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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 110

A Political Solution to the Conflict in Sri Lanka: Are We Missing The Woods For The Trees?

By Raj Gonsalkorale

Sri Lanka is not unique in the world in having unresolved business relating to civil disorder, military engagements with terrorists and some ethnic disharmony amongst its people. Like in many of the countries where such problems persist, Sri Lanka has also had its fair share of external interference that has added fuel to fire and in fact made matters worse for the country.

The internationalization of these conflicts has made it very difficult to find home grown solutions for them. As much as economies of countries are internationalized through globalised market enterprise, conflicts also appear to succumb to market pressures created by supply and demand factors in a twisted sort of way.

In Iraq for example, and in the much publicized “war on terror” launched by the Bush administration, views have been expressed that these wars were created by the arms industry in the USA consequent to the loss of sales following the cold war. The veracity of this view is not known and will never be known, but going by the fact that the arms industry is the biggest business in the world, it wouldn’t be just someone’s imagination that the industry would attempt to create a demand for arms to keep their industry thriving and providing healthy returns to investors.

The saga of the fraudulent “weapons of mass destruction” story is well known now and does not require repetition here. Suffice to say though that the invasion of Iraq would never have happened at this time if not for this biggest lie in the history of the world. The ensuing and still ongoing mayhem would never have occurred if not for that lie, and the lie didn’t create itself. Someone did. Today, thousands are dying and property is being destroyed and the country has torn itself apart because of that lie.

But guess which industry has thrived as a consequence?

The US is pumping billions of dollars of tax payers and borrowed money into Iraq, not for any development work that will benefit the country and its people, but to pay for arms and ammunition supplied by US manufacturers and needed to save Iraq from the Iraqi’s! It may surprise some to know that hardly any money actually leaves the US and all that happens is that book entries are made in the Pentagon in relevant accounting ledgers. When considering the amount of money spent on this war (in excess of US $ 100 Billion annually?), it would have been cheaper to have given Saddam Hussein and his family a few billions to go into exile somewhere and spared the country with the trauma they are experiencing today. Of course the arms industry would not have had any benefit from that. The fact that Saddam Hussein is dead now does not change the situation in Iraq as the violence is continuing, hundreds are dying by the day and the country is still being torn apart, and George Bush’s poll ratings are still plummeting.

While not holding a candle for terrorism or terrorists of any description and justifying the use of terror tactics for any cause, one has to ponder the questions who benefits most by the instability caused by terrorists and terrorism, and what alternative means are there for people who feel they have no way of attacking and changing a world order that supports and promotes an industry that aids State terror, other than by adopting terror tactics themselves.

Sadly, what such people do not realize is that, their tactics are in fact promoting the very industry that supports the world order they are trying to destroy, making the industry even richer to surreptitiously encourage more and more terrorists and terrorism in the world. The arms industry would be dead if people are to live in peace; so consequently, it is not in the interests of the industry for people to have peace. Hence, the logic is that there will never be peace in any region of the world for any length of time. The industry is so powerful in some countries that they are reputedly the real rulers of the country, with puppet regimes sometimes elected “democratically” as their fronts.

One good example of this industry support for State terrorism was Iraq under Saddam Hussein when he was the favourite son of the western world. He was provided arms and ammunition, including biological weapons, nerve gases, and you name it, by the USA, UK, Germany and France, and he used them in fights against Iranians, Kuwaitis, Kurds, to name a few. The disorder he created gave rise to new conflicts as we are witnessing today, and arms sales have gone through the roof.

In the world order of conflicts, the Sri Lankan conflict would have been akin to petty cash in a multi million dollar business venture if not for Sri Lankas proximity to India. The world’s interest in Sri Lanka arises from the fact that we are only twenty miles away from India at the closest point. Should the country been lost somewhere far away in the Indian ocean, we would not have mattered to the rest of the world and we would not have even had any kind of conflict to resolve, and even if we had, we would have resolved it ourselves a long time ago. However, the reality is that we are next to India and our conflict has become their conflict, and indeed they have exacerbated a minor conflict in to a bigger one for internal political reasons, as former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did by nurturing small tiger cubs to become what they have become today, vicious, barbaric and blood thirsty terrorists.

