I fully endorse the analysis of the Geneva talks by Sesha Samarajiva (see below) . The trap was not set up by the Tigers, it was set up by the MahindaR regime on themselves! It was they who were keen on these talks even though the Tigers made their position clear beforehand – and stuck to it. MahindaR had to salvage his Chintanaya of negotiations at any price. Only his Chintanaya is now in tatters.
I am amazed to read about the reception to the Tiger delegation when they were flown by SL Air Force plane to Colombo on the way to Geneva. There seems to be no limit to the servility shown to the Tigers by the MahindaR regime on their arrival at Colomho airport. Does this regime have an atom of self-respect left? And what about those cyber "patriots" who continue to sing the praises of this regime?
Shesha shows clearly that the negotiations were no breakthrough. Only the people of SL as usual are being duped. This is probably most of them have now been converted to the neo-Sinhela ideology that they think like their President.
Much of what Shesha states have been said in my analysis of the Geneva Talks. I had emphasised two significant points to emerge from the Geneva talks. One was the complete endorsement of the CFA by the MahindaR regime. Previously it was maintained that this was RanilW's work. This excuse is no longer valid. The second is that now the MahindaR regime has undertaken to disarm Karuna. I doubt if GOSL can do this even. All that could result is the if GOSL tries to do this it will weaken both GOSL and the Karuna faction, both to the advantage of the Kilinochchi regime. Sesha does not see the significance of the first point but he does warn of the implications of the second one.
The scenario which Sesha outlines in his last paragraph may well become reality. Then (as he puts it) it will be checkmate for Lanka and all its people. The GOSL bigwigs may escape abroad with their ill-gotten assets.
The message being delivered by spin doctors and some segments of the media to the people of Sri Lanka and the world at large is that the peace negotiations between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE were a breakthrough and Sri Lanka can now breath a sigh of relief. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, according to this choir, must be applauded for setting the stage to give peace a chance. Sounds good. But don't be too hasty to eat milkrice, cautions Sesha Samarajiwa.
At the press meeting following the first round of peace talks between the Sri Lanka government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which concluded in Geneva on 24 February, Colombo's chief negotiator, Healthcare and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and his team beamed smug smiles. In celebratory terms, the Sri Lankan state media and some private media reported that the first round of negotiations was a success. The LTTE, some of these analysts opine, did not want to be in Geneva but they were arm-twisted by the international community to be there. Reporters gave a run down of the rounds which started with aggressive punches by both sides but which, over the course of the two days, turned more conciliatory.
They comment on the compromises made and the upbeat tone on which the first round of negotiations ended. They read a lot of positive meanings into chief LTTE negotiator Anton Balasingham's changing body language and facial expressions. The Tiger negotiator, we are told, wore a grim countenance at the outset, not looking his counterpart in the eye and returning De Silva's beaming smile with a wan one and offering a lukewarm handshake. But at the end of proceedings, a more relaxed Balasingham was himself sporting a warmer smile and his team mates exchanged less frosty handshakes with the opposition than they did at the outset.
The message being delivered to the people of Sri Lanka and the world at large is that the negotiations were a breakthrough and Sri Lanka can now breath a sigh of relief. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, according to this choir, must be applauded for setting the stage to give peace a chance. Sounds good. But really?
Don't be too hasty to eat kiribath. It is a false auspiciousness. Right from the start, the Tigers held the upper hand and, despite their carefully rehearsed defeatist visage - as any good poker player knows, acting is part of the arsenal - they know they got Colombo exactly where they want - yet again. So, it's the Tigers who will be enjoying well-deserved kiribath. Here's why.
Despite all the platitudes by consultants and coaches that the goal of negotiation is to create a 'win-win situation', anyone who has any experience in hardcore negotiations knows that that's a bit naïve, to put it kindly. The idea is always to win a bit more than the other. Give a pawn to capture a castle. Negotiation is more a game of chess. Smoke and mirrors, concealing your hand and bluff mastery play a critical role in determining the winners and losers.
At the 11th hour, to prepare them to negotiate with the LTTE's formidable veteran, De Silva and his team went through a crash course in negotiation skills. The course was conducted by slick American corporate trainer types whose methods, if they work, is more polyanna than hardcore negotiation skills - the kind of skills that count when a country's survival is at stake. Despite the disarming smile with which De Silva shook the hardened Balasingham's hand at the outset of the talks, and the seeming melting of Balasingham's ominous visage, it would be a mistake to assume that the Colombo government achieved what it wanted and the Tigers more or less caved in. A big mistake.
Let's look at the so-called outcomes.
The LTTE created a pitch to their advantage even before the games began by restricting the agenda only to the ceasefire agreement. In keeping with their political mandate, Colombo sought to amend it, a move effectively trumped by the way the agenda was set up. On the issue of human rights violations, the joint communiqué referred to both parties promising to take necessary measures "to ensure that there will be no intimidation, acts of violence, abductions or killings".
The statement separately spoke of the two sides discussing the welfare of children but the government failed to pin down the LTTE to any specific commitment to prevent them from recruiting child soldiers. Again, the LTTE adroitly sidestepped the issue, enabling them to keep their options open.
S P Thamilselvan set the tone even before embarking for Geneva. Flown by the Sri Lanka Air Force to Katunayake, the Tiger political commissar was warmly embraced by Airport and Aviation Services Chairman and Rajapaksa's renowned Tiger Link - Tiran Alles. Alles had organised a nice buffet of refreshments at the Colombo airport VIP lounge for the LTTE delegation. Thamilselvan cast a disdainful look at what was on offer and proclaimed that they were far too hungry for mere short-eats. Alles straightaway organised a full-blown gourmet meal, courtesy of the SriLankan Airlines Catering Department. The Tiger negotiators feasted on courses of tomato soup, roasted red meat and fried fish before taking wing to Geneva. The Tigers yet again showed Colombo how and on what they like to feast, and that it is the Tiger who cracks the whip and Colombo that jumps to cater to his desires.
