Posted on South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) website - 2007
By Dr. Geeta Madhavan
The greatest cause for concern of the civilian population in a conflict situation is not so much the kind of resolution envisaged by the parties to the conflict or even the time frame set out – as the actual end of the conflict itself. The decades long conflict in Sri Lanka has severely debilitated the civil society and both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE seem unable to control the swirl of the spiral towards total chaos.
An analysis of the chain of events in the past two years reveals how the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have steadily veered towards violent confrontation rather than negotiation although they had for sometime managed to maintain veneer of civil responses. On 25 th November, 2005 the then newly elected Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse in his speech had clearly enunciated that there would be no self-government or separate homeland for the Tamils drawing strong reaction from the Leader of Tamil Eelam V. Prabhakaran who in his 27th November 2005, Heroes Day speech said the requiem for the dead cadres and swore to intensify the struggle for a separate Tamil homeland.
The standoff situation led to a flurry of activities by the concerned members of the international community and the facilitators who made sincere efforts to bring the two parties to seriously negotiate a settlement. However, a series of failed talks followed and the subsequent intense violence blew away the chances of any peaceful settlement.
The Rajapakse Government may have earlier espoused moderation in responding to violent acts of the LTTE and selective use of military power but there is little doubt that it is in the military solution that the government of Sri Lanka has now reposed its total faith. The Rajapakse government, encouraged by the steady military advances into the LTTE controlled areas and especially after the capture of a key base of the Tigers in the east seems convinced of its ability to vanquish LTTE. Meanwhile players from the international community clearly disapprove of what they perceive as excessive emphasis on military strategy to counter the LTTE challenge.
Undeterred by criticism Mr. Rajapakse stated that the “innocent Tamil people of the north can be liberated from terrorist intimidation and the misdeeds of violence and the north could be emancipated” . He also categorically rejected the claim of the Tigers to be the sole representative of the Tamils said that the Singhalese and the Government are not ready to give in to the ” blood thirsty demands” of the LTTE. The new Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, stated in Delhi after his meeting with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the terrorist movement needed to be eliminated. The Sri Lankan government has also maintained that not a single civilian death had taken place during the military actions in Vaharai in eastern Sri Lanka.
The LTTE, on the other hand has been equivocal about the losses it has faced in the military action although it is very specific about the civilian deaths due to military strikes in the region. However, the LTTE also seems to be losing its position as the sole representative of the rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and its cause celebre- the establishment of Tamil Eelam seems to be a mirage to the civilian population of the region in the wake of the vociferous speeches against any such solution by the Rajapakse government .The LTTE’s actions supposed to benefit the Tamils by forcing the Sri Lankan government in giving total autonomy has only driven to death and despair the very people the organization promised to deliver from repression. The civilian population of the area that become collateral damage for the Sri Lankan military in the war against LTTE, are used as human shields by the LTTE themselves. The United Nations, too, has been deeply concerned about the civilian deaths due to the military actions and the UN’s relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, has said that force continues to be used indiscriminately in the conflict in Sri Lanka.
It therefore, becomes incumbent on the India to disconnect the human situation from the political one. In India any sympathy for the civilian population is immediately translated into political sympathy for the cause of the LTTE. India has therefore consistently sought to stay out of any direct involvement in the core issues of Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka is not far enough to be ignored and the geographical proximity itself precludes ambivalent attitude towards the gross human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. While it is possible to permit Sri Lanka to face its internal challenges by itself, the spillover into the Indian mainland will cause serious destabilization in the coastal states accessible to the LTTE. There have been reports of smuggling of arms and drugs from India and even the possibility of the setting up of camps for training and logistics in India. The question still remains as to what extent is India going to stick its neck out for the suffering civilian population of Sri Lanka without bringing the sword upon its own neck. India has to protect its own interest and those of its citizens even while being concerned about the civilian lives in Sri Lanka. The answer perhaps lies in the involvement of the international community in a multi lateral humanitarian effort which goes beyond the political solution. The greatest danger for any civilian population in a conflict situation is the loss of interest of the world community in a conflict that seems to last forever.
(Dr. Geeta Madhavan is an analyst working in areas related to international security and Terrorism. The views expressed are author’s own.