The article below was sent to me by a friend who said that “as a capsule summary of where Sri Lanka is politically and militarily, and the reasons why we are were we are, this is hard to beat.”
I tend to agree.
2007-02-12 13:45:57 – Donor countries have pledged another $4.5 billion by way of aid to Sri Lanka, but have frowned upon the Mahindra Rajapaksa Government’s pursuit of only military strategy against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and inadequate focus on a negotiated political settlement
Donor countries have pledged another $4.5 billion by way of aid to Sri Lanka, but have frowned upon the Mahindra Rajapaksa Government’s pursuit of only military strategy against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and inadequate focus on a negotiated political settlement. The Norwegian-brokered cease-fire is as good as dead, though neither side has formally abrogated it. The international community
has made it clear that conversion of $ 9 billion worth of aid pledges into hard cash will be dependent on the progress of the peace process. Power sharing and devolution would expand the development horizons for the country, with higher aid and private capital inflows, and accelerate development of conflict affected and other lagging regions.
The Sri Lankan Army has made substantial gains with the use of its Air Force, with the capture of the LTTE stronghold of Vaharai and 17 smaller posts, cut off the road to Trincomalee and made it difficult for the Tigers to supply their bases and cadre in Batticoloa and Amparai – the next Government targets. In the process over 200,000 people have been displaced in the northeast during the past six months. Simultaneously, President Rajapaksa also launched an assault on the main opposition, the United National Party, took away several of its MPs and immediately included them in his Cabinet, thus taking the strength of his Council of Ministers to an unprecedented and mammoth 108 in the 225 member Parliament. By making almost every member on the Government’s side a minister, he had cobbled together a simple majority and does not require the support of the 27 members Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna, which was his electoral ally and helped his party form the Government.
Sri Lanks’s new Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogoliagama explained to Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh in New Delhi recently that all the parties now participating in the Government would become “stake-holders” in the peace process. The MoU signed by Rajapaksa with UNP leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to support the Government on arriving at a negotiated political settlement based on power sharing and devolution is now as good as dead, though not formally abrogated. But the defection-based arrangement to strengthen the government is unlikely to last long or contribute to political stability. Defections by self-serving MPs do not reflect ground realities, or the opinion of the electorate. The outward stability has created more instability and conditions are being created for early elections this year. The ethnic conflict has left 65,000 dead and 500,000 displaced so far.
President Rajapaksa has again made a conditional offer of talks to the LTTE, asked it to renounce violence, lay down arms and negotiate to evolve a political solution. Failing which his Government would have “to tame them.” He had made a similar offer last October also, but the LTTE dismissed it as a “joke”. The Government blames the LTTE for preventing aid from reaching the conflict areas and admits that economic development was the surest way to revitalize the affected areas. The people or the international community does not share the Sri Lankan Government’s optimism and euphoria over recent military victories. For instance, the Centre for Policy Alternatives has, in its just released report, forecast that the situation in Sri Lanka in 2007 is very likely to be one of “protracted conflict, oscillating levels of political stability and growing authoritarianism.” The Government will persist with regime consolidation, with initiatives to revitalize the peace process being a secondary importance. Riding high on recent military successes in the Eastern Province, and with the opposition now in disarray after defections, there was the possibility that the President would opt for a general election in the first half of 2007.
It is generally felt that Mr. Rajapaksa never accepted the MoU wholeheartedly and his managers were busy behind the scene stirring trouble in the opposition ranks and engineering a split. The judgment of the Supreme Court that annulled the merger of North and East had provided an opportunity to the Government to take corrective legislative steps, but it refused to do so. LTTE supreme V. Prabakaran has repeatedly demonstrated that he has no interest in a just federal setup for Sri Lankan Tamils in a united Sri Lanka. But the international donors have repeatedly urged a negotiated settlement, instead of a military one, because Sri Lanka cannot afford a military spending of the order of $ 1.5 billion a year. The fact that neither side has officially revoked the 2003 cease-fire holds out some hope that full-scale war can even now be averted.
At the same time, the Sinhalese majority needs to realize that devolution of power to Tamil areas can provide a lasting solution of the conflict, and the sooner a decision on it is taken, the better it is for everyone. The failure to reach a compromise is due to the enduring incompatibility of the Sinhalese and Tamil nationalist positions. As Jayadeva Dyanguda of Colombo University points out, the dominant Sinhalese nationalist argument refuses to acknowledge the existence of an ethnic conflict, which it views as a terrorist problem only, or even a minority conspiracy that requires a military solution. In their view a limited measure of power sharing may be possible after a military – administrative unification of the nation.
It also needs to be borne in mind that the limited vision of Sinhalese nationalism is matched by the secessional objectives of Tamil nationalism as spearheaded by the LTTE. The Tigers’ compromise framework is one that approximates confederalism, a fairly advanced stage of regional autonomy. The conceptual foundation of the proposal for an interim self-governing authority, which the LTTE had presented to the Government in October 2003, was confederation, which laid greater emphasis on self-rule and a little on shared rule. Earlier, when the talks entered a critical phase, the differences between the two sides were re-sharpened. But, now there appears little possibility of finding a meeting point in the foreseeable future. The unstated assumption, currently shared in both camps, seems to be a troubling one: a drastic alteration in the military balance of forces might create new conditions for a fresh phase of political engagement. The Rajapaksa Government’s preferred objective for the moment appears to be intensification of the low intensity war to weaken the LTTE’s offensive capability permanently.
After the defection of “Col” Karuna, the LTTE’s military commander in the Eastern province, to the Government’s side and his joining the anti-Prabakaran offensive, the LTTE’s military strength and control of the province have been considerably weakened. The LTTE has been forced to abandon several positions including the Vaharai base. But, as happened in the past also, the LTTE may be withdrawing to minimize its loses of men and equipment and set up fresh defenses from where they could prepare to launch a counter offensive. The Government had captured the Jaffna peninsula in 1995, but only seven month later the Sri Lankan Army suffered one of its worst defeats when the LTTE attacked the Mullaithivu military base. Though the Government has captured some territory, it may not be that easy to hold on to it in the face of the Tigers’ counter attacks in the classical guerilla – style that would cause considerable harassment and casualties. It cannot be said at this stage that the LTTE’s capability to carry on the fight has been crippled.
Efforts by the Sri Lankan ministers and politicians to get India involved in some way have not succeeded, nor are they likely to. New Delhi keeps emphasizing the need for an expeditious solution of the legitimate aspirations of all sections of the Sri Lankan society. It has conveyed its commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka even while the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils were being addressed. India wants the cease-fire to be strengthened and the two sides work towards a devolution package that would be approved by the major political parties in order to restore ethnic harmony. India is faced with the problem of looking after the Sri Lankan refugees who land on the Tamil Nadu coast from time to time, but have not been able to return home in view of the disturbed conditions.
The report of the Expert Committee set up to find a solution to the ethnic problem has also come as an embarrassment to Mr. Rajapaksa, because it suggests an asymmetrical federation, moving away from the unitary state, substantial powers being devolved to regional unity, as well as, autonomy and re-merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces, annulled by the Supreme Court. He has shown no inclination to accept them, probably because federalism is unacceptable to two of his allies, the JVP and JHP, even though he now does not need their support to survive in Government. The MoU with UNP also stands repudiated. The President may have adopted a desperate strategy for short-term gains, but such tactics do not contribute to stability, or evolving a negotiated solution. Owing to the LTTE’s stubbornness and the Government’s shortsighted moves, the situation remains quite desperate and a military solution will not emerge.
email: emailWeb: http://www.askdma.com/