By S Sathananthan

Barely two weeks after President Chandrika Kumaratunga announced the presidential election, which she will contest as the Peoples Alliance (PA) candidate, her “War for Peace” strategy crumbled to dust before her eyes. In the first week of November, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched Operation Oyatha Alaigal 3 and regained control of most of the ground lost to the Sri Lankan armed forces over the past two-and-half years in the Vanni. The reactions, fuelled by election fever, of the Sinhalese ruling classes and their politicians and ideologues are mixed, sometimes contradictory but always revealing.

The first, knee jerk reaction was damage limitation, to salvage the fighting reputation of the Sinhalese army. Kumaratunga’s PA Government in general and the President in particular were faulted for setting political goals for what supposedly is an essentially military task of emasculating the LTTE’s capacity to wage armed struggle. “The sudden collapse of army camps all over the Wanni, but particularly in its eastern sector,” argued Jehan Perera, “could not have been due to the LTTE's military strength or the army's military weakness alone”; and he underlined the “criticism…against the Government for having over-extended the army for political purposes”. (The Island, 23/Nov/99). The tenor of his article reflected in its title, “Politicians’ failure makes reliance on army inevitable”, was a subtle call for an unfettered military campaign driven solely by strategic goals against the LTTE-led Tamil national movement.

The vociferous right-wing elements among Sinhalese chauvinists were less reticent in demanding absolute priority for the military solution. They invoked the “threat from the North” syndrome. “Can Sri Lanka survive with the victorious Tigers in de facto control of two-thirds of our coast-line?…Can the 'Tiger-free' areas remain politically stable with an aggrandizing North and East full of armed men with the most sophisticated weapons?”, asked Tyran O Saurus (pseudonym) rhetorically. After a vitriolic diatribe aimed at the LTTE, he/she explained why the very success of Operation Oyatha Alaigal 3 precludes negotiations. “A devolution of power at the behest of the enemy savouring the flood tide of victory after decades of bloody struggle is not a political settlement - it is outright surrender. And it is irreversible. The momentum of this successful insurrection will carry the well-honed war machine of the Tigers to areas in the deep Sinhala South in a scenario reminiscent of the Kalinga devastation some eight centuries ago” (The Island, 23/Nov/99).

Neither will the armed forces “surrender” to the Tamil national movement. Reading between lines, it is clear that their priority is to re-arm and re-enter the battle. The United National Party (UNP) candidate Ranil Wickremasinghe has repeatedly criticised the President for hobbling the armed forces by imposing political objectives and failing to give a “free hand” to the generals to fight the war successfully on military criteria. “The army leadership warned”, he confirmed, “that they could not hold large areas but they were pushed for her (President Kumaratunga) to make capital at the presidential election” (The Island, 28/Nov/99). He had levelled the criticisms when Operation Jayasikurui was mired in the Vanni in 1998 and repeated them more stridently after the military debacle in the Vanni in the wake of Operation Oyatha Alaigal 3. The implication is obvious. Wickremasinghe is assuring the armed forces, which play a pivotal role in Sri Lankan politics today, that he would be more responsive to their military perspectives.

While assuring the armed forces that he is their “friend”, Wickremasinghe stoked Sinhalese chauvinism. He warned the Sinhalese electorate that Kumaratunga’s alleged political solution, the 1997 Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) Report, is an insidious scheme to divide the country permanently. For good measure he raked up Kumaratunga’s confession in an interview to the Time magazine (9/Feb/98) that she had offered to let the LTTE administer the Tamil-majority North-East Province (NEP) for a ten-year period. Sinhalese should vote for him because, he claims, his political solution would retain the unitary State and protect the birthright of the Sinhalese people. The political message that he implicitly conveys to the Sinhalese electorate is that Kumaratunga intends to barter the rights of the Sinhalese people in return for Tamil votes.

