Alok Bansal is a security analyst currently working as research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), one of the oldest and largest Indian think tanks working on security issues.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, better know as the LTTE, is in big trouble.
With the relentless military crackdown having cut the area under its control to less than 140 square km, the rebel outfit is now trying to defend its shrinking fiefdom by holding over 100,000 Tamil civilians within the area under its control.
The Sri Lankan security forces continue their offensive without any regard to the collateral damage, and there have been large scale civilian casualties over the last few days. International humanitarian agencies have been appealing for a ceasefire, but the Sri Lankan government, on a high after its unprecedented military success, is unwilling to give the Tigers breathing space. It has also clamped down on media and even the government media has not been reporting the casualty figures of Sri Lankan security forces.
Both sides have obviously committed grave human rights violations, although the reports coming from the camps set up for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) indicate that the Tamil population rendered homeless by the conflict is being looked after well by the government. But the relentless artillery firing and aerial bombardment of LTTE controlled area as well as shifting ‚ÄėNo Fire Zones‚ÄĚ (safe zones for the civilians within LTTE territory), have led to a large number of civilian casualties.
The LTTE has not helped matters by positioning its guns within these areas. The LTTE‚Äôs desperation is quite evident from its attacks on the Tamil civilians attempting to escape from the territory under its control.
However, it is just a matter of time before the remaining area under the Tigers‚Äô control falls to the security forces, and with this, the LTTE‚Äôs capacity to wage a conventional battle against the Sri Lankan security forces will cease to exist. The LTTE leadership might escape the military dragnet and try to rekindle the fires in the relatively peaceful Eastern Province, or persist with their senseless terrorist attacks targeting hapless civilians across Sri Lanka. But its capacity to find recruits for its cause will diminish drastically.
But will peace return to Sri Lanka after the military victory?
To answer this question, one must understand that LTTE is a product of ethnic strife and not vice versa, and if genuine grievances of Tamil minority are not met, another outfit like LTTE might crop up.
It is therefore essential that a devolution package acceptable to the Tamils must be implemented at the earliest. The 13th Amendment, which is already part of the Sri Lankan Constitution, can be a good beginning.
A re-merger of the North and East is now out of question. In fact Karuna‚Äôs rebellion had sealed the fate of a unified North Eastern province. It‚Äôs not just the Sinhalese and the Muslims who are opposed to the re-merger, even a significant section of Tamil population is opposed to it.
After implementing 13th Amendment, the provincial administration needs to be strengthened by devolving more financial powers and making them responsible for law and order. The strengthening of the provincial council must be done across the board, and not be restricted to the North and the East. Unfortunately the functioning of Eastern province, which was supposed to be a role model for devolution, does not inspire confidence amongst Tamil minority. The chief minister of the province continues to be powerless and has even gone fast to demand devolution of powers.
Another step that needs to be taken to instill confidence in the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is to make the administration more representative. Today the absence of minorities from all organs of the state is glaring, especially in the armed forces and the judiciary. Colombo needs to induct minorities in the bureaucracy, judiciary and the armed forces.
An immediate beginning must be made by inducting Muslims and Plantation Tamils in all the organs of the state, and Sri Lankan Tamils can be inducted in these organs subsequently, starting with those from Jaffna and the Eastern Province or for that matter from Colombo. The state could even consider an affirmative action programme as the situation is a far cry from the 40s, when bulk of the jobs were held by the Tamilians.
A large number of analysts believe that President Mahinda Rajpaksha, with his recent hawkish posture, is unlikely to yield powers to Tamil minorities after his military victory over the LTTE. However, they seem to forget that the President has long been a human rights activist, and that the hawkish postures must be seen against the backdrop of his attempt to consolidate his position in the ruling SLFP.
Rajpaksha emerged from the shadow of an established leader whose family had dominated the party since inception. His actions are therefore similar to those initiated by President Premadasa after he emerged from the shadows of another political heavyweight JR Jayawardane.
Moreover, in the current parliament the President does not have the requisite majority to amend the Constitution, and the Sinhalese hardliners in the JVP and JHU would make it difficult for him to devolve any powers to the Tamil minority. In all probability the President will go in for Parliamentary Elections followed by the Presidential Elections to encash the ‚Äėvictory dividend‚Äô.
He is unlikely to clearly spell out his devolution package till after the elections, since he is unlikely to need the support of any other party to devolve power after that. Both the 13th as well as 17th Amendments are likely to be implemented after the re-election.
From India‚Äôs point of view it is essential that it insist both sides respect human rights and provide safe passage to civilians. It also needs to seek clear guarantees from the Sri Lankan government on devolution of powers to the provincial councils before the last strip of land under LTTE control falls.
There is also a need to increase its humanitarian aid as well as assistance to rebuild the infrastructure in the North and the East. It must also enhance its economic cooperation with Sri Lanka. India must consider building a land bridge to Sri Lanka, so that the trade between the two countries is enhanced and the pilgrims from Sri Lanka can visit India by road.
Those who believe that LTTE‚Äôs demise will leave India with no leverage in Sri Lanka must understand that in these times of economic downturn, India retains a huge economic leverage in Sri Lanka, which can be further enhanced by seeking collaboration from the US and European Union, which have been voicing serious concerns about the civilian casualties and the restrictions imposed by the Sri Lankan government on the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international NGOs.
In any case, in his second and final term President Mahinda Rajapakshe would like to go down in history as a statesman, who united a country plagued by ethnic strife for more than a quarter century.
(The views expressed in the article are the author`s and not of Sify.com.)