Hopes for Peace Dim - With CBK in power

“I can’t say it will be in minutes, hours or days. Don’t hold me to a deadline... it is a very serious option that we are considering now.”

- Lakshman Kadirgamar (BBC: 2001, August 29)


By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

Lakshman Kadirgamar rides again! 

The man who was until recently pursuing with single-minded devotion the elusive goal of eliminating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, adapted himself easily to changing circumstances and echoed the new government line of talking peace with the Tigers. A BBC report [August 29th 2001] had this to say:

“In a dramatic shift of policy, the Sri Lankan government has announced that it is ready to agree to a cease-fire with Tamil rebels that would lead on to renewed peace negotiations. Foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar said there had been a reassessment of the issue by the government, which was now considering a fresh invitation to the rebels to begin negotiations. The government had previously ruled out a cease-fire before the start of negotiations - a key demand of the Tamil Tiger separatists, which had stymied a Norwegian brokered peace initiative. The change of heart in Colombo comes as President Chandrika Kumaratunga is trying to put together a new governing coalition following her government’s loss of its Parliamentary majority. Announcing the cease-fire proposal, Kadirgamar said: ‘I can’t say it will be in minutes, hours or days. Don’t hold me to a deadline... it is a very serious option that we are considering now.’

Lakshman Kadirgamar is the darling of the Sinhala chauvinists. Kadirgamar has on more than one occasion publicly blared forth that the Sinhala People have shed all their communalism - a claim that even the Sihala Urumaya would dare not make. Even though Kadirgamar is nominally Sri Lanka’s minister of foreign affairs he has spent more time as its industrious minister of Anti-Tiger affairs. Indeed his concept of foreign policy is restricted to advocating a ban on the LTTE by different governments regardless of whether the LTTE was active in those countries or not. There have been occasions where Kadirgamar has worked himself up into a frenzy against friendly governments for hesitating to proscribe the LTTE. Kadirgamar’s latest manoeuvre to get France declare LTTE political adviser and chief negotiator Anton Balasingham persona non grata has failed miserably and boomeranged on the foreign minister.

Peace process dead

The Oslo inspired peace process is virtually dead. Any post-mortem held on its demise would reveal that two persons have to bear the greater part of blame for it. One is Her Excellency the Honourable Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; the other is her sycophantic Foreign Affairs Minister the Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar. A comprehensive analysis of the decline and fall of peace process four would demonstrate clearly how Kadirgamar under the guise of strengthening it worked diligently and systematically to undermine, erode and finally negate the peace process. Yet the very same Kadirgamar has the cocky impudence to announce again that there are bright prospects for peace again.

In typical fashion he tries to bamboozle the media by pontificating eloquently about the futility of imposing a time frame for the exercise. “I can’t say it will be in minutes, hours or days. Don’t hold me to a deadline...it is a very serious option that we are considering now,” says Kadirgamar. It was in the first week of April this year [2001] that Kadirgamar announced in Parliament that a breakthrough had been achieved and that details about direct talks such as dates, venue, etc., would be released before the months end. Anyone following the progress of the peace process would have known that given the existing deadlock such optimism would have been at misplaced.

It soon became clear that it was not a bona fide error by Kadirgamar but part of a deliberate design to mislead parliament and by extension the nation. Instead of the promised talks, the armed forces launched a massive operation on April 24. Arguably Kadirgamar may not have been informed earlier about military plans. If so, any self-respecting minister would have tendered his resignation on that count. But no sir! Not Kadirgamar.

Then came another of his attempts to create political illusions. Kadirgamar announced in May this year to the world at large that an agreement had been reached and that talks were imminent. This was refuted by the LTTE’s Anton Balasingham and by the Norwegian special envoy Erik Solheim himself. Events relating to the foreign ministry have shown time and again that Kadirgamar is hypersensitive to real or imaginary slights. Solheim learnt his lesson when he was downgraded to the sidelines on the pretext that Norway’s role was being upgraded.

Politicians hoodwinking the public rely greatly on the collective amnesia of the people. Fortunately memories though short may not be that short in the case of Kadirgamar. With such an ‘incredible’ track record, the man could scarcely have hoped to retain any credibility while announcing prospects for peace again. But then Kadirgamar is spouting these lines now for practically the same reasons he did so earlier. It was then a case of trying to project a false image in order to help the Kumaratunga regime wriggle out of the economic, political and military mess it was in. Likewise Kadirgamar is seemingly stretching an olive branch to the LTTE once again for the same reasons. Only the stakes are much higher and the situation more desperate now. The government is tottering with its Parliamentary majority gone; the armed forces are stalemated and the LTTE is enjoying an ascendant upswing: the economy is crashing speedily; Kumaratunga herself has been unmasked as one of the most authoritarian anti-democratic figures to rule Sri Lanka.

