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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) >War Remains an Option Three Years After Cease-fire

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)


War Remains an Option Three Years After Cease-fire

22 February 2005

The Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) is the only reality of the peace process between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers. It was greeted with great expectations because it brought one of the hardest fought internal conflicts in South Asia to a temporary halt - and there's the rub.

That the temporary cessation of hostilities has lasted for three years should not be taken for granted. Firstly, it remains exactly that - a temporary halt to the war.Eternal optimists (we do need them) would celebrate that the CFA has lasted this long. But a realist has to shoulder the melancholy task of throwing light on those aspects which are lost sight of in the confounding peace polemics of this country.

If the most important thing about the ceasefire is that it has lasted for three years sans any major breakdown then it is also equally important that it has most singularly failed to transform itself into a permanent peace. It has neither produced nor evolved any basis at all for bringing the war to a permanent end.

Trying to score points over each other at this juncture with SLMM statistics is an absolutely futile exercise. The number of violations has nothing to do with the stability of the ceasefire because there is a conventional fighting force on either side of the line of control as defined by the CFA.  When and why these two forces would go to war is a strictly centralized decision of their respective leaderships and has nothing to do with the manner in which the CFA is violated. SLMM's ceasefire statistics do not tell us anything about war and peace. If the army says the LTTE has committed greater violations, then Tigers would say that the military has not fulfilled its pledges to vacate all public buildings, homes etc., and disarm paramilitaries.

Some Tamil critics would say that the CFA stands on one of the biggest hypocrisies perpetrated by the Sinhala polity. The CFA has absolutely no basis in the law of the land. It is indubitably unconstitutional. Yet, for three years the Sinhala polity has up with the CFA despite the ceaseless grumbling of assorted nationalists and the shrill warnings of Cassandras in the south.

Only a handful of Sinhala nationalists had the guts to urge the courts to declare it null and void. From the time the GOSL and the LTTE began talks to find a political solution to bring the war to a permanent end, the Tamils have argued it is perfectly possible for the Sinhala polity to agree on setting up an interim administrative structure outside the constitution on the same basis that the CFA was bestowed with a extra-legal status as solid as anything firmly anchored in the laws of the land.

But all the proposals for establishing some sort of a workable interim arrangement were shot down on the grounds that they were not consistent with the provisions of the constitution. The CFA enjoys an extra legal status because the no war situation suits the south. Even the voices of those who said it was an illegal document are muted today. So the consensus on the CFA seems almost universal in the Sinhala polity.

However, for three years the Tamil request to apply the same principle to establish an interim mechanism has been consistently and vehemently rejected. This is why it is said that the CFA stands as one of the biggest hypocrisies perpetrated on Tamils by the Sinhala polity.

In the past I have dwelt at some length on how the Liberation Tigers studied the possibility of how the GOSL could apply the CFA strategically to further the military policy of 'containment'. Pirapaharan entered into the cease fire agreement with the United National Party led government amid warnings in a section of the Tamil press and from the Diaspora that the CFA was designed to contain the military power of the Tigers under specific conditions for a period long enough to spark implosions in the movement.

A politically and administratively impotent LTTE that cannot deliver anything socially or economically concrete to the Tamils should, in theory, crumble inevitably if it is held for a sufficiently long time in a no war no peace situation. This is standard counter insurgency wisdom.

Tamil critics of the LTTE saw the GOSL's keenness to sustain the ceasefire despite its illegality while refusing to apply the same principle to create a joint interim mechanism for the northeast as part of this containment strategy.

This was perhaps why the many rounds of peace talks and continuous nudging by the US led coalition of countries, failed to activate Article 4.3 of the Memorandum of Understanding between the UNF and the LTTE which states: "This agreement may be amended and modified by mutual agreement of both parties. Such amendments shall be notified in writing to the Royal Norwegian Government".

During the first year of the CFA, there were very strong suggestions from local and foreign peace academics and NGOs that the CFA should be expanded on the basis of this provision to include human rights, political pluralism and confidence building measures (CBM) designed by them.

The LTTE, however, believed with some justification that modifying or expanding the CFA in the terms suggested by 'experts' were subtly aimed at undermining its 'sovereignty' in areas under its control. Also, the foreign and local peace academics who advocated this line were making a strong case against 'double taxation' in the northeast. In other words, they wanted to expand the CFA to create a body that would eventually interfere in the LTTE's revenue system in the name of human rights - the argument being that it is a violation of one's fundamental rights to be taxed for the same thing by the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE. The Tigers could be asked to stop taxing people in the northeast on the basis of a new provision of the expanded CFA until a devolved revenue system is implemented under a permanent political settlement.

Suggestions such as this from overzealous peace academics foreclosed any prospect of expanding the CFA at the time. This was so because the LTTE's oft stated position is that its armed forces constitute its main, if not sole, bargaining power; and hence any overt or subtle attempt to undermine the financial system necessary to maintain its armed forces in readiness would reduce its ability to secure a fair deal for the Tamil speaking people. Expanding the CFA to include confidence-building measures (CBMs) as suggested by sundry foreign experts was also viewed by the LTTE in the same manner.

Just as much as the LTTE needs money from the Tamils to sustain its conventional fighting capability, it also requires, quite essentially, their undivided support, their collective will and morale to keep the overall political environment necessary for maintaining its armed forces and administrative structures. Also the LTTE feels that it has to maintain the collective political will of the majority of the Tamils to bargain with the Sri Lankan state. If that political will were to be undermined in any manner and thereby Tamils get inured to the idea of settling within the unitary state, then the LTTE's political and military structures may faced a 'creeping redundancy'. The LTTE was wary of CBMs being introduced into the ceasefire process as they were seen as being designed to achieve this goal.

Therefore the LTTE was not inclined to welcome moves to expand the CFA in terms of CBMs. The LTTE studied such CBM's that were introduced into ceasefires in other conflict situations. "It was clear to us that some CBMs were flagrant pacification and psy-ops instruments", a source close to the Tigers was quoted as saying two years ago.

The broad parameters of the CFA are designed to stabilize the basis of the Sri Lankan state's sovereignty and territorial integrity, both of which were under serious challenge before the agreement was signed. In the final analysis, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka can be preserved only by radically restructuring the state. But the UNP and the UPFA have not been able to avail themselves of the CFA to achieve this peacefully, through dialogue and consistent engagement.
The CFA has failed utterly to build mutual confidence between the GOSL and the LTTE. It continues to rest on the balance of forces. The line of control is the only stark reality of the three-year old cease fire. Three years on, war remains an option.

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