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

The State of Confusion

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“They were seen opposing, in a fatal error,
Abuses with abuses, scandal with scandal….”

Voltaire (Epistle to the author of the book ‘The Three Impostors’)

The CFA is indeed meaningless. We do continue to pay lip service to it because we want to pacify the international community. These are self-evident truths. Whether the Defence Secretary – who also happens to be the brother of the President – should have said these out loud to the whole world to hear is quite another matter. After all it would not need much cogitation to comprehend that such a candid admission would be advantageous to the LTTE politically and propagandistically (while we gain nothing from it). Little wonder that the pro-Tiger Tamilnet is giving such prominence to Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s disastrously frank interview with the AP.

Neither the Lankan state nor the LTTE has so far abrogated the CFA because to do so would be to hand over an unnecessary advantage to the enemy. The best way to deal with the CFA is neither to cling to it (as Mr. Wickremesinghe does) nor to repudiate it (as Mr. Rajapakse did) but to bypass it. Let the CFA rest in peace. We need to shift the political discourse to a different track, away from the CFA (its pros and cons, its current and future relevance or irrelevance etc.) to a political solution to the ethnic problem based on democratic devolution. In fact only such a devolution proposal can make the CFA politically irrelevant, especially in the eyes of the international community. So long as there is no such devolution proposal, the international community would continue to focus on the CFA because sans the CFA there is just the war, which is exacting such a heavy civilian toll. However if there is a reasonable power sharing agreement, it can be presented to the Tamils and the world as a suitable political alternative to the CFA, thereby removing the need on the part of the international community to invoke the CFA as a desirable destination.

Imperfect Devolution

In this context it is encouraging to see the TMVP coming up with some concrete proposals of its own. The quasi-federal and quasi-unitary Indian model is proposed by the Karuna rebels according to a report in the Asian Tribune. This is the preferred solution of Mr. Anandasangaree as well. The EPDP has opted for a more gradualist approach and advocates a three stage devolution process with the existing provincial council system as the locus.

Unfortunately it is uncertain whether these anti-Tiger Tamil parties have the capacity and the commitment to push forward their devolution agendas. Both the TMVP and the EPDP are ensconced under the wing of Colombo and Mahinda Rajapakse is manifestly uninterested in a political solution to the ethnic problem. The SLFP was supposed to publicise its own proposals before the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. That has not happened. Whether the proposals will ever see the light of day is uncertain (do they exist?) though there are likely to be many more deadlines – all of which will just come and go. And without the proposals of the governing party the APRC process will come to naught.

In economics there are no permanent answers – policies which work today may not work tomorrow and may work again in the future. Forgetting this has been the besetting sin of economic ideologues on both the left and the right. Recently we witnessed the rise of economic fundamentalism of the neo-liberal variety, called market fundamentalism by some. That dogma is now slowly loosing its allure and its superiority as its unchanging assumptions and answers clash with a changing reality. The same is true of politics. There are no faultless solutions to any problem; nor are there any eternal answers that will be valid for all times. Most political solutions, like most economic solutions are provisional by nature. If we wait for policies and programmes which are problem-free we will have to wait eternally.

There cannot be a perfect devolution proposal which is flawless from every perspective. There cannot even be a devolution proposal which is flawless from just a Sinhala or a Tamil or a Muslim perspective. If we wait for such a perfect proposal we will have to wait eternally; there is no other choice but to settle for imperfect devolution. Nor is there a devolution proposal which can satisfy those who believe that devolution is akin to separatism (or will lead to it eventually) or those who think that separatism is the only answer to Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem. Any devolutionary proposal would be unpalatable to these extremists on both sides of the divide. This does not mean that their opposition should not be taken into account since they have the capacity to derail, render meaningless or destroy any devolutionary proposal, as history demonstrates. Their opposition must be factored in and ways and means should be devised to meet that challenge. However their opposition should not be turned into an insurmountable bar to devolving power since they will always oppose, whatever the contours and the contents of a devolution proposal are. If we wait until we can come up with a proposal that can win the backing of the Tigers in the North and the JVP/JHU in the South, that wait will be an endless one.

