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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 108

A Danger Signal

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Oh, public, laugh not too soon…”
Ernst Toller (Wotan Unchained)

The brazen attack on a group of Western diplomats by the LTTE and the intriguing reaction of the international community to that attack are timely reminders of a reality many of us would like to gloss over. The LTTE cannot be trusted to play by any book of rules; Vellupillai Pirapaharan (a.k.a. Sun God) works according to no code but his own. This makes a negotiated settlement with the Tigers impossibility, so long as Mr. Pirapaharan is alive (after all, the LTTE exited the negotiating table during the suicidally Tiger-friendly Ranil Wickremesinghe administration). The fact that the Tigers were able to launch an artillery attack on a supposedly secure location in Batticaloa demonstrates that the LTTE is not quite as weak and the East is not quite as cleared as the regime’s propaganda would have us believe. The insistence by the West on the resumption of the peace process even after the LTTE’s latest act of terror indicates that the most influential segment of the international community would not back the war, so long as it is unaccompanied by a political solution to the ethnic problem.

The LTTE’s claim of having no knowledge about the impending visit of the diplomats to Batticaloa is not only an insult to the intelligence of the rest of us but also an insult to its own intelligence gathering capacity. After all the Tigers knew, almost to the minute, the auspicious time for the opening of the regimental headquarters of the newly established Mechanised Infantry in Jaffna; therefore it is ridiculous to claim that they knew nothing about a non-secret visit by a group of Western diplomats to Batticaloa, simply because they were not officially informed of it. According to Iqbal Athas, the LTTE even knew that the original opening time of the regimental headquarters was put back by one hour; and its targeting was accurate enough to injure several of the officers who were participating in the ceremony (The Sunday Times – 18.2.2007). Therefore the only possible conclusion is that the LTTE knew about the visit of the diplomats, and used the opportunity to send a message, to Colombo and to the International Community.

The Eastern Reality

Col. Karuna told the Asian Tribune that the LTTE would have launched the attack because it wanted to show the diplomats that they cannot visit the East without its nod of accent. The LTTE also would have wanted to prove that it still retains considerable striking capacity in the East, despite its recent battlefield defeats. According to the Daily Mirror there was a mini-duel on the morning of the visit. “Despite the military publicly stating that the only attack to take place in the vicinity was on the previous night, the Daily Mirror has learnt that the LTTE had launched a mortar attack on the Air Force camp located two kilometers away from the Webber stadium, minutes prior to the helicopter landings. When contacted by the Daily Mirror STF Commandant Nimal Lewke confirmed there was an attack on the Air Force camp minutes before the helicopters with the diplomats landed at the Webber stadium which is under the control of the STF… When asked by the Daily Mirror if he was aware of any security threat just prior to the landing, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe responded in the negative adding that he was not informed of any attack even after his helicopter touched down” (Daily Mirror - 2.3.2007).

Given the obvious security threat, the visit should not have gone ahead. However the predicament of the regime too is understandable. The Lankan forces – with the backing of the Karuna group – have made many battlefield gains in the East; the Tigers have lost Sampur (which they encroached on, under cover of the CFA) and Vaharai. But the regime was not satisfied with this truth. It wanted more, and claimed that the Tiger was finished in the East (apart from the Thoppigala holdout). The military would have been cognisant of the fact that though the LTTE was not capable of waging conventional warfare in the East, it did retain the capacity to carry out guerrilla attacks, even spectacular ones.

Unfortunately, given the nature of their agenda and the exaggerated claims made to boost that agenda, the political leaders could not admit this reality. Postponing the visit due to security reasons would have seemed impossible to the regime because that would have been tantamount to admitting that the Tiger is not quite finished in the East. That is probably why the visit went ahead and even Minister Samarasinghe was not told about the possible security threat.

Stupidity, it is said, is the greatest crime. By permitting the visit we gave the Tigers an ideal opportunity to prove both a political and a military point. With their attack on a high security venue, the LTTE has shown that it is still a player in the East and that their striking prowess remains not inconsiderable. The Tigers have thus demonstrated beyond doubt that they are not a spent force even in the East, let alone the North. They cannot hold territory or gain territory in the East (thanks in part to the Karuna factor) but they can attack almost anywhere, anytime. And obviously, when the battle for the North commences, the Tigers would be able harass us sufficiently in the East, to become a major headache if not a serious military problem.

