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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 876

Sustainable peace in Sri Lanka impedes extreme ideologies to cause schisms

Daya Gamage - Asian Tribune Presentation
Washington, D.C. 08 December (Asiantribune.com):

"Peace is not an incentive for a segment of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora which had supported or sympathized with the LTTE and continues to support the demand for the establishment of a separate state, Tamil Eelam.

Arguably, if peace progresses amongst the communities in Sri Lanka, the extreme positions held by various communities will lose out. A harmonious society makes it difficult for extreme ideologies to cause schisms; for those who want to prevent this from happening, the easy way is to prevent the existing peacefulness from flourishing by highlighting communal differences and leveraging past atrocities – not for the purpose of grieving but for furthering a political agenda. This too should in some form or manner be considered a dastardly act."

I, as part of the United States Bureau of the Asian Tribune, along with some of my academic, diplomatic and society colleagues - Sri Lankan, American and some from other parts of the world who have adopted this country - while engaged in socio-political discourse sometimes accidently or by chance discover very interesting political documents, research papers and submissions to academic forums which cover and discuss issues of other nations that the U.S. continues to maintain close focus and interest.

What is quoted in the first paragraph of this presentation is from a document that was brought to this writers attention by a former colleague of the U.S. State Department.

The document is already listed in several US government-supported official portals one such site being Military Education Research Library Network (merln.ndu.edu) , and this writer is fully aware that American legislators in their respective chambers - Senate or the House - and their professional staff along with state department officials go through them when they focus some attention to the issues of Sri Lanka and her relations with the United States.

The person who brought this document to my attention, along with some others with whom I discussed, were in the consensus that it was not a document with 'rhetoric onslaught' on Sri Lanka but touches the borderline of Glasnost and Perestroika.

The author of the document, if one goes through it in entirety using the following link - http://www.isas.nus.edu.sg/Attachments/PublisherAttachment/ISAS_Insight_... - does not use rhetoric or disparaging observations, instead gives a fair analyses for the understanding of Sri Lanka issues.

It is this aspect that motivated this writer to present 'Peace Held Hostage in Sri Lanka' analysis by Gloria Spittel of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore to help this writers 'homeland' to understand the nuances of issues this South Asian nation faces since her defeat of the terrorist/separatist Tamil Tigers in May 2009.

Helping the 'homeland' to some is nothing but singing hosannas, and this writer attempt to help his 'motherland' in a constructive manner to build the nation defeating the 'remnants' of the LTTE which is operating globally to bring a 'Kosovo' atmosphere in Sri Lanka and 'bring peace among communities' as the Ms. Spittel says in her paper to usher in a' sustainable peace that impedes extreme ideologies that cause schisms' as observed by her.

This Gloria Spittel-paper gives many insights that Sri Lanka could take to build an image among the international community to defeat the separatist sentiments that a section of the Sri Lankan Diaspora in Western nations endeavors since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. The propaganda involves half-truths, lies, diabolical lies and utter falsehood that the Sri Lankan authorities have not been completely successful in using public affairs, public diplomacy and strategic communication to combat while building a conducive atmosphere within the nation to end pro-separatist 'global' elements' "dating game" with policymakers in Western capitals.

It is in this context that we highlighted a very interesting thought by the author of this paper as the introduction to my commentary.

Her paper to the Institute of Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore presented September 2012 concludes with this observation:

"Delivering peace by coming to terms with a war-torn past requires political maturity. The problem with peace in Sri Lanka is that while it has dawned, the politicians have not awoken to post-war realities. Identity politics has taken centre stage in Sri Lanka; although there is initiative to define what it means to be Sri Lankan, this initiative falls on its head when it is imposed upon people and not nurtured from the ground up. A great deal of self-introspection, recognition of realities and forward movement is required if the peacefulness that Sri Lanka currently enjoys is to include all its citizens and improve over the years."

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) published its annual Global Peace Index (GPI) report in June 2012 which ranked 158 countries on their state of peacefulness. Sri Lanka was the largest mover on the index, ranking 103, up from 130 in the 2011 report. Gloria Spittel's paper situates this GPI ranking in the current socio-political environment in Sri Lanka, showing that the GPI ranking is not indicative of a sustainable trend and that ‘peace’ in itself is a problem for certain pockets in Sri Lanka.

