Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Printer-Friendly Version

Uncharted Waters

by V Gunaratnam

In the final analysis, we know that disarming the paramilitary is only the beginning, and, if it succeeds, the peace process could unfold majestically after that.

The CFA was hanging by a thread when the Sri Lanka delegation and the LTTE met for talks in Geneva. The central issue was ceasefire violations, and both sides agreed to mutual de-escalation. The challenge now is for President Rajapakse to redeem his pledge to put the brakes on the paramilitary, and for LTTE to reciprocate by halting the violence on its side.

The meeting was a chance to let off steam and wind down the sharply rising tensions, a fleeting respite, but is it going to be another door that opens only to be slammed shut in our face again? Tamils view the future with trepidation, because they have seen so much fighting and suffering in a tragic history of deception that has gone on for decades.

The question now is how Rajapakse is going to overcome his basic dilemma about meeting Tamil aspirations, after having denied the concept of a Tamil homeland, and everything else that flows from it. It is such a fundamental departure from our position that his promise of “maximum devolution of power” seems like a contradiction that makes us wonder where it is all leading.

Either Rajapakse is just trying to buy time to prepare for a military solution, or there is a method in his madness we have yet to grasp that could somehow steer the process forward. Since further talks have been scheduled, we have to wait and see what Rajapakse is going to do to bring credibility to his moves.

To be sure, Rajapakse has a very daunting task fraught with high political risk, and it serves our purpose to try and understand the challenge he is facing, because everything depends on its outcome, whether we are again going to be plunged into war, or there is going to be a durable peace.

Rajapakse’s first priority is to get his government buckling down under his authority, but given the complexity of his task, this won’t be easy. There are deeply entrenched feelings, loyalties, suspicions, and politics to be overcome before the changes he has in mind find acceptance. But it is also going to be a race against time, because there is a 2006 deadline to be met.

Rajapakse's immediate task is to disarm the paramilitary and bring them under control. But after successive governments armed, funded and gave them sanctuary to do the dirty work of undermining the LTTE, disarming them could be a very tricky business. The SLA would naturally baulk at orders to disarm their “comrades-in-arms.” But Rajapakse cannot allow himself to be dictated to by his military, and have his credibility destroyed internationally after the declarations in Geneva.

The SLA cannot be allowed to stand in the way, and blow Rajapakse's‘vision’ for the country to pieces. He has to come down hard on his generals to get this difficult job done, but there could be a protracted period of chaos before it happens. Karuna is already showing defiance. But Rajapakse should know that the paramilitary has outlived its usefulness, and has no credible role left to play in the emerging situation, and must be promptly disarmed and shunted out of the way.

At the same time, Rajapakse has the all important task of building the political consensus needed to carry through his overall plan and tying it to his paramilitary initiative, because things cannot be done piecemeal. This means getting the JVP and JHU working with him, and keeping them from derailing his plan for a settlement with the LTTE. The JVP holds the key to this.

Given the fact that the JVP has matured politically, and sees itself as the natural successor to the SLFP, they would not want to abandon Rajapakse now, and risk being isolated, because the UNP is waiting to step into any political vacuum left behind by them.

The JHU, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish altogether. Without the JVP acting in tandem with them, they are just a marginal force, but Rajapakse would still like to keep them on his side.

But the UNP remains the most formidable political force for Rajapakse to contend with. For all practical purposes, they represent the government in waiting, ready to do everything to prevent him from reaping the huge political capital that could come out of an accord with the LTTE. But with UNP members regularly deserting the party to join Rajapakse, their parliamentary strength may not be nearly enough in the end to derail his plans.

The Maha Sangha’s blessing is the other vital component needed for the success of Rajapakse’s plan. If he holds the balance of political power in the country in his hands, there won’t be any real problem winning their support, because the Sangha is known to flow with the tide in these circumstances. If, at the same time, there is strong international support behind him, with India prominently in the picture, he could not ask for more.

In passing, we might observe that the LTTE has the much simpler task, because if Rajapakse succeeds in containing the paramilitary and the SLA, the LTTE would have no reason to react or go on the offensive in the Tamil homeland over which they have virtually complete control.

In the final analysis, we know that disarming the paramilitary is only the beginning, and, if it succeeds, the peace process could unfold majestically after that. Rajapakse and the Sinhalese must start accepting the new realities to achieve a durable peace. They cannot continue to defy the democratic norms and traditions of the modern world, and dream about a military solution, aided by some monstrous foreign power. It’s a strategy that has failed miserably over the last twenty years. The civilized world also would not stand by and allow this kind of aberration to happen.

India, the US, EU, Japan, and others have already outlined what could be a viable political framework for a solution, and knowing Sri Lanka has been on the brink of a terrible war, they are applying all the pressure needed to keep the protagonists on the peace track. The US is in the picture, but India still remains the power behind the scenes that could make all the difference.

Rajapakse must accept their collective wisdom, and open his mind to the wider concept of power-sharing with the Tamils even as he tackles the paramilitary. A new paradigm is needed. He has to find a way out of the political trap he got himself into at election time.

The major initiative must come from Sri Lanka, to get out of the endless maneuvering, by offering realistic alternatives, and as the sovereign nation that holds the power in its hands, it must rise to its great obligations to open the way to that elusive accord that has defied us for more than half a century.

  • Publication date: