Going back to war

By Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu

Despite the hope held out of a meeting in Japan to discuss the
implementation of the CFA, there is every likelihood of a return to hostilities in
the short term, with the main actors hoping that such a return would be a
clarifying and catalytic act with regard to a resumption of negotiations under a
changed balance of forces.

Whilst the change in attitude of the Rajapakse administration is to be
welcomed — a meeting outside Sri Lanka to discuss the implementation of the
CFA – there is insufficient evidence to indicate that the talks, if they are to
happen, would reach a positive conclusion.

Consequently hopes would be raised and then dashed. The reason for this is
the absence of the necessary policy change required on both sides to engage
in an honest and constructive discussion on the CFA.

Any such discussion would have to focus on the two articles that go to the
heart of the matter of the credibility and durability of the CFA – Articles 1.8 and

The former deals with the disbanding of para-militaries of which the LTTE
insists the Karuna faction is one, aided and abetted by the GOSL as their
proxies in a war with the LTTE, and the latter with the treatment of civilians and
human rights. Failure to deal with the Karuna group issue would effectively
sanction the dirty little war that has been going on between it and the LTTE
and likewise the human rights situation and treatment of civilians.

This would continue to rob the CFA of the public support and legitimacy it
requires throughout the country if it is to be the basis upon which a peace
process can be advanced.

It is highly unlikely that the LTTE would agree to bring the Karuna faction
under the aegis of the CFA as an independent actor. They would insist on the
GOSL taking responsibility for it and the GOSL would in turn, refuse to do so
as it would reveal the extent and nature of its relationship with the Karuna

On the human rights front, the LTTE would raise the issue of a holistic
approach which includes collective, economic and social rights apart from the
narrowly civil and political as seen from their perspective. The question of self
determination as a collective human right and the High Security Zones are
bound to be raised if the discussions even encompass Article 2.1.

Therein lies the recipe for deadlock and stalemate and therein lies the
rationale for the argument that a bout of war would be considered by the two
sides as catalytic and clarifying for a more productive return to the negotiating

It would seem that the LTTE in particular, is interested in creating a fait
accompli on the ground through military means to effect a balance of forces in
their favour for a resumption of negotiations thereafter. Therefore, as with the
killings of the 15 soldiers in the space of three days, increased provocation on
the ground and pressure on the High Security Zones mounted by front
organisations and civilian auxiliaries could be expected.

The objective would be the removal of the ‘army of occupation’ in Jaffna.

Caught in a spiral of provocation, the LTTE hopes that the government in
effect put into power in the south, would react as anticipated and desired, with
force. Were this not to happen, they would be forced into forcing the
resumption of hostilities in turn.

This signals a return to the methods the LTTE is familiar and comfortable with.
From their perspective, as revealed in the Maaveerar and Balasingham
speeches, the emphasis on the political which they placed through their
participation in the peace talks, culminating with the ISGA proposal, has
yielded nothing beyond entrapment in the international safety and security net.

The use of force is what has always attracted attention, created the conditions
for political dialogue and effected the overall balance of power desired. A fait
accompli on the ground would be the objective – international opinion, be it
termed ‘constructive sanctions’ including further proscription would come
around to ‘constructive engagement,’ if the international community is
interested in and committed to a peace process in Sri Lanka.

The one factor that could inhibit, deter and/or prevent this scenario from
unfolding is the weather. The media reports indicate that the security forces
need another three months to accomplish their military preparedness. The
LTTE is unlikely to wait for this, but the weather could affect the movement of

In the meantime, if there is to be one, President Rajapakse may well
commence his all-party conferences in the south, reminiscent of the
Jayewardene and Premadasa eras. A return to hostilities or not, these could
be prolonged and ultimately futile exercises if they are to be conducted within
the framework of the unitary state and some reactivation and elaboration of
the 13th Amendment.

This is when and where the real acid test of the refashioning of electoral
alliances with the JVP and JHU, and the limits of the President’s pragmatism
wouldcome into operation.

Indeed, pragmatism is to be welcomed; just as important is recognising its
limits. This conflict is not going to be resolved in a mere exercise of ‘problem
solving;’ it requires a paradigm shift on both sides. Dual transformation, of the
LTTE to entering the democratic mainstream and of the GOSL sincerely
espousing federalism, is what this entails.

Conflict resolution and transformation have come to the point in Sri Lanka
where a resort to arms is being incorporated into the process, as a sometimes
necessary agent of momentum and change.
[Morning Leader]