What comes after the Ceasefire?

One of the intriguing questions in the current stage of the separatist problem in SL is what should follow on the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) between GOSL and the LTTE. This is an appropriate question to ask on the fifth anniversary of that agreement. It is a question which GOSL seems to be unable to answer. It is also a question that the so-called Patriot Lobby would like to brush under the carpet as they continue to extol the present GOSL under President Mahinda Rajapakse and his military offensive. But it is a question which some journalists and commentators are raising notably Tissaranee Gunasekara in the article given below.

Of all the political groups it is the JVP that is trying to capitalize on this question. Its Bhikkhu Front has started a "Fast unto Death" (in which of course no one really dies!) demanding that GOSL immediately revoke the CFA. This is also an essential immediate element if the separatist crisis is to be brought into a just resolution and the "military offensive" of the present GOSL is a genuine one aimed at eliminating the LTTE. This Blog looks at the possible reasons why the present GOSL seems to consider the CFA as a permanent fixture on the SL political scene, and why the Patriot Lobby is applauding this non-action.

It might be pertinent to recall significant aspects of the CFA concluded 5 years ago. There had been cease-fire agreements before, notably under the Premadasa administration, but never one with a well-defined mechanism as the CFA of 2002. The Premadasa ceasefire ended dramatically when the LTTE executed (in cold blood) over 600 policemen who had surrendered peacefully under this ceasefire. This atrocity has not been avenged any more than the other atrocities before and after. Indeed the present President is on record that he is willing to "walk the extra mile" to shake hands with the terrorist who is responsible for this and other atrocities.

The CFA of 2002 conceded a de facto Eelaam to the terrorists. This is perhaps the only instance where terrorists demanding a separate piece of territory by the threat of the gun have been given such a territory sanctioned by a legal agreement. More importantly foreign intermediaries were introduced formally into the resolution of the problem in the form of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). It is only Hela politicians that would succumb to such a demeaning agreement. The Patriot Lobby has fixed responsibility for this on the them Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the then President Chandrika Kumaratunge. Undoubtedly they deserve this blame. But the CFA they negotiated contained to clause that either party could terminate the agreement by the simple expedient of giving two weeks notice to the SLMM. The present GOSL administration have been power for considerably more than the stipulated two weeks. Yet far from giving the required notice they have agreed to uphold the CFA. Thus the present leaders are as responsible for the CFA as those who negotiated in originally. But strangely enough the Patriot Lobby does not seem to be able to see this, a they seem to be selectively blind. The fact remains that apart from Presidents ChandrikaBK and President MahindaR no other President of SL had sanctioned and upheld such a treacherous agreement with the most despicable of terrorists.

Tisaranee does not give a clear answer as to what should succeed the CFA. In fact there is not even a clear statement that the CFA should terminated forthwith. Instead she advances the panacea that has been stated many times. This is to introduce some kind of devolution, perhaps going as far as racist federalism, to satisfy what she calls "non-LTTE Tamils". Perhaps the Muslims too are to be given their own piece of devolution. She berates GOSL for non engaging with the non-LTTE Tamils. But the error in this line of argument is that no one really knows what proportion of Tamils can be classed as non-LTTE Tamils. We know of their leaders like Muralithanran the TVMP and Anandasangaree the TULF. But how many ordinary Tamils follow them as against Prabhakaran no one seems to know? Even a simple referendum will not provide the answer. The fact is that while many Tamils resent the autocratic rule of Prabhakaran they also acknowledge him as he only Tamil who has raised a Tamil flag on SL soil since the rule of the Cholas. Furthermore giving autonomy to Tamils of whatever description will not be the end of the agitation. The new status will serve as a better spring-board to achieve the dream of Eelaam. This is certainly not what should succeed the CFA.

The reason why the MahindaR government does not want to revoke the CFA is that they are still committed to negotiation. It is the LTTE that is now opposing negotiations. So the military efforts we have seen of late, from MavilAru to Varahai are aimed at judging the LTTE to recommence negotiations. It is no that GOSL had secured anything from the negotiations held so far. They are afraid to displease the so-called "international community (IC). Recently they IC has been flexing their muscle as when they attached conditions to the aid offered in the latest round of aid negotiations (the notorious begging sessions). It is for the same reason that the Norwegians have not been kicked out despite their demonstrated partiality to the LTTE> A non-military "solution" has always been the cornerstone of the Chintanaya, and has been reiterated several times.

