Tisaranee's Geneva Balance Sheet

The analysis below of the Geneva talks ("Geneva: a Balance Sheet") by Tisaranee Gunasekara (TG) contains some similarities with, and some significant differences to, my analysis of these talks (see The Geneva Talks at www.vgweb.org/acslu). There have been many comments on these talks most of them interpreting the Talks correctly as a defeat for GOSL and a victory for the LTTE. Despite this President MahindaR's counsel Mr H.L. de Silva is reported to have claimed that the joint communiqu´ was an amendment to the CFA!

I had described what GOSL agreed to in Geneva as a surrender; Tisaranee calls it a "sacrifice". While the two might appear to be similar there are some differences. What Tisaranee considers that MahindaR sacrificed was the rights of the non-LTTE Tamils. I think this arises from Tisaranee's belief that there are a large number of non-LTTE Tamils. Organizations like the UTHR consist of a small number of academics. Even the TULF differs from the LTTE only in the methods they use, not their ultimate objective or a Tamil homeland. Most Tamils realise that whatever they have achieved is not through democratic agitation but by the suicide bombers of the LTTE. If at all there was something sacrificed in the Geneva agreement it was not only the rights of the non-LTTE Tamils but the rights of all Sri Lankans whatever their ethnic affiliation.

In my view the greatest surrender was the acceptance of the CFA in the form that it had been negotiated by RanilW. Tisaranee seems to think that the LTTE taking the stand that they will only consider the implementation of the CFA not its renegotiation. Tisaranee seems to think that this "took care" of the President's claim to renegotiate the CFA. In fact the final communiqu´ see GOSL accepting he CFA as it stands despite their claim that it violates the Consitution and the Law. So after Geneva the world will note that the present regime fully supports the CFA.

The other salient fact of the Talks, viz. the undertaking to disarm non-LTTE armed groups is recognised by Tisaranee as a victory for Balasingham. This is usually taken as a reference to disarming the Karuna group, as Balasingham had clearly included the Karuna group in his list of non-LTTE armed groups. This was not disputed by the GOSL negotiator.

Tisaranee seems to think that the "scrifice" on the part of the President was because of the impending local government elections. I think this is incorrect. The balance between the UNP and SLFP led coalitions is not likely to change whatever the outcome of the Geneva talks is because both support the CFA. I think what compelled the President to surrender to the LTTE is that he could not meet the LTTE campaigan of killings after he was elected. So he needed something to save his face and say that war has been avoided. While this has been achieved this will be strictly a temporary gain and when the LTTE resumes its usual tactics GOSL will be placed in a worse situation. Tisaranee seems to argue that the "retreat" by GOSL in the Geneva talks is only temporary and when the elections are over it will again resume a hardline stance. I do not think that this is a correct analysis of the situation. I think the Geneva agreements mark a pernament downgrading of the OSL position. The only way that GOSL can stop this "retreat" is to assume a real hardline strategy, i.e. in fact adopt the military solution. This is unlikely to happen, at least under the Mahinda Rajpakase dispensation.

Finally Tisaranee in her concluding section "The need for unity" seems to be arguing for unity among the non-LTTE Tamils. I think that even though the non-LTTE are divided collectively they represent only a small section of the Tamils, and so even if they were to be united they would not be a threat to the LTTE. The only real threat comes from the Karuna group, but this group has almost identical views as the LTTE, differing only on the question of leadership.

Thus while Tisaranee is correct in interpreting the Geneva agreement as a defeat for Mahinda Rajapase her view that this is some kind of temporary sacrifce to be reversed after the forthcoming elections is wrong. This is also of her view that the non-LTTE Tamils (excepting Karuna) are significant players in the Sri Lankan problem.

Geneva: A Balance Sheet

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

Asian Tribune : 2006-02-26

"In facing the real world from a standpoint of historical amnesia, Rajapakse may be forced into even more harmful backdoor deals with the LTTE than have been made by Ranil Wickremasinghe and countenanced by Kumaratunge" UTHR (Information Bulletin No. 39 – 1.11.2005).

Even unavoidable, just wars kill innocent people, in large numbers. Geneva has postponed the next war and that is something that many ordinary people in the North and the South would be relieved about. The peace it promises is an illusive one, merely a short respite, but that is axiomatic so long as the Tigers remain dominant and remain Tigers.

