The Presidential Ploy: War for Peace Again ? By Wakeley Paul

ow much longer does the President think she can piggy bank on the eternal Sinhala ploy to stymie the surrender of power to the Northeast? How long can the Tamils and Muslims wait to be freed from our tormented hopes and the Sinhala domineering past?  Even the extremely limited [if not meaningless] Sinhalese concept of Devolution of power, has been traumatized by failure from its very inception.

The peace talks were grounded on the footing that the ultimate goal was the creation of a Federal State. What other ultimate goal is their to envision or discuss? That has been predetermined and should not hinder the much needed ‘Rehabilitation” of the devastated Northeast, which has been a primary human rights concern of both the international community and the Tamil leadership.

The President’s ploy to frustrate this need by side tracking it with a demand for parallel talks to determine ultimate goals, exposes her preposterous disregard of the immediate human rights needs that confront Tamils. She and her wily leg man, Lakshman Kadirgamar, have a human rights problem. They do not respect them.  They prefer to mire the peace process and the state of the nation as a whole in technical irrelevancies. This is typical of a regime with no coherent vision. Under her short tutelage, Sri Lanka has become a dissipated nation, humiliated abroad, uncertain at home, and hungry for action. The anxiety of the people in every segment of society has been steadily rising, while attention to their dire needs remain unresolved. The whole concept of an effective government in existence has been stalled. The inattention to their needs though obviously ill conceived, is overridden by the all consuming desire of the President to retain power in her hands for the foreseeable future. This  has left the infrastructure of government in a shambles. She is a political zombie who presides over a withering alliance with a racially biassed ally in the wings. The nation teeters on the edge of an abyss while she keeps foraging for ploys to remain in power.

The danger that this portends is whether she will resort to war as her ultimate weapon to survive. Her present intentions are shrouded in opacity. The Tamils and the international community have to view her every crafty maneuver with heightened suspicion, ever ready for the unexpected to crash around us. Her mechanizations could range from a bid to join the U.N.P and fight the LTTE together, to bolstering her coalition with J.H.U support. No one can predict which way she will turn or in which corner she will crouch, ready to pounce when she sees fit to do so.

The current stalemate in the nations fortunes may however trigger open shafts of light. We have to approach the following fundamentals with fresh eyes, fresh ears and freshened minds. These fundamentals are that the following are self evident truths.

[I] The fact that the Tamils are a separate people with separate aspirations from those of the Sinhalese has been  recognized by the Sinhalese rulers. This is evidenced by the very need of the Sinhalese rulers to even consider such concepts as ‘Devolution of power”  and a concession toward “Federalism”.

[II] That despite this recognition of our being separate and distinct peoples, the Sinhalese continue with the policy of the acquisition of large tracts of the Tamil homeland; and thereby subject the Tamils to uncontrolled Sinhalese domination on shrinking Tamil terrain. This Tamil inheritance of dispossession of their lands in the name of national agricultural development, has bolstered the right of the Sinhalese rulers to claim, that this is a single nation with a mandated need for an ‘Unitary Constitution” It is obvious from this, that every pretense of a  meaningful surrender of power has been a sham. It should also become increasingly evident to the International community that this is so. If it has not yet reached that dimension now, every effort should be made to make them realize the obvious.

[III} The third self evident phenomenon, is that in order to bury the reality of a separate people with a deep rooted need for a separate state,  the Sinhalese rulers have convinced the international community that a ‘separate state’, is a forbidden concept. They chant the chant that this offensive idea must be buried before it takes root. The fact is it has taken root. It is no longer a radical concept, despite the insistence by the international community that it should be so regarded for the moment

The international community has had a history of initially resenting both national movements against former colonial rulers and movements for independence within recognized sovereign nations. The latter has partly stemmed from the history of the evolution of Europe’s diverse regions into nation states; the powerful Union of American States; and the inherent idea that there is safety in numbers and an advantage to be gained by collective security and economic amalgamation of smaller units.

The symbolic shift of thought  from here, towards international control of  nation states by the United Nations has however been resolutely resisted by the more powerful nations, as has been the E.U’s efforts to diminish the power and influence of these well recognized national entities. The idea that the bigger the better is being questioned when they prove to be counter the national interests of the powerful few. NATO and the UN are bolstered as laudatory international vehicles as long as they serve the interests of the major powers. When they don’t, they are conveniently ignored. The unilateral preemptive strike against Iraq contrary to the UN security Council’s resolution, is the best recent example of this realistic and unavoidable  twist in world affairs. To each his own is a fact of life.

The movements for separation by ethnic dissidents with regional coherence has in the mean time gained increasing recognition in Indonesia, The Sudan and other grisly terror ridden nations of Africa. The authority of racial majorities to rule indiscriminately over regional majorities is being increasingly doubted. The need to diffuse the offenses of the national majorities is growing into a need to downgrade the domineering exactions by these repeat violators of human rights. Yet, the suggestion by a former U.S. diplomat, that Iraq be divided into a loose confederation of three separate nations, to reflect the ethnic majorities in each region, was classified as radical by conservative TV commentators on Fox news. There is always a strong and almost irresolute tendency to resist change. This is a well encrusted reaction that can only be torpedoed over time. The question is, “Has the International community recognized  that the majority community rulers in Sri Lanka have used their position to devour the human rights of regional majorities and other national minorities” It would appear so, but that fact needs to be more precisely emphasized  by them.

