LTTE will negotiate only with Parity of
27 January 2004
Mr. Anton Balasingham says that the India Sri Lanka Defence
Co-operation Agreement (DCA) will "upset the balance of forces to
the disadvantage of the LTTE". The Tigers have accused Prime
Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of trying to tilt the military
equilibrium by weaving an international safety net.
I formulated the concept of the balance of forces between the LTTE
and the Sri Lankan armed forces as the basis for the ceasefire
agreement in a paper presented at a conference in Switzerland in
April 2002. (Lt. Gen. Gerry de Silva presented the Army's point of
view. But Chatham House rules prevent me from discussing details of
the matter here).
I argued that the LTTE leadership decided to start negotiations with
the Government of Sri Lanka because they were unequivocally
satisfied by December 2000 that they had achieved a strategic parity
with the Sri Lankan armed forces and were in a position to sustain
that parity, barring an overwhelming and sustained external military
Why does the LTTE deem strategic parity so necessary for sustaining
the ceasefire? - Or indeed the whole peace process itself?
Everyone who firmly and unshakably believes that Prabhakaran is an
irredeemable militarist/terrorist would find it hard to swallow my
explanation that the concept of strategic parity has a fundamentally
political dimension to it. (They might rather continue to indulge in
the rather comforting view that the LTTE leader was so terrified by
the wrath of America after September 11 that he sued unconditionally
Here one should emphasise that the Tigers consider military power
first and foremost as a means to negotiate political ends. To
negotiate effectively one should have a clear understanding of the
'negotiating behaviour' of one's opponent.
What has been the GOSL's negotiating behaviour in the past? It has
either entered negotiations if and when it felt that it could
effectively water down Tamil demands or when it was under strong
There have been only two instances in which the GOSL actually
implemented 'solutions' - one was the District Development Councils,
the other was the Provincial Councils. The former is an instance of
the watering down the Tamil negotiating position to fit perfectly
into the unitary state structure and the latter is an instance of
responding to unavoidable military pressure.
The TULF asked the Tamils in the northeast for a mandate to
establish a separate sovereign state in 1977, entered into
negotiations with the GOSL and three years later came back with the
District Development Council idea which was a silly travesty of
devolution. The threat of Indian invasion made J.R. Jayewardene sign
the Indo Lanka Accord, under which the Provincial Councils were
Therefore the LTTE sees military pressure as being essential to
critically influence the GOSL's negotiating behaviour. The converse
of this is that the GOSL would seek total surrender and elimination
of all legitimate Tamil aspirations if it has internally
unchallengeable military prowess.
This argument tends to hold water with many Tamils. What did the
President do when the LTTE declared a ceasefire unilaterally on
December 24, 2000? She rejected it out of hand, imperiously and
rashly. She did it every time the LTTE extended the ceasefire until
It was obvious that she was rejecting the LTTE ceasefire because she
was confident (or made to feel so) that the Agni Khiela Operation
for which the military was making major preparations during the
ceasefire was going to succeed.
LTTE commanders often state that if the Agni Khiela offensive had
succeeded then President Kumaratunga would have ordered the army to
move on towards Elephant Pass and hence relegated the question of
starting peace talks to the backburner.
Norway, wittingly or unwittingly, provided a singular window of
opportunity to the military for planning the offensive and for
achieving a concentration of forces in Jaffna.
The LTTE ceasefire, declared unilaterally as a goodwill gesture on
the eve of Christmas in December 2000 consequent to discussions with
Norwegian facilitators helped the military gather together some of
its best but war battered divisions and train for four months in
Jaffna, unhampered by distracting force deployments that may have
otherwise been necessitated by offensives and attacks by the
Liberation Tigers in the northeast.
The army may not have been able to achieve the necessary
concentration of force to launch Op. Agni Khiela if not for this
window of opportunity that was opened by the LTTE's ceasefire.
Norway, Britain and the US were not unaware of the preparations for
the offensive by the SLA.
Sri Lankan armed forces commanders insisted at the time that the
southern parts of Jaffna had to be recaptured from the Tigers to
ensure Colombo's hold on the peninsula. They particularly wanted to
deny the LTTE the only all weather over land supply route to the
peninsula at Elephant Pass (EPS).
Undisputed control over the EPS causeway, the coast between
Chundikulam and Nagar Kovil and the terrain in Pallai for
concentration of forces had, in their eyes, tilted the overall
strategic balance of the Eelam War, at least geographically, in the
Historically, the southern parts of Jaffna have been its Achilles
Heel. In colonial and pre-colonial times, military forces from the
mainland intent on capturing Jaffna entrenched themselves in the
Pachchilaipalli Division, encompassing Pallai and Iyakkachchi,
before launching their main thrust into the peninsula.
On 16 September 1628 when a large force from the mainland entered
Pachchilaipalli and dug in there against the Portuguese rulers of
Jaffna, the greater part of the Tamils in Jaffna are said to have
joined the invaders who were hence able to swiftly advance on the
Fort and lay siege to it for 13 days. The Portuguese were threatened
similarly the next year too. They were able to hold the peninsula
only because they defeated the encamped mainland forces in
"He who holds Elephant Pass owns Jaffna", said Balraj, one of LTTE's
most senior military commanders, addressing a public meeting in the
Vanni last year. Another key aspect of the balance of forces that
the LTTE was able to achieve before it decided to declare a
ceasefire unilaterally in December 2000 was its hold on southern
Much has been written about the threat posed to Trincomalee harbour
by LTTE forces in Mutur. Prabhaharan's hold on Trincomalee and Mutur
and the necessary concentration of forces that he has massed (or can
potentially mass) in these strategic vantage points define the
strategic parity that underpins his negotiating strategy.
This is a critical check on any move by the GOSL to tilt the balance
of forces on the ground in its favour. The LTTE leader is
negotiating with a firm grip on the jugulars of Jaffna and
Trincomalee. The India Sri Lanka Defence Agreement will do naught to
loosen the grip.
If they have any understanding of these matters, the President and
Prime Minister should re-start negotiations as soon as possible
without letting the winds of political change in the south close the
valuable window of opportunity the LTTE will hold open as long as it
is certain of sustaining the strategic parity it achieved at great