Not to be outdone, Kumaratunga too stooped to the habitual Tamil baiting to win Sinhalese votes. She has accused Wickremasinghe of hatching a heinous “secret plot”, together with the LTTE, to cause chaos in the Sinhalese-majority south and west of the country; and alleged that he offered the NEP to the LTTE for a two-year period. She implied that Wickremasinghe has capitulated to Tamil demands and would, if elected President, betray the Sinhalese race and Buddhist religion. In a desperate bid to improve her election prospects that were mauled by the success of Operation Oyatha Alaigal 3, Kumaratunga cast about for scapegoats in the army for the military debacle. She invented the “Vanni Conspiracy” (The Island, 23/Nov/99), in which anti-Government factions within the armed forces together with the UNP have, she alleged, conspired in the military debacle in order to undermine her administration and torpedo her re-election prospects.

The Sinhalese “liberals” had gloated over her victory in November 1994. Their copious publications, primarily in the journal “Pravada”, held up the vote for President Kumaratunga as a “mandate for peace”. They pointed to the defeat of the UNP presidential candidate as incontrovertible proof that anti-Tamil Sinhalese chauvinism is virtually dead. They had condescendingly viewed Tamil chauvinism, epitomised in their view by the LTTE, as the main barrier on the road to peace. Today they are walking around with egg on their faces. As demonstrated at a seminar held in November at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES) in Colombo, the “liberals” are reduced to bleating for a “moratorium” on Sinhalese chauvinist politics!

Comic relief in this pathetic drama is provided by pro-Government Tamils. The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) and other collaborationist Tamil parties are busy running-with-the-hare-and-hunting-with-the-hound. To reward their fawning Tamil minions, both candidates are offering them the crumbs of provincial office. Wickremasinghe proposes to set an interim administration in the NEP. Kumaratunga has already set in motion the procedure to appoint an interim administration by Gazetting the announcement on 2 November and inviting Tamil parties representing the NEP to nominate their candidates.

Some pro-Government Tamils, aghast at the idiocy of Sinhalese chauvinists, are desperate to stay their hand. For instance, DBS Jeyaraj strained every nerve to salvage the crumbling Sinhalese morale. He advised the Sinhalese Government in Colombo on how to grab the initiative back from the LTTE. In his report, “Birthday profile of Prabhakaran”, Jeyaraj sensitively invited Sinhalese politicians to think anew. “The credit for creating a Prabhakaran”, he assuaged them, “does not go to the Tamils. It goes to those shortsighted Sinhala political leaders who by their chauvinist oppressive policies have led the country to ruin.” He denigrated the LTTE as “an extremely virulent and violent leadership” and fervently urged the Sinhalese supremacists to think politically. “The harsh truth today”, Jeyaraj implored, “is the fact that unless some ‘military miracle’ occurs, there is no wishing Velupillai Prabhakaran away. Ground realities however bitter have to be acknowledged, albeit grudgingly. Attempts to marginalise him militarily without political engagement is an exercise in futility. It can only prolong the agony of war that is bleeding the country. What is needed now is a full-fledged political offensive with the aid of a ‘facilitator cum mediator’ that could de-escalate the armed conflict and transform it into constructive dialogue” (Sunday Leader, 28/Nov/99).

Where does all this leave the Tamil voters? Put simply, votes carry political representatives to power; classes keep them in power. Irrespective of how Tamils vote, Sinhalese leaders will remain an integral part of their ruling classes, which include the upper echelons of the armed forces and Buddhist clergy, and must rely on them to stay in power. In short, Tamil votes for Sinhalese politicians will have no effect whatsoever in inducing the recognition and acceptance of Tamil national rights and aspirations by the pathologically anti-Tamil Sinhalese ruling classes that call the shots. Indeed, a Sinhalese commentator, Vimikthi Yapa, succinctly described the Sinhalese consensus, after Operation Oyatha Alaigal 3, as one in which the Sinhalese must “present a common front to the minorities and force them to ‘accept a solution on our terms’” (Sunday Leader, 7/Nov/99).