Many people are deceived by the posture of the MahindaR government as a hard-line regime bent on a military solution. The IC propagates this view to whip up foreign support for the LTTE, but they know that it is not correct. Their military analysts know that the tactic of picking up LTTE bases in the Eastern province will not touch the LTTE heartland. The LTTE has to give up the eastern bases because of the rising influence of the TVMP in that part of the country. So if the GOSL-TVMP alliance breaks down these newly secured places may become difficult to defend. Since the ultimate aim of the TVMP is not known we cannot be certain of the fate of the gains in the East.

The view of the MahindaR GOSL as a militaristic regime is widely believed by the Patriot Lobby. It has been reported that the monks demanding the revocation of the CFA has now given up this idea and lined up behind the President as a great military leader/ In fact the Patriot Lobby has gone to extremes as presenting MahindaR as a modern-day Dutugemunu not matched by any previous President. However this is simply the hyperbole of devotees to the cult without any basis in the history of this insurgency. In fact in the article in question Tisaranee has reminded us of some past history:

"However resisting the Tigers and taking the war to the Tiger are not unique Rajapakse achievements. All of his Presidential predecessors did the same, at different times. The Jayewardene regime launched 'Operation Liberation' and captured Mr. Pirapaharan's birth place and would have marched into Jaffna had it not been for Indian intervention. The Premadasa regime began the liberation of the East (and launched a development drive in the liberated areas). The Wijethunga regime completed the campaign and in 1994 local government elections were held for the first time in the East under the direction of Sirisena Cooray, despite a Tiger ban. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga regime liberated Jaffna. All these were significant achievements."
It is the Patriot Lobby that seems to have forgotten this simple history. But just as the military efforts of the previous Presidents failed to defeat the LTTE because they were not followed up or were based on specious reasoning, so the could the present efforts of the current GOSL.

The conclusion that could be reached is that the touchstone of a real military solution to the present impasse must start with the formal revocation of the CFA. This does not require any elaborate legal or political ritual. Merely a formal two weeks notice is what is required. The failure of GOSL to do so, at least until now, shows that the military gains they have secured so far will not lead anywhere and will fail just like the military gains secured under previous regimes.

Victor Gunasekara


Beyond the Ceasefire

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Asian Tribune : 2007-02-25

"But for all Prabhakaran's talk of peace, he insisted yesterday that he was not ready to give up his struggle for an independent Tamil homeland… The statement will come as a blow to government negotiators who had believed that the Tiger leader was edging towards relinquishing his demand for full independence in return for some form of autonomy".The London Times – 11.4.2002.

The LTTE possesses a rare and a useful capacity to present the old as new, to give the impression of saying something unusual even when it is merely stating the obvious and the commonplace. Its long statement, issued on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the CFA, contains nothing new and is more significant for what it does not mention rather than for what it does mention. The statement talks at length about human rights violations by the Lankan Forces and the TMVP and it highlights the absence of a political proposal by the government. These errors and absences are used to justify separation by contending that a solution which ensures the safety and the dignity of the Tamils is impossible within an undivided Sri Lanka. The statement mentions the ISGA and the P-TOMS as desirable goals and lost opportunities but maintains a deafening silence about the Oslo Declaration, which committed both the Wickremesinghe administration and the LTTE to pursue a federal settlement.

The reason for this curious omission is obvious. The Tigers murdered the Oslo Agreement because it represented the possibility of a political solution to the ethnic problem within an undivided Sri Lanka, a solution capable of winning the backing of moderates of both sides of the ethnic divide and the international community. Such a solution would have made both Eelam and the LTTE superfluous. Consequently that is the last things the Tigers want the Tamil people, here and abroad, and the world at large to remember. Oslo, like the Majority Report of the Experts Committee, demonstrates the possibility of another path other than the one the LTTE favours (war interspersed with peace interludes) and another goal other than the one the LTTE is committed to (Tiger Eelam). The fate of the Oslo Agreement proves the bad faith of the LTTE, its unwillingness to settle for even a federal arrangement and the futility of striving for a negotiated solution to the war (as distinct from a political solution to the ethnic problem).