Getting back to economic jargon like supply and demand, the Sri Lankan conflict could also be regarded as being driven by demand and supply principles. On the demand side, we see the Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE continuing to internationalise the conflict and attempting to show the world that the conflict has inflicted some terrible atrocities and instances of genocide on the Tamil people comparable to situations witnessed recently in some European and African countries, while conveniently ignoring the fact that the some of the worst crimes in fact have been committed by the LTTE, and by implication, the Tamil Diaspora. The basis used for ongoing growth of this demand arises from claims of discrimination of Tamils by the Sinhalese, and therefore the right of Tamils for self determination within a separate State in the so called traditional homeland of the Tamils in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. Paradoxically, this demand is also fuelled by the Southern polity, with successive Sri Lankan governments not coming forward with a political solution to the real conflict, not the conflict created by the Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE.

On the supply side, sections of the Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE have created an economy estimated to be in excess of 500 Million US Dollars annually, to fund the ongoing war and terrorism, and political and administrative structures to manage this economy and the conflict. This economy supplies arms and ammunition to the LTTE and funds a national and international administrative infra structure that keeps the conflict from never being solved, as solving it would result in the collapse of this economy.

The Tamil Diaspora elements and the LTTE runs legal and illegal businesses, extracts money from Tamils throughout the world willingly and unwillingly, and uses this money to fund terrorism, and to keep the flame of an artificially magnified conflict burning ever so brightly with the help of various NGOs, some international organizations, politicians in some of the countries where they are active and some media personnel who are only interested in sensationalized stories and not facts. It is reported that the Tamil Diaspora elements who are involved in these activities spend millions of dollars as bribes, political contributions and donations to enlist the support of the persons mentioned.

This being the case, it is important for lesser mortals who are not engaged in these activities, but who are capable of distinguishing the wood from the trees, to consider what the real conflict is and how it may be addressed.

Many readers who comment on various articles published in the Asian Tribune have asked the question as to what in fact is the Tamil problem and what is exclusively discriminatory against the Tamils in a multi ethnic, multi religious country like Sri Lanka. It may be opportune therefore to examine, from a Sri Lankan, rather than Sinhala or Tamil point of view, what might be the Tamil problem and how they are being discriminated by the Sinhalese as claimed by Tamils. It is important to consider this issue from a Sri Lankan point of view if we are to look towards the future where all communities could live together in harmony in any part of the country.

At the heart of this ongoing campaign by the Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE lies their unsubstantiated claim for a traditional homeland and the demand for a separate State in that homeland to achieve Tamil aspirations, knowing very well that the traditional homeland, if one were to be somewhat liberal, and concede that there had been a Tamil kingdom in the Jaffna peninsula and north of Vanni for a while, but never in any part of the south of Vanni or today’s Eastern province at any point of time in the history of the country. The Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE is well aware of this historical fact and they know that Sri Lanka will never be divided into distinct ethnic States, whether they are separate States or one’s that are separate accept by name. This is not due to any ideological reasons, but due to prevailing reality that neither the international community, nor India and last but not least, the Sinhalese and the Muslims will permit the creation of such States.

It is not a realistic outcome to this conflict and a demand for this outcome will only prolong the conflict. The Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE know this, and it is the very reason they will continue to market this concept of a separate State as part of their industry and economy, as without such a concept, the demand side of the equation will collapse and with it, their non State, multi million dollar supply side economy.

In this context, it is simply not logical for them to have a solution to the conflict, peaceful or otherwise, as that will negate their very existence and make them superfluous. Their demand therefore is far more than an ambit claim, an unrealizable goal that will continue to be dangled in front of many Tamils, extremist as well as moderate, as the final solution to their problem so that they will all continue to support the Diaspora and the LTTE.

The Eelam map showing the division of Sri Lanka is a classic example of this subterfuge. It stretches from north of Chilaw to the Yala national park in the South and claims for itself, two thirds of the coast of Sri Lanka and one third of the land mass of the country. All for less than 13 % of the population. This is the unrealizable goal dangled in front of many Tamils to extract funds into Diaspora and LTTE coffers.

As analysts like Tisaranee Gunasekera and HLD Mahindapala have said in several articles published in the Asian Tribune, the LTTE is not interested in peace or for that matter a solution to this conflict. Pursuing them as partners to work out a solution is like asking Osama bin Laden to sit down with George W Bush to end the war on terror.

