Peace Talks: Extremism and the level of compromise

By S. Kohobanwickrame
A year back on November 27, 2000, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran in his hero’s day speech stated the following, "We are seeking a negotiated settlement that would be fair, just, and equitable and that it would satisfy the political aspirations of the Tamil people. I explained this position very clearly when I met the Norwegian peace delegates in Wanni recently. We are not imposing any pre-conditions for peace talks." Not even six months since that speech Prabhakaran insisted on the deproscription of the LTTE as a pre-condition for any peace negotiations.

This year again on November 27, 2001, he recited another fairy tale stating that, "The basic political aspirations of the Tamil people are neither separatism nor terrorism".

It wouldn’t be surprising if Prabhakaran on July 5, 2002, in his Black Tiger day speech contradicts this position, and calls on the dedication of his cadres to fight for an unequivocal separation, as it is the only solution for the Tamil people.

Therefore, it is evident that these highly publicised half-yearly speeches of Prabhakaran are not indicators of LTTE policy, but mere opportunistic performances for the media and the international community.

If we are to negotiate peace, then it is necessary to see through the veil of deceit and understand the true mentality of Prabhakaran and his personal position relating to the levels of compromise. The most critical element of negotiating techniques is to accurately identify the probable levels of compromise of the opposing team.

So we need to profile Vailapullai Prabhakaran, and better understand his personality and obsessions in more detail. There is very little known about this elusive personality, and all governments negotiating with him have been hoodwinked time after time due to the poor understanding of his mind set. It is essential that the negotiators, together with Military Intelligence, DII and DFI, constantly formulate plausible scenarios that Prabhakaran would consider. This type of profiling and scenario building can only be done with an accurate understanding of Prabhakaran.

What do we know about Prabhakaran, apart from the general understanding that he is an experienced military tactician with much success, and a megalomaniac who hesitates little to use human beings as suicide bombers. His expertise and skills are militaristic, with a compulsion to use brute force. We know he is more comfortable in a conflict scenario than in a situation of political negotiations. Prabhakaran has military wit, to this man a military option is like a fish taking to water, and a political option is like a fish out of water.

When Prabhakaran is dealing in a military scenario, he is in complete control of the tactical decisions. When Prabhakaran is at the negotiating table he has to follow advice from theoreticians, political advisors, Indian politicians and Samaritarian diplomats from the West. The process overtakes his ambit of comprehension, while all the advisors are well conversant in the dynamics of local and international politics, Prabhakaran’s amateurism suffices diluting his status as the Supreme Leader. The fish then has to wiggle his way into the water, to the more a conducive environment where he can be the undisputed expert.

Prabhakaran cannot survive for more than twelve months at the negotiating table, and he cannot make any concessions that would deteriorate the commitment of his cadres towards the cause. If he concedes either of these positions his superiority as the most effective military tactician is compromised.

The University Teachers for Human Rights - Jaffna UTHR(J), which is the only pluralist voice within the Tamil community at present having to work in exile, articulates Prabhakaran’s fear of peace and pluralism.

UTHR(J) Briefing No 4. (December 2001) states: "Unfortunately, the political survival of the LTTE has come to depend on the perpetuation of the war. Hence the negotiation agenda of the LTTE has become de-linked from the desires and aspirations for peace harboured by the vast majority of the Tamils under their control. Their focus has always been on establishing a monopoly of control. This becomes apparent when we examine last three instances when peace negotiations took place."

To understand Prabhakaran, we need to get pointers from close associates as to his inner thinking. One of the few people that have been able to develop a close relationship with Prabhakaran is the Indian journalist Anita Pratap. In her book, "Island of Blood", she clearly describes Prabhakaran’s true position regarding his ultimate goal of Eelam. Quote from page 94, 95, "I asked Prabhakaran the question that had been haunting me for a year and a half; Why hadn’t he opted for peace when it was in his grasp? After all Premadasa had virtually given Eelam to them on a platter. Prabhakaran denied they had started the war and laboured the Tiger version of events, that the Sri Lanka army had violated their agreement and come out of their barracks. And anyway, he said," We don’t want Eelam on a platter. We will fight and win Eelam. That was the crux of the matter, the reason for the fresh violence. Prabhakaran did not want anybody else’s version of Eelam - he wanted his own, an Eelam that he liberated militarily. "Thousands of my boys have laid down their lives for Eelam. Their death can not be in vain. They have given their life for this cause, how can I betray them by opting for anything less than Eelam?" he asked.

This is the type of insights we need about this man, he has committed too many young men and women to their death for his definition of Eelam, and any concession or a softening of the position would be a betrayal to these martyrs. Furthermore, a compromise would mean he will not be able to regain the same level of martyrdom from his carders in the future to continue with the military objective.

Therefore, Prabhakaran’s level of compromise can only shift between the first two scales of Ultra Extremism on the Tamil axis. He can move between positions, "Homogenous Independent Tamil Eelam" and "Independent Republic of Tamil Eelam". He, can not concede to anything beyond these two positions. Probably, if Karikalan, Bhanu or Balraj took leadership of the LTTE they could concede a greater extent, but Prabhakaran is constrained and confined by circumstances.

