"If you draw a line, we will pave a road"

By Jude Prakash

"If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great." -- Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own

Conflicts, sometimes, bring the best out in people. During a negotiation process, conflicts are reality checks for the negotiators and could also be used as a leverage to advance the negotiation process.

Israelis and Palestinians used "crisis" to advance the negotiation process effectively during the so-called "Oslo Channel" in the early nineties.  The Oslo Channel negotiations are well documented in Gaza First: the secret Norway channel to peace between Israel and the PLO by Jane Corbin.  One such instance is when the chief Palestinian negotiator Abu Ala, makes an announcement at the table, when the process has hit a brick wall, that he is resigning from the Palestinian team and makes a farewell speech.

Even though the Israelis suspect this is a clever ploy, the Israelis were forced to compromise due to the fear of the Oslo Channel being closed and the prospect of negotiating with a hard line Palestinian who may replace the moderate Abu Ala.

Vellupillai Prabakaran, the Leader of the Tamil Nation, quipped in one of his interviews that "History is my Guide (Varalaru en valikarti)".  Once again, as he has done so many times in the past, he has exploited the lessons from the history in the current peace process.

At the Press Conference on the 10th of April 2002, Prabakaran warned that "We do not think that Ranil Wickremesinghe is capable of addressing the core issues and offer us a permanent solution at this stage; because the executive powers of governance are vested with the president and his powers are limited to parliament".  "We wish to insist that the Ranil's government is not politically stable or authoritative or powerful enough to take up the core demands of the Tamils and offer us a permanent solution," the LTTE leader stated. "But, it is because of that we are suggesting the formulation of an interim administration set up in which the LTTE can participate in the north east. In the meantime Ranil Wickremesinghe will have enough space to build up southern Sri Lanka economically," he said. 

Mr. Balasingam states in his recent letter to the Norwegians that "As you are aware, the issue of interim administration was taken up for discussion at the inaugural session of the peace talks in Sattahip, Thailand. Responding to the proposal of the LTTE delegation, Prof. Pieris explained the legal and constitutional constraints involved in the formation of such an administrative body outside the parameters of the Sri Lanka constitution. To avoid political controversy in the early stages of the talks the negotiating parties decided to replace the idea of an administrative structure with the establishment of a ‘Joint Task Force for Humanitarian and Reconstruction Activities’ for the Northeast.

"Then in the next round of talks the Joint Task Force was converted into SIHRN.  In hindsight the acceptance of the SIHRN proposal was a mistake by the LTTE. LTTE should have verified the legal status and operational capability of the SIHRN before accepting it.  Had they sought legal opinion on this issue from a constitutional expert, it would have become apparent that the body is toothless."  Balasingam mentions in his letter that "SIRHN has not been able to deliver on the expectations of the people" and that lead Prabakaran to being frustrated.

Therefore, Prabakaran goes back to his original position and demands an Interim Administration.  

This is the ideal time for the hard bargaining with the donor conference around the corner.  Prabakaran has in effect engineered this crisis to advance the peace process, not to stall it.

Prabakaran's envisioned road map to an acceptable solution involves the interim administration (IA).  LTTE acknowledges that the final settlement will involve prolonged negotiations and is time consuming. Therefore, to address the immediate needs of the war ravaged Northeast, they have "suggested a new innovative structure for the Northeast with adequate authority and legal status for the rapid implementation of humanitarian and development activities. This innovative new structure, in his view, should be efficient, transparent and accountable with definite functions and powers so that the peace dividends pledged to the people can be delivered to the people without delay, without corruption, without bureaucratic obstacles".

The corruption and lethargies of the Sri Lankan bureaucracy are well known to the Sri Lankans.  Even the people in the south admire the efficiency of the LTTE's administrative mechanisms.  LTTE boasts of a corruption free administration, which understands the needs at the ground level.  Therefore the donor community could be guaranteed that by channeling aid to the IA directly  it will not waste the aid money, which will account for every cent it spends.

By highlighting the fact that the Government of India offered the same setup is to bring to the attention of the International Community, that there is precedent in regard to the IA.  Once again Prabakaran brings the lessons from history to his defense.

Recently the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe said his government plans to work out a road map for devolution of power to the Tamil minority.  Speaking to parliament, Mr. Wickramasinghe said the idea was to set out the sequence for addressing the main political issues in negotiations with the Tamil Tigers.

There is a famous saying in Tamil to depict the intelligence and efficiency of an individual -  Neenga kodu portal nanga road ae poduvum.  Roughly translated it means "If you draw a line, we will pave a road." 

Prabakaran, by proposing the IA as milestone in the road to achieving lasting peace, has once again shown that he is a man of action. The Prime Minister drew the line on the Roadmap, but Prabakaran has actually paved the road on the Roadmap to Peace.