The President can and will continue to make phone calls and shake hands and arrange meetings with those she seeks to buy over to her side; but their support will be as shallow, as is their need to continue to demand spiffy cars and homes for themselves. She will by this resort to out and out bribery, only succeed in bankrupting herself, her party and the nation.

The international community should not expect her to lower her profile or expect her to enhance the peace process.They should not superficially discard her possible desire to fan the flames of war as an unlikely possibility. Their immediate human rights focus should be to bolster the fate of the starved and shriveled masses of all communities, without expecting an easy peaceful political solution from The President’s faded political alliance.

 

The present crisis: A way out By Jayadeva Uyangoda

Sri Lanka’s peace process has now reached an unmistakable turning point. The Wednesday’s suicide explosion in Kollupitiya should not be allowed to mark itself as the beginning of a new process of low-intensity war. Without any further delay, President Kumaratunga’s government should take new political steps to revive the negotiations, bring the process of violence under effective control and restore the stability of the overall political process. Otherwise, Sri Lanka runs the immediate danger of relapsing into escalated violence.

Returning to violence in Colombo is indeed not a major surprise to those who followed, with consternation how the political process has been going through a period of instability. The new UPFA regime did not have an effective strategy to revive negotiations, or to manage the political consequences of the LTTE’s split.

Instead, the government allowed the situation to grow out of hand. Now the UPFA government should take the Wednesday event as a violent wake up call, reassess its inept political strategy towards the LTTE as well as the peace process and design a new initiative to return to the negotiation table.

Analysis

Returning to negotiations is the best course of action that President Kumaratunga should pursue. But, in pursuing that line of action, her government needs to develop a credible analysis of why it should engage in negotiations with the LTTE at all.

One key problem with the UPFA leadership is that they have not taken the trouble of exploring the windows of opportunity available in the process that their political rivals began in 2002.

Instead, they have substituted rhetoric for rigorous analysis. The UPFA has repeatedly given the impression that its understanding of why the LTTE has been seeking priority of ISGA over core issues in negotiations is embedded in an old mindset.

That in turn emanates from an inability of the Sinhalese political class to acknowledge its own leading role in shaping a trajectory of the ethnic conflict in which not the war, but accelerated economic development, can take primacy in the North and East under the LTTE’s control and management. Many UPFA critics have argued that the LTTE’s ISGA proposals are a stepping-stone to secession. But, a government that is serious about negotiated peace in Sri Lanka should also be able to see a negotiated ISGA as the prelude to reunion after years of a secessionist war. Without such flexibility of assessing a broad political process, no government in Colombo could have the courage or capacity to take the peace process any further. President Kumaratunga can hardly afford now to allow diverse currents in her regime or administration to push the political conditions around the peace process along various contradictory directions. She has to pursue political options to bring the negotiation process back on track. It requires political, not military, initiatives that should also enable her to stabilize the country’s political process that is in disarray at the moment. There are two political initiatives she can take immediately.

The first is addressed to the LTTE, and the second to the UNP and the opposition.

 

Initiatives

In the first initiative President Kumaratunga needs to announce that her government is now ready to resume negotiations with the LTTE on an agenda around the LTTE’s ISGA proposals in order to explore a negotiated interim settlement to the ethnic conflict. Dropping the stand on parallel negotiations on core issues should not be seen by her as a political setback. Any serious political gain for President Kumaratunga now rests not on her sticking to positional bargaining with the LTTE, but with her capacity to move forward in the direction of principled negotiations.

The second initiative for advancing the peace process calls for integrating the UNP and the Opposition in the peace process. The UPFA government is now repeating the same political idiocy that the UNF government did when in power by harassing and pushing the opposition against the wall. President Kumaratunga does not need to indulge in this politics of mutual destruction any longer, because in her last address to the nation she herself has proposed a very good plan to make the peace process inclusive and multi-partial. Her proposal to set up an apex body of National Peace Council under her leadership, but providing copartnership to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, is certainly an excellent proposal in the direction of bipartisanship in the peace process.

The proposed National Advisory Council on peace, consisting of representatives of political parties as well as civil society, is an equally good proposal for multi-partial process building. Setting up of the NPC would also be a step in the direction of arresting the mutually destructive politics of acrimony between the UPFA and the UNP of which the people are just tired. The UNP should see their involvement in an NPC as constructive from their point of view as well, because it locks both the President and the UNP in a bipartisan institutional process. Finally, there still remains a small window of opportunity for President Kumaratunga to take Sri Lanka’s peace process forward towards a constructive compromise. Needless to say, losing this moment will be quite costly.

Courtesy: The Daily Mirror ( Sri Lanka) July 9, 2004