Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Rajapakse Inc. a Barrier to Peace

by V Gunaratnam

President Rajapakse came to power promising to deliver the nation from years of conflict and decline, but after having forged strong ties with the JVP and JHU, he locked himself into a position that opposes any 'concessions' to the Tamils.

Mahaviraar speech            

The Sri Lanka situation is “grave and deteriorating” by the day, and the hopes for a peaceful resolution of the conflict have almost evaporated. The LTTE Supremo’s Mahaavirar Day speech was a reflection of this. In many ways, the speech was a cry of frustration that Tamils have wasted valuable time, and suffered immensely, deceived by the duplicity of successive Sinhala governments and their leaders for more than half a century.

So many years have been gambled away by these leaders to no purpose, valuable time the Tamils and Sinhalese could have spent in the productive enterprise of nation-building of their own. The crisis continues to ravage the NorthEast and the country, but the plaintive cries of the Tamils for relief keep falling on deaf ears.

The Co-Chairs and India cannot continue to watch with indifference while innocent Tamils are being killed in the name of sovereignty. They must act decisively to end the plight of the Tamils without delay.

Rajapakse’s duplicity

President Rajapakse came to power promising to deliver the nation from years of conflict and decline, but after having forged strong ties with the JVP and JHU, he locked himself into a position that opposes any 'concessions' to the Tamils. He carries on, under cover of a fraudulent propaganda for peace, with a murderous campaign against the Tamils that surpasses even the worst excesses under former President Kumaratunga.

Allying himself with the extremists created formidable political barriers to peace that undermined Rajapakse's own credibility and ability to draw the LTTE into a serious dialogue. Surrounded by these elements, and a sycophantic coterie of brothers and wheeler-dealers, the country is spiraling downward into political and economic chaos. But if Rajapakse values peace, it is not in evidence. Most times he prefers to swim with the tide of Sinhala nationalism, playing politics, and ducking the hard decisions called for in these difficult times.

Dying and hard times are for others, because - ironically - here is a president who made violence a way of life in the country and is now all set to build himself a Rs.400 million bunker, a fortress within a fortress at Temple Trees, right in the heart of highly fortified Colombo, to hide from violence. Did he to pause to think how the millions being wasted on his security would help the long-suffering Sinhalese and Tamil tsunami victims, the Tamils trapped and starving by the closure of the A9 highway or others trying to escape the bombs being rained on them by his military?

Reckless, arrogant and myopic to a point, Rajapakse presides over a regime that is being called Rajapakse Inc, a self-serving gang of Sinhala supremacists bent on keeping the conflict alive while the going is good, trigger-happy cowboys playing with the lives of the people and the destiny of the country.

Perception is reality        

Rajapakse, egged on by his brothers and hangers-on, is charting a course to catastrophe. By his own actions he has removed all pretence that he is seriously seeking an accord with the LTTE. The stupendous 40% budgetary allocation for military spending makes it clear where he is headed. But does he realize that paying a king’s ransom for his military adventures will only leave little for the people to survive on and drive them to revolt?

Perception is reality, and so his actions speak for him. While he keeps repeating parrot-like his great love of peace, he betrays himself by acquiescing in the killing and flagrant human rights violations against innocent Tamils. His record is horrendous: 3,500 killed, the 200,000 internally displaced, 20,000 driven to the sanctuary of India’s shores, and the 600,000 trapped, starving, sick and risking death by the closure of the A9.

Rajapakse and some of his minister’s insensitiveness and spiteful reactions, to the Mahaavirar speech, the solemn event, and its grave message for all Sri Lankans whose lives have been devastated for so long by the conflict, was typical of people who have no qualms about a country and people being scourged by the conflict.

Peace talks going nowhere         

When the Geneva peace talks in November collapsed because Sri Lanka adamantly refused to re-open the A9 highway, it left the CFA and the peace process in a shambles. But it suits their strategy, but their duplicity is transparent, as they continue their push to turn the military balance in their favour.

But with time running out and under intense pressure from the Co-chairs, and India, to come up with a solution, it was only this year that Sri Lanka had an All Party Representative Conference (APRC) working on a solution. After labouring for months, its expert panel has just put out a majority and four minority reports.

A leaked version of the majority report is already drawing fire. The TNA says it does not meet the aspirations of the Tamils. At the other end, the JVP is condemning the panel of having exceeded its mandate. The SLFP’s reaction too is negative. Not surprisingly the UNP is reacting favourably, saying it’s a good starting point.

The majority report attempts to satisfy two conflicting requirements, at once trying to echo something of Rajapakse’s Chinthana and at the same time making feeble attempts at addressing Tamil aspirations. But it is lunacy to think it will be elevated in some way to meet a higher purpose, because when the APRC gets done with it, it will be a right royal mess, ending up as another fraudulent exercise to reiterate Sinhala hegemony.