It could be (and would be) argued that even an illusive (and thus a temporary) peace is better than an immediate and a real war. What is unarguable is that this respite too has been brought with the same coinage as the previous respites – that of appeasing the Tigers. If Geneva is a success then all other peace talks were also successes because they too were based on the identical principle of appeasement – buy a little respite by slaking the Tiger with this or that sacrifice. Geneva should be looked at in the context of the road to Geneva.

The Tigers carried out a series of devastating attacks against the Lankan Armed Forces; 'civilian organisations' claimed responsibility for most of these attacks. Then came a flurry of diplomatic activity and a 'breakthrough' – the LTTE agreed to talk with Geneva as the compromise venue. But from the very beginning the Tigers maintained that the talks would be limited to the 'proper implementation of the ceasefire' in general and the 'paramilitaries issue' in particular. The President had promised to amend the ceasefire during his election campaign and the regime tried to place this on the Geneva agenda. The LTTE flatly refused. In the run up to Geneva, and again in Geneva the Tigers made their stand crystal clear – Geneva would fail unless the government gave an undertaking to disarm the 'paramilitaries'.

Unfortunately clarity was a rare quality on the government side. The President and his allies (including the JHU) wanted to avoid an immediate war, at least until the Local Government Elections are over. An immediate war would prove Ranil Wickremesinghe right and that would be something that the SLFP and the JVP wanted to avoid at all costs. Mahinda Rajapakse also knew that politically he could not afford to depart an inch from his commitment to the unitary state. But the Tigers took care of that problem by announcing that they do not intend to discuss a political solution at Geneva (not surprisingly since the Tigers are as opposed to a federal solution as the President or the JVP or the JHU is).

The Sacrifice

The LTTE needed international legitimacy; it needed to weaken, if not eliminate anti-Tiger Tamils in general and the Karuna group in particular. They were thus willing to go to Geneva and willing to do a deal. The Mahinda Rajapakse administration needed a respite, not to strengthen the country's defences but for partisan politico-electoral considerations. The only question was – what should be sacrificed to this end? The Tigers' wanted their current main enemy, Col. Karuna, and that obviously was acceptable to the government as well.

After all, if the Tigers give an undertaking not to attack Lankan forces, and honour that undertaking at least until the election is over, it would not matter if they kill a few (or even many) fellow Tamils. The LTTE killing Tamils is not really an election issue in the South; it would not lose the government or its allies any votes. But the Tigers attacking Lankan Security Forces would be quite another matter; it would embarrass the President and his allies and provide the UNP with an excellent election issue. Such a deal would thus be worthwhile, even if it serves to strengthen the Tigers and consequently weaken the Lankan side.

But this is Mahinda Chinthanaya, and the deal has to be made to look different from similar pernicious deals by Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Bandaranaike. A tough line has to be taken vis-à-vis the Tigers, as a necessary prelude to make the eventual appeasement politico-electorally acceptable. So there was a good opening statement (it was good and raised many necessary issues in public, and officially for the first time). There would have been some tough bargaining too. But the final sacrifice would have been decided in advance, if only because it is the only one possible, if you are a Sinhala supremacist politician contesting elections in the South. High Security Zones cannot be sacrificed in an election season and in any case there would be opposition from the Armed Forces to such a deal. But the anti-Tiger Tamils are on their own. If they had votes to deliver then they would have a greater bargaining power but they do not seem to have, so why not?

Thus the Tigers got what they really wanted out of Geneva – an undertaking by the government to rein in their Tamil rivals: "The GOSL is committed to taking all necessary measures in accordance with the Ceasefire Agreement to ensure that no armed group or person other than Government security forces will carry arms or conduct armed operations" (emphasis mine). If this undertaking was accompanied by an undertaking by the Tigers to respect the right of non-Tiger Tamils to engage in political activities and of the Tamil people to support a political party of their choice, the deal would not have been an act of rank betrayal. But such a commitment to political democracy was not given by LTTE and in its absence this deal amounts to a tacit acceptance of the sole representative principle by the Rajapakse administration. Mr. Rajapakse has handed the Tamils lock, stock and barrel to the Tigers, just as much as Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Bandaranaike did.

Doktor Anton Balasingham with his customary eloquence and with startling honesty spelled out in his opening statement at Geneva why the paramilitary issue is of such paramount importance to the Tigers: "Our political cadres can only function in government controlled areas if the paramilitaries are disarmed and normalcy returns to Tamil areas." Normalcy to spy on Lankan Forces, to conscript children, build new bases, to kill our intelligence operatives and anti-Tiger Tamils - all the advantages enjoyed by the Tigers under the ceasefire until the Karuna rebellion happened. As the Herr Doktor admits the Tigers can no longer go about their work in safety thanks to the rebels.

