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Indian General Raghavan(retd)
Indian defense expert General V. R. Raghavan (Retd.) maintains that the international community should put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government to be willing to make some internal changes to break the current deadlock in the peace process. In an interview, Gen. Raghavan explained that the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) has become an end in itself for the Sri Lankan Government, and they have shown little willingness towards accepting any of the demands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
While the attacks continue in far away Trincomalee and Jaffna, the CFA has allowed the island’s GDP, tourism, rice production, agriculture etc. to grow and the ceasefire has ensured that there are no assassinations, bomb blasts or military operations. The Sri Lankan economy is no longer suffering because of the conflict and so the Government appears to be content with allowing the status quo to continue, the general pointed out.
“For the Government, the CFA has become an end in itself, allowing it to avoid conflict without actually making any concessions”, said the general.
“The LTTE finds that if they return to all-out violence they will be declared terrorists by other countries, so all they can do is carry on with their landmine attacks and bomb blasts. Hence the assassination of Kadiragamar, which they say they didn’t do but everybody, knows they did. The CFA has allowed the GOSL the best of both worlds, which is why the LTTE wants it to breakdown”, he argued, adding that it was for this reason also that the Tigers refused to participate in the second round of negotiations until Karuna’s troops are disarmed. In the midst of the ongoing shadow war and the desperate attempts of the co-chairs to get negotiations between the Government and the LTTE back on track, the fundamental problem is being overlooked according to Gen. Raghavan.
“If the GOSL wants to retain the unity of the country they need to hold elections with the LTTE participating. The LTTE wants to run those elections. We know that they are fascists and thugs and 90% of their government will be full of LTTE representatives, but that will be the beginning of something better”, he insisted.
For the veteran Indian defense expert, what is required in Sri Lanka is for the Singhalese to agree amongst themselves to give more. “Sri Lanka is a state which has lost control and the people are divided. Successive Governments in Colombo have failed to reach a consensus among themselves on how to go ahead with the peace process”, he affirmed. “When I met Kadirgamar a month before he died”, recalled the general, he said ‘Delhi is telling us to come together’- for Rajapakse and Wickremesinghe to come together to solve the problem” he added, reminding that Rajapakse won the election by joining the JVP, which is an extremist Sinhalese group, saying he will not budge from the unitary state concept.
“We tell them (GOSL) behind the scenes to consider a federal option. Now they say the Constitution doesn’t permit it. Then they should change it. You want to have an absolute domination of the Sinhalese polity and denial of Tamil equal rights…there can be no solution that way” he insisted.Why does India think the GOSL should make “concessions” to the LTTE when New Delhi itself has often repeated that it does not negotiate with terrorists? Gen. Raghavan explained that the problem in India, with the communist “naxalite” rebels for instance, is somewhat different. “We have elected governments and legitimate administrations in every state. Groups like ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) are but dissidents demanding certain things”.
The General strongly feels if the government of Sri Lanka wants to retain the unity of the country it has to create a structure whereby the rights of the Tamil population are guaranteed. He stressed that, irrespective of the portion of the territory under LTTE control, there can be no lasting solution without the group being party to it and despite the internal division created by Karuna, it still wields enough power to influence negotiations.” We don’t run India by saying if the Sikhs are 14% they have 14% rights. The Tamils are being denied their rights as equal citizens”, he said, clarifying that “India doesn’t say they should hand over power to Prabhakaran” but reminded that even India negotiated with Prabhakaran because he was in control of territory.
“In India we have long ago recognized regional languages and it was indeed, on the basis of ethnic, cultural and language differences that the several states in India were formed post 1947. In Sri Lanka, the Tamils have no such equal rights”, he pointed out On his last visit to New Delhi, having held talks with the LTTE and the GOSL in Colombo, the Japanese special envoy to Sri Lanka, Yashushi Akashi, reiterated the importance of India’s intervention in the peace process in the neighboring island. General Raghavan however dismissed the assumption of a greater role by New Delhi, saying that it is not in a position to do anything “until Sri Lanka allows it”. The general explained that India’s intervention would have far-reaching consequences for its own internal politics, particularly in the south of the country.
“The southern states have put India on the global map, thanks to the IT sector, etc., and any coalition government would need to forge alliances with the regional parties there” The general recalled that “In 1986, India suggested that Colombo restore parties on the basis of multi-ethnicity we even negotiated with Prabhakaran. If Sri Lanka wants a government in Jaffna, the LTTE has to be allowed to take the lead. At this stage, an intervention by India would create a war-like situation where the Tamils from the neighboring island would migrate to Indian Territory and this in turn would create ruptures”.
“The only part India can play is to offer a federal package and Sri Lanka can and should amend its Constitution to facilitate this”, he affirmed. “Money cannot buy Prabhakaran”, said the general with conviction, having held one - on- one talks with the LTTE chief as an official on behalf of New Delhi on a number of occasions prior to India’s fighting the rebels. “Today, Prabhakaran finds that he is the only bad guy. Terrorism doesn’t work, but he is making it work by striking where it hurts- through attacks and ambushes on the Sri Lankan troops”. “So what you have now is a military stalemate.
The Government is internationally in a better position and neither side has any military option. There can be no win, no loss, no war, no peace”, said the general, adding that while the LTTE finds itself under the glare of the international community, the fact that the economy and functioning of the country is relatively unaffected by the conflict in the north and east, the GOSL will also not make any significant overtures towards breaking the deadlock.