The war, therefore, will go to its logical conclusion, to the creation of an independent State of Tamil Eelam. The LTTE is practising an axiom of political economy: a State is politically conceived and militarily constructed.



What, then, does mediation mean?

The LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran specified “mediation” by a third party – a foreign government or an inter-governmental regional/international organisation – as a necessary precondition for commencing and conducting negotiations with the Sri Lankan Government, in his Heroes Day address in November 1998. He reiterated the condition an year later, in November 1999.

The Sri Lankan Government has steadfastly rejected mediation and prefers instead “facilitation” by a third party to initiate negotiations with the LTTE.

Some North European governments have shown interest in serving as mediators. The British Government brokered a meeting in November between LTTE’s political advisor Anton Balasingam and General Secretary R Sampanthan of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), evidently hoping to induce the LTTE to commence “talks” with the PA Government under British mediation.

When foreign governments endorse mediation, what do they have in mind? Fundamentally, foreign intervention pursues its own national interests; and mediators come with their own agenda. Its basic interest is to defend the status quo. It is imperative here not to be misled by the apparently benign intervention of the international community in East Timor and Kosovo. The point demonstrated by the two cases is that the principal objective of foreign intervention by States or inter-State regional/international organisations is to ARREST the TREND toward the independence of nations from existing States, which trend is accelerating in the post-Cold War era.

Foreign intervention could be either indirect or direct. The former approach sometimes includes an apparently contradictory move to carve out a new State in the short-term, which, in fact, is quite compatible with the long-term objective to “stop the rot from spreading”, to prevent the emergence or intensification of other national liberation movements. The intervention in East Timor is a fairly good example. An intention behind the “Popular Consultation” in East Timor was to settle once and for all the issue of national liberation movements within Indonesia as a whole. This was attempted using a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, because the

Indonesian Government could not legalise the occupation of East Timor under international law, the international community re-discovered the illegality of the occupation and coerced the Indonesian Government to concede the referendum to separate it from Indonesia. On the other hand, the international community claims the rule of the Indonesian Government over the other provinces, which were part of the country at the time of independence from the Dutch colonialism, to be quite legal. So it has excluded the national liberation movement in Aceh from the purview of UN conventions on de-colonisation, defined it as "secession" and decreed it to be illegal under international law. The use of revolutionary violence by the Aceh national liberation movement is then de-legitimised as "terrorism". So far this has been the position adopted by the international community in the other instances - Chechnya, Kurdistan, Kashmir, Tamil Eelam, etc.

The foreign intervention in Kosovo is an example of the second, direct approach. The primary objective in Kosovo is quite straightforward: it is to neutralise the Kosovo Liberation Army and destroy the Kosovo Liberation Movement. Rather than East Timor, the cases of Aceh Province and Kosovo are instead closer and more similar to the case of Tamil Eelam.

In Palestine, too, the aim of foreign intervention and mediation was NOT to create an independent Palestinian State. The 1993 Oslo Accords sought instead to demilitarise of the PLO and then place it in a position where it had no choice but to accept the best offer made by Israel, which has beaten the PLO down in virtually every bargain. Yassar Arafat has had to give away at almost every confrontation, so much so that he is being contemptuously dismissed in most of the Arab World as the strip-tease dancer of Tel Aviv.

Almost all foreign governments wish to see that the Sri Lanka Government maintains the status quo, preserves its territorial border, by militarily defeating the Tamil national movement in the short term and politically emasculating it in the long term. The approach adopted by the Indian Government, together with the UNP Government, is a textbook example. The “stick” was the Indian armed force, sanitised as the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and deployed in August 1987, while the “carrot” was the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord to supposedly “devolve power”.

The international community encouraged the PA too to employ the two-pronged strategy to  

(a) militarily contain the LTTE as far as possible in the jungles, and simultaneously

(b) politically neutralise the LTTE by introducing constitutional reforms.