Against this dismal background, Kadirgamar is only reflecting the desperate amoral intention on the part of the government to cling on to power at any cost. Events of the past week have shown that Kumaratunga is adopting a multi-pronged approach to win support and retain power. The announcement about “it is a very serious option that we are considering now” can only be perceived in that light. The possibility of a peace parley accompanied by a cease-fire can accomplish a number of things for the government.

Militarily it can freeze the status quo and thereby contain the LTTE while the regime procures armaments again. Economically it can salvage the country from the morass it is in. Tourism, investment, transport and insurance problems etc., could be sorted out. Financial aid packages could be negotiated. Politically it could wean the minority community parties away from the united opposition alliance. It may also enable a few United National Party dissidents join government ranks.

Yet this approach is insincere and unprincipled. The intention about talking to the Tigers is not to be taken seriously. Given the past performance of the Kumaratunga-Kadirgamar duo there are few takers for this so called “dramatic shift of policy.” This was best illustrated by Tamil United Liberation Front Secretary General R. Sambandan’s comments to the BBC’s Tamil service ‘Thamil Osai’. While welcoming the prospects for peace, Sambandan stressed that everything depended on whether the government was acting in good faith (visuvaasathudan).

Let there be no mistake about it. If Kumaratunga is able to win over the support of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna and the Sihala Urumaya on the condition that there should be no talks with the Tigers, she will eagerly do so, and to hell with peace. Similarly, if a sizable chunk of Sinhala hawks defect to her ranks on the condition that there should be no peace negotiations, Kumaratunga will promptly agree. What is of immediate importance to her now is the political survival of her government and not the lasting interests of the nation. Anything goes. The name of the game is retaining power alone and nothing else.

In a situation where the mala fide objectives of the government are blatantly transparent what will the LTTE do? Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabakharan has always been a master strategist. Most of his triumphs have been on the battlefield. But this does not necessarily mean that his exploits are restricted to military matters alone. The LTTE leaders political manoeuvers have also been very shrewd though not fully appreciated or realised – perhaps because of the over reliance on the military factor. The LTTE’s recent diplomatic peace offensive displayed remarkable sagacity and finesse that has exposed much of Colombo’s posturing on the peace front. The LTTE has outsmarted the government on a number of issues. The LTTE is on the ascendancy vis-à-vis the Kumaratunga regime and it would be myopically foolish of the Tigers to enter talks now.

Besides there is a problem about the facilitator. Norway is about to face elections in September. It would indeed be very imprudent of a lame duck regime in Oslo to re-enter the facilitatory process again. There is also the fact that Sri Lanka too is in the midst of a crisis. It would be wise on the part of Norway to wait until the dust settles in Colombo before sailing into turbulent political seas again. More importantly there is the sidelining of Solheim. The LTTE is yet to be formally and officially informed of this bilateral move by Colombo and Oslo to devalue the one time special emissary. The Tigers have publicly stated their objections to such an exercise. So resuming negotiations as and when Colombo wants it won’t be that easy.

Peace Process Four ended mainly because of the government’s bad faith and lack of accommodation. It refused to sign the memorandum of understanding drafted by Norway and wanted it to be altered into an agreement on humanitarian measures; it wanted countries unacceptable to the Tigers to be included in the international monitoring committee; it was recalcitrant about lifting the economic embargo totally; it rebuffed a 4-month unilateral cease-fire by the LTTE and indulged in war; it declined to declare a cease-fire before commencing negotiations; Above all it rejected outright the request of de-proscription by the LTTE. The multi-crore question is whether the government is really prepared to revise this stance now?

The LTTE is sitting pretty right now. It is preparing to open a number of military fronts. The government is worried about a Jaffna take over on the one hand and an eastern invasion on the other. The chances of more economic targets in the South being attacked cannot be ruled out. The teetering economy will deteriorate further if and when the Tigers attack an economic target again. There is no doubt that a cease-fire cum negotiation at this stage would help the Kumaratunga regime immensely. The military balance could be frozen and military threat contained. The economic downtrend could be arrested and remedied. But then why should the LTTE help Kumaratunga at this juncture?

Although the LTTE keeps aloof from the internal power struggles in Colombo there is no doubt that it would very much like the Kumaratunga regime to go. It would very much like the political forces of the South to combine their resources and hasten the political demise of a callously cruel dispensation that has brought the worst volume of death, destruction, displacement; detention and despair to the Tamil people. The LTTE gains nothing by helping Kumaratunga who is unfaithful to friends and venomous towards enemies.

