April 14, 2008

Sri Lanka- Military Strategy and Political Package

Source: South Asia Analysis Group
By Dr. Geeta Madhavan

The aggressive military campaign by the Sri Lankan Government started much before the formal abrogation of the Ceasefire Agreement by it on January 2, 2008. The action was not only provoked by the continued violent activities of the LTTE but also by a firm policy decision by the Sri Lankan Government who saw no other manner to contain the LTTE

The LTTE had used two events to its advantage- the period during the peace talks and the post tsunami period when aid flowed in from the international community to recruit, rearm and restructure its political and military wings. The Sri Lankan government under President Rajapakse therefore cast all pretences aside and abandoning the earlier idea of selective use of military power which the President espoused, plunged into a bloody war with losses on both sides as well as of civilian lives.

The military strategy seems to have paid the dividends in the East where the Sri Lankan government triumphantly declared as having "secured" after pushing the LTTE out and into their northern stronghold. Without any confirmation by outside agencies if one were to go by the statements emanating from the establishment then the East seems to be rid of LTTE influences although one suspects that would not be the composite picture. The LTTE has been consistently appealing to the international community and through its website alleging misconduct by the Sri Lankan forces and gross violation of human rights. The official site of the LTTE cites daily reports of violence against those it claims to be innocent civilians and action against civilian targets. The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Special Report released on 1, April 2008 is on the killing of the 17 aid workers on 4 August 2006 in the ACF compound in Mutur town. The report accuses of blatant cover up by Sri Lankan authorities.

The Sri Lankan establishment shows no indication of allowing these or any other criticisms to come in the way of the concerted effort to secure the North although they are very aware that it will be longer and more arduous task to dislodge the LTTE from their stronghold. With the elections in the East, the Sri Lankan government seems to confirm that its military moves are only to secure an area before a political package is offered and then being accepted to be implemented.

In discussions about the military strategy with an assured political package offer, with the Sri Lankan establishment two noumena appear- references to "Intervention" and "Interference". To take the first term- Interference : the Sri Lankan establishment abhors the idea of any particular State or an international organisation telling the Sri Lankan Government how to conduct matters within its sovereign territory. To provide safety and security for its citizens from violence being the duty of the State, it justifies all action under this duty. It is of course, encouraged by the fact that the campaign is directed against an organisation, the LTTE, proscribed in several countries and called 'the deadliest terrorist organisation in the world' by the United States. The European Union has also not been lacking in condemning the activities of the LTTE. Therefore any accusation by a state or any international organisation of the military strategy is seen by the Sri Lankan government as 'interference' in the Sri Lankan state fulfilling its duty. It is equally vociferous about the NGOs whose work and aid it welcomes but whose jingoism it refuses to tolerate any longer.

The one theme that resonates in the establishment is that the Sri Lankan Government will no more allow another state to dictate how it should conduct its affairs especially in it is conviction to deal aggressively with the LTTE and in doing so allegations of violations of human rights by the Sri Lankan forces will not mitigate its campaign.. In the absence of any information other than from the two sources that obviously give the information best slanted for their personal gain there is no manner of confirming the alleged violations. Even in the cases of civilian deaths the establishment is quite pragmatic and explains it as unintended and proportionate damage. Therefore it can be seen that the Sri Lankan Government that went in good faith to the Peace talks in Geneva and Oslo, where they were forced to acknowledge and accept the LTTE as a party to the negotiation is not willing anymore to accept a move by any international organisation or state to chalk out the rules for settlement. Therefore, any action laying down terms of military and civil engagement is now unacceptable to the Sri Lankan establishment.

The other is term is "Intervention"- Sri Lankan has not been shy to state its desire for intervention by India. It is accepted that any intervention in the form of 1987 peace keeping force (in which India learnt its most bitter lesson) will never be forthcoming from India. So the question that one tends to ask is what form of intervention is expected by the Sri Lankan government. It is surprising to see how in the Sri Lankan establishment the term intervention has been juxtaposed on the concept of support. Therefore, aware that India has provided logistic support to the Sri Lankan government in its campaign against the LTTE and has also articulated that it looks forward to devolution and distribution of powers within a united Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan establishment seems to interpret all these actions as India speaking in support of its policies within the region and to the international community.

Therefore the intervention it seeks is to intercede on its behalf. So far other than a minuscule band of vociferous but unconvincing politicians within Tamil Nadu who have their personal reasons for the support of the bifurcation of Sri Lanka there is no great public support for the setting up of a separate Tamil nation. No sovereign nation can or should support secessionists forces within another territory. The question of securing equal civil political rights is another matter altogether but the emotional rhetoric often confuses the two. Therefore India s stand in the support for the unity of Sri Lanka is appreciated by the Sri Lankan establishment that seems to further require India to project this to the South East Asian communities and the international community.

It is not possible to shy away from the question of the political package after the denouement. Not forgetting that India has underlined the fact that the aspirations of the Tamil population has to be fulfilled by the Sri Lankan government the understanding is that when finally faced with the political question – the Sri Lankan Government should and certainly must fulfil its role of securing and restoring to the Tamil people their rights. It is accepted in the Sri Lanka establishment that earlier polices that led to the thwarting of Tamil aspirations should not be pursued.

While everyone agrees LTTE is not the sole representative of the Tamil people despite LTTE's posturing there is no agreement as to who really is their chosen trusted leader. The derisive comment heard is when the time comes to offer the political package who is there to take it? The only way out of the tangled heap is to perhaps go directly to the people. If the Sri Lankan government can earn the trust of the people by its sincerity to find a lasting peace and urge upon them that the present military strategy which it pursues is in reality to assure peace then there is a good chance that a political solution will be lasting. It has to assuage decades of misgovernance and restore faith in a system that works for all people on the island.

(Dr. Geeta Madhavan is an analyst working in areas related to international security and Terrorism. The views expressed are author’s own. She can be reached at: geeta.madhavan@gmail.com)

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