No Turning Back Now
by V Gunaratnam
The heart of the problem is Sinhalese leaders and their people living in a state of denial. By their own intransigence, they have transformed the simple question of co-existence into what it is today, a cauldron of violence. Much water has flowed under the bridge and the Tamils’ position has evolved and matured, and it cannot be put in simpler words than saying: Live and let live.
MELTING POT Everything is back again in the political melting pot as President Rajapakse seeks a more potent alignment of forces to deal with the LTTE and the Tamil question. The upcoming peace talks in October, should they come to pass, would expose Rajapakse’s real intentions, whether he is serious about reaching an accord with the Tamils or intends to prosecute a war to end all wars.
OVERTURES Rajapakse, with all his vaunted presidential powers does not still have the clout in parliament, or the freedom to adopt measures, either way, without falling foul of the UNP or the JVP, and risk his party’s fate at the next general election, though he is himself solidly ensconced in office for the next five-plus years. But political expediency has made him seek the support of the UNP, to shore up his position, faced with the never-ending problems with the JVP.
UNP Sidelined from the centre of power with Rajapakse’s ascent to the presidency, and seeing its MPs deserting to join the government, the UNP is impatient to get back into the political mainstream by ‘working’ with Rajapakse, on initiatives to deal with the Tamil problem, and other thorny issues, hoping to again become a significant player on the national and international scene. They signed the CFA, but working with Rajapakse could mean bending to his will, if only to drive the JVP into political limbo.
JVP But predictably, the UNP’s entry has galvanized the JVP into action. As the main coalition partner propping up Rajapakse’s government, with a weighty say in the conduct of government, and the freedom to indulge in political skullduggery without restraint, it’s now in a fight to keep the UNP at bay, lest a general election be called unexpectedly by Rajapakse to his benefit. They are, however, not about to change their spots, but there are rumblings of a split within the party that could change many things in Sri Lanka politics.
PANDORA’S BOX However, Rajapakse courting the UNP seems to have opened a Pandora’s Box. The JVP, for its part, is hedging its bets by opening a dialogue with the UNP, though how they will bridge the wide political chasm separating them is hard to see. But for the UNP it is not a chance to pass up after the reported collapse of the JVP-SLFP talks. It could again be a case of politics making strange bedfellows. And now, to confound the confusion, former president Kumaratunga has thrown a spanner in the works with the idea of floating a new party of her own, very possibly with SLFP diehards still set on keeping the Bandaranayake dynasty going, in a move calculated to upset Rajapakse’s apple cart.
PEACE TALKS Thus, the stage is being set for crucial decisions at the October meeting between the government and the LTTE that could very well determine the fate of Sri Lanka for years to come. And going by what has been happening in the country in 2006, it is possible there is going to be more of the same, the violence that is taking Tamils lives, and lately of Muslims. It could also be a ploy by Sri Lanka to buy time to arm itself. But a possible realignment of political forces could impact the situation in unknown ways. And if India and the Co-chairs have finally made up their minds about what to do about the snowballing violence in Sri Lanka, it could still lead to something constructive.
WAR BY STEALTH Up to now Rajapakse has waged war on the Tamils by stealth, turning a blind eye to the atrocities being committed by the SLA, the brutal killing of civilians. In just a matter of a few months, a thousand Tamil civilians have perished, and more than 200,000 displaced or driven to the safety of India, shocking statistics even by the destruction to life and property under Kumaratunga’s decade in power.
RULE OF LAW The rule of law has become a farce under Rajapakse’s presidency. He claims sovereignty over the whole of Sri Lanka, sworn to protect all citizens, Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims, but acts like he is only the president of the Sinhalese, with no moral duty or heart to protect his Tamil and Muslim citizens from being targeted and killed by SLA gunfire, or aerial bombardment.
There are also other unspeakable happening under his presidency. Food aid, medicine, and other essentials items to the Tamil areas are being with-held, creating profound human rights and humanitarian crisis affecting the embattled Tamil population.
Assassinations, abductions, intimidation, and extortions have become the order of the day, allegedly government inspired, affecting Tamils and the local and foreign media critical of the government’s conduct of the war which expose of Sri Lanka’s human rights violations.
