Originally Published 2006-07-10 09:19:35 Published on Jul 10, 2006
Sri Lanka¿s worsening security situation under an undeclared war is most likely to persist. Both the LTTE and President Rajpakshe¿s government are violating the four-year-old ceasefire agreement, which, in fact, seldom was honoured seriously, but neither of them is in a position to formally break it and declare an open, all-out war. Both of them are under intense international pressure to desist from doing so.
Sri Lanka situation requires new approach
Sri Lanka's worsening security situation under an undeclared war is most likely to persist. Both the LTTE and President Rajpakshe's government are violating the four-year-old ceasefire agreement, which, in fact, seldom was honoured seriously, but neither of them is in a position to formally break it and declare an open, all-out war. Both of them are under intense international pressure to desist from doing so.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The LTTE's increasing isolation from the European Union following its being branded a terrorist organisation was a serious setback. The LTTE has tried to soften the India front to compensate for that by issuing a fraudulent "apology" but in vain. The Sri Lankan government has also been restrained by the US, and particularly India, from continuing with the retaliatory strikes on the LTTE against its acts of terrorism and high targeted killings. India has genuine concerns that escalating violence is leading to increased flows of Tamil refugees to its shores.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Besides the restraining factors of the international community and India, neither the LTTE nor the Sri Lankan state is in a position to pursue a decisive military campaign against each other to achieve their desired respective political goals.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The LTTE's constraints arise from its utter vulnerability in the east where the breakaway faction led by Col. Karuna has put it on the defensive. The LTTE does not seem to be in a position to even effectively operate its political offices in the east, leave apart military control of the area. This is the reason why the LTTE has made the control of the Karuna faction as the core demand for rejoining political negotiations with the Sri Lankan government.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> In the North, the LTTE may perhaps make a serious dent in Jaffna, but it may not be able to retain its control there. Nor can it take the strategic Palali airbase. Any military stalemate in Jaffna and a setback in the east can be politically suicidal for the LTTE. More so in the face of its eroding credibility in the areas held by it where the LTTE has failed to either ensure peace or deliver development to the inhabitants.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The Sri Lankan security forces have been streamlined at the commanding levels but the morale of the rank and file continues to be low. It lacks even adequate firepower to launch a decisive military push that can force the LTTE to come to the negotiating table. Ordinary Sri Lankans do not want war and as such starting a full-scale war may politically boomerang on the Rajapakshe regime. There is, however, no military solution to the ethnic problem of Sri Lanka. It is a political problem and has to be addressed politically. <br /> <br /> The primary responsibility for a political initiative lies with the Sri Lankan government. It was the Sinhala competitive politics and ethnic obduracy that precipitated this problem into a major conflict. Any serious political approach to the ethnic issue on the part of the Sri lankan government must have four essential components. First is to look at the issue of Tamil legitimate rights and security beyond the mutual political rivalry of the Sinhala mainstream parties and try to evolve a broader Sinhala national consensus on the question of these rights of the minorities. Such a consensus was attempted sincerely only by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga among the Sinhala leaders, but her efforts in 2000 were not allowed to succeed.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> If President Mahinda Rajpakshe has the political will to address the ethnic issue, he needs to start with building a bi-partisan national Sinhala consensus on Tamil rights, by picking up the threads left by Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga. He has set up a committee to evolve devolution proposals, but that may not really work to build the desired consensus. His own allies like the JVP have to be handled first.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The second component is to work out a devolution package for the Tamil rights on the basis of a Sinhala consensus, announce it publicly and start implementing it seriously. The criticality of the Sinhala consensus and devolution package had been reiterated by the Indian Foreign Secretary in his discussions with the President and the Sri Lankan leaders in Colombo last week. The pretention of making such a devolution package to the LTTE may be made but in reality, the LTTE will never accept any political proposal except on its own terms. There is no concrete evidence to suggest that the LTTE would ever seek a negotiated political settlement of the ethnic issue short of ensuring its sole autocratic control over the north and east of the island.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Unfortunately, the imperatives of cohabitational politics, contrary to a genuine desire to resolve the issue that drove the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2002 to accept the LTTE as the "sole representative of the Tamil people". This has since then put the Sri Lankan government in a bind on the question of political negotiations with the LTTE. The sooner Colombo gets out of this bind, the better it is.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The LTTE may be militarily the strongest Tamil group but it does not truly represent the aspirations of all the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Nearly 54 per cent of the in Sri Lanka Tamils live outside the control of the LTTE, in Colombo and other provinces. Many more are abroad. Not all, even under the LTTE control, accept the LTTE's leadership voluntarily. They do so out of fear.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The Sri Lankan government and the international community must evolve methods to help these non-LTTE Tamils to articulate their views and assert their political rights.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The unilateral and sincere implementation of a devolution package will help in this respect. For this, the non-LTTE leadership such as of Anandsangari, Duglous Devananda, Siddharthan, Vardharaja Perumal and even Col. Karuna be encouraged and assisted to build a non-LTTE political platform. This could be the third element of Colombo's approach. <br /> <br /> And lastly, the Sri Lankan government must undertake massive resettlement and rehabilitation work in the conflict zone for the Tamils and Muslims wherever possible. The international community must come forward to help Colombo in this respect. The Sri Lankan government should also reduce the day-to-day harassment of innocent Tamils in the name of security. The concrete devolution of powers, building up of non-LTTE leadership and relief to Tamils put together will erode the LTTE's political credibility.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> This is not easy, but neither impossible. And if achieved, an isolated LTTE may be more vulnerable to military pressures. Ordinary Tamils deserve respectable option to choose to distance themselves from the LTTE's militaristic approach. The Sinhala-led Sri Lankan state and the international community, including India, owe it to its Tamil citizens to create such an option if it wants to see an end to the ethnic strife.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> <br /> </font> <font size="2" class="greytext1"> <em>The author is Advisor to Chairman, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He was earlier Professor of South Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. <br /> <br /> Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh, July 8, 2006 <br /> </em> <br /> <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em> <br />
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