In Geneva, the Colombo government got the Kilinocchi government to agree to nothing new. Instead, De Silva and his team fell for Balasingham's red herrings, bluster and sleight of hand hook, line and sinker. Finally, the shrewd LTTE negotiator played his ace and got for his boss what they really want: for the Colombo government to 'disarm paramilitaries'. Translation: Colombo agrees to disarm and neutralize Colonel Karuna and his force.
Before considering the ramifications, a brief look at the existing scenario. The Sri Lanka government and the LTTE have been engaged in conflict for two decades. Much blood has been shed on both sides during this civil war; 65,000 dead. Thanks to their military victories over the Sri Lanka armed forces, not to mention the Indian Armed Forces, the LTTE was able to establish and run a de facto state: Colombo's authority ends at its borders. In 2002, former prime minister Ranil Wicramasinghe negotiated a truce with the Tigers. Discounting internecine skirmishes, the truce has more or less held, with no major showdowns. Despite wishful thinking that the 2005 Boxing Day Tsunami dealt a knockout punch to the Tigers - some going as far as writing premature obituaries for Tiger Supremo Piripaharan - there is no apparent weakening of the Tiger war machine. On the contrary, they have used the respite wisely to further strengthen themselves. In the meantime, Colombo and the Sri Lankan armed forces allowed themselves to take it easy, a situation compounded by corruption scandals and other shenanigans that have weakened the morale of the forces from top to bottom.
Meanwhile, the Tigers 'took out' Sri Lankan military and political 'assets' which posed the greatest threat to them, from intelligence operatives who provided the vital information which empowered Long Range Tactical Forces to former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgarmar, whose superior acumen and sterling efforts in the international arena dealt body blows to the Tigers, and whose continued existence would have been a thorn in the Tiger's side. Over the past three months, following Piripaharan's November 27 Heroes Day speech - the LTTE policy address - the Tigers stepped up attacks on government security forces on land, sea and air. Colombo did not retaliate, a fact that is certain to have emboldened the Tigers.
With the Sri Lanka armed forces effectively neutralised, the only real threat to Tiger supremacy was posed by the ex-Tiger rebel leader Karuna and his Eastern Tamil fighters. Originally dismissed by the LTTE as a lame duck, Colonel Karuna - who has a well-earned reputation as a highly effective warrior whose battlefield exploits against the Sri Lanka army is the stuff of legend and who led many Tiger military victories - proved his arch-enemy Piripaharan and his outfit wrong. It did not take long for Karuna and his loyal cadres to make the LTTE a spent force in the East. They were also making life hard for their former comrades within their stronghold and its borders.
While there are other Tamil political parties such as the EPDP and TULF which expose the wishful canard that the LTTE is the sole representative of Sri Lankan Tamils, it is Karuna and his Eastern Tamil fighters who belled the cat. Karuna's faction also disavows separatism, as do the non-armed Tamil political parties. Karuna's armed opposition to the LTTE not only nullifies the Tiger's claim to being 'the sole representatives of the Tamil people' but also shows the world that Tamils themselves are willing to put their lives on the line fighting Tiger tyranny. In effect, Colonel Karuna represents a powerful asset to the Sri Lanka government, a foil against LTTE dominance and a second front in the vital East, home to equal numbers of Tamils, Muslims and Sinhala as well as natural resources, the most valuable of which is Trincomalee Harbour, arguably the greatest natural deep water port in the world.
Now the Sri Lanka government negotiators have agreed to the LTTE demand to disarm Karuna's forces. This, in effect, was the main item on the Tiger agenda at Geneva. And Nimal Siripala De Silva beamingly agreed, effectively throwing away the best asset in a rapidly diminishing basket of government assets. It would also mean that the Sri Lanka Armed Forces would provide security services for the Tigers.
Speaking of assets, the dearth of intellectual assets at the government's disposal is alarming. The government team had just one credible intellect in the form of lawyer H L de Silva. But despite his reputation as a brain, neither Fernando not his team members were a match for the combined brain power of Balasingham and Thamilselvan; they well and truly outfoxed the government's newly-minted negotiators with ease. It was like watching the Australian cricket team take on Sri Lanka during their last one-day encounter, a veritable massacre of innocents at large.
The ramifications are serious. Emboldened and encouraged by their victory, the LTTE will come to the table in April with renewed vigour and new demands. President Rajapaksa, seduced by his own flouted flexibility, would, as a matter of course, give the green light to give away what the Tigers demand. The LTTE will strengthen their stronghold and tighten their stranglehold not only in the Vanni, but also in the Eastern province and a vast stretch of horse-shoe shaped coastline which includes Trincomalee Harbour in the East and the Gulf of mannar in the North West. Piripaharan will play his now customary role as kingmaker of the southern polity. The Sri Lanka government's precarious hold on the Jaffna Peninsula will be pried loose by what the Tigers term 'spontaneous people's uprising'. The long-suffering Tamils of the North and East will have no choice but to continue to pay pooja to Surya Thevan, the self-proclaimed Sun-God who has, for all intents and purposes, gained a separate state, albeit not encompassing all the land he covets. But thanks to his blundering opponents, sorely short of acumen to devise strategy, much less grasp the enemy's plots to enable them to adopt counter tactics, that dream could soon be a reality. And the rump state that is Sri Lanka would well and truly be rendered impotent.
Note on the author
Sesha Samarajiwa is a political analyst with special expertise in Asian secessionist movements. He has conducted a major academic study comparing the Tamil Eelam movement in Sri Lanka and the Moro separatist movement in the Philippines, engaging in extensive field research in both places.