Date: 17 Aug 2005
The cold blooded assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar, the highest profile killing on the government side since the ceasefire of 2002 is a serious blow to a peace process which was any way seriously in need of reviving. Lakshman Kadirgamar, highly respected locally and internationally as the most successful holder of the office of foreign minister of Sri Lanka, trenchant critic of the LTTE and ardent champion of the sovereignty and unity of Sri Lanka was killed at a time when the cease fire itself is under the most challenge since it came into being in February 2002. LTTE denials notwithstanding, the government and the police investigators have come to the clear conclusion that the LTTE is responsible for the killing. And from this stem the consequences for the peace process and ceasefire.
The question is as to what the LTTE seeks to achieve by killing Mr Kadirgamar at this point in time. That he was high up on their list of targets and always especially vulnerable to their barbaric practice of assassination is well known. Did they kill him because they always planned to when they got the opportunity to do so or did they kill him at a particular point in time with the objective of decisively affecting the political balance of power and the trajectory of the peace process ? This columnist claims no expertise of the decision making process of the LTTE. However, trying to get a sense of it is necessary if we are in turn to get a sense of how we can move out of the deadly spiral of assassination and counter assassination, fear, terror and intimidation, that is absolutely vital for peace.
One of the biggest pitfalls in this process is the imputation to the decision maker of the LTTE and his advisors of a rationality that makes sense in terms of mainstream democratic politics or even conventional strategic politico - military calculus. This applies as well to a generalized conclusion that they are mad and bad and therefore it is naïve and futile to try to make any sense of their warped and wicked strategic logic. They have to be neutralized and better still eliminated because they cannot be transformed is the logic of this perspective.
The objective of a negotiated constitutional settlement of the ethnic conflict cannot be pursued from either perspective. We have to deal with the LTTE and we have to do so in a manner that does not undermine the pursuit of the imperative – a constitutional settlement to frame a democratic peace. Jettisoning the cease fire agreement and going back to war is an easy option, but one which the past record indicates is hard to sustain to a successful conclusion. Ignoring the brutality of the LTTE and its apparent ability to get away with it with impunity will not do either. There has to be another way which will effect a transformation of the LTTE away from violence as a basic prerequisite for peace, as Mr Kadirgamar persistently pointed out.
Is it the case that the LTTE has calculated that a high profile reversion to bloody type is necessary to reassert control over cadre and civilians alike because it will dramatically intensify tensions, provide a fillip to the hardliners in the south in the context of impending presidential and/or general elections and make real a return to hostilities? Control – the obsession of the LTTE – has been slipping ever since the cease fire. Did the organization respond to this challenge of No War /No Peace with a grim reminder of what its chilling reputation has in no small measure been also built upon ? And is not the case that this decision was made by the supreme leader and his advisors who are single minded, tunnel visioned and brutally unimaginative. Consequently they reverted to type, fully conscious that such a course of action would risk losing whatever international credibility and capital the organization acquired from signing the cease fire agreement and engaging in peace talks. The latter is of secondary importance to the imperative of tightening control in a situation in which it is being loosened up. Perhaps they also calculated that as long as the international community wanted a peace process in Sri Lanka, their role as key players is assured, irrespective of violence and violation, low profile or high. Therefore loss of international capital and credibility would be temporary; its replenishment assured as long as the international community continued to be interested in peace in Sri Lanka.
The sympathizers and supporters of the LTTE, were they to acknowledge its responsibility for the Kadirgamar assassination, may argue that the mounting frustration over the ISGA proposals, the effective suspension of PTOMS by the Supreme Court - which they would argue the government was aware of, given all the talk about partisanship and the judiciary - and the persistent challenge posed by the Karuna group which they believe to be a government proxy, pushed them into an act of depravity, yet also one of desperation. Assassination is never to be condoned but condemned. If it is the case that the LTTE when cornered or challenged reverts to type and that type is one of brutality and barbarism, there is scant evidence if any, of any real transformation of the essential nature of the organization having been consciously undertaken or effected by circumstances.
Much points to the conclusion that the LTTE assassinated Mr Kadirgamar at this point because they intend to derail what is left of the peace process in the context of imminent elections, believing that the political consequences of their action will facilitate the reestablishment of the control they crave and were accustomed to before the ceasefire and Karuna's challenge to their claim of sole representative.
Mr Kadirgamar's killing must not be allowed to be a catalyst for war. Rather it should be a catalyst for a serious rethinking of how to deal with the LTTE in the context of a sustainable peace process. This goes for government, international community, the Norwegian facilitators and civil society. They cannot be constructively engaged if they are allowed to kill to avenge or for attention or advantage without any form of accountability. It is going to be a tougher process that leads to peace for all of us, if there is going to be a process at all. Or else there is war and the rest will be history…….
Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
Centre for Policy Alternatives
(This article was published in The Morning Leader of 17 August 2005 under the title "Kadirgamar killing: Blow to Peace")