|India was to blame!|
| [17.11.2011, 07:26pm, Thu. GMT]|
|In this section, the evaluation team appointed by the Norwegian government to examine why their peace mediation effort in Sri Lanka failed, seeks to explain why things finally turned out the way they did. Norway was chosen as a facilitator, not only for its expertise, but also because it was a small power without geo-strategic interests and colonial baggage. Being a less powerful player, Norway felt it had to consult the US and India, the former as the world’s superpower and the latter as the regional hegemon.The Norwegian team understood that without their backing (explicit or tacit) they could achieve little. While the US appeared to be unambiguously positive, India’s response to Norway’s role was less committal and less optimistic. India did not object since they saw Norway as non-threatening and gave them (lukewarm) support in the absence of any obvious alternatives.|
As one Indian informant commented: ‘the attitude was: try it and we’ll see what happens, [but] the Indians never factored Norway as a serious presence. They were respectful, but sceptical of what they could actually do... India supported Norway because they thought it would not work anyway’. India had very clear ideas about the acceptable parameters for a settlement; it would not countenance anything that went beyond the 13th amendment in terms of devolution of power to the north-east. Also, the ‘LTTE could not be part of the solution. ‘ For both the US and India, Norway was useful as a medium to the LTTE because of their own anti-terror restrictions. The downside, according to one Indian diplomat, was ‘that Norway gave the LTTE some legitimacy which we found very uncomfortable’.
Unlike in other countries, Norway operated as a sole mediator in Sri Lanka. Its role was not reinforced by a firm multilateral arrangement or the explicit collaboration of a powerful state. It was acutely aware of this, but there were few countries or international organizations that were willing to make Sri Lanka a policy priority. Particularly after the peace talks unraveled the Norwegians struggled to preserve a level of international attention. Early on, they attempted to generate a more internationalized framework, by seeking support from the donor community (e.g. the aid conferences in Oslo and Tokyo) and through the co-chair arrangement. Both strategies provided the Norwegians with some leverage – of which it had very little by itself – and decreased its exposure as a solitary mediator. However, efforts to generate international pressure often backfired. For instance when Solheim attempted to mobilize US pressure on the Sri Lankan government in 2001, it caused resentment in Colombo. Similarly external pressure prompted a reaction from the LTTE, who felt international involvement with the peace process had become ‘excessive’ and contributed to a ‘peace trap’.
Through the co-chairs arrangement that was initiated in Tokyo to extend Wickremesinghe’s idea of an international safety net, Norway secured the buy-in of Sri Lanka’s biggest donor (Japan) and trading partner (EU) as well as the global superpower (US). Before the EU proscription of the LTTE in 2006, Hanssen-Bauer persuaded Solheim that Norway should make better use of the co-chairs, so that Norway was seen to be part of a wider international alliance. As one Norwegian informant noted: ‘After a while we began to see the benefits of this group – it meant that not everything depended upon our opinion. Once the war restarted we saw it as a more likely mechanism to succeed and to decrease our exposure. At the co-chair meeting in Oslo in May 2006, which ended with a sharp warning to the parties to avert war and reduce violence, discussions were held about a division of labour between co-chairs with EU having special responsibility for human rights and the US for ceasefire violations. However, wider geopolitical shifts mitigated diplomatic pressure to return to peace talks. When the war resumed in 2006, the co-chair framework proved a useful platform for speaking out about human rights and humanitarian issues, but co-chair statements were often compromises (mainly because Japan was hesitant to speak out) with little effect. The US and India appeared to have given the government tacit (and to some extent active) support in its military campaign and as explored further below, other regional powers (mainly China) stepped in to back the government. Despite all its efforts, Norway had no significant leverage of its own and hardly any leverage to borrow from more powerful states after the peace talks unraveled.
