It is all about ‘Balance of Power’

 by K. Gunaseelan



  Whatever really happened off the Neduntheevu coast in the Jaffna peninsular on the 7th February, nobody will really know.  The LTTE denies smuggling arms and the navy, including the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), say that the LTTE indeed had smuggled arms and thus broke the ceasefire agreement.  No one else, myself included, were present there to have first-hand information about the truth.  What is the worst-case scenario?  It may be that the LTTE had indeed smuggled arms, and when they got caught, they blew themselves up!  It may or may not be the truth.  But, what if we are to take this position, and discuss why it had to happen. 

It is all about maintaining  ‘balance of power’ something similar to what the Sri Lanka army has been shouting so much for, and thereby against the ‘high security zones’ (HSZ) being dismantled to enable those who had been displaced as a result, to resettle again.  The Sri Lankan army had argued against on the basis of  ‘balance of power’ being tilted in favour of the LTTE.  It is easily conceivable that even after the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE had signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), and in spite of peace prevailing in the ground, the Sri Lankan security forces have not stopped or curtailed   upgrading their armed forces by recruiting more manpower and purchasing modern weapons.  There is no secret about this.  The defense budget is still the same as during the thick of battles.  What else could be happening with all this money now?

The Sri Lankan army trains at Chavakachcheri junction, the site of fierce fighting between the LTTE and government troops (TIME, 2003)  

Now let us imagine what the mindset and the thinking of the LTTE could be.  Can the LTTE remain quiet when the Sri Lanka military is allowed to build up?   The LTTE will only get caught with its pants down in the event the peace talks fail and war resumes!   Even Dr. Balasingam, the LTTE theoretician, had said that their negotiating strength depends on their fighting capability and if not, even the present peace talks will see the same fate of the previous pacts such as the Bandaranayake-Chelvanayagam pact and the Dudley-Chelva pact made by the 'ahimsa' Tamil political-groups of the by-gone era. 

One should not assume that the Government of Sri Lanka is whole-heartedly giving autonomy to the Tamils after all these years of struggle.  They never wanted to, and they still may not want to if they can help it.  The Government was able deny justice to the Tamils only because Tamils could not fight back.  It is only now, and only after the LTTE proved its military might in the battlefield, that they have reluctantly agreed to think about a federal solution.  If there is a way that they could repeat the same deceit with the LTTE too as done with the previous Tamil political-parties, even at the last moment, they will certainly do it.  It is only the fighting capacity of the LTTE that will continue the pressure to achieve real permanent-peace. 

So the LTTE needs to keep themselves in a strong position not only in manpower but also with regards to its firepower as well.  They have to maintain the ‘Balance of power’ between the Sri Lanka military and them even during this time period of peaceful atmosphere as a final solution has not yet materialized.  The only practical thing that the LTTE could do at the present moment when there is no restriction on the Sri Lankan military to purchase hardware, is for the LTTE also to do the same.  But unfortunately that is not allowed to the LTTE even though that is not the case for the Sri Lankan military.  So the LTTE had to get something done on the sly, if it were to rightfully maintain its ‘balance of power’.  If not, in time to come, the fighting strength of the LTTE will become over-powered by the Sri Lankan military and there would be no need for talks thereafter! 

So if the LTTE had really smuggled arms illegally in contradiction of the MOU, it is really the MOU that is to be blamed and not the LTTE, as the MOU had not addressed this issue of maintaining the ‘balance of power’ between the two parties by also restricting the Government in purchasing military hardware.  By allowing the Sri Lankan military to import hardware while denying the same to the LTTE will only grossly weaken the LTTE in the future, and drag the government into a state of apathy and assume that the Sri Lankan military has enough strength to wipe out the LTTE if the peace talks fails, and will ensure to that end.

If the SLMM rushes to the defense of the Sri Lankan military ignoring the grave humanitarian concerns, to say that resettling the displaced civilians in their own homes within the high security zones will grossly damage the fighting capacity of the military, why not they say the same in favour of the LTTE when the military is able to purchase military items while the LTTE cannot -- which would grossly reduce the fighting capacity of the LTTE.  If it is right to argue on the basis of ‘balance of power’ for the Sri Lankan forces and if the SLMM also agrees with that view, then why is it not right for the LTTE also to argue on the basis of ‘balance of power’ and the SLMM to accept it?  (Or else conversely, if the SLMM will deny the right of ‘balance of power’ to the LTTE as regards to bringing arms, then why cannot they also deny the right of ‘balance of power’ to the Sri Lankan army considering the serious humanitarian issues involved in preventing the displaced civilians being resettled within the acquired land of the ‘high security zones’) 

If what happened off Neduntheevu was actually a failed attempt by the LTTE to smuggle arms, then for obvious reasons the LTTE is in no position to explain their true fears, which compelled them to do so.  So it is up to the Tamil support groups like the TNA, and the International Tamil Organizations to come out with the possible mindset and fears of the LTTE, and address the issue by bringing restrictions to the Sri Lankan military also with regard to purchasing hardware.  Or else, the smuggling of arms should not be construed as a violation of the MOU, and a distinction should be made between ‘bringing arms’ and ‘using it’.  As Dr. Balasingam said, having arms is a bargaining chip.  That does not mean you are going to use it!  ‘Having’ (merely for ‘style’) and ‘using’ are two different things altogether.  The government and the LTTE must be on equal terms if peace talks are to succeed.  There was widespread speculation that the peace talks would collapse on this incident even though it did not happen.  However, the fears were real.  It is all because there was a lack of equal terms in this respect to the parties concerned. 

It is this type of inequality between both parties that bring risks to the success of the peace talks.  So in the best interests of all, and for the benefit of all those who really want to see permanent peace dawn in Sri Lanka, we must argue vociferously against the unequal terms that still exist between the two sides.