What then is the real problem faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka? There are probably two answers to this question. One is the still unresolved (administratively) issues that were problems some years ago although they are no longer problems from a policy perspective. The language issue, standardization issue relating to university entrance, compulsory competence in Sinhala (only in Sinhala) to receive promotions in public sector employment are some of the key issues that were patently discriminatory against Tamils, and which have since been addressed from a policy perspective, but not implemented fully, especially the language issue. These are however administrative issues and their resolution do not require vile terrorism of the LTTE. These could be addressed today if there is a desire on the part of Tamil politicians to sit down with the government and work out modalities to address them.

The second answer probably encapsulates the real problem of the Tamils. This is the sense of insecurity they have had to face and still face on account of their ethnicity. Whatever discrimination and insecurity other communities may have faced in the country, none have had to face them due to their ethnicity. In terms of personal security, 1983 was the final straw for many Tamils and those Sinhala elements and politicians responsible for 1983 could be given the dubious honour of creating the monster that has plagued the country and all of us since then. Besides this manifestation of a deep rooted anti Tamil feeling amongst a small section of Sinhalese, the underlying cause for insecurity from a wider perspective has been the ability of Sinhala dominated governments to change constitutions and make policy changes that have created this sense of insecurity amongst the Tamils. This is not to say any ethnic group should be disadvantaged by another, and if Sinhalese were discriminated in some way or the other in predominantly Tamil areas, that too is not right. However, the constitutions of independent Sri Lanka have not provided the required checks and balances to make sure this did not happen, and Tamils in particular have been at the receiving end of it considering events that have unfolded since 1956.

The two answers given are by a Sinhalese, and as some readers have pointed out, it is nothing but right for Tamils to express their views about specific (real and contemporary) problems faced by them as that would be helpful in finding ways and means of addressing them democratically and peacefully. The words “Tamil aspirations” are indeed vague and a multi ethnic, multi religious country cannot address everyone’s aspirations to the fullest extent without some compromises on the part of all communities. And, by no means does any country in the world meet everyone’s aspirations however laudable they might be.

It is time therefore that we saw the woods for the trees and if there is some seriousness on the part of all communities and their political representatives to find a peaceful resolution to this conflict, we identified the real problems faced by Tamils and not those marketed by the Tamil Diaspora and the LTTE, and their national and international supporters. This statement applies even to Mr Anandasangaree, a leader of moderate Tamil democrats. He cannot pursue a line that does not address real and contemporary problems, and certainly the North East merger is not a real or contemporary problem for the Tamils. Besides the Sinhalese, there will be an overwhelming majority of Tamils, particularly Eastern Tamils, and Muslims who would say so.

There are certain basic principles that may be useful to consider adhering to in trying to find the woods for the trees. Firstly that any solution has to be acceptable to all communities. Secondly, that Sri Lanka is a unitary State, will remain so and any form of Federalism is not an acceptable option, principally as it does not address the problems of all Tamils in the country. Thirdly, that adequate checks and balances should be there to ensure that no ethnic group is disadvantaged or advantaged by another. Fourthly, a numerical majority should not give the right for any ethnic group to have superiority over others, and lastly, that all communities should be given equal rights and recognition in all spheres of economic and social activity and that a fundamental and irrevocable Bill of Rights should protect these rights irrespective of any constitution change.

Tamil moderates who are supporting their Diaspora brethren and the LTTE, should take a hard look at what they are doing and take steps to end the funding of the LTTE, and instead switch support to more moderate Tamil leaders to engage with the Southern polity and work out a solution to their real problems. The process will be helped if the outrageous claims being made by the Tamils about genocide, about one sided human rights violations targeting the government and while ignoring the atrocities committed by the LTTE are stopped and they become more truthful and even handed with their accusations.

On the side of the Southern polity, it will be helpful if they reached out to the more moderate democratic political leadership and engaged them as partners, and take action to attend to any remaining administrative matters associated with policy issues relating to ethnic tensions that have already been taken care of, and take whatever other measures that could further demonstrate the equality of all ethnic groups in the country and that a numerical Sinhala majority will not discriminate against other ethnic groups in any economic and social activity.

- Asian Tribune -

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