Visceral enemies often base themselves on the same assumptions; in fact many of their policies and programmes become indefensible and unsustainable without those assumptions. The LTTE, the JVP and the JHU believe that devolution is undesirable and dangerous; they all share an antipathy to devolution and a determination to wreck any political solution to the ethnic problem based on democratic devolution. Neither the JVP nor the JHU (in its SU or NMAT forms) opposed Ranil Wickremesinghe’s CFA one hundredth as much they opposed the Majority Proposals of the Experts Committee (or the Chandrika Package of 2000 or the Indo-Lanka Accord). Both the JVP and the JHU are likely to object far less to any resumption of negotiations with the Tigers than they would to a substantial power sharing deal for the Tamils.

Velupillai Pirapaharan can survive without Eelam; but he cannot survive without the Eelam Wars. Those wars are his own particular and personal raison d’être; only in their midst can he become and remain a god who demands the sacrifice of the present and the future of an entire nation to his megalomaniac desires. It would be folly indeed to believe that with such a man at the helm, there can ever be a negotiated end to the war. Things would change once he is dead; it would indeed be possible to come up with some agreement with a post-Pirapaharan LTTE. But so long as he lives, such a deal is not possible. Therefore, whether we like it or not, war will be unavoidable so long as Mr. Pirapaharan remains alive. That is why the international community, instead of wasting their time and energy in harking back to the CFA, should focus on a devolution deal and humanitarian issues. That is the only way to help the beleaguered Tamils.

Cordon Sanitaire

William Clarence, a onetime head of the UNHCR in Colombo, has written a book titled ‘Ethnic Warfare in Sri Lanka and the UN Crisis’. The book has been reviewed by Dr. S. Narapalasingham and the following comment makes interesting reading given the severity of the current refugee crisis and the urgent need to deal with it: “As regards the humanitarian response of the UN and government cooperation with it, the situation now contrasts unfavourably with mid 1990 when Eelam War II erupted. At that time, the UN at the level of institutional leadership was doubtful and dithering as to what to do, but the government in Colombo was adopting a relatively enlightened attitude towards humanitarian needs created by the conflict and was cooperating closely with the UNHCR field team’s innovatively pragmatic programme to meet them. Now the situation is the opposite, with the leadership of the humanitarian agencies ready and willing to play an active protection role and the government dragging its feet. The question which internationals who were in the midst of it in the early 1990s keep asking each other is “where are the enlightened public servants in the administration and even the military who made it possible for a UN agency to play an active role on the ground ?” (Tamilweek – 6.4.2007 – emphasis mine).

Before the public servants and the military can play a positive role, there has to be a political leadership that is interested in minimising the human costs of the war. It was President Premadasa’s willingness to do whatever possible to alleviate the suffering of the civilians caught in the war which made the Lankan administration work closely with the UNHCR and other NGOs. Without the clear signal given by the President neither the civil servants nor the military leaders would have been willing to help the UNHCR to help the refugees. In Sri Lanka – as in quite a few other countries – an administration and even the army take its cue from the top political leader. The crucial lacuna today is the absence of a leader who understands the nexus between paying some attention to the security and welfare needs of civilian Tamils in the conflict zone and the defence of Sri Lankan unity.

The LTTE cannot be defeated unless it is isolated nationally and internationally. A Cordon sanitaire cannot be a military one alone, if it to be effective; it must be political and socio-economic as well. This is where humanitarian concerns in the prosecution of the war effort come in; it also means a political settlement – to be on paper even if it cannot be implemented on the ground immediately. Both are necessary to win over the Lankan Tamils and the international community; and unless they are won over the Tigers can neither be isolated nor defeated.

Another need is to strengthen the democratic characteristics of anti-Tiger Tamil parties rather than the opposite, as we seem to be doing now. This too is necessary in the building of a Cordon sanitaire. If the anti-Tiger Tamils cannot win over the Tamil people, if they, by their conduct, alienate a sizable section of the Tamils, then they will become a liability rather than an asset, an irrelevance rather than an alternative. The TMVP’s child conscription activities are an excellent case in point. Though the TMVP deny the charge, it has been corroborated by many, from the UTHR to the HRW, from Father Harry Miller to many foreign journalists, who do not seem to have an axe to grind. And this charge is hurting both the TMVP and the Lankan state far more than the minimal gains that can be made from conscripting children. Eventually such anti-civilisational conduct helps the Tigers as much as the LTTE’s anti-civilisational conduct helps us.

- Asian Tribune -

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