There were several important changes in the international context that coincided with Norway’s peace efforts in Sri Lanka. First, 9/11 dramatically changed the international climate and made it a far less amenable setting for non-state military groups. Internationalisation and the appointment of a state mediator was a major coup for the Organisation as it gave them recognition and helped translate military parity into political parity. For a time, with the Sri Lankan government lifting the ban on the LTTE and the willingness of European powers to engage with the organisation, the war on terror appeared to have little effect on the organisation’s room for manoeuvre. In fact it has been argued that a strategic complementarily emerged between international actors in which the US and India played ‘bad cop’ (through proscription and support for the Sri Lankan military) and Norway, the EU and others played `good cop’ through engagement and material inducements.
Following the signing of the CFA there was a flurry of internationally supported initiatives aiming to coax the LTTE out of the bunkers and to broaden their worldview. From 2002 onwards, this included a continual stream of diplomats visiting Kilinochchi, in addition to several training initiatives and exposure visits to Western countries. This is discussed in more detail in the next chapter. Norway and some of the international donors were in fact rather innovative in engaging with the LTTE and normally relatively conservative actors like the World Bank tried to push their boundaries. This, however, started to change after the peace talks collapsed. The criticism from Sinhala and Muslim quarters as well as from international human rights NGOs on LTTE appeasement despite sustained CFA and human right violations generated pressure on international actors. Following the assassination of foreign minister Kadirgamar, Rajapaksa’s election (both in 2005), and the resumption of war (2006), it became increasingly difficult - both politically and practically - for foreign players to interact with the LTTE. This left Norway increasingly exposed as the sole conduit to the LTTE, contributing to the perception that Norway was biased. The changed international climate caused by the global war on terror worked against the Norwegian model of negotiating with non-state military actors: as noted by one senior Norwegian informant ‘we didn’t realise how difficult negotiating peace with a terrorist group had become since 9/11.’ When the EU blacklisted the LTTE, many of the countries that had been willing to try and accommodate the insurgents had to reposition themselves. The counter terrorism agenda meant that home ministries had become more powerful relative to foreign ministries, and domestic security concerns trumped the possible impacts on the peace process. As one NGO person remarked: ‘The timing of the ban was abysmal. It was confusing for the LTTE. The government was getting ready for war and precisely at that moment the international community bans them . Therefore, by 2006, the international policy towards the LTTE had shifted towards one of all sticks and no carrots, which made Norway’s position as an even-handed mediator untenable. A second important shift in the international context was the changing parameters of India’s engagement in Sri Lanka from the mid-1990s to 2009. Norway’s very first peace explorations in Sri Lanka coincided with India’s withdrawal from the country. The catastrophic IPKF experience and the subsequent assassination of Rajiv Gandhi definitively changed India’s orientation towards the Tamil question. Relatedly, political dynamics in Tamil Nadu changed. The events of the 1980s – India’s experience in Sri Lanka and the spillover of criminalized violence into Tamil Nadu – induced a strategic distancing by Chennai from the Eelamist struggle. Meanwhile India’s accelerated integration into the global economy transformed the main electoral priorities, with ‘bread and butter issues’ trumping solidarity with Tamils living across the Palk Strait. Finally, leading Tamil parties, most obviously Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), aligned themselves with the Indian Congress and could not be seen as pro-separatist.