Negotiations vs. Devolution

The reaction of the Western governments and the UN to the attack was also equally revealing. They condemned the attack but not the attackers – which is their usual reaction to any Tiger depredation. And they demanded not retaliation or punishment but a cessation of hostilities by both sides. The LTTE’s brazen act of terrorism thus did not help us to get out of the negotiations trap; if at all, it made things worse, because with its attack the LTTE proved the correctness of the assertion made by the American Ambassador only a few days ago – that the separatist problem cannot be solved militarily without addressing the ‘legitimate grievances’ of the Tamil people. In the coming weeks and months the demands for negotiations will grow; and as the war drags on (anyone who expects a short, sharp war and a conclusive victory in the North is being delusional) our capacity to withstand that pressure will also diminish – due to financial and other constraints.

It is to be hoped that the international community will learn a lesson about the nature of the LTTE from the Batticaloa attack. The fact that the LTTE attacked the Webber Stadium in gross disregard of the safety of the diplomats demonstrates why negotiations with the LTTE will never work. The LTTE does not play by any rule; normal logic and rationality do not work in its case; and it cannot be trusted. Its international equivalent is not the PLO or the IRA or even Hamas but Al Qaida. Consequently any deal with the Tigers is bound to fail, even if Colombo is willing to bend over backwards and concede everything but de jure Eelam. Negotiations will fail because of the nature of the Tiger, because its worldview is based on Tiger logic. And according to that logic endangering the lives of diplomats from key Western countries was worth the risk to prove a couple of points (the killing of Rajiv Gandhi was another outcome of this same Tiger logic).

The LTTE will violate any deal, anytime it deems such a violation necessary. This is something the world needs to understand. There has to be a political component; but that political component cannot be a deal with the Tigers. It can and must be a power sharing proposal for the Tamils based on democratic devolution; it must be generous enough to satisfy the moderate Tamils and to make the Tiger call for separation and the struggle to achieve that aim seem superfluous (if there is federalism or quasi federalism very few Tamils would want to die for or even give money to the cause of Eelam). The international community should use its influence not to push the government to another pointless round of negotiations with the LTTE (which cannot but end in another vicious bout of warfare) but to expedite the APC process and come up with a satisfactory power sharing formula for the Tamils, even as military operations against the Tigers continue.

The SLFP is expected to come up with its much delayed devolution proposal in about a week. It is hoped that this promise will be kept but doubts cannot but obtrude about the regime’s capacity and willingness to devolve power to the Tamils. The induction of the UNPers has not strengthened the moderates within the government, as was expected. The UNP defectors seem to be without real power or even influence within the government. On the other hand the induction of the JHU seems to have strengthened the extremists within the government. The JHU remains opposed to a devolution package and whether the President has the will and the capacity to override the objections of the hardliners within his own camp remains to be seen. After all it is easy to unleash forces of extremism but not to easy to put them back on the leash - as the unfortunate fate of SWRD Bandaranaike demonstrates.

The LTTE can become the sole representative of the Tamils in one of two ways. One is by murdering all anti-LTTE Tamil leaders. The other is by getting the anti-Tiger Tamils to discredit themselves totally in the eyes of the Tamils. Therefore the LTTE would want the Tamil people to feel that they can never get a fair deal from the government and that the anti-Tiger Tamils are either incapable of or uninterested in addressing their grievances. The continued absence of a political solution weakens the anti-Tiger Tamils by discrediting them in the eyes of their own people and the international community. The danger is not inconsiderable that Mahinda Rajapakse would do to the anti-Tiger Tamils what he did to Karu Jayasuriya – and in the process boost the sole-representative claim of Vellupillai Pirapaharan just as he safeguarded the sole-leadership claims of Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Dynasty II?

The Bandaranaike administrations had a craze for naming buildings and roads after SWRD and Sirima Bandaranaike. President Rajapakse seems to be emulating that example. Perhaps naming his election manifesto ‘Mahinda Chinthana’ was an omen of things to come – since it is the first time a major political party named its election manifesto after its leader/Presidential candidate. There is Mihin Air; the housing programme of the government is named ‘Mihindu Sevana’ and the infrastructure development programme is named ‘Mahinda Randora’. During the days of the United Front Mrs. Bandaranaike promoted her son Anura; a similar operation seems to be in place concerning the eldest son of the President. The young man is heading a new youth organisation called ‘Tharunyata Hetak’ (‘A Tomorrow for Youth); it is not known whether this is purely a private initiative or a para-state entity funded by public monies. This week Colombo was infested with brightly coloured posters announcing that this organisation is sponsoring the construction of a new international cricket stadium in Hambantota and that the foundation stone will be laid by ‘Hon. Namal Rajapakse’ (despite the presence of several senior ministers including the Sports Minister). Is this an indication as to whose heta (tomorrow) Tharunyata Hetak is promoting? Will we have to proclaim, ere long: The (Bandaranaike) Dynasty is dead; Long live the (Rajapakse) Dynasty!?

- Asian Tribune -

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