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Sunday, May 29, 2022
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SRI LANKA

One Nation, Two Systems And Two Armies?

Insurgencies versus terrorism and negotiating with the perpetrators -- lessons from J&K and north-east vis a vis Sri Lanka

One Nation, Two Systems And Two Armies?
One Nation, Two Systems And Two Armies?
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

In his broadcast  to the Sri Lankan Tamils on the occasion of the so-called Heroes' Day on November 27, 2002, Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, indicated its willingness to search for a political solution to the Sri Lankan Tamil problem which, while not conceding its original demand for an independent Tamil State called Eelam, would assure the Tamils considerable autonomy and self-rule.  At the same time, he hinted that it could resume its struggle for an independent Eelam if its expectations in this regard were belied by its current talks with the Sri Lankan Government, of which two rounds were held in Thailand and the third is being held in Oslo, Norway,  in the first week of December, 2002.

He said: "We are prepared to consider favourably a political framework that offers substantial regional autonomy and self-government in our homeland on the basis of our right to internal self-determination.  But if our people's right to self-determination is denied and our demand for regional self-rule is rejected, we have no alternative other than to secede and form an independent State. "

Despite the publicity hype which preceded the broadcast and the subsequent euphoria with even Sri Lankan Government sources hailing the speech as marking a paradigm shift, there was nothing sensationally new in the speech.  He merely reiterated what Anton Balasingham, the leader of the LTTE delegation to the talks with the Sri Lankan Government, had stated after the  talks started in Thailand.  Neither Balasingham nor Prabakaran has spelt out so far what they meant by self-rule and autonomy for what they continue to describe as the Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.

Before assessing the progress of the talks and discussing the prospects for their success in finding a mutually acceptable political solution, certain general observations would be in order.  The LTTE, unlike the Islamic terrorist organisations active in India's Jammu & Kashmir which rely exclusively on terrorism to achieve their political objective, employs a mix of insurgency and terrorism in the pursuit of its political objective.  In this respect, it resembles the insurgent organisations active in India's North-Eastern tribal belt.

There are some qualitative differences between the modus operandi (MO) of an exclusively insurgent organisation and that of an exclusively terrorist organisation. An exclusively insurgent organisation avoids deliberate attacks on innocent civilians.  It confines its attacks largely to the security forces and other Government personnel and seeks territorial control.  In the territory controlled by it, it tries to set up the paraphernalia of a State or Government structure in the form of tax collection, policing and judicial machineries.  It avoids causing undue suffering to the community on behalf of which it claims to be fighting.  It organises its fighting cadres on the pattern of a conventional army with a hierarchical   structure.

An exclusively terrorist organisation, on the other hand, relies totally on terror to intimidate the Government against which it is fighting and the majority community into conceding its demands. It is insensitive to the hardships caused by it to its community.  It avoids control of territory and the creation of the paraphernalia of a conventional State and army structure to maintain the flexibility of its operational methods.

The Nagas and the Mizos in India's north-eastern tribal belt, in the initial stages of their revolt against the Government of India, had managed to set up such control over part of the territory and  a paraphernalia of a State structure and a conventional army. Through effective counter-insurgency  operations, the Government Security Forces managed to deprive the insurgents of their territorial control and decimate the infrastructure of their so-called Government and Army, forcing their leaders to seek sanctuary in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in the then East Pakistan.

The attempts of the insurgents to maintain instability in the tribal areas through hit and run raids organised from their sanctuaries in the CHT with the help of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)  were effectively countered, thereby making it clear to the insurgents that they would never be able to achieve their objective through violence.

Once this realisation sunk in, the Mizo and the Naga insurgents sought peace talks with the Government of India, which led to a political solution in Mizoram in the 1980s.  In Nagaland too, agreement was reached with a major section of the insurgents, but a minor section constituting the faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) led by Issac Swu and T. Muivah is still negotiating with the Government and has not yet formally given up the insurgency, but it has been observing a cease-fire.

During the negotiations phase relating to both Mizoram and Nagaland, the Government of India took care to avoid any statement, action or gesture, which might have consciously or unwittingly accorded to the insurgents or allowed them to claim an equality of status with the State of India and its Government. 

The negotiations were carried on largely by senior bureaucrats or non-Governmental intermediaries designated by the Government, but the political leadership of New Delhi never formally entered the picture, though there were occasions when the insurgent leaders were allowed to make a courtesy call on the Indian Prime Minister at a place and under circumstances decided upon by the Government and not dictated by the insurgents. 

While respecting and maintaining the dignity of the insurgent leaders, the Government of India refrained from any action or gesture which might have given them a larger than life-size image.  The Government persuaded the insurgents to wind up  their infrastructure , including their so-called Army, and surrender  their weapons as part of the over-all political settlement in Mizoram and is seeking to do the same thing during the current negotiations with the NSCN faction. 

During the entire negotiations process, the Government of India firmly ruled out any role by foreign intermediaries or facilitators, Governmental or non-governmental, though in the initial stages of the Naga revolt in the 1950s some foreign Christian missionaries such as Rev. Michael Scott did seek to play a role as facilitators of a solution without being discouraged by Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister.

