Demobilising is Irrelevant to Peace
21 September 2002
In his speech at the inaugural sessions of the peace talks
between the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers
of Thamil Eelam (LTE) in Thailand, Prof. G. L Peiris said he
welcomed efforts by the LTTE to transform itself into a political
organisation. In Colombo, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, says that
the United National Front (UNF) government should get guarantees
from the LTTE that it would lay down arms and renounce violence.
In fact she is stating quite plainly what Prof. Peiris ventured to
Dr. Anton Balasingham laid the matter to rest on Wednesday during
the press conference at the end of the first round of talks in
Thailand. Answering a question whether disarming the LTTE was taken
up during the discussions, he said:
“You know very well both parties- the government of Sri Lanka and
the LTTE - have two standing armies, two navies and this is the
first time a stable ceasefire has been established. Your question of
disarming and decommissioning the LTTE will not arise until we reach
a permanent settlement that will satisfy the aspirations of Tamil
There are a host of liberal democratic intellectuals who are also
clamouring that a commitment from the Tigers, at least in principle,
on demobilisation should be in the agenda of the when the peace
talks reach the ‘substantive’ stage.
During a visit to Batticaloa, the British High Commissioner Linda
Duffield went as far as to assert that the LTTE should make an open
declaration that it will renounce violence.
Basically all are making a case after their own fashion that the
LTTE should recognise the sole right of the Sri Lanka army to bear
arms and use them to achieve military objectives as directed by the
Sri Lankan state.
The British High Commissioner was bold enough to presume that her
audience was na´ve enough not to grasp the implication of her
If the LTTE were to renounce violence it would be automatically
recognising the sole right of the Sri Lanka army to wield armed
The fundamental and defining character of the Tamil question is that
it is challenge to the Sri Lankan state’s monopoly on violence, its
sole right to raise, arm and deploy an army.
As we all know the modern state stands on three cornerstones – the
monopoly on violence (the army), the monopoly on extortion (revenue)
and the monopoly on adjudication (the unified legal system).
Democracy is a game played on the field demarcated by these three
cornerstones and by the symbols and interests of those who hold
The provenance of modern nation states in 18th century Europe and
the consolidation of colonial rule in India and Sri Lanka in the
19th century would prove this beyond any doubt from a historical
perspective.The Tamil grievance is that the Sri Lankan state is a
Sinhala-Buddhist state; that it is so defined by its entrenched
unitary character, the primacy of ‘Sinhala-Buddhism’ as state
religion and Sinhala as the official language, all guaranteed in the
Therefore the Sinhala-Buddhist state would inherently and inexorably
be inclined to abuse its monopoly on violence, i.e. the sole right
it enjoys to raise, arm and deploy an armed force in Sri Lanka, to
promote only the interests of the Sinhala nation. One cannot blame
the Buddhist clergy for acting and speaking in the belief that the
Sri Lankan armed forces should champion the Sinhala Buddhist cause.
The view that Tamils’ rights could be ensured only by challenging
the Sri Lankan state’s sole right to wield violence gained currency
after it deployed the army to suppress the Federal Party’s
non-violent Satyagraha campaign in 1961.
The anti-Tamil pogroms of 1977 and 1983 entrenched the belief that
the Sri Lankan state’s sole right to raise and deploy military force
had to be effectively challenged not merely to ensure the legitimate
political rights of the Tamils, but more fundamentally to secure
their inalienable right to life as members of a specific community.
Ultimately, the modern nation-state’s monopoly on violence within
its territory can be justified (though cosmetically) only by the
right to life it can guarantee to all its citizens, regardless of
their ethnic or religious or other allegiances.
By the extensive use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the
Emergency Regulations, the Sri Lankan state did everything over the
last two decades to convince the Tamils that the military challenge
was inevitable to protect and ensure their fundamental rights and
the right to life.
It also did everything over the same period to entrench the belief
among the Tamils that it would even consider their basic political
aspirations only when its monopoly on violence is under serious
threat. It agreed to limited regional autonomy only after India
threatened an invasion in 1987.
Everyone, except the die-hard Sinhala supremacists, knows that the
‘Sri Lankan state’ is talking to the Tigers in Thailand because the
Sri Lanka army was beaten back when it attempted to recapture Palai,
(and thence, Elephant Pass) in April 2001.
Amal Jeyasingha, the AFP correspondent in Colombo says in a story he
filed on 15 September, “Retired army brigadier general Vipul Boteju
believes it is the military strength of the Tigers that forced the
government to talk with them with the help of Norwegian peace
brokers. ‘If the army was even half an inch taller than the Tigers,
the talks would not have been necessary,’ Boteju said.”
Today the stark fact is that every fundamental freedom enjoyed by
the Tamils in the northeast has been secured by the sheer military
power of the LTTE’s armed forces.
This is why the fundamental freedom to travel unhindered, the to
worship freely, the right to education in a fear-free environment,
the right to cultivate one’s land and to fish, the right to medicine
and sanitation were all part of a ceasefire deal negotiated by the
As we have pointed out on many occasions, the most sophisticated
arguments by Tamil politicians about the evils of the draconian PTA
and their peaceful Parliamentary agitations for its removal for 23
years fell on deaf ears and had no effect. It took the military
power of the LTTE to compel the Sri Lankan state to lift it even
temporarily under the ceasefire agreement.
And many Tamils, including senior members of the groups opposed to
the Tigers, believe the LTTE’s conventional military power and its
well-demonstrated ability to strike in Colombo is the main deterrent
against any future anti-Tamil pogrom.
In this manner military power has become central to the political
being of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Any attempt to deny this before
the right of self-determination is realised would mean war. But of
course if the right to self-determination is negotiated successfully
then the question of demobilisation becomes irrelevant.