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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2736

To talk or not to talk, that is the question…challenge for the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE

By Raj Gonsalkorale

Of course they must talk. It’s by far the only option for both sides, and it is the correct option rather than killing each other and innocent Sinhalese and Tamil people in the process. While talks must commence and proceed until a political solution could be worked out amongst all parties, it is well for all parties to remember British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s contention in regard to Iraq that "it is sometimes necessary to have war in order to bring peace".

Of course as we have seen, Tony Blair’s strategy in Iraq has only brought more instability, death, misery and destruction to the Iraqi people, and it has, as admitted by the National Security Agency of the USA, the umbrella agency to which all other agencies such as the CIA and the FBI now report, that the Iraq war has created a breeding ground for terrorists and it has made the world less safe than what it was before the invasion of Iraq.

Although there are no parallels with Sri Lanka, all Sri Lankans, whether they are Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims should learn some lessons from the debacle of Iraq and work towards peace and not war.

There is one thing though that the LTTE has to keep in mind, even if they do not acknowledge it publicly at this stage. That is the stated premise of the Sri Lankan government with regard to a fundamental condition, that a political solution will be based on a unitary concept, and that a division of the country will not be entertained or discussed. As President Rajapaksa has stated openly many times, nationally and internationally, this is one condition that is not negotiable, while other issues, such as devolution and the extent of devolution are negotiable and would be discussed not just with the LTTE, but with other Tamil political groups, and all political parties, civil society representatives, and very importantly, with the people of the country who will have to eventually ratify any agreement reached between all these groups.

The sooner the LTTE and their supporters realize this, the better it will be for them and the innocent people who are living forcibly under their reign of terror in parts of the North and the East and who have suffered most from this war.

President Rajapaksa has also made it clear publicly that the efforts he is taking to reach a Southern consensus on the ethnic issue is based on the premise that there should be a solution within a unitary Sri Lanka, but with an appropriate degree of political and administrative devolution. The recent discussions with the UNP and the emerging consensus on this thinking is a positive step, and for once, the LTTE will have to start believing that they cannot, as the expression goes, “play footsy” with the two major political parties as both will have a common approach to finding a solution to the Tamil issue.

This has been the biggest drawback towards finding a solution to this cathartic issue, and all previous Sri Lankan leaders must take a share of blame for it. Like a child trying to challenge his/her boundaries with vacillating parents, the LTTE has never taken the Southern polity seriously and have always played one against the other, and in the process extended their boundaries, physically and strategically, with the support of sections of the international community and the Tamil Diaspora. The LTTE cannot be faulted for their approach and one has to recognize them for being able to so successfully manipulate the selfishness of the Southern polity. It is they, the Sri Lankan Southern political leadership who must take the blame, as they obviously were more interested in their own positions rather than the welfare of the country.

Even now, if the major parties and others like the JVP and JHU fail to develop a consensus on this issue and continue their bickering and their own agenda’s, the LTTE will sense an opportunity to exploit such a situation, and as sure as the Sun rising from the East, they will exploit it. President Rajapaksa has gone that extra mile to move towards developing that consensus, and he has also won the hearts and minds of the people in doing so as clearly expressed by a leading figure in the Opposition UNP, Sajith Premadasa, the son of late President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Neither President Rajapaksa nor any other future leader will get many opportunities to tackle this issue within the environment that prevails now, and move towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Today’s environment comprises a contained LTTE which has hopefully realized their own political and military limitations, a stronger, more confident Sri Lankan Armed Force not hesitating to take defensive action when needed, a strong, but fair minded leader who has inspired these Forces and the people, and an international community better informed on the situation relating to this conflict perhaps than ever before, and a world consensus that terrorism is not the path towards finding solutions to political conflicts.

Nothing remains static however and as unpredicted cloud cover can impact on bright sunshine, the situation we are in could easily change, and soon. The opportunity at hand therefore has to be seized and made the best use of as we may not get a similar one again for a while.