This is clearly described by Anita Pratap, to none other than her own Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Quote from page 125 of Island of Blood, "I got my quotes and Rajiv, who knew I had the best access to Prabhakaran, asked me, How long will these Tigers keep fighting?. As long as Prabhakaran is alive, I replied. Rajiv turned and looked at me as if I had reaffirmed his personal belief."

These are statements made by people who have met Prabhakaran and had one on discussions with him. Given these sentiments, how far from target is our understanding of Prabhakaran when our over-optimistic politicians from the PA and UNP speak of peace negotiations with Prabhakaran a man they have never ever met.

There have been three major attempts at peace negotiations in Sri Lanka, first by UNP President Jayewardene approaching it with an elite class perspective, second by UNP President Premadasa approaching it with a lower class perspective and third by PA President Kumaratunga approaching it with a centre-leftist perspective. All of which failed miserably.

In all these negotiations there has been a common negative element that led to failure. On the government side there have been several variable factors, but on the Tamil side there has always been a constant factor, Prabhakaran. Therefore, even if Ranil Wickremesinghe or Lakshman Kadirgamar or anybody else is attempting negotiate peace with Prabhakaran, it is merely changing the variable factor on one side of the negotiating table. The constant factor on the Tamil side being Prabhakaran has not changed. Therefore, the attempt will fail.

As I see, there are only two options for peace in Sri Lanka,

1) Eliminate the Prabhakaran factor out of the equation

2) Permit the emergence of a moderate Tamil leadership

The first option would be the most ideal, but given the debacles of Mullaitivu, Killinochchi, Pooneryn, Wanni and Elephant Pass by the highly politicised and inefficient hierarchy of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, this option might be mere wishful thinking. However, I would wish the Deep Penetrating Teams (DPT) of the SL Army in the Vanni all success in this task.

The second option is the more pragmatic approach. The need to permit the emergence of a leadership among the moderate Tamil population. A leadership that is not taken hostage by the LTTE as in the case of the present TULF, campaigning under the banner of the Tamil National Alliance.

By the TNA functioning as a subordinate puppet of Prabhakaran, and parroting that the LTTE should be considered the only representatives of the Tamil people, the TULF has not only lost all self respect but they have taken a step backward in the effort of achieving peace.

The TULF with Neelan Thiruchelvam was considered the moderate voice of the Tamil people. It positioned its self between the Extremist and Moderates on the Tamil axis of the Kohobanwickrame chart. It provided the Tamil opinion the much-needed flexibility or the levels of compromise to move between these two positions on the Tamil axis. It also provided the moderate parties on the Sinhala axis, which seem to be differing on the technicalities of devolution, such as the extent of autonomy and the permanent merger of the NE Province, an option to move closer to a possible agreement.

Therefore, if we are to achieve peace in this country it is essential to permit the emergence of a Tamil moderate leadership. But when the LTTE assassinates any person that opposes its position especially among the Tamil community, how can this leadership emerge? This is the million-dollar question.

The international community has always insisted that the government of Sri Lanka should negotiate with the LTTE. It is like asking the Tamil politicians to negotiate with an extremist Sinhala group, an unrealistic approach. Any meaningful negotiation can only take place between moderates, as the bridging of differences is much closer and plausible than with extremist. The basic principle of pluralism encourages diverse opinion, and within this spectrum of opinion extremism is merely a point-of-view and not the general representation of the opinion.

UTHR(J) Briefing No 4. (December 2001) states: "In addition to the LTTE showing very little interest in a negotiated peace, there are no signs of independent mass movements or civil society organisations capable of questioning and influencing the policies of the LTTE either. In fact, there has not been such movement in many years. The LTTE does not have a functioning political wing and has not allowed any independent activity in the Tamil community. It has been responsible for the death of considerable numbers of Tamil civilians and, particularly, those who were potentially capable of building such a mass movement."

It is time the international community understood the realities of this conflict without suggesting impractical and ludicrous approaches. It is time to understand that as long as Prabhakaran is the Supreme Leader, peace negotiations with the LTTE will never succeed.

The real impediment to lasting peace in Sri Lanka is the lack of a pluralistic leadership among the Tamil community. If any opinion emerges within the Tamil community divergent of the LTTE position, intimidation and assassination is used to eliminate such dissent.

The inability to initiate a durable peace process has been the dearth of a moderate Tamil leadership. Therefore, the international community, which continues to advocate a negotiated settlement, should make a practical contribution to the process.

According to the Peace Confidence Index (PCI) collated by the Centre for Policy Alternatives, 48.1% of the Tamil people believe that the international community can pressure the LTTE.

The international community must exert pressure on the LTTE and its international network to permit the emergence of a moderate Tamil leadership in Sri Lanka. It is time the LTTE was held responsible for the lacuna of a pluralistic leadership within the Tamil community. The international community must take decisive action immediately to declare a moratorium on intimidation and assassination of moderate Tamil politicians.

This would provide an opportunity for pluralistic opinion to emerge within the Tamil population. It is the only way that a convergence opinion from both the Sinhala and Tamil sides can meet at an acceptable equilibrium.