From bad to worse

By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Were there to be any doubt that the ceasefire has been violated
beyond credibility and relevance for some time, the horrific and
egregious murder of Joseph Pararajasingham on Christmas Day
and the attack on the bus which killed 13 navy personnel, must
surely put those doubts to rest.

Whilst full scale hostilities are yet to erupt and bring with it death
and devastation on a larger scale, the totemic status being
accorded to the ceasefire agreement obscures the need to treat
that agreement as being in serious jeopardy and therefore in
urgent need of strengthening and protection.

There is a slide to war and that slide to war can only be arrested if
the two sides with their Norwegian facilitator get to the table fast, as
this columnist and others have been urging for some time. And if
the issue of talks cannot be settled because of positional
bargaining on the venue, this point can be conceded by the
government. It is most important that talks commence. The political
capital the LTTE can muster from having gone to Oslo, in Europe
but outside the EU, is debatable.

There are those who argue that President Rajapakse has been
accommodating enough in the face of the intifada, the killing of
security and military intelligence personnel and of course his volte
face on Norwegian facilitation. There are also those who argue that
this is being deliberately balanced by hardline appointments which
allow for a hardline on the ground – whether it be the incidents
involving students and faculty of Jaffna University or those in
Colombo associated with the bizarrely named ‘Stranger’s Night
Operation’ search and detention of Tamil civilians.

Will the President lose political capital if he agrees to Oslo as the
venue for the talks ? What is the rationale for taking such a
position ? Does he not want talks on the CFA and is he being told
by his advisors and security chiefs that as much as the LTTE is
confident of political gain from armed provocation, they are equally
confident of military victory in the face of it, if only they were
rearmed and unshackled.

Two points

President Rajapakse should bear in mind two points. Perhaps they
will come up in his discussions in Delhi. Without getting to the table,
what passes for ‘policy’ is oscillation between restraint and
retaliation. The former may well erode his political capital in the
south and the latter may only fuel the intifada in the north.
Pirapaharan is setting the agenda yet again and the GOSL is
unwilling or unable to turn the tables on him. Assuming that he was
to lose some political capital with his JVP/JHU allies on this, he
nevertheless needs to ask himself as to whether this is more
affordable now or at a later date.

At a later date, they will probably be acting as a fully fledged
opposition party. Note their silence over his meeting at India House
with Mr Thondaman and presided over by the Indian High
Commissioner. Zealousness over sovereignty was on vacation and
national pride was swallowed. They will make up for this later and
may be with a vengeance.

In any event, if indeed it was the JVP and the LTTE that put
Rajapakse on the presidential seat, he cannot afford to have them
dictate or determine the policy of his administration. In fact, the
success of his presidency to a great extent will be measured by his
ability to deal with both of them, without succumbing to either. And
to do this, more than tactical political skills will be required – policy
is necessary.

This does therefore beg the question of what the GOSL will talk to
the LTTE about, if and when they get to the table. There can be no
mistake. The LTTE will bring up the para militaries and Karuna in
particular – whatever unidentified security forces personnel may
say, the Pararajasingham murder only underscores the importance
of this issue re any strengthening and protection of the CFA.

Perhaps ideas, even guidance on this score, is what he will seek
and if not even get, in his discussions in Delhi. Were Karuna to be
in India as his two captured lieutenants indicated at the LTTE press
conference, it is not only Thondaman that Delhi will have to take
care of for President Rajapakse, but Karuna as well.

There is a possible irony here – in the J. R. Jayewardene era the
Indian government was accused of giving training and support to
Tamil militancy; yet again it is to Tamil militancy, but this time on the
side of the GOSL and against the LTTE.

There is the prior question of what the President has in mind to talk
to his Indian counterpart about. It will probably be about a
safety/security net, with Delhi deciding as to the circumstances in
which it will be activated.

All of this though points to a perspective that mirrors the LTTE in
the integration of a return to hostilities to effect a change in the
balance of power which in turn will be the basis for resumed talks.
Yet war has a dynamic of its own – Pirapaharan has espoused it
with some success; he cannot escape from it either unless he
recogniszes that the purely political is more important. The GOSL
on the other hand seems to be in the same zero-sum trap.

President Rajapakse must move fast and boldly if he is to pre-empt
a war he really does not want.