Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Importance of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s indigenous terrorist groups are grouped together and called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers. These groups are terrorism innovators. They perfected the suicide belt to facilitate suicide bombing terror attacks.1 The LTTE set up a parallel government in the area it controls “…establishing structures such as a police force, law courts, postal services, banks, administrative offices, television and radio broadcasting station, etc.”2 The Tamil Tigers maintain a navy capable of engaging Sri Lankan naval forces, and engaging in high seas piracy.3 The Tigers have even developed an air wing with which they intend to carry out provisioning operations or perhaps even Japanese style kamikaze attacks.4

Sri Lanka is a laboratory for determining if it is possible for a government to come to a peace agreement with a deadly, ruthless terrorist entity that is also extremely capable in many different areas. The LTTE has put itself into the strongest position of any terrorist group vis a vis the ruling government it opposes. They have skillfully parlayed their resources, most of which have been gained illicitly, to create a formidable military and political counter to the Sri Lankan government. The keys for all concerned is whether the power that the LTTE has been able to amass will be sufficient to force the Sinhalese Buddhist majority into some kind of power sharing arrangement and whether the time is ripe to push for a settlement. The United States government sees an agreement between the sides as something that would be an example to the whole world. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said: “it will be such an important achievement for the world if Sri Lankans themselves are able to resolve their differences. This will be a tremendous signal for the world.”5

A reading of the relevant literature shows that the government of Sri Lanka recognizes the strength of the Tamil terrorist groups. The Agreement on a ceasefire is a complex document whose provisions could only be implemented by a capable military and government. The “Third Communication Revolution” reflects the reality of Tamil technological advancement and re-emphasized their overall competence. This point was made even more stark when it was reported that the Tamil Tigers had hacked an Intelsat satellite to broadcast internationally.6 The writings of the NGOs predictably focus on human rights violations while the US and European governments focus on ending the conflict so that there can be stability on the island. Indian and Sri Lankan writings by the various sides adopt the point of view of the combatants favored by the authors.

For negotiations to be successful, the major powers must recognize their limitations in this conflict. Many in the Sinhalese Buddhist majority have lost faith in the impartiality of the “Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors’ Conference” EU, US, Japan and Norway. In the words of a Sinhalese columnist for the Lanka Page, “First, the countries showering us with bad advice are clearly not to be trusted an inch, and should be kept at arm’s length. …Obviously we have to live with such behemoths, but we can do so with self-respect instead of the appalling servility of the post-CFA years. For instance, we could inform them, as many countries do, that interference and comment on our internal affairs, and hob-nobbing with the LTTE and its agents, are unacceptable.” On the other side, the Tamils are not prepared to get involved in working toward peace because they perceive that peace efforts are a ruse to achieve their defeat and subjugation. In the words of one Tamil leader: “Suppose we stop fighting today, what will happen? What will be the situation for us? Peace for Tamils is that the army should get out [from the North-East]. Peace in the South might be LTTE surrendering.”7

Since there is so much distrust toward the “Co-chairs,” the best course of action would be strict impartiality during the fighting. While it is clear that the US and the other donors would prefer that a representative government that controls all of Sri Lanka be the outcome of this struggle, for the time, the Sri Lankans must be allowed to alter the facts on the ground until the time for negotiations is ripe. It is clear that the Tamils only want to negotiate when they are in a position of weakness. When the Tamils are in a position of strength, they want to press towards victory. It is clear that for negotiation to succeed, the Sri Lankans must be allowed to put so much military pressure on the Tamils, that the rebels will be forced to come to the negotiation table. At that point, the “Co-chairs” can step in to make sure that Tamil rights are preserved without forcing the Sinhalese majority into unpopular concessions. It is a delicate balancing act, but doing that kind of thing is why diplomats are paid the big bucks.

The best recommendation to President Bush and to the EU Parliament is to look at recent examples where an insurgency is militarily pressured and brought to the negotiation table. In Iraq, the policy of applying overwhelming military pressure to the insurgent fight has brought those willing to negotiate and share power to the table while killing off the recalcitrant. Something similar would happen in Sri Lanka. The US military can press ahead with training the Sri Lankan military in the latest counter-insurgency tactics (preferably at bases outside the region) while allowing the Norwegians and the Japanese to take the lead on mediation. Improving the performance of the Sri Lankan military would pressure the Tamils to negotiate in good faith, and weakest “co-chairs” would serve as impartial arbiters. There is every indication that negotiation would prove successful since the Tamils have a hunger for stability as evidenced by their creation of a parallel government. Further, it is in the interest of the world to resolve the situation in Sri Lanka, otherwise the Tamil Tigers will continue to refine their terrorist techniques and export them to the rest of the world’s bad actors.


1. Suter, Keith. “The anatomy of a suicide bomber” On line Opinion Journal 25 July 2005 at http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=3707 accessed 24 November 2007.

2. Ramasubramanian, R. Suicide Terrorism in Sri Lanka (New Dehli: Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies) 2004 pg. 8-9.

3. Davies, Rogers. “Sea Tigers, Stealth Technology and the North Korean Connection” Janes. March 7, 2001 at http://www.lankalibrary.com/pol/korea.htm accessed 24 November 2007.

4. Raman, B. “The World's First Terrorist Air Force” South Asia Analysis Group 02.06.2005 at http://www.saag.org/papers14/paper1398.html accessed 24 November 2007.

5. US Embassy Colombo “Armitage Says Sri Lanka Peace Would Be "Tremendous Signal” Press Release 13 June 2003 at http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/peace2005/Insidepage/InternationalSupport/USA/PressRel130603.asp accessed 24 November 2007.

6. Jayawardhana, Walter. “Tigers’ satellite piracy bared” Sri Lanka Daily News 13 April 2007 at http://www.dailynews.lk/2007/04/13/news01.asp accessed 24 November 2007.

7. Foxwatch. “Coping with the Co-chairs’ bad advice” Lanka Page, September 24, 2006 at http://lankapage.wordpress.com/2006/09/24/coping-with-the-co-chairs’-bad-advice/ accessed 24 November 2007.