Mahinda Rajapakse has opted for the road of appeasement. Given his total inability to understand the complexities of the problems involved and his naively simplistic Sinhala supremacism this choice was unavoidable. However but he is unlikely to implement his appeasement deal with the same willingness and the same thoroughness as his predecessors, unless he feels that his political survival depends on it. This provides the anti-Tiger Tamils with a window of opportunity that they would be wise to exploit. If there are no major incidents in the North and the East, if the Karuna rebels stick to their unilateral ceasefire, the government is unlikely to order the armed forces to disarm anyone. The Tigers would know this, and would do their best to provoke or fake some incident; it may make sense to respond to such provocations with a degree of caution and patience. The old maxim of Mao may be applicable in the present context: "When the enemy advances we retreat". Geneva has enabled the Tigers to advance, with the blessings of the Lankan state and the international community; it may therefore make sense for the rebels to retreat tactically, rather than resist the advance and precipitate precisely the outcome the Tigers so badly want – a conflict between Lankan forces and the Karuna rebels.

The Necessity of Unity

Fortunately for the anti-Tiger Tamils, the period of maximum danger is likely to be a short one – only until the election is over. Once the election is over, and since no other election is on the horizon and the opposition would be in such terrible shape, the government will be less vulnerable to the Tigers, politically and electorally. Consequently what the anti-Tiger Tamils may be looking at is not a limitless retreat, but a period of retreat that is strictly time bound (roughly about a month, perhaps maybe a little more, as the CMC election might be a trifle delayed). And a month is surely not such a long time to be patient, even in the face of enemy provocations.

The other advantage the anti-Tiger Tamils posses is the essential nature of the Tigers. The Tigers are not going to be well behaved, peace loving, non-violent, truthful. Already the Lankan Army has accused the LTTE of violating the ceasefire by building two alongside the A9 road. There will be other incidents; the LTTE, for instance, is likely to engage in its usual violent antics during the election campaign (it is to be hoped that postponing the election is not part of the real Geneva deal). Sooner, rather than later the government will realise that the Tigers cannot be changed, even by the magic of Mahinda Chinthana.

Patience would make sense in this regard too. Wait till the Tigers bare their fangs and a modicum of common sense returns to the Sinhalese and their leaders.

Perhaps it is also a good time to do some stock taking, cogitatively. The anti-Tiger Tamils are extra vulnerable to the vagaries of Southern politics because they lack two essentials – am independent vote base and a degree of unity. Any political party which can deliver votes can do an advantageous deal with Southern leaders. To many an anti-Tiger Tamil, used to a different mode of functioning, this may seem like bazaar politics; but electoral bargains is the inescapable logic of pluralist, competitive democracy. In the political market place to become a player you need votes.

Finally that is how Mr. Thondaman has been able to prevail; he is now contesting with the UPFA and the once hardline Mahinda Rajapakse was extremely generous during UPFA-CWC discussions on an electoral deal. It is being said that the CWC got all it asked for – because of the UPFA's need to benefit from the CWC's vote base in the upcoming election.

The second factor is related – the absence of unity among anti-Tiger Tamils. This absence of unity is making them weak, and it makes them look weak. I am not arguing for the Tiger kind of uniformity but a limited united front based on a few basic democratic demands (with perhaps veteran politician V Anandasangaree as the ceremonial head). Such a front can make it easier for the anti-Tiger Tamils to do operate in the North and the East; it will definitely make them more bargaining power vis-à-vis the South. Politically, electorally and even militarily the anti-Tiger Tamils have nothing to lose and much to gain from such a unity.

Unfortunately, even in the face on an enemy who is intent on their extermination, the unity of anti-Tiger Tamils seems impossible. Perhaps both Karuna Amman and Douglas Devananda are not completely immune to the 'sole representative' mania; perhaps they too believe that they are the only real saviour of the Tamil people. Whatever the reason, it is time to rethink this issue. If the anti-Tiger Tamils are not willing to compromise with each other, they are more likely to become victims of deals whatever the government in power does with the Tigers. Alliances with Sinhala dominated governments are necessary; but dependence on such governments can be dangerous, as Geneva demonstrates. Only in unity can anti-Tiger Tamils be strong enough to make their voices be heard above the roar of the Tiger.