The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit research organization dedicated to shifting the world’s focus to peace as a positive, achievable, and tangible measure of human well-being and progress. IEP achieves its goals by developing new conceptual frameworks to define peacefulness; providing metrics for measuring peace; and uncovering the relationships between business, peace and prosperity as well as promoting a better understanding of the cultural, economic and political factors that create peace.

IEP has offices in Sydney and New York. It works with a wide range of partners internationally and collaborates with intergovernmental organizations on measuring and communicating the economic value of peace.

The investigative/research paper recognizes the Sri Lankan Diaspora as "a powerful factor and an essential element in Sri Lanka’s post-war reality", a notion that Ms. Spittel advocates as an essential element that the GSL need to open and establish a rapport. Nevertheless, the author makes the following observation: "Three years after that turning point in Sri Lanka’s contemporary history, the country is yet to consciously prescribe its post-war identity; and importantly the country’s progress to peace remains constrained and marred by the absence of clear government policy and by petty political bickering amongst the political elite. The same lack of direction and unilateral policy is present amongst the Diaspora.”

‘Unknown’ Peace in the Time of Confusion: For many of Sri Lanka’s 20.32 million people, the war between Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was almost a political norm, if not a normal state of social life. The insecurity and the curtailing of civic freedoms through mechanisms such as the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act contributed to an environment hardly conducive to healthy living.

Many sought refuge overseas for personal security, economic well-being and social mobility; these masses comprise the Diaspora, a powerful factor and an essential element in Sri Lanka’s post-war reality. The war in Sri Lanka was the commonly flouted excuse for the lack of resources, the lack of development and the lack of everything else; citizens who remained in Sri Lanka felt the brunt of the war through personnel, personal, and economic loss, while those who migrated were not far removed from the homeland’s woes either; having left their families behind, economic aid to them and worry for their safety were compounded by the geographic miles in between.

In May 2009 the war ended, much to the relief of many, especially those in the island living in mortal fear and economic stagnation – leaving behind a war-battered, war-weary and vulnerable society, transcending land and ethnic boundaries within the country. The end of internal warfare brought peace that generations had not known but fervently hoped for but the peace that dawned is the type that knows no bombs and no war. This is an overarching ‘negative’ peace which by its nature limits its enjoyment. It is apparent that the politicians in Sri Lanka were the least prepared to welcome and nurture peace, having lost their muse popularly used by politicians to explain their policy deficiencies. Three years after that turning point in Sri Lanka’s contemporary history, the country is yet to consciously prescribe its post-war identity; and importantly the country’s progress to peace remains constrained and marred by the absence of clear government policy and by petty political bickering amongst the political elite.

The same lack of direction and unilateral policy is present amongst the Diaspora. It appears the question is asked: Now that there is peace in Sri Lanka, what is to be done with it and how?
Very encouraging data she takes from the overall survey done by IEP this year:

Negative and Positive Peace: Yet, progress is not entirely stagnant in Sri Lanka, if the Global Peace Index (GPI) of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) is anything to go by.

The post-war country was the biggest mover towards peacefulness in 2012, ranking 103 among the 158 countries surveyed, a considerable improvement compared to the country’s ranking of 130 among 153 countries in 2011. The IEP conceptualizes peace on the GPI scale (first published in 2007) as ‘harmony achieved by the absence of war or conflict’ defined as ‘negative’ peace and measured by a composite index of 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators. The indicators are used to evaluate countries on three dimensions: ongoing domestic and international conflict (five indicators), societal safety and security (which measures the level of harmony in a country, 10 indicators), and the level of militarization in a country (eight indicators). A low score on the composite GPI is indicative of a peaceful country.

