SL Government's speak soft, hit hard policy
10 June 1992
“The security forces have been deployed to disarm militants
carrying weapons (in the northeast). It is a dual political
military strategy that the government is adopting” – Ranil
Wickremesinghe; Cabinet Press briefing 4th June 1992.
Speak soft and hit hard; this is the President’s approach. The
JVP was successfully destroyed. Can he succeed in the ethnic
quagmire? The UNP’s desire, it is now evident, is to gather Tamil
support in the north and east while ‘disarming’ Tamil militants.
The goal of disarming is undoubtedly a sign of confidence. In
Vavuniya the President claimed that he did not want to defeat anyone
but only wanted to make everyone victorious; That day the
Government’s newly acquired F-7 supersonic bombers took off from
Katunayake towards Jaffna, each with a payload of four 250lb bombs.
The ‘thrust’ into Jaffna was a political decision. It has taken some
wind out of opposition’s sails. The military offensive into the
peninsula has been long awaited in the south. The opposition had
been casting doubts on the government’s bona fides. India was eager
to see Sri Lanka security forces smash their way into Jaffna and
establish their control there. Some Tamil groups which work with the
army had urged army generals in the north to expedite the blitzkreig
into the peninsula.
One of the biggest multi-pronged offensives by the army was launched
while the President was in Vavuniya, either meticulous design or by
a significant coincidence. But the message to his southern
electorate was clear: that militarily he means business in the
north; that there are more sophisticated methods of initiating the
destruction of ‘armed Tamil militant’ ideals, than the customary
style of shaking the mailed fist across the ethnic divide.
India might now find itself in a situation where it cannot
convincingly use the extradition issue to build up diplomatic or
political pressure. The government has demonstrated at a very
critical point that it is after all, going to hammer and tongs at
the LTTE; it has even begun talking disarming.
Although Ranil Wickremesinghe says that the government is pursuing a
dual political-military policy, the set of factors to which it
responds in its self interests make such a policy impracticable.
What are these factors and why does their impact make the
government’s purported dual policy difficult to realize? The factors
are a) India’s attitude toward the LTTE and its determination not to
be left out from any serious process by which a settlement might be
worked out for the ethnic crisis b) India’s influence in southern
politics c) the potential of the opposition to exploit the
President’s seemingly pro-minorities stance. d) the imperatives of
the strategies of the security forces in the north and east.
The government is only too well aware that any move at this juncture
to openly and actively consider the LTTE as an essential component
in a political solution to the Tamil question would jeopardize its
hold on political power. It has to demonstrate that it sincerely
backs the security forces campaign against the Tigers in the North
Furthermore, a wide spectrum of people in the south now believe that
India’s antagonism toward the LTTE is a positive gain that should be
fully exploited for the benefit of the military campaign to destroy
The government of course is keen to avoid being seen as soft
pedaling the Tiger issue to spite India. All Tamil parties and
groups assert that a merged north-east is non-negotiable in working
out any solution to the Tamil problem. Even if the government’s were
to accept this in principle it will be seen as a major blow to one
of army’s most important imperatives- the Weli-Oya settlement zone.
Under these circumstance, the government will find it easier to
address the north-east problem as a military question. By doing so,
the government may believe it can ensure stability and effectively
deflect, or neutralize both internal and geopolitical pressures.
The political part of the government’s dual strategy will,
therefore, be limited only to standard rhetoric, to woo Tamil votes.
It is argued that if the army could smash its way into Jaffna, the
LTTE morale would be destroyed locally and internationally; that
there will be many desertions; that the Tigers will not be able to
muster enough strength to launch major attacks; that the volume of
information on the LTTE provided by people of Jaffna (which is
already said to be quite considerable) would dramatically increase.
It is also claimed that once the army moves into Jaffna it would be
extremely difficult for the Tigers to revert to a pre-1987
situation, because of these reasons.
Therefore most of the anti-LTTE (armed) groups see the continuation
of the army’s offensive into Tiger terrain in the north as a means
of establishing minor domains of their power and influence.
Thus, the government will increasingly find it easier and
politically advantageous to address the Tamil problem as a military
question. Therefore the Tamil problem as a political question is
bound to lose its cogency in the schemes of India, the opposition
the anti-LTTE groups and the government . The ethnic question is
already a rhetorical question.
How is the Tiger planning to face these developments in the
aftermath of the President’s Vavuniya approach?
The latest issue of their official organ outlines their thinking.
The LTTE says “it is the wish of the International Community that
the Tigers should not close the doors to finding a just solution to
the Tamil national problem and that the Tigers should try all means
and opportunities before taking the final decision to secede.
Countries have brought diplomatic pressure on the Tigers on this
The western world is pressing that the Tigers should examine a
substantial arrangement for regional autonomy as an alternative to a
separate state. At the same time these countries have not failed to
imply that they may favour the Tamils if the Sinhala government
refuses to give a just solution, steps up oppression and if a
situation should arise where a political solution becomes
impossible. Our political approach is determined by these
A brief perusal of the LTTE’s rise to power would reveal that they
adjust political setbacks with military gains and military setbacks
with political gains.
It remains to be seen whether the President’s speak soft. hit hard
approach can deny the LTTE military as well as political gains.