Whatever hotchpotch recommendations the APRC finally puts out, it will be hawked around some world capitals as a national-consensus solution. It Rajapakse believes any half-baked solution is going get the nod from the Co-chairs or India or end the conflict, he is gravely mistaken. All what it’s going to do is to keep the conflict going into the future. One solution is for Rajapakse to have a foolproof mechanism to share power with the UNP, because all the presidential powers don’t mean much with a minority government constantly under threat of being brought down, especially in the perilous state of affairs that exist today in Sri Lanka.

Self-serving SLFP-UNP alliance

Rajapakse’s minority government has never been strong despite the enormous powers of the presidency. With allies the JVP and JHU often restricting his freedom of action, Rajapkase was forced to court the UNP or face the collapse of his government. Ranil obliged, not to let Rajapakse become a roaring success, but to get political mileage out of this marriage of convenience, and worm his way back to power. No one will ever forget how Kumaratunga pulled the rug from under Rail and the UNP in 2002.

In the back-stabbing business of politics therefore their Moue is just a self-serving device that will hold just as long as it serves their own purpose. The APRC debate on the report will be the critical test. Rajapakse’s Chinthana is so far removed from the expectations of the Tamils that it would be like trying to square the circle for him to be embracing any part of the majority report. Don’t expect any miracles in the present political climate. The debate will most likely cough up a thoroughly watered-down devolution package, unless breaks up in complete disarray before that.

Who is undermining the peace?

At this point, Sri Lanka seems far from interested in talking peace to end the conflict. They keep blaming the LTTE for avoiding the peace talks. But look at the facts. What was there to talk about when Sri Lanka had nothing on offer for more than five decades up to the present? It is only now stirring from its sleep by getting the APRC to concoct something on power sharing.

After all it was the LTTE which brought about a ceasefire, which Sri Lanka hastily embraced later, but now keeps violating at will by a litany of ceasefire violations to upset the balance of power. In another ploy, they keep harassing Norway (their own appointee), and the humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs of bias, to degrade their standing and reports of human rights violations.

Over 500 hundred soldiers perished in Habarana and Muhamalai but Rajapakse was unmoved. But even before responsibility had been determined for the suicide attempt on his brother, a US expatriate hired to serve as defence secretary, Rajapakse rushed to enact an enhanced PTA, draconian measures directed at the Tamils. While it smacks of double standards, infinitely more serious is its real intent: undercut the peace process, and violating further the fundamental rights of the Tamils to intensify their suffering.

It’s inexplicable why he and his advisors are so engrossed in the use of force to deal with the LTTE/Tamils, because of some shift in the military balance they seem to be sensing, when Rajapakse’s long years in government will tell him that neither force nor punitive laws have worked up to now or how the tables were turned on them at Elephant Pass. Until he opens his mind and accepts the need to deal with the underlying problems of the Tamils, he will be seen to be following on Kumaratunga’s tail, and everyone knows where that is going to lead.

India is watching with impatience

Sri Lanka cannot take the words of support from the US as a license to trample on the Tamils, to kill and destroy them. Unfortunately for it is also a long rope to hang itself if it fails to fall in line with the US position already on record calling for an end to violence and a negotiated solution.

But it is India that Sri Lanka has to worry about most, the regional superpower that will exert the greatest influence on the outcome of the conflict. Pressure is mounting within India for it to come to the aid of the Tamils. And if Sri Lanka continues to take India’s words of warning about the violence and peace lightly, it would be making a grave mistake.

The forced exodus of tens of thousands of Tamil refugees flooding the shores of Tamil Nadu, adding to the huge numbers from earlier years and the economic and social burden on them, gives India perfectly valid reasons to intervene in Sri Lanka and put a stop to the flagrant human rights violations and the exodus, but it also has an obligation to care for the Tamils who are so closely bound to them by language, religion and culture.

Rajapakase also knows well there is no going over India’s head, to the US or anyone else, to help end the conflict. New Delhi is also very concerned that Pakistan is playing a dangerous game in India’s backyard. But there can be no doubt that any serious misstep by Sri Lanka will be punished by India.

The perennial question

It is baffling to see Rajapakse squandering away another opportunity to bring peace to the country when the people are so desperately praying for a new approach to end the conflict. Ttragically, with all his experience in government, he still seems riveted to a military solution to end the conflict on his own terms.

To the Co-Chairs, India and dispassionate outside observers, it is apparent the problem has defied resolution all these years because Sri Lanka has never been serious about sharing power with the Tamils, and its leaders are living in total denial, a gross inability or unwillingness to accept that the Tamils have the same rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the Sinhalese.

If Rajapakse persists in shutting his mind to the tragic history of the last three decades and the admonitions of the Co-Chairs and India, he will have to bear the grim consequences of the catastrophe that awaits him. But the UN, the Co-Chairs and India are not going remain silent witnesses to another human tragedy.

The perennial question about man’s inhumanity to man, however, remains a tormenting thought: Do people have to die in large numbers before peace can be established and for them to live together in amity?

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