The Tigers are committed to their own separate state; they will settle for nothing else. And in getting there, they will use both political and military means. These are axiomatic truths, which will remain unchanged so long as Mr. Pirapaharan is alive. Little wonder that the LTTE statement makes no mention of the fact that the Tigers withdrew from the negotiations during the tenure of Ranil Wickremesinghe. A careful silence is also maintained about the violently enforced boycott of the 2005 Presidential election which ensured the victory of Mahinda Rajapakse (thereby effectively killing the peace process). All three acts disprove the LTTE's portrayal of itself as a rational and peace-loving organisation, pushed into war and separation by an obdurate and a recalcitrant Lankan state. As for the contention that the LTTE did not launch any offensive operations in the Undeclared Fourth Eelam War, that is another blatant lie; it did launch offensive operations in Muttur and Jaffna and gave up only after they failed.

The Tiger Agenda

A war is not just about bombing, shelling or shooting; a war cannot be reduced to killing enemies, battlefield victories or territorial gains. It is also about politics, propaganda and economics. The regime is currently ahead of the Tigers militarily; but there are no corresponding successes on the political, propaganda and economic fronts. Actually on these fronts we have lost more than we have gained, mainly because of our insufficient appreciation of the extent to which the military is dependent on the politico-propaganda and the economic. The recent British announcement about reconsidering a debt relief grant of £41 million and the highly significant visit by the US Ambassador to the office of the Civil Monitoring Committee (a non-governmental group investigating abductions in Colombo) are the latest examples of how our militarist (and Sinhala supremacist) conception of the war can backfire.

From the inception of the Third Peace Process the LTTE intended the Fourth Eelam War to be a 'Peoples War' – a war in which the Lankan forces indiscriminately target all Tamils, leaving that besieged community with no other choice but to join or fully support the Tigers. Ergo, concerted attempts were made to blur the line of demarcation between the Tigers and the Tamils. The LTTE's aim was (and is) to portray the Fourth Eelam War as a racist war of extermination by the Sinhala state against the Tamil minority. Such a war, as in Bosnia, would enable the LTTE to achieve international legitimacy without which (as Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Disappearances and Extra-Judicial Killings reminded us) Tiger Eelam is not possible. The Tigers want the Lankan Forces to kill, abduct and target Tamil civilians; if the Tamilnet is anything to go by they are elated that the TMVP is conscripting children in the cleared areas of the East. These dead, abducted, incarcerated and conscripted Tamils are the commodities the Tigers sell in the international market for money, weapons and support; these unfortunate men, women and children are the Tiger currency for international legitimacy.

The LTTE also needs the Tamils to hate the Lankan state, to see it as an enemy who is unjust and ruthless, and enemy who is intent on suppression and extermination – since such a perception may help the Tigers to win recruits, thereby alleviating their human resources crisis. The following story demonstrates the danger that is inherent in any counter-terrorism strategy which does not pay sufficient attention to the humanitarian aspect: "Huddled outside a detention camp in Sri Lanka's far south, relatives of civilians held for months without charge say lives are being ruined by emergency regulations amid renewed civil war. Some with babes in arms, others carrying a few packets of biscuits for a detained husband or brother, they swelter in the burning sun. Most have travelled all night to see loved ones…. 'They still haven't charged my brother!' said one woman, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid any retribution… 'If they have any charges, then produce him in court!,' she added.'I am so angry that my brother was taken into custody without any charge. If I had a chance, I would kill them!' (Fury at detentions under Sri Lanka's anti-terror rules – Reuters – 20.2.2007 – emphasis mine). This sense of desperation, this anger, this desire for revenge is exactly what the Tigers want the Tamil people to feel. (Even when it is necessary to hold suspects until investigations are complete, some of the adverse effects can be redressed by according better treatment to the visiting relatives; such as comfortable waiting rooms, refreshments, a few kind words can help counter the 'enemy image').

