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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2680

The Tigers’ Tactics

By Dayan Jayatilleka

If we are very lucky, India may actually practice the principle enunciated by its Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at the NAM summit in Havana that "there can be no equivocation on terrorism"- or at least not stand in our way as we practice it.

Expect a determined offensive or an attempt at one, by Velupillai Prabhakaran in the last quarter of this year. He is under pressure from three sources: the Sri Lankan military, the Karuna group and his own calendar. It is this last factor that makes it almost certain that he will launch an offensive fairly soon, which must either be pre-emptively disrupted or defeated, with decisive losses imposed upon him by the Sri Lankan armed forces which however must not fall into his trap through adventurism and over-extension.

Pressures on Prabhakaran

The calendar pressure does not come from the source it usually does for individuals: age. He is relatively young, 52, and can look forward to outlasting his opponents. The chronological pressure stems from twin dates: the 30th anniversary year of the founding of his Tigers, a year that draws to a close in a few months, and his upcoming Mahaveera Day speech on November 27th.

He made an aggressive pledge last year and needs to redeem that promise.

Secondly he must also have something to show before this anniversary year closes. Thirdly he needs to compensate for recent loses, and the resultant damage to his prestige.

This translates into five possibilities, four of them military, one psycho-political:

1. Dramatic military attacks in the North using his crack military units (e.g. the Charles Anthony brigade) and weapons which he has held in reserve.

2. Deep strikes in ‘the Sinhala heartland’ (such as the Anuradhapura, Katunayake and Rajagiriya raids).

3. High profile assassinations.

4. Hits on important economic targets.

5. Pushing the Government into premature negotiations thus breaking the offensive momentum of the Sri Lankan armed forces and causing disorientation in the ranks.

Tactic 5 - that of an international campaign for negotiations - is likely to be used as a prelude to tactics 1-4 or any combination of them. Expect the stage to be set for a Tiger offensive by political sabotage in the South through the emergence of a Bandaranaike breakaway faction (a decision taken in London, in consultation with old LTTE contacts?) perhaps coupled with Ranil breaking off the bipartisan talks.

Lankan Lines

Sri Lankan political society reveals three preferences or ‘lines’, but in reality there are only two, of which one is the most realistic and in consonance with the national interest. These are:

A negotiated settlement with Tigers even if it means giving into demands for troop pullback and accepting the ISGA as a basis of discussion and framework of settlement. This is the preference of the TNA, some elements of the international community (probably Norway), some sections of the UNP, the Southern peacenik NGO lobby, the Christian church hierarchs (not their flock, as evidence by voting patterns). If this were authentically a path to peace, the Tigers would not suspended talks in April 2003, boycotted Tokyo, resiled from the Oslo formulation on federalism and stopped the Tamils from voting for Ranil Wickremesinghe. Furthermore, this option runs up against majority opinion and the military balance of forces on the ground.

No negotiations with the Tigers unless they lay down arms, no CFA, no Norwegian facilitation, no SLMM, no autonomy/devolution. Simply de-merge and prosecute the war. This is the JVP-JHU position and may be the wet dream of all Sinhala hardliners (not even a quarter of the populace according to the latest opinion survey), but the Tigers are not going to lay down arms and no one in the world economy will bankroll a ‘double zero’ option: zero devolution-zero negotiation. It’s a non-option. We’ll be caught in a cash crunch, our economy will start to scream and the military offensive will grind to a halt.

No negotiations with the Tigers, or talks from strength, with stiff conditions and while keeping on fighting; generous devolution to the Tamils. The world community and neighbour India will probably not feel compelled to obstruct this course of action. This is the sole option that will give our armed forces the space to break the LTTE machine.

Parameters of the Political

The new survey conducted by the Marga Institute on behalf of the National Peace Council provides an invaluable guideline for Sri Lanka’s politicians and intellectuals engaged in a three tiered effort to find a solution for Sri Lanka’s decades-long ethnic problem. I refer to those in the bipartisan (SLFP-UNP) talks, the all parties Representatives Committee (the ‘experts group’) and the larger all parties’ conference.

Public opinion once again confirms that even in wartime, the Sri Lankan people are moderate, centrist and flexible. The extremes have been eschewed, both of pure militarism and warmongering on the one hand and appeasement and excessive autonomy on the other.

Only 21% are full-blooded hawks, standing for full scale war as a solution. This cannot but hearten the peaceniks, but is nonetheless a positive feature. Only the LTTE, or rather its leadership, seem to stand for all out war as a solution to the problem!

A majority prefer a negotiated settlement on the basis of an amended ceasefire agreement, a stronger role for the international community and reinforced international monitoring, and an interim or permanent settlement for maximum devolution short of federalism.

