Looking beyond provocation and restraint

by Dr. Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu

Restraint, so far, on the part of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL)
following the sinking of the Dvora with the loss of 13 navy personnel last
week is to be commended. Likewise the President’s repeated statements
that he and his government are committed to the peace process and
cease fire and that his patience should not be seen as weakness.

Fair enough. However as this columnist has pointed out before, the
government is in danger of being caught between restraint and retaliation
in the absence of a clear and coherent policy.

This is what the President needs to address. Or else he will be dragged
into a war he says he does not want and which others believe he does
not want just yet, because his security forces are just not ready.

Pirapaharan will not let up on raising the stakes. He will relentlessly
provoke the security forces and the GOSL until they act according to his
script. This means retaliation and atrocity, demonstrating beyond any
doubt that the security forces constitute an army of occupation and
providing the casus belli for further provocation and full scale, if limited

The challenge therefore is to get to the table — the hackneyed mantra of
all those who want to avert a return to war. Yet getting to the table
requires preparation for the talks that ensue preparation that is guided
and informed by a strategic perspective and vision of where the
government wants to get to, at what costs and how.

I reiterate this simply because talks about the CFA will defuse tension in
the short term, but raise them yet again in the medium term, if they are
not going anywhere in particular. In this situation, the return to war will be
assured, as both sides will have concluded that a change to the balance
of power on the ground through a return to hostilities is the only way to
advance any negotiating process.

Ensuring that talks about the CFA are productive requires constructive
positions on the key articles – 1.8 and 2.1. Ducking these issues or
brushing them under the carpet will amount to a sham and only very thinly
mask the desire on both sides to continue with the dirty little war.

The attitude towards the LTTE, of using Karuna to weaken it so that a
negotiated settlement nearer the southern hardline can be obtained, will
be about as successful as that of appeasing it or of hoping that money
can do what arms and negotiations have not – make the Tigers more
moderate by making the environment they operate in more materialist.

What is the government’s policy on Karuna ? How long can it insist that
there is no comfort, succour and support afforded to the Karuna group
without irretrievably discrediting its bona fides vis –a –vis the peace
process? The government’s JHU/JVP allies have defined their positions
on peace as the championship of the unitary state and in doing so either
reinforced the hardline position of the President or forced him into one.

The acid test for this will come no doubt at some point in the future. Not
right now. What is the JVP/JHU position on the CFA and on Karuna ? Will
they impede or facilitate the government arriving at a position on this,
since it is the CFA that will be discussed before anything else.

One hopes that these questions are being asked and addressed in the
portals of government, in the event the much reviled Norwegians can get
the two sides to the table at some destination/s around the globe.

And what of Pirapaharan and his strategy or lack thereof ?

Pirapaharan has a strategy, but it is in danger of being fatally flawed in
that it could result in horrendous death and destruction in the north east
and without the resultant sympathy of the international community that will
pave the way for him to go his own way with the northeast. Indeed, his
strategy of provocation will mark him out as the aggressor in the eyes of
the international community. They may have no compunction in lifting
prohibitions on lethal technology to deal with him as yet another terrorist.

The victims of course will be as always the civilians who in turn may ask
themselves the question, if they have not been doing so already, as to
whether there is a growing divergence between their interests and those
of Pirapaharan and his organisation. Can he deliver unto them anything
more than war and all its horrors ? And is this the case purely and simply
because of the intransigence and majoritarianism of the Sri Lankan state
? Does he have to answer for this ? Should he ?

It looks like two sides are going to war because they do not have the wit
or imagination to do anything else. And they both claim mandates,
second to none. I am sure that in both cases the mandate is not for war
and this is the point of departure for policy. No war has to be translated,
indeed transformed into a strategy for peace, with justice and democracy.
That continues to be the challenge.