The IEP differentiates between ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ peace where the latter is defined as the ‘strength of attitudes, institutions, and structures’ within a country that would ‘determine the capacity to create and maintain a peaceful society’. The 2012 edition of the GPI report is the first instance in which IEP has measured positive peace. The Positive Peace Index (PPI) is based on a statistical framework utilizing ‘eight key pillars of peace’ which is a combination of economic, cultural and political factors that influence peace in a country. Each of these pillars has an average of three indicators weighted on a 1-5 scale where one is most positively peaceful. The PPI, in comparison with the GPI, provides an insight into a country’s propensity for future peace, identifying if a country has a peace surplus or deficit. A peace surplus is identified when a country’s GPI ranking is higher (as a number) than that of the PPI ranking; the inverse in rankings depicts a peace deficit. A peace surplus tends to illustrate a country’s ability to maintain and improve its peacefulness given the availability of appropriate attitudes, institutes and structures, while a peace deficit depicts the propensity for a regression in peacefulness.

Sri Lanka is ranked 81 on the PPI based on 2010 data, for the comparative period, Sri Lanka ranks 130 among the 153 countries surveyed on the 2011 GPI. When the PPI ranking is compared to both the 2011 and 2012 (103/158) GPI rankings, Sri Lanka has a peace surplus.

Gloria Spittel- paper analyses both the GPI and PPI rankings, paying specific attention to some indicators.

Using the PPI Ms. Spittel says: The inaugural PPI (2007) measured 108 countries. On this index the South Asian countries rank low, the highest rank is 81 (Sri Lanka) while the lowest is 105 (Pakistan).

Ms Gloria Spittel is Research Associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS), an autonomous research institute at the National University of Singapore. The question she poses in her September 2012 scholarly paper is: Now that there is peace in Sri Lanka, what is to be done with it and how?And, she gives food for thought.

She draws from the survey done not so long ago by the International Center for Ethnic Studies in Sri Lanka which gives significant revelations for policymakers in Sri Lanka.

Social Harmony: Myths and Myth-busters: Given the nature of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict, which involved the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil ethnic groups, the acceptance of the rights of others is paramount for peaceful co-existence. In a survey questionnaire on the causes of the ethnic conflict, 61.9 per cent of the Sinhalese agreed with ‘legitimate grievances held by minorities’, while 61.4 per cent cited the ‘lack of equal treatment for all citizens’ and 44.4 per cent indicated ‘lack of space for diverse ethnic/cultural identities’ as reasons for the ethnic conflict. However, 59.2 per cent of the Sinhalese respondents also cited ‘unreasonable demands made by minorities’ and 90.1 per cent indicated ‘terrorism’ as reasons for the conflict.

In the same list, over 90 per cent of all minorities indicated the ‘lack of equal treatment for all citizens’ or ‘legitimate grievances held by the minorities’ as the reasons for the conflict. These statistics are indicative of a need to engage the majority community in a bid to propagate that the acceptance of another’s rights is not tantamount to the curtailing of one’s own rights.

This writer believes using his study of ethnic relations in Sri Lanka and American perspective on the issue during his association with U.S. State Department work in the seventies to mid nineties, it is a significant and progressive improvement when a survey reveals that (1) 61.9 per cent of the Sinhalese agreed with ‘legitimate grievances held by minorities’ (2) 61.4 per cent cited the ‘lack of equal treatment for all citizens’ (3) 59.2 per cent of the Sinhalese respondents also cited ‘unreasonable demands made by minorities’.

This could be a basis for Sri Lankan policymakers to invigorate the reconciliation process among the two main ethnic communities - Sinhalese and Tamil - which Gloria Spittel notes in her paper "The government is seemingly inundated by a stasis. The absence of a clear policy towards a political solution to the ethnic conflict, combined with non-committal verbosity on the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and on the ambiguous ‘13th ‘plus’’ and home-grown solution, has tainted the government’s track record."

And, then she goes on to observe: "The government has put itself at square one where it needs to face two major issues simultaneously: a political solution to the ethnic conflict and mitigating economic hardships minus the euphoria of having ended a three-decade long war. "

Here are some extracts: Governance: Victimizing Peace

Under the prism of PPI, regionally Sri Lanka is the best governed in South Asia, while locally the governance indicator is the third-best score. These scores are not reflective of current sentiments in Sri Lanka.