This is a reasonable and moderate position distinct from both the JVP-JHU line which calls for the unilateral tearing up of the CFA, rejection of any international role and any real devolution, as from that of the LTTE and its Southern fellow-travellers, the peaceniks, who always opposed a revision of the CFA and stood for talks on the basis of the LTTE’s ISGA which both Richard Armitage and Chris Patten decried as dissimilar to any kind of federalism (and is in fact a proposal for an armed confederation.)

Though the preference of the majority is for peace based on a revised CFA and a strengthened safety-net, (i.e. for the kind of deal that the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration should have insisted upon at the outset but did not), the problem is that the LTTE will not accede to a revised, fair and balanced CFA along the lines of agreements between armed insurgencies and democratic states throughout the world. The more pressing problem is that, even going by SLMM figures, the LTTE has been infinitely the worse violator of the CFA than the GOSL ( quadruple digits for the LTTE, triple digit violations for the GOSL), starting from the period in office of the ultra-dovish Ranil government.

In the face of such unremitting armed aggression including the murder of our Foreign Minister, the public preference for peace cannot be realised other than by a defensive war waged by the state. However, this alone will neither do, nor be consonant with public sentiment which is not for pure militarism.

The solution then has to be twin track: military and political, or to use a term popularised by Fidel almost half a century ago, politico-military. A one track or one dimensional solution, purely political, as advocated by the peaceniks and elements of the international community such as India and Norway, or purely military, as advocated by the JVP-JHU, is both unfeasible and undesirable. The next time India counsels us that a non-military, purely political, negotiated solution (‘talks’) is the only answer to the LTTE’s armed attacks, we should suggest that New Delhi tries this Gandhian approach with Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat–ul-Ansar and the Jaish–e-Mohammed, which have as serious and substantive an unresolved political grievance about Kashmir as the Tigers have about Tamils (and actually one of longer standing)!

The Marga-NPC opinion survey clearly demarcates the contours of a political solution or the political component of a solution. The maintenance of the status quo, a centralised unitary state, seems no longer the view held by the majority of our people. Similarly a federal solution is rejected, as is the (quasi-federal) Indian model, with a paltry 7% and 5% in favour of each. It is absurd to imagine that political education could transform this into a plurality in the foreseeable future, even if the year’s US defence budget were transferred to the National Peace Council, Marga, Centre for Policy Alternatives, ICES, and the National Anti War Front for a TV campaign consisting of hourly personal appearances by their leaders!

It would be argued that a partisan consensus for federalism between the two major political players would see it through, but with only a sliver of public opinion in favour at the moment, such a proposal would be acutely vulnerable to a JVP-JHU campaign for a resounding ‘no’ vote at a referendum, which would severely damage the credibility of the moderate centre and exponentially enhance that of the ideological extreme in Sri Lankan politics.

Federalism in any form is therefore a formula too far. What remains is a clear plurality for a non-federal yet extensive form of devolution which goes beyond the confines of a unitary framework. In other words an intermediate (not to be confused with interim) framework which goes beyond the unitary but stops short of the federal and is perhaps an admixture of both. It is easily understood as the politico-constitutional equivalent of a mixed economy and a non-aligned foreign policy, two Sri Lankan staples, the deviation from which under Sir John Kotelawala, JRJ and Ranil, generated much dissonance.

Such a generous devolution of powers which does not stray into the realm of the imprudently excessive must be combined with a quite similarly moderate solution to the question of the unit of devolution. A permanent merger of the existing Northern and Eastern provinces, without holding a referendum, was clearly untenable, and pointing this out in November 1988 to Kendall Hopmann in a full page interview in the Sunday Times, while suggesting either an internationally supervised referendum or a redemarcation of the provinces, was the beginning of my rift with the EPRLF and the North Eastern Provincial Council – so virulently did its leadership (Suresh Premachandran being one) react to my remarks! On the other hand an unconditional and unqualified de-merger of the two provinces with no compensation in terms of greater powers devolved would only gratify Sinhala sentiment while injuring those of most Tamils and causing apprehension in India.

The most feasible is a straight swap. This was suggested by the Mangala Moonesinghe parliamentary select committee: federalism for de-merger. Given that public opinion is clearly against federalism, this formula for a straight swap must now stand modified as enhanced devolution to two provinces; deeper devolution for de-merger. The solution that clearly emerges then is of maximum devolution of powers beyond the unitary status-quo but stopping short of federalism, to two councils rather than one. The fastest way to realize this would be to strengthen the existing provincial councils by transferring some of the powers of the over-padded concurrent list to the provinces.

- Asian Tribune -

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