These are structural changes that started well before the commencement of the 2002 talks in Sri Lanka, but they were accentuated by the unexpected return to power in 2004 of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) comprising Congress in tandem with DMK and several other parties. The UPA ‘emphasized the terrorist line’ in relation to the LTTE. In part, however, the new Indian government was simply reacting to developments. When talks collapsed and violence resumed, siding with the Sri Lankan government was the logical default position. Added to that, there was a fear that too tough a stance towards Colombo would drive Sri Lanka into China’s hands. Increasing Chinese commercial and military interests in the Indian Ocean region were a source of concern. China was willing to sell weaponry without political strings attached and able to provide the Sri Lankans with some diplomatic cover against perceived infringements on state sovereignty. India did not want to (and could be seen to) sell offensive arms. ‘We did not want Indian bullets used against Tamils,’ a senior Indian diplomat explained. But it did provide intelligence and radar surveillance, and it did not oppose Sri Lanka’s military purchases in China, ‘so as to not alienate Rajapaksa and to avoid China and Pakistan from getting a hold,’ an Indian observer said. The then Norwegian ambassador in Colombo, Tore Hattrem described India as suffering from a ‘Burma syndrome’ in its Sri Lanka policy, meaning that it would not place a focus on human rights and democracy issues (as arguably had been the case in Burma in the 1990s) for fear of pushing the country into a closer relationship with China. India continued to express support for Norway’s efforts in Sri Lanka, but with the return of the UPA and the resumption of war, Delhi’s support for the Sri Lankan government (whether open or tacit) amounted to pursuing peace through the military defeat of the LTTE. The contradictions between this and Norway’s approach became ever wider. Sri Lanka’s diaspora was a third important international factor that interacted with Norway’s peace efforts. As described in chapter 3, the diapora in fact encompasses a wide array of political groupings and connections and its impact cannot be easily ascertained. The peace process, however, had a discernible enabling effect on the ties between the LTTE and its proxies in the Tamil diaspora. Tiger delegations visited Tamil hubs in Western cities and emigres returned to the Vanni to witness (and contribute to) the de facto, state-like institutions of Tamil Eelam. By and large, the steady stream of diaspora figures who visited Jaffna and the Vanni tended to feed rather than challenge the worldview and self-perceptions of the LTTE. ‘The LTTE used diaspora experts to formulate their views into legal documents. Those who chose to offer alternate views were branded as traitors’. The ISGA was a clear example of that. The LTTE’s interim proposal was directed from the Vanni and was a technically sophisticated confirmation of hardliner views, at the cost of the more pragmatic stance that Balasingham was seen to represent. Regarding the Tamil diaspora in Norway, there were individuals and groups who tried to keep in touch with the ministry, both those linked to the LTTE and those who were critical of the movement. While they were influential in bringing the Sri Lankan conflict to the attention of Norwegian politicians before the peace process started, it was clearly a deliberate Norwegian policy to maintain a distance and the diaspora had little or no influence on the Norwegian facilitation.
The victory of Mahinda Rajapaka in the 2005 Presidential elections was closely linked to the peace process and its internationalisation. Although the LTTE never explained their decision to prevent Tamils from voting, one possible explanation is their fear of Wickremesinghe’s international safety net: ‘Prabakaran was obsessed with the so called safety net... he felt that Rajapaksa was less Western oriented than Wickremesinghe and would be less able to build up an international frame work. Rajapaksa in turn came to power riding the wave of nationalist reaction against the peace process and promising a harder position on dealing with the LTTE.
International actors in turn were not entirely sure how to respond to Rajapaksa feeling more comfortable dealing with the anglicized metropolitan elite. As one Norwegian diplomat admitted: ‘Norway did not understand Mahinda Rajapaksa at the beginning. His government explicitly steered away from the West. China, as well as some relatively new partners like Iran and Libya featured more prominently in Sri Lanka. India continued to play a vital role, but when peace talks gave way to war, its alignment against the LTTE became more pronounced. Therefore the Rajapaksa administration constructed their own version of an ‘international safety net’ which they used very effectively to insulate themselves and the military from Western pressures over human rights concerns in their pursuit of the final war. In much the same way that international actors attempted to devise ways of dealing with ‘spoilers’ of the peace process, the government treated Western actors as potential spoilers of its own project of counter-insurgency and militarized development and developed a combination of strategies accordingly.