There are several key players who have some influence and who could play a part in ensuring that the talks which will hopefully commence soon will be the beginning of the end in terms of the armed conflict that has devastated the country, in particular, the North and East of the country. They are (not in any order of priority), the Tamil Diaspora, the Sri Lankan Diaspora as distinct to the organized Tamil Diaspora, the International community, other Tamil political parties, the Southern polity, the Maha Sangha led by the Mahanayake’s of the Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters, other religious leaders, the Muslim community and their political leadership. It is important for all of them to realize and accept that there are structural mechanisms in place today to seriously address this issue.

There is the All Party Conference (APC), the Expert Committee which will submit political proposals to the APC and others for consideration, the SLFP/UNP dialogue initiated by the President, and of course the Peace Secretariat which hopefully will have a more defined role once talks commence between the government and the LTTE. Surely there has to be unanimity that the country has never had such structures in place to address this issue and show all the above named players that this government and its leader are serious about finding a peaceful solution to this conflict.

The writer may sound like an apologist for the government, which the writer is not, but it cannot be denied by anyone that no government in the past had taken measures to successfully defend itself when attacked and at the same time demonstrate it is not looking for a military solution to the conflict and is serious about a political solution. Some important structural mechanisms are in place, it is now up to others to make serious use of these mechanisms as finding a peaceful solution to this conflict cannot be done by one person, however committed and serious that person is.

All parties to the conflict must show their seriousness about wanting a peaceful outcome to the conflict. The government, by instituting the structural mechanisms described, has shown their seriousness. However, they do need to continue the momentum and demonstrate that these mechanisms will produce something viable for all to discuss. The LTTE on their part could reciprocate by calling a halt to their efforts to arm themselves and stop any attacks on the government or the people. A real ceasefire, not a ruse to rearm themselves in the guise of a ceasefire. They could accept that they do not have a hold on the Eastern province and that they and the Sri Lankan government have to contend with the Karuna faction and the strength of the Muslim community and their lobby in the East. Power sharing will have to include the reality of this dimension.

They could accept that the Tamil people may wish to be represented by other political groups and parties, and begin to engage with them democratically if they wish to be the sole representative of the Tamil people. Besides the President, the government and the LTTE, the Southern polity led by the SLFP and the UNP must achieve a consensus on their stand on this issue and strengthen the Presidents hand to achieve a lasting and peaceful outcome to this conflict that is fair and just to all people of the country.

While it has become quite common today to bash the LTTE, and the writer does not mean military bashing, it must be remembered that it might be too early and counter productive to do that. The LTTE, by whatever means they have managed to gather some support, nationally and internationally, is still not a spent force. While their methods certainly are abhorrent, they do represent a cause in the eyes of most Tamils, and they still have considerable support within sections of the international community. It is this aspect of the LTTE that cannot be eliminated by military means and which can only be eliminated by addressing the cause that the LTTE (and others) have espoused on behalf of the Tamils. This can only be done by providing the Tamils something and someone else to hang onto besides the LTTE.

One hopes that the current strategy of the government will lead to a viable solution being worked out between all parties. If the LTTE is wise, they should change their tactics and transform themselves into a strong political organization and move from their military stance, so that they and not another Tamil political organization would reap the long term dividends of peace.

The writer has constantly argued that a solution for Tamils must address all Tamils, and not just the ones who live in the North and the East of the country. A political solution where equal rights are provided to all Tamils must include the Sri Lankan Tamils of recent Indian origin as well, unless the LTTE and other Tamil political parties consider them to be different to them. A centrally driven solution coupled with administrative devolution to all provinces, preferably provinces configured into regional councils, is being advocated for this reason.

Discussions on peace must eventually lead to substantive issues once a situation more conducive to discussions is introduced by the LTTE and the government. That is something that the oncoming talks can and should strive to achieve.

- Asian Tribune -

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