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War And The Politics Of Peace

By Col R Hariharan

First things first

(February 19, Chennai, Sri Lnaka Guardian) Recently, there is a perceptible change in New Delhi as far as Sri Lanka is concerned. It is trying to clearly articulate what it can do and what it cannot. And asking Sri Lanka to enforce a ceasefire is one of the things it cannot do as stated in Parliament by Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on February 18. But that is not enough. With thousands of civilian population trapped in the war zone increasingly falling victims of a shooting war, the first thing India should be doing is to make vigorous efforts to get the trapped population out. As this is a humanitarian effort, the four co-chairs and India along with the UN should evolve a joint strategy to achieve this on a priority. Mere appeals will not do.

However, even if an international methodology is evolved, the warring sides will have to accept it. While the Sri Lanka government can be pressurised because it has legitimate national and international obligations, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is a loose cannon. It might not be amenable to their effort without garnering some advantage. This is where the Tamil Nadu politicians, who have been agitating for an immediate halt to the war to save the Tamil population, can constructively contribute. All Tamil parties should jointly appeal to the LTTE to accept international effort to extricate the beleaguered population. Parties in touch with the LTTE grapevine should use these links usefully to persuade it for this purpose. That would be a visible testimony of Tamil politicians’ real concern for Tamils suffering death and destruction every day as the war closes in.

This is the first thing all the stakeholders must be doing if they really want to save lives of people not fighting the war. Other rhetoric can be hyped up when the election fever heats up.

War, ceasefire and peace

There had been repeated calls for resuming negotiations between the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE ever since the talks were stalled in the peace progress 2002. The international calls for finding peaceful resolution of the conflict is getting louder as the LTTE’s fighting its battle of survival. The callers’ ranks include India, UK, Canada, many members of the EU and the U.S. Of course, these countries have an abiding interest in Sri Lanka for their own reasons. Though pillorying them has become a popular pastime in Sri Lanka, it should not be forgotten that these nations generally wish well for the country.

In the corridors of power in Colombo such calls for negotiations are viewed as treason. Though these days the government is speaking in many voices on other issues, it is a unanimous NO on the resumption of talks with the LTTE. Their suspicion is typical of a climate of war that prevails now in Colombo. The armed forces despite the unexpectedly stiff LTTE resistance at Puthukkudiyiruppu are on the brink of neutralising the LTTE’s power base in the country. And any call for peace that would halt the last lap to success is bound to be suspect. But that in no way diminishes the need to examine the question “what to do after the war”?

The drastic pruning of LTTE’s military power is likely to marginalise its influence on Tamil population. So strategically it would be unwise now for the government to announce a ceasefire as a prelude to negotiations with the LTTE, without some strategic gain. That was why President Rajapaksa had repeatedly offered to talk to the LTTE after it lays down the arms. India’s Home Minister P Chidambaram and Foreign Minister Mukherjee have given similar calls a few weeks. The LTTE has also shown its readiness for talks but laying down arms is not acceptable to it. That would be a very big loss of face to Prabhakaran. Such a move would make it a political orphan when it loses the war. The LTTE has not given up its option to pursue its war on the unconventional mode. Of course, it will have to scale down in scope and content of such operations in keeping with its adverse circumstances.

This is the one big reason why the government should start negotiating with the representatives of the Tamil constituency now, when the LTTE is down. With the loss of military power the LTTE automatically loses its ability to call the shots in any peace process as it did in 2002. If the government can initiate and successfully progress such a process, the LTTE will lose its toehold on the Tamil issue. Is President Rajapaksa’s invitation to all Tamil parties, including the pro LTTE Tamil National Alliance TNA) for talks the beginning of such an initiative? There is no harm in hoping for such a positive development, though other indications are not so encouraging.
In Sri Lanka parliament nearly 20 percent of the members speak Tamil. Yet they have never been able to take a united stand on any issue. Of course in a democracy it is not necessary for linguistic groups to do so as they can do it through their parties. But on the devolution issue, lack of unity has weakened the Tamil political clout. It is unlikely that things would be different now much as the Tamils might wish. Take the TNA for instance. Even though the LTTE guns at its back are being silenced, members of the polyglot alliance are unlikely to agree among themselves even on their future course of action, let alone other major issues.