By all measures, Sri Lanka’s government should be considered stable. There are no visible external threats to the government in power, in either a strong and viable political opposition or a militant organization. The government enjoys a majority in parliament, through which new bills and amendments are casually passed.

Yet, the government is seemingly inundated by a stasis. The absence of a clear policy towards a political solution to the ethnic conflict, combined with non-committal verbosity on the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and on the ambiguous ‘13th ‘plus’’ and home-grown solution, has tainted the government’s track record.

The government has put itself at square one where it needs to face two major issues simultaneously: a political solution to the ethnic conflict and mitigating economic hardships minus the euphoria of having ended a three-decade long war.

While the government will be pressured to solve the economic downturn domestically, the political solution to the ethnic conflict has the government facing international pressure too.

International pressure is also exerted mainly by the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora, directly and indirectly by lobbying international media hubs, government representatives and engaging the public. The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora's main thrust is the issue of war crimes and the lobbying for an international investigation into the same.

Then she opines: "The current government’s transition into a post-war, peace-time government has been remarkably slow, hindered by the alliances made with some allegedly unsavory yet necessary individuals and groups as required during the war. This is now a cause for concern. Allegations are many that individuals and groups, party to the ruling coalition, are responsible for a variety of crimes including enforced disappearances and harassment.

In a strange twist, post-war Sri Lanka still suffers from a fear psychosis, enabled by the near-absence of impartial and independent state law enforcement authorities, but the government itself is a victim of this fear psychosis, except that its dilemma must be one of political survival. Political stability has not achieved much in Sri Lanka since the defeat of the LTTE; unbridled political power, insecure political elite and dysfunctional opposition political parties have made the political environment in Sri Lanka anything but well functioning. It is pertinent to wonder if ‘peace’ is a cause of this ruckus."

How does a politician 'sell' peace when there is no physical threat to it?

By listing ways in which peace could be lost, by creating a new or exaggerating an existing bogey, by continuously referring to measures taken in the past to ensure peace or by promoting a vision of a prosperous future. Politicians in Sri Lanka, whether in the government or opposition, have adopted all three tactics; peace is a commodity in Sri Lanka, rare at first and now extravagantly priced. Regardless of whether the peace that Sri Lanka now enjoys is negative or positive, the current situation is the most peaceful state of affairs that many of its people have ever known so far. It is precisely this existing peacefulness that has enabled the shifting of focus to a milieu of issues which were previously ignored by and large and for a protracted period of time. Issues addressed in Sri Lanka today include the abuse of women and children, corruption, injustice; and amongst these is the seeking of a solution to the ethnic conflict. While there has not been a large and vocal push for a solution, a sizable portion of the population has commanded government attention and action. All small actions are powerful as an aggregate, and given today’s connected world, small movements and initiatives do not remain small for long. For the politicians in the country, peace is an issue; it underscores their ineptitude and provides no muse as the war with the LTTE did. For them, there is also no incentive in sustaining peace and building an inclusive society, because the more united a society is, the more accountable a politician has to become. The absence of war in Sri Lanka has made the issues of economic development and equality for all very real. It takes effort, determination and the will to resolve these – this may actually be harder than fighting a terrorist group, the investigative/research paper says.

The U.S. section of the Asian Tribune very closely monitors the lawmakers, federal officials and the associate agency activists' perspective on issues of the Asian region nations which we are aware form the basis of America's foreign policy planks. The internal developments of the Region's nations - issues such as terrorism, security, defense, commerce, investment and trade - are foremost concern of American lawmakers and policymakers. Time and again the Asian Tribune highlights these issues to encourage investigation and discourse which we have found have taken place.

The interpretation and observation of the investigative/research paper of the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National university of Singapore was intended to open a dialogue and discourse of issues Sri Lanka is confronted with, the same issues American lawmakers and policymakers are interested in.

This type of investigative/research papers are well read by those who focus of such issues for later use. In making our observations and highlighting the salient issues in that paper this writer endeavors to make the policymakers associated with Sri Lanka's progress and tranquility aware of the concerns the 'global community' has. Such an awareness help avert pitfalls and arm with alternate policy planks.

- Asian Tribune -

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