Srilanka : One year after the war

Long standing civil war in Srilanka between the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Thamil Eelam) and the government came to an end in May 2009. End came swiftly with the destruction of the entire LTTE leadership. Collapse of LTTE and the causes are addressed in another article.

First we look at the politics in Srilanka. President Rajapaksa has consolidated his hold on power . He won the presidential elections with 58% support. He defeated the former army commander Sarath Fonseka who was supported by the entire opposition. In the subsequent parliamentary elections his alliance won majority of seats in the parliament just short of two thirds majority. His principal opponent Sarath Fonseka is in prison pending various charges. For the first time in nearly 30 years Srilanka has a strong and stable government. Economy is growing at a quicker space with GDP of 8% growth expected this year. Major infrastructure projects in Hambantota (Modern harbor and an international airport) and other areas are progressing rapidly. Srilanka is attracting major foreign investments. In addition Srilanka is renationalising industries sold in the past. For example government is buying back Emirates share in the Srilankan Airlines. Opposition parties are in total disarray. Major opposition party UNP is split into factions.

Internationally Srilankan government has successfully leveraged it's non aligned policy to country's advantage. Both India and China are competing for economic interests in the country. Major western powers occasionally make noises about human rights but maintain strong economic ties with Srilanka. Srilanka is using it's strategic position in Indian ocean to play off each of the major powers against each other as they have done in the past.

Next looking at Tamil politics, the politics is literally it is at a stand still. LTTE is wiped out as military force except for few hundred cadres in the Vanni and Amparai jungles. They do not pose any military threat to the government, although the government uses the phantom threat to extend emergency and keep it's support base intact. There was an unconfirmed incident in the Eastern province at Kudumbimalai where number of soldiers were killed. However Tamil people in general are fed up with any kind of politics and are focused very much on economic survival. This can be seen in the recent elections where less than 30 percent of the population in North and East voted in the elections. Although Tamil National Alliance emerged as the largest Tamil party , TNA and other tamil parties are either surrogates of India or Srilankan government. They are dependent on India to achieve any of their political objectives as they neither have the mass support or armed support. India is also using them to leverage economic advantages in Srilanka and to keep the Tamil population in India quiet. Remaining ex LTTE leaders are either with the government or in the camps. Some of them such as KP (Kumar Pathmanathan) ex head of LTTE logistics and Col Karuna (Ex head of LTTE Eastern region) are either cooperating with the government or under the control of Srilankan intelligence. Other leaders such as Yogi, Balakumar and Baby Subramanium are in the camps. Internally war displaced population is still undergoing enormous hardships and suffering despite government resettlement efforts. As a whole Tamil population's primary objective is survival rather than achieving any political objectives. In addition majority of the Tamil population is looking at the Srilankan army as a protector against criminals and ex militant groups. Recent Vesak celebrations in the North showed the relationship between Srilankan army and the population. Srilankan army on the whole is still well disciplined and have a positive rapport with the population. So far Army has remained neutral in politics in the Tamil areas. However the relationship can turn sour if army take the side of one or the other political parties.

Tamil Diaspora has continued with it's pipe dreams about a Tamil separate state. .Part of the Tamil diaspora has set up a Transitional Government in exile(TGTE) . There are more than 30 different transitional governments in exile for more than 50 years . Political groups in Tamil Diaspora are primarily used as tools by the Western government's to leverage policies in Srilanka. India uses Tamil groups in Srilanka to gain economic advantages in Srilanka. Western powers use the Tamil groups in Diaspora to gain economic advantages in Srilanka.

On the whole ordinary Tamil people in the north and east continue to suffer economic hardships. Although the opening of main highway (A9) to the north has brought down the prices , unemployment and economic hardships are the norm for the Tamil population. Before the war Sinhalese population in the South suffered unemployment and economic hardships while Tamil population enjoyed relative prosperity. Now majority of Srilankans irrespective of whether they are Sinhalese or Tamils suffer economic hardships. This is in spite of the economic growth.

What next.? President Rajapaksa after consolidating the power has to deliver on the promises he made. He has raised the expectations of the ordinary Srilankans. Srilankans in general expect him to deliver on unemployment and other economic issues. Honeymoon between the government and the population will not last long. The very fact that the government still harps on toothless TGTE and defunct LTTE as a threat is a sign that it is only trying to divert the attention from real issues such as unemployment and economic inequalities. Srilanka being one of the countries in Asia with high literacy always had strong left wing movements. They include Communist Party and LSSP allied with the government and JVP which is opposed to the government and allied with Sarath Fonseka. Already left wing parties in the government are taking distinct stand on economic issues from the government. Trade unions allied to left are strong . Government even prevented a meeting between Inter University Students Federation (aligned to JVP) and Jaffna university students Federation. Three decades of war side tracked the attention from economic issues. In the near future left within and outside the government will constitute a major challenge to the government.

Another important player is the military. Military has got 300000 men and women in arms. Srilanka is under western and Indian pressure to reduce the military. However the military having successfully defeated the strongest insurgency in the world is the only credible organisation in Srilanka . Military remains very popular within the general population. Top ranks of the military are close to the government and opposition UNP. However many of the middle ranking officers and soldiers are close to Sarath Fonseka and JVP. If the government fails to deliver on the economic issues, general population in the current political vacuum may turn to military to resolve the issues. Emergence of a Bonaparte is possible. Many in the military think that the politicians messed up the country and led the country into a disastrous war . They consider themselves as the saviors and protectors of the country. If the government falters military may step in.

India will continue to intervene in Srilanka to continue to reap economic benefits. India in the long run wants to control the economy of North and East and achieve the objectives set out in the 1987 Indian intervention. In 1987, LTTE prevented India from achieving it's economic objectives. It will continue to use the Tamil political parties for this purpose. However India has currently a serious internal threat in the form of naxalite insurgency and will prefer to leave the situation as it is in Srilanka. At the same time majority of Srilankans whether Sinhalese or Tamils are opposed to Indian hegemony. When Indian government invited Tamil parties for talks, Srilankan intelligence organised a meeting with KP and his sympathizers in the Tamil Diaspora. Shadow boxing between India and Srilanka will continue. Srilankan government will give minor concessions to India to keep India quiet. On the other hand Indian government will continue to use the Tamil parties to gain economic concessions.

In summary current situation in Srilanka is very fluid. Tamil militant efforts for separate state are dead for practical purposes. Country is heading towards a new dimension in politics where military will play a strong influence.

July 2010