MILITARY SOLUTION Buoyed by the ‘victory’ in Sampur, the president and his cohorts have been swept up in a wave of euphoria that seems to have them dreaming about a military solution to the Tamil question. But Rajapakse, a hawk in sheep’s clothing as events are proving, would be defying history if he chooses to follow in the now discredited foot steps of Kumaratunga, and decides to wage war on the Tamils.
He might be mistaking the LTTE’s restraint, in the face of international calls for the resumption of peace talks, as a sign of weakness. Lacking in success, the government is also deceiving itself, it appears, by totting up the killing of Tamil civilians also as part of their success. In truth, the balance keeps shifting back and forth, as it has over the last two decades, like a pendulam, in periodic bouts of violence, without a decisive advantage being gained by anyone.
A DANGEROUS POSSIBILITY Both sides are locked in a stalemate, a situation crying out for resolution. But Sri Lanka’s leaders appear to be preparing to enter a more dangerous phase in the conflict, possibly planning to play out an end-game strategy by a Rajapakse regime desperately seeking a ‘final solution’ to the Tamil question, before India and the Co-chairs decide to make more purposeful moves.
But, for the Tamils, it is already time to be preparing to face Sri Lanka’s worst military excesses, as Sri Lanka defies international calls for peace, and a negotiated solution.
It is difficult to think the October peace talks in Oslo are going make any difference, or whether they would take place at all, knowing what happened after the last Geneva talks.
THE SOLUTION But the Tamils have not wavered in their demand for justice. More than half a century after independence in 1948, the Tamil struggle for justice in Sri Lanka continues with even more conviction and energy. And amidst all the ups and downs, the world has also now become more aware of the real situation in the country that could perhaps turn out to be a ray of light at end of the tunnel.
The tsunami helped to open a window on the country and expose the many blatant human rights violations and the plight of the Tamils under Kumaratunga and now Rajapakse, making people around the world become more alive to the real situation within the country.
As a result, 2006 has seen the Co-chairs, comprising the EU, US, Japan, and Norway, with India as the regional power, saying that the only way to resolve the conflict is through negotiations, and power-sharing within a federal setup For Sri Lanka, there is no getting away from that position.
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY ACTION However, prospects for a timely resolution of the conflict would be doomed if the Co-chairs and India keep soft-peddling on calls for unconditional negotiations, with strict observance of the CFA, and allow Sri Lanka to continue its stalling tactics.
Admittedly, India has a very delicate role to play. Only they would know best how and when to play their hand, but the Tamils are fervently waiting for them to make the critical difference. At the same time, there are other actions needed to reinforce the peace process.
As a prerequisite, the Co-chairs must urgently respond to the unbridled violence being unleashed by the armed forces on the Tamil civilian population, and get Sri Lanka to put a stop to it, and all the humanitarian consequences happening in its wake.
In the same context, they should also offer security arrangements, and incentives for economic recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation to reassure the government.
THE PARADOX It is a paradox that achieving peace in conflict situations invariably means violence, fighting, and even war, to test each other out. As Henry Kissinger has said, in so many other words, the requisite balance of forces or power is needed to get effective negotiations underway, where no side enjoys a decisive advantage.
Because it is not a question of numbers, being armed gun for gun, fire power for fire power, or combatant to combatant, but what matters is the ability to inflict unacceptable consequences on the other, and drive them to negotiate. Napoleon’s thought that "In war, three-quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter," also bears relevance to these situations.
After twenty odd years of a still unresolved conflict, no one in his right mind would deny that such a point has been reached in Sri Lanka and has in fact existed for some time now, but the political will has never been there to resolve the conflict and reach an accord.
FINALITY Time and events have shown the world what the Tamils are up against. The killings, displacement, torture, maiming, starvation, deprivation, and sickness, are testing the Tamils to the limit. But nothing is going to stop them from claiming their birthright by breaking down the wall of intolerance and bigotry, withstanding the cycle of violence, and achieving the freedom to manage heir own affairs.
THE CLOCK The heart of the problem is Sinhalese leaders and their people living in a state of denial. By their own intransigence, they have transformed the simple question of co-existence into what it is today, a cauldron of violence. Much water has flowed under the bridge and the Tamils’ position has evolved and matured, and it cannot be put in simpler words than saying: Live and let live.
There is no turning the clock back now!