LTTE is being accepted not because of its merits but only due to concern for the overall Tamil plight. The more the fighting continuing the more Tamil refugees will reach the West.
With the west realising that the LTTE is there to stay and cannot be wished away, its approaches are being reoriented. The most important reappraisal of these being the accommodation of the LTTE in its scheme of things. Given the corruption, poor governance and mismanagement of the war the West and even India have come to realise that Colombo is never going to win the war. Actually the Country is coming apart and continuing the war can only lead to de facto dismemberment.
It is to prevent division that the West took an active interest in the peace process. Opposing division does not mean suppressing the Tamils.Unfortunately the Sinhala hardliners are yet to understand it and are ranting and raving against Oslo and by extension Washington.
The West is now concerned about restoring stability to Sri Lanka. The deteriorating trend has to be arrested and reversed. To do that there should be an absence of war even if a genuine peace is not guaranteed. For this the LTTE has to be engaged in a peace process. To keep the tigers in the process some concessions at least had to be made.
This is what Chandrika Kumaratunga and Lakshman Kadirgamar failed to comprehend due to personal reasons. This is what Ranil Wickremasinghe , Milinda Moragoda and GL Peiris understood so thoroughly and followed through.. This is what the Sinhala hardliners failed and fail to understand even now.
The peace proces initiated by Wickremasinghe succeeded to some extent in containing the LTTE for a period of time. Kumaratunga upset this delicate equilibrium and ousted Ranil. One whole year passed after the April elections in 2004 but nothing tangible was achieved.
The tsunami averted the LTTE going to war but the state failed miserably in alleviating the affected tsunami victims of the North – East. The stagnation reinforced the view that alternative structures were needed to address the problems of the North – Eastern people.
The time was ripe for the ISGA proposal of the LTTE to be examined seriously. It is a moot point as to whether the ISGA would or could have been accepted in the form it was presented. The climate however was conducive for the concept being accepted with some modification and diligently implemented. For one thing some commitment on human rights, pluralism and democracy would be necessary.
The LTTE was becoming more acceptable as a “strategic partner” of the Sri Lankan government in the bid to stabilise Sri Lanka and invigorate its economic growth. This entailed a substantial share of the economic cake to the North – East too. For this the ISGA had to be set up under the LTTE.
The LTTE was on the threshold of new power and respectability when it committed the first of its three great recent blunders. Foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was assassinated. This resulted in grave doubts being cast about its reliability. You do not assassinate the foreign minister of a regime with which you are partners in a peace process.
One consequence of this was the limited European travel ban.Even more than the ban was the serious dent caused to the refurbished image of the LTTE in International perception. Erik Soheim’s spontaneous outburst”This is insane” upon hearing of the incident speaks volumes of the negatve impact caused.
The second big blunder was the enforced boycott of Presidential elections in Tamil areas by the LTTE. This affected Wickremasinghe’s chances of victory. It is no secret that the west was rooting for Ranil. Besides it was Wickremasinghe who could have helped usher in the ISGA with the LTTE at its helm.
Instead of supporting Wickremasinghe the LTTE had ensured that a Sinhala hardliner won. Had Rajapakse won without a boycott it would have been a different scenario altogether. But now Wickremasinghe had lost due to the tigers.This was not conduct becoming of a would be strategic partner in shared governance. Besides the methods used to enforce the boycott was anathema to the West.
The third colossal blunder was the undeclared war of the LTTE. Velupillai Prabakharan assures Rajapakse in his great heroes speech that he would grant him time. Yet with the EPDP killing two tiger supporters in Neervely a so called “peoples war” was launched against the security forces.
Though the LTTE was overtly and covertly involved the blame was shifted on the people saying a civilian militia called the Tamil resurgence force was retaliating against a pervasive security force presence. With claymore mines exploding few believed the LTTE was not involved.
The LTTE hit an all time low in irresponsibility by claiming that the people and not they were responsible. Similiarly it had disclaimed responsibility for the boycott saying the people were to blame. By saying the civilians were attacking the security forces the LTTE exposed the people to security force retaliation. It was now “open season” on the Tamil civilians.
The Rajapakse regime was cunning enough to use armed Tamil groups in unleashing state terror on the Tamil civilians.While the security forces were being commended for their restraint in the face of provocation by the LTTE “paramilitary” personnel aided by security forces targeted civilians suspected to have LTTE links.
At least 65 persons went missing or were abducted. 43 were killed. Almost all of them were supporters of the LTTE or were related to tiger cadres. This created a fear psychosis and over 16, 000 persons sympathetic to the LTTE fled the Govt controlled areas and sought refuge in the LTTE areas. The so called “peoples war” fizzled out.
The most important lesson for the LTTE in this was that there was no international outcry against these deliberate targeting of Tamil civilians. It was as if the tigers had brought it upon the people by crediting the people with the earlier violence. Even blatant human rights violations like the murder of Joseph Pararajasingham in the Cathedral during Christmas mass and the gruesome execution of five innocent youths in Trincomalee went uncondemned.