The LTTE’s desire to see the Kumaratunga regime overthrown was illustrated by an interesting development last week. Certain elements helping to prop up Kumaratunga in power were involved in a duplicitous exercise to sow confusion and dissension among the Tamil parties supporting the opposition motion of no confidence against the government. Pamphlets purportedly issued by a ‘LTTE frontal outfit’ –  Sankiliyan Padai (Sankiliyan force) –  called upon all Tamil Parliamentarians from the North-East to resign their seats and get away from Parliament. The leaflets were widely distributed in Jaffna and also sent to Tamil MP’s by post. The motive was obvious. If the Tamil MP’s resigned or kept away from Parliament the no faith motion against the government would be a failure.

Realising this perhaps, the LTTE political adviser Anton Balasingham set the record straight by informing the ‘Tamil Net’ website that the demand for Tamil resignations had not been made by the LTTE or its affiliated organizations. ‘There was no merit for that demand. This was the work of an organization forming part of the government that wanted to prevent the regime from being defeated.’ The inference - Eelam Peoples Democratic Party. The fact that Balasingham took pains to disown the counterfeit Sankiliyan leaflet and also pinpoint the motive behind made two things clear indirectly. One was that the LTTE wanted the Tamil MPs to vote against the government. The other was that it did not want the forces opposing the government to be weakened in any way.

Lessons not learned

With this being the LTTE perspective of this regime it is extremely unrealistic to expect the Tigers to talk to this government under any circumstances. The manner in which the government handled the Oslo facilitated peace process has angered the Tigers greatly even as it disillusioned the Tamil people. A golden opportunity has been squandered. The Kumaratunga-Kadirgamar duo deliberately undermined and negated the chances for peace. The government thought that it was winning but has learnt to its dismay that it is has really lost out. The lessons however have not been really learnt. The current move about talks is a deceptive act of expediency and not genuinely principled.

The LTTE knows this and will not trust this government again. Similarly this government too has gone out on a limb in its anti-Tiger pursuit and is incapable of genuinely reformulating its approach. The crux of the matter therefore is that no real and meaningful dialogue aimed at a negotiated peace is possible between the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka as long as it is Kumaratunga who is heading that government. The diplomats and other sections exerting pressure on the government and chief opposition to forge a common front and then engage in negotiations with the LTTE have sadly failed to grasp the real dynamic of the situation. If Wickremasinghe and the UNP align with the ‘Kumaratunga-Wickremanayake-Kadirgamar combine’, and try for negotiations that attempt will be doomed.

Prospects for peace dim

Of course the motions of a peace process may be followed through but the spirit of a peace quest will be absent. The LTTE knows that Tigers don’t change stripes and leopards their spots. Likewise the political ideology of Kumaratunga and Wickremanayake will not alter drastically. International opinion is guilty of a grave blunder if it continues to regard Kumaratunga as an angel of peace and treat her intermittent pronouncements about a settlement seriously. She is unwilling and unable to deliver the goods by way of a reasonable settlement with the LTTE. The harsh reality today is that Kumaratunga, Wickremanayake and Kadirgamar are the problem, and part of the problem, and in no way the solution or part of the solution. If sections of the opposition misguidedly join them in the interests of peace they would find no pot of gold at the rainbow’s end.

All chances are that the LTTE will not like to negotiate with this government again. It is not likely to change its position even if sections of the opposition unite with the government under Kumaratunga. At the same time it is quite obvious that no agreement can be arrived at or implemented without a bipartisan consensus between the PA and UNP. Nevertheless the question at hand is about who is going to head the government ushering in peace with the aid of the opposition. If it is Kumaratunga then it is no go. The Tigers do not trust her and will not touch any talks initiated by her with a barge pole. Whatever the international community thinks, Kumaratunga too will not engage in talks sincerely. The only way out is for a new dispensation sans Kumaratunga-Wickremanayake-Kadirgamar to initiate peace talks. The prospects for peace are dim as long as Kumaratunga is in power.

This does not mean that the road to a negotiated peace has reached an end. On the contrary it has only reached an intersection or junction. Continuing on the Kumaratunga highway way will not lead to peace but only endless strife and ruin. The option now is to change direction and travel down a different road presided over by a new dispensation. The extent of progress to be achievable on this new road remains to be seen but it is certainly clear that the old Kumaratunga road will not take us anywhere. The nation is at the crossroads.

Courtesy Sunday Leader [2 September 2001]