In fact, Minister for Justice, Constitutional Affairs, Ethnic Affairs and National Integration Prof GL Peiris explicitly admitted the strategy after President Kumaratunga launched Operation Leap Forward on 9 July 1995 and released her alleged constitutional reform proposal on 3 August. Two days later, Minister Peiris had ventured to outline the utility of the proposal for driving a wedge between the Tamil people and LTTE thus: “we do expect that the military effort will have the effect of diminishing the strength of the LTTE. But the political proposals will also have a role in that regard because they will go a long way towards convincing the Tamil people that the Government should be supported and that will alienate the Tamil people from the LTTE. So there is a connection between the two things” (Island, 6/Aug/95). About a week later, at the inaugural meeting of the Sudu Nelum (White Lotus) programme, Minister Peiris explained why the proposals are necessary to satisfy the international community. “Some want to know”, he acknowledged, “the necessity for a political solution when a war is raging. True, what we need to win the war is armaments not a political solution. But we have been able to procure military hardware because we have presented a political solution…The President’s leadership has gained international acceptance today. Therefore, we experience no difficulty to get our arms requirements…The President and the Government have succeeded in convincing the world community that restoration of peace is possible through the political package. We cannot”, he emphasised, “expect the co-operation of the international community [to execute the military campaign] without seeking a political solution” (Daily News, 15/Aug/95).

But, the UNP's 14-year war (1979-1987 and 1990-1994) and PA’s 5-year war (1995-1999) against the Tamil national movement, and especially the spectacular success of Operation Oyatha Alaigal 3, have conclusively proved that the LTTE’s military capacity cannot be sapped by the Sinhalese armed forces. The UNP's 1984 All Party Conference and 1987 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the PA’s 1997 PSC Report revealed that Sinhalese chauvinism has obstinately refused to go beyond proposals for decentralisation through Local Government institutions. Sinhalese politicians and administrators resisted implementing fully even the limited changes proposed under the 13th Amendment. The Sinhalese leadership, therefore, woefully lacks the foresight to politically neutralise the LTTE.

The past five years in particular have demonstrated that as the war progresses, the Tamil national movement would increase in strength both relatively and absolutely. The relative increase is due to the government’s war effort becoming more and more unpopular among the Sinhalese people whilst the support for LTTE’s armed struggle grows exponentially among Tamils. The absolute increase in strength of the Tamil national movement is a result primarily of rising recruitment and acquisition of more sophisticated arms and equipment, largely from the Sri Lankan armed forces, by the LTTE. The longer the war goes on, the stronger the LTTE would become and Tamil Eelam will be all that more feasible.

The rising interest in the west for catalytic intervention, including third-party mediation, especially after Operation Oyatha Alaigal 3 must be seen in the above context. The international community views mediation in Sri Lanka as one way to bring the armed struggle of the Tamil national movement to an end and pre-empt the emergence of an independent State of Tamil Eelam. To “de-escalate” the armed conflict therefore means the cessation of hostilities and incorporation of LTTE’s armed cadres into the armed forces of the Sinhalese State.

In contrast, for the Tamil national movement, foreign intervention by way of mediation should introduce an independent party who would at the very minimum stand witness to the process of negotiations and vouch for the actions of the LTTE. The primary intention is to expose the duplicity and obstinacy of the Sri Lankan Government and to further strengthen the Tamils’ case for independence. To “de-escalate” means the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Sinhalese armed forces and their replacement by LTTE’s armed cadres, thereby entrenching a parallel State structure in the NEP.

In short, from the standpoint of the Tamil national movement, the principal function of the mediator must be to guide the negotiations toward the peaceful demarcation of the international border between Sri Lanka and Tamil Eelam. Any takers?

4 November 1999

Note: Dr Sachithanandam Sathananthan is Secretary of The Action Group Of Tamils (TAGOT) in Sri Lanka.