Contrary to the assertion of the peaceniks, the Rajapakse administration cannot be faulted for the outbreak of the war. The Tigers wanted this war; they paved the way for it by engineering the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe and by engaging in provocative actions almost from the inception of the Rajapakse Presidency. However the regime is guilty of conducting the war as if the enemy is Tamil nationalism rather than Tiger terrorism. The Rajapakse administration is yet to talk to anti-Tiger Tamils about a political solution, about democratic devolution, about the reconstruction of the liberated East. But the same regime is willing to back anti-Tiger Tamils when they engage in illegal activities such as child conscription and abductions. The de-merger, the absence of a political solution, the rounding up of Tamils at random (which instead of netting Tigers create bad feelings amongst ordinary Tamils, more often than not), the glaring human rights abuses, the refugees, the counterproductive attempts by government spokespersons to justify the unjustifiable when a simple apology would be more effective – the impression created is that of a government which cares little for the basic rights or the well being of its Tamil citizens, be it in war or peace.

Embarking on the Northern war without addressing at least some of these issues can bring us not the quick victory of our hopes but a prolonged war (and international intervention). The fate of the Americans in Iraq should help us understand the counterproductive nature of excessive force, indiscriminate targeting and impunity; the much vaunted US-Maliki plan to pacify Baghdad has been discredited and undermined by the charge of rape of Sabrine Al Janab, a young Sunni Iraqi woman, by three Shiite Iraqi police officers. Some acts of war help the enemy; some acts of counter-terrorism breeds more terrorism. That is as true in Sri Lanka as it is in Iraq.

Patriots And Traitors

The JHU would doubtless identify with its sentiments but the slogan belongs to the Tigers: 'Days are numbered for the traitors who sell our motherland'. This was the caption of a statement issued by the LTTE under the guise of the 'Upsurging People's Force of Jaffna District', as a prelude to the Fourth Eelam War. According to the Tamilnet this statement exhorted the Tamil people "to rally themselves to partake in the Tamil nation that is soon to be established, cleansed of dirty elements". Using war to stifle dissent is the Tiger way. Dubbing their opponents traitors before suppressing/exterminating them is the Tigers' favoured modus vivendi. The manifest desire on the part of some government ministers to emulate the LTTE in this regard behoves ill for Lankan democracy.

Mahinda Rajapakse's commendable refusal to kowtow to the LTTE seems unique because he succeeded the arch appeaser Ranil Wickremesinghe. However resisting the Tigers and taking the war to the Tiger are not unique Rajapakse achievements. All of his Presidential predecessors did the same, at different times. The Jayewardene regime launched 'Operation Liberation' and captured Mr. Pirapaharan's birth place and would have marched into Jaffna had it not been for Indian intervention. The Premadasa regime began the liberation of the East (and launched a development drive in the liberated areas). The Wijethunga regime completed the campaign and in 1994 local government elections were held for the first time in the East under the direction of Sirisena Cooray, despite a Tiger ban. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga regime liberated Jaffna. All these were significant achievements.

The Eelam wars have been with us since 1983; however this was never a bar to the democratic contestation between the opposition parties and the government of the day. There was no political ceasefire in the South just because the government was battling the LTTE. For instance, during the First and the Second Eelam Wars the SLFP and the old left continued to wage heated political battles against the government. President Rajapakse should know this, as he was at the head of many of these campaigns. Though stability in South is important for the war in the North, this should not come at the expense of pluralist democracy. In fact any attempt by the regime (and its Sinhala hardline allies) to use the war to crack down on democratic rights and activities in the South would serve to de-legitimise the war in the eyes of not just the international community but also a substantial segment of the Sinhala South.

If 'anti-government' is equated with 'pro-Tiger', political opponents will be treated as national enemies. Southern society will be polarised and systemic stability undermined. And if Sri Lanka is seen by the world as a dictatorial country with scant respect for the basic rights of her peoples, it will render legitimacy to the Tigers' quest for a separate state.