Given this setting, talks with Tamil parties may not go through to produce worthwhile results. And the President probably knows this. To achieve results, he has to use the devolution package Mr Tissa Vitharana is putting together in the all party committee. And it has to be sold to Sinhalas and Tamils. If this is not done, the political impasse is likely to continue as the Tamil and Sinhala divide has widened over the years.

During the 30 years of struggle since Tamils took up the Tamil Eelam option, there are a number of influences and vested interests that have intruded between Tamil and Sinhala communities. These included the issue of separatism, international powers and expatriates, selfish political interests and the LTTE usurping Tamil leadership. Operating on their own at various levels, these influences have turned what was essentially a political dialogue into a military confrontation as shown in the thematic diagram above.

To reverse this process, the three riders (international involvement, militarization of society and the LTTE dominance) will have to be turned into productive channels for peace. For achieving this everyone will have to work hard. Both communities must decide to abandon violence as the means of settling issues between them. To do this, entrenched prejudices on both sides need to be set aside. The idea of separatism must be buried by Tamils just as Sinhalas should show in their deeds readiness to consider Tamils as equal partners in building the fractured nation. A dynamic leadership is required to initiate this process. Who else can provide that other than politicians and civil society? They have to rise up to the occasion. They have no other choice. No external power or agency can do this because the process has to have Sri Lankan ownership to succeed

Internationalisation of the issue had contributed to the continuation of the armed conflict to a certain extent. The failure of the peace process 2002 has shown the limitations of the four co-chairs – the European Union, Japan, Norway and the U.S. and their well intentioned effort to end the war. It failed because the two warring sides had their own doubts about the credentials of the foreign powers involved. Moreover, they did not believe the process of negotiated peace would succeed.

Unlike others, India is one external power that could have made a difference. It had been on a listening watch after its unsavoury experience in its earlier spell of active intervention in Sri Lanka. But there are changes taking place in India as well. In Tamil Nadu all the three major political parties – the DMK, the AIADMK, and the Congress – have made clear that while they support the Tamil struggle for equitable powers, they do not consider the LTTE as their sole representative. India should actively work with the Sri Lanka government to trigger the political process. That will be in India’s interest as much as Sri Lanka’s. And Tamil Nadu politicians can stop sloganeering and make a positive contribution for peace by working on the representatives of Tamil constituency and politicians in the island to use the political opportunity meaningfully to arrive at a win-win situation.

Time is a valuable resource in showing visible results. In the past, many political efforts to resolve the Tamil question had floundered when key decisions were delayed or allowed die by procrastination. One of the reasons for the failure of the peace process 2002 was lack of visible results on a time-bound basis. This has only reinforced the suspicion among the aggrieved parties; it also generated a lot of cynicism about the intentions of such peace exercises. A well structured devolution process with clear bench mark of actions on a pre determined time schedule only can bring back trust and security between the Tamil and Sinhala communities.

The LTTE is likely to tap afresh the nearly million-strong Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates through its overseas network for bouncing back as a reckonable force. In its vocabulary, that means growth of its military power sans political content. Failure of a renewed political process would act as an incentive for LTTE’s military revival. That would be a tragedy for all the other stakeholders trying to move away from a military solution to achieve a political resolution of the problem.

Nations with strong LTTE front organisations and large ethnic Tamil populations in their midst like Canada, the U.S., UK, other EU nations, and India must ensure the resurgence of LTTE is halted in its tracks in their soil. Some of the political constituencies in these countries take up any cause for garnering a few more votes; they have ended up recycling the LTTE cause as the Tamil cause. They will have to do some soul searching if they want to do their bid to build peace. Tamil expatriates have a moral responsibility to rise up to the occasion to make peace possible just as they showed they can progress war. That would be a fitting tribute from them to all the souls of many hues martyred in the seemingly never ending conflict.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail:colhari@yahoo.com)


-Sri Lanka Guardian

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