Regional and international powers were initially sceptical about the war’s outcome when violence escalated in 2006 and 2007. India and the US were reluctantly willing to back the Sri Lankan state whilst Japan and EU were less enthusiastic. China, Pakistan and Iran were more unequivocal in their economic, military and political support for the government. Rajapaksa turned to Iran, Pakistan and China for military procurement on advantageous loans and to Libya, Iran, Japan, China and Russia for economic aid. Though military hardware was purchased in the Czech Republic and Israel, China became by far the largest provider of weapons towards the end of the war. Rajapaksa also strengthened bilateral ties with Jordan, Burma and Vietnam. India meanwhile walked a fine line between showing concern for the plight of the Tamils stuck in the war zone while supporting the defeat of the LTTE and preserving its ties with the Sri Lankan government. Most observers agree that India’s most important influence on the end of the war lay not in the things it did and said, but in the things it did not do and say. ‘The war was led by Indian silence.
Ties with China and other actors did not immunize Sri Lanka’s government from Western and (milder) Indian pressure. Frameworks to discuss political solutions to the conflict (APRC) and investigate grave human rights violations (the COI and IIGEP) partly served to deflect international opposition to the conflict. The government also sought to legitimize the war in the north and east, by framing its operations within the discourse of the war on terror and labelling it a ‘humanitarian war’ aimed at liberating the Tamil people from the ‘terrorists’. Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa described it as the ‘world’s biggest hostage rescue operation’. A policy of keeping the media out and limiting the access of aid agencies was strictly enforced.
From putting peace conditionalities on the negotiation table in 2003, international donors now pressed -fora kind of ‘conflict conditionality’, which involved applying diplomatic pressure and reduced funding in the hope of persuading both parties to end the fighting, initially in the hope of a return to peace talks and finally with a view to a negotiated surrender. Norway persistently tried to push the UN to take a more active role, but the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) remained divided and efforts to get Sri Lanka on its main agenda were stymied by Russia and China."’ Ban Ki Moon’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ came under increasing scrutiny. The most damaging assessment was a leaked memo from Norway’s deputy UN ambassador, Mona Juul, who accused Ban of being a ‘powerless observer’ to the humanitarian crisis, whose ‘passive and not very committed appeals seem to fall on deaf ears’. She added that ‘China is happy with Ban’s performance’.
There was growing anger from the Tamil polity and diaspora who felt Western capitals did little to speak out. The Sri Lankan government dismissed the hypocrisy of Western concerns over human rights violations – given the level of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan – and their persistent (and increasingly ungrounded) claims that the war could not be won by military means. It played an adept divide and rule game and used Western pressure to its own advantage, drawing upon an anti-colonial discourse to bolster domestic political legitimacy. Pressure gradually built up as the war intensified, yet at the same time the government became more emboldened by the concessions and silences of international actors, its growing military successes first in the east and then the north, and the compensatory support it received from non-Western sources. Possibly, Western pressure may have had an adverse effect, as it created additional anxiety and time pressure for the government during the final offensive. The LTTE failed to sufficiently appreciate the shifts that had occurred in the international and regional environment. Even towards the end it seemed to believe that international opinion could be mobilized to put pressure on Western policy makers to bring about a ceasefire. Or alternatively they held out hopes that elections in India would bring the BJP to power, who in turn would force the Sri Lankan government to bring the war to an end. This was based on an unrealistic reading of India’s changing position in relation to the LTTE and Sri Lanka. The Indian External Affairs establishment in fact seems to consider its handling of the end of Sri Lanka’s war a relative success, though results are never one sided, a senior diplomat added: ‘the murderer of Rajiv Gandhi is dead, but the Chinese are in and the Tamil issue is unaddressed. Norway could do little to influence the forces at stake in the war and the changing international context in which it took place. Diplomatic interaction with China had no discernable effect and pleas for a more productive Indian role fell on deaf ears. Through the co-chair arrangement, the Norwegian team managed to coordinate with the other three main players: the EU, Japan and the US. This enabled Norway to amplify its pleas, first for resuming talks, and later for humanitarian concerns and an attempt at negotiating LTTE surrender. The ability and preparedness of the co-chairs to counter-leverage Sri Lanka’s course of action were very limited, however.