A way out?...

A talk that could be taking place

By V Gunaratnam

"Good evening Excellency."

"Ayubowan, it was nice of you to have come Mr SalmonÖehÖpardon me, AmbassadorÖ?"

"Itís quite all right Madam, we do eat a lot of salmon, but they have Omega-3, good for the health and brain."

"Eh? Very interesting, I didnít know that."

"Thatís a long story, Madam, but shall I get to the point right away, about why I am here?"

"Ane, yes, letís get started. Something is troubling you. Let me have it, and donít mince your words."

"We are alarmed how Karuna is being used in a covert way to provoke a conflict, and destroy the peace process."

"What? We have nothing to do with Karuna. In fact, I havenít given any orders concerning him."

"But Madam, with all due respect, nobody believes that. Everyone knows your army is in it up to its nose.

"Twisting the Tigersí tail is a dangerous game, Madam, your army is going to get mauled again! I am amazed how another hair-brained scheme of your generals is being used to destroy your good work."

"Ambassador, something is very wrong, butÖ."

"Excellency, this is madness. The Tigers have practically Ďneutralisedí the armyís adventure so why are they being allowed to persist with it, in defiance of ceasefire terms? Itís going to re-ignite the war and ruin everything."

"No, no, donít get upset, Ambassador. I am going to tell you something, but itís completely off the record."

"I understand Madam. If we are to get anywhere it is best we talk openly about everything."

"Our golayas are saying this was a golden opportunity. Karuna was like a watalappam served on a plate."

"Madam, this what-a-la-pam thing is sweet I know, but your army has never enjoyed any of it in twenty years, eh! I mean, your generals promised great things, but mostly got whacked miserably, didnít they?"

"What the hell, I know that. I have been in this war business since 1994!"

"Excellency, wasnít that why your government entered into the peace process in 2002?"

"Eh? My government? No, no, it was Ranilís idea. He landed me in this acharu, I mean pickle."

"I understand Excellency, but you have been everything in the Sri Lanka government: executive president, head of cabinet, defence minister, and commander in chiefÖsince 1994 till today!

"But, you or Ranil, it makes no difference. The world saw it as the governmentís commitment to a peace process, so there is no way you or anyone else can get out of it now.

"How can it be, Madam, if every time a government changed, Tamils had to start all,over again?"

"Come now Ambassador, have you forgotten, we are a sovereign country, eh?"

"Yes, Madam, of course, Sri Lanka can do as it wishes, but what about your credibility as a nation? Do you want the world to know that it was all along a sham?

"I mean, are you saying it was a big mistake, a deception, a trickÖTamils didnít really deserve anything, no matter a million Tamils have shed blood and tears fighting state terror, to win rights everyone else in the world accepts?

"Excellency, with all humility I ask, where does all this find a place in a compassionate society?"

"I understand, but I donít have all the answers. They are saying I have to clean up Ranilís mess?"

"Excellency, does cleaning up mean provoking war using Karuna, killing more Tamils and destroying the country, in the hope it would lead to some sort of political salvation for your coalition?

"The international community wonít allow it, when there is a perfectly peaceful way of bringing the conflict to an end.

"With the utmost respect, Madam, there wonít be any winners - only death and ruination for Sri Lanka. Believe me, your government would fall like a heavy bag of potatoes!"

"This is getting pretty complicated, but donít you think I can handle it, Ambassador?"

"Excellency, as an impartial observer for many years, my gut feeling is the political and military fallout would be very severe. Your people would never forgive anyone for leading them into another war and economic ruin.

"Sri Lanka has achieved nothing in the last decade since 1994, it pains me deeply to say, Madam. If itís going to be war, only anarchy and economic chaos would follow.

"Excellency, there is no better way than getting back to the peace talks, and negotiating in good faith."

"Ambassador, but what if, after we give the Tamils basically what they wanted, they try to secede?"

"Sri Lankaís integrity and everything else would be guaranteed by the international community, and with that sort of security, you would have nothing to worry about.

"Excellency, with such a cast-iron guarantee to back you, you cannot in good conscience delay restarting the peace talks and paving the way forward for autonomy for the north-east."

"How can we be sure, Ambassador? The Tamils are a very clever, industrious, and resourceful people."

"Excellency, when a real subversive force that tried to over throw the government and killed tens of thousands is being harboured within your government, your fear of Tamil aspirations sounds hollow.

"There is living proof, and thatís the real guarantee - the Tamils would have no cause for seceding. The Sri Lanka situation is not unique. Countries that took a similar route have evolved into stable and prosperous democracies."

"Ambassador, we are still far from that stage. What can I do, Ranil is trying to trip me up?"

"With all due respect, Madam, Ranil says he was tripped up, too. But the blame game wonít get us anywhere. We have to find new ground for cooperation.

"Your problem now is that the numbers are stacked against you in parliament, and unless you get a powerful new ally, you wonít be able to do anything worthwhile in parliament, or indeed survive for long!

"If you somehow cobble together a slim majority, it would be like being on life support. It could be disconnected at anytime and send you into political limbo, as you learnt to your cost the last time!"

"Ambassador, itís proving difficult with the JVP holding me to ransom. But without them it will be kaput for my government. I am doing a crazy balancing act everyday! What do you think?"

"Thatís the talk in diplomatic circles too, Madam. We are terribly concernedÖ."

"Yes, I know what you were going to sayÖthe JVP is gaining power at our expense, after we took them under our umbrella, and gave them legitimacy.

"People must be wondering why we did this, because they tried to violently overthrow my motherís government in 1971. I tell you, itís sheer lunacy trying to govern with them!

"People are worrying that, like the proverbial camel, the JVP might be trying to oust us from our own party."

"Excellency, I am very disturbed to hear all that. But there is a bright side to everything. We could be looking at a way out of your political bind if we start thinking outside the box.

"Itís irrelevant whether you or Ranil is president; it would lead to the same situation as today. Now we have to think of a new and expanded political force, with you and Ranil working together, for Sri Lanka."

"Ambassador, maybe itís time to let the JVP go, but ane, Ranil is not helping?"

"Excellency, itís all a matter of trust and balance. Building back the trust destroyed in 2003 could be like climbing a mountain, but it must be done somehow. Thatís the first step forward to get Ranil talking.

"As the supreme political power in the country, you have to make the next move by laying out a plan.

"Balance. By that I meant that power has to be shared between the president and the prime minister equitably."

"Ambassador, I understand, but what happens from there?"

"You can either get Ranil into government now, or wait for things to unravel, in which case you would lose much of your leverage over events, and Ranil might be tempted to wait it out till the next presidential or general elections.

"Pardon me for being so blunt, but nothing would happen unless Ranil is told firmly you would give up some of your powers to him and not grab them back later, when it suited you, so constitutional safeguards might be needed."

"Thatís all pie in the sky stuff, eh, Ambassador?"

"Yes and no, Excellency. Itís all in your hands. You have the power. Ranil has the votes to complement it. But we must have the wisdom to try, and the faith we will succeed."

"Bohoma istutiiÖthank you Ambassador. I feel good, very good indeed, after this talk with you. In fact I feel like I have had some of your good salmon!"

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Posted August 15, 2004