The situation in Sri Lanka is not comparable to the one India faced in its North-East. The LTTE has managed to achieve a military capability, the like of which none of the insurgent groups in India's North-East could ever achieve despite the generous assistance and sanctuaries provided to them by Pakistan's ISI and the intelligence services of Bangladesh. The LTTE's fighting capability has been kept sustained by the back-up support received by it from  the large Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora spread across the Western world. 

There is no such Naga or Mizo diaspora outside India's North-East and the bordering areas of Myanmar on which the insurgents could have relied.  Despite the support received by the Sri Lankan Government from the international community in its fight against the LTTE, its Security Forces were not able to decimate the State-like  and military infrastructure set up by the LTTE in the areas under its effective control.  The LTTE came to the negotiating table not because it realised once for all that resort to violence is futile, but because it felt that in the post-9/11 situation, continued resort to violence would be counter-productive and that it enjoyed no support in the international community for its demand for an independent Eelam.

The negotiating techniques adopted by Ranil Wickremasinghe, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, are markedly different from those followed by the Government of India.  He has encouraged an active role by Government officials of Norway as facilitators.  This role was initially accepted by President Chandrika Kumaratunga when her party was in power and has been kept sustained by him. 

In his anxiety for an early political solution, he has made extravagant political gestures to the LTTE such as his appearing on the same platform as Balasingham in last month's Oslo conference for seeking the commitment of the international community for the economic rehabilitation and development of the affected areas and designating senior Ministers of his Government to hold the negotiations with the LTTE delegation led by Balasingham. 

In terms of protocol, one has an impression, rightly or wrongly, that it is the LTTE which has been dictating the terms, with little resistance by the Government to accepting them. In the process, he has unwittingly accorded to the LTTE an equality of status with the State and Government of Sri Lanka. From this could arise the seeds of an eventual  failure of the talks to achieve a mutually acceptable political solution.

Despite one's mental reservations on these points, it would be churlish to deny that the talks have so far proceeded well.  There is publicly-acknowledged mutual esteem between the two sides and the talks have established a mutual comfort level, which bode well for the immediate future.  A number of agreements has been reached on points such as improving the security situation on the ground, humanitarian relief and development, removing the concerns of the Muslims of the Eastern Province etc. 

However, satisfaction over the initial gains should not obscure the fact that the talks so far have not yet started to grapple with the thorny issue of bringing about a convergence of views between the two sides on the future political  and administrative dispensation in the Tamil-inhabited Northern and Eastern Provinces. The prospects for such convergence would depend on the following factors:
 

  • The willingness of the Sri Lankan Government to concede the kind of political and administrative autonomy the LTTE has in mind. It has not yet spelt out what exactly it has in mind.

  • The readiness of the LTTE to agree to the merger of its administrative infrastructure in the areas controlled by it with the over-all infrastructure of the State of Sri Lanka and give up its political primacy in the Tamil areas established with the gun in favour of political pluralism sanctified by genuinely free and fair elections.

  • The preparedness of the LTTE to wind up its Army and surrender its weapons holdings, which are still considerable, to the Army of the State of Sri Lanka.

  • The confidence of the Muslims that their lives and interests would be protected in an autonomous Tamil State dominated by the LTTE  and their willingness to give up their past demands for the bifurcation of the Eastern Province in order to create a separate administrative unit for the Muslim-majority areas, to be ruled from Colombo.
The ability of the Government of Wickremasinghe to sell the concessions proposed to be made by it to the LTTE to the Sinhalese majority and of the Muslim political leaders to similarly persuade their followers to accept any political compromise without aggravating the trends towards a radicalisation of the Muslim youth, under the influence of Osama bin Laden and the radical Muslim organisations of Malaysia.  Such trends are already visible and contributed to the tensions in the Eastern Province earlier this year, which have, fortunately, been brought under control for the present.

The greatest hurdle to an eventual agreement would be the future of the LTTE's administrative infrastructure, Army and weapons holdings.  The LTTE is not a defeated or checkmated organisation negotiating under weakness.  It is an organisation, which has repeatedly held its own against the Sri Lankan Army.  It has come to the table with its motivation and capability intact.  It has realised that the post-9/11 international public opinion does not favour either its objective of an independent Tamil State or its use of violence to achieve its objective. 

It would want a settlement under which the gains which, in its perception, it has already made on the ground are safeguarded. There are indicators that what it has probably in mind is an "one State, two systems and two Armies" formula under which in return for its accepting the de jure unity of Sri Lanka, Colombo would concede to the Tamils a status bordering on independence without de jure separation.

It would be difficult to predict at present whether a convergence of views overcoming these obstacles would ultimately arise and, if so, how long it would take.  One has to remember that despite the favourable (to New Delhi) circumstances under which the Government of India entered into negotiations in Mizoram and Nagaland, it took almost 10 years of negotiations for a mutually acceptable settlement to emerge in Mizoram.  The negotiations with the NSCN have already been on for more than three years, but an agreement is not yet in sight. 


(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai)

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