War Remains an Option Three Years After
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.