It was this “peoples war” debacle and its consequences that impelled the LTTE into going for talks on the ceasefire. Anton Balasingham openly admitted that the leader had “climbed down” (Irangi Vandhu) only because of the plight of the people. It became very necessary for the LTTE to bring an end to the violence unleashed on civilan supporters by the security force aided armed Tamil groups.
It was also necessary to utilise the breathing space gained to seek an end to this so called “paramilitary” phenomenon. The very same LTTE that ignored the CFA provisions and unleashed violence on civilian supporters and members of the non – tiger groups was now demanding that the ceasefire be upheld. The roles were reversed.
The International community realised that the LTTE had been given a stinging blow. This served their plans as tiger arrogance had been taken down a peg or two. If Mahinda Rajapakse was taught a lesson by the LTTE on the importance of Norway and Erik Solheim the paramilitary operations had brought the LTTE down to earth also.
The climate seemed conducive to grant the tigers an opportunity to redeem themselves. To their credit the LTTE availed themselves of the second chance.
This decision of the LTTE to go for talks on the ceasefire was given a boost by an unexpected quarter. The story circulated in Colombo that the LTTE was given a stern message by the USA through Erik Solheim is only partly true. There was certainly a message but it was not entirely one – sided. The message was of three components.
Firstly the LTTE was “requested” to attend the Geneva parley with a proviso that the International community would back its demand that the paramilitaries be de – fanged. It may be recalled that almost all recent statements by the International community had referred to the need for controlling or curbing the armed groups.Thus the paramilitary question was like a quid pro quo .
Secondly the LTTE was informed that any attempt to disrupt the peace process and unilaterally resume war would be severely condemned. Moreover if the LTTE did start a war then the International community would be duty bound to strengthen the Sri Lankan security forces to its pre – ceasefire level. Also any perceptible shift in the balance of forces in the LTTE’s favour would be redressed immediately by the International community.
Thirdly the LTTE was assured that the International community would try and persuade the GOSL to implement whatever agreed upon in Geneva. If Colombo defaulted or went back on the agreement the International community would take a serious view of it. This could result in other creative solutions within the parameters of broad policy being considered. This of course ruled out division but was open ended on a greater role for the LTTE.
Thus the LTTE went to Geneva motivated by its own self – interests as well as due to International pressure. The tigers did not go to Geneva because Uncle Sam had sent shivers down their spines as alleged by some. International pressure was on both sides though for strategic reasons the USA came out hard on the LTTE for public consumption. The lesson for Colombo in this is that it should comply with all what it agreed to in Geneva.
Unfortunately the GOSL does not seem to have grasped these realities and is engaged in subverting and defaulting on the promises made in Geneva. As pointed out in these columns last week the regime is in not prepared to throw away what it regards as its trump card in combating the LTTE. The GOSL in keeping with the conduct of various regimes in the past will continue pating lip service to the Geneva agreement while sabotaging it underhand.
Of crucial importance in this enterprise would be a provocative strategy aimed at making the LTTE “quit” in disgust. This it is hoped would absolve the Government and lay the blame squarely on the tigers.From Karuna faction violence to the Amendment controversy a grand design to provoke the LTTE and undo Geneva can be detected.
What is important for the LTTE is to realise the gravity of the situation and not be suckered into a trap. The LTTE has just managed to come out of the International dog house because of its readiness to participate in Geneva talks.
The LTTE which undermined itself greatly in International perception due to blunders like the Kadirgamar assassination, enforced boycott and peoples war is now in the process of rehabilitating itself through Geneva.
It would indeed be a terrible mistake for it to get irritated or provoked by Colombo and the Sinhala hawks to unilaterally withdraw from Geneva talks as urged by a vocal section of its supporters.
Instead it should stay the course in Geneva and not lose sight of its objectives. Whatever the speculation in media circles about Geneva the LTTE should not announce withdrawal.The tigers must press for the de- fanging of the armed Tamil groups as pledged by the government in Geneva.
This also entails a strict guarantee by the LTTE that it would not conduct an assassination spree against unarmed non – tiger groups. The state if it really has concern for these “paramilitaries” should absorb them as regulars in the army and station them elsewhere.
It is important to realise that de- fanging the paramilitaries does not mean abandoning them or handing them over to the LTTE. It is only the violence unleashed by these groups that should end during the peace talks and not the physical survival of these groups.
It is also necessary to distinguish between the political role and military roles of these groups. While military functions should end they should be free to do politics as they wish. In this respect all claims by the LTTE about who and who comprise the so called paramilitaries should be carefully analysed.
The GOSL pledge in Geneva of curbing the paramilitaries is something it cannot go back on.The LTTE should canvass for international support in pressuring the GOSL on this. The tigers would do well to avoid getting entangled in diversionary controversies like “was the CFA amended or not debate” and focus on tangible results.
Hopefully what the LTTE should do in its own interests and in the interests of the Tamil people is to participate fully in the Geneva talks.By doing so it would at best achieve its aims or at worst expose the regime . By participating in the peace process the LTTE can become the “strategic partner” that the West wants it to be.
Whatever the ultimate outcome of Geneva the tigers would not lose if they stay and only if they stay the course without quitting as in the past.By exercising patience the LTTE can achieve results which it can never aspire to through war.The ball is in the LTTE court.