The Rajpal Abeynayake's Column
By Rajpal Abeynayake
3rd February 2002
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More questions than answers about peace

Let's face it. The critical mass of opinion now building up, is that this peace process is going to end up in a heap. There is no critical mass of opinion yet formed, that says this peace bid is going to be disastrous for the Sri Lankan government. But, at the moment, the critical mass is building up.

"Forced conscription by the LTTE,'' "Arms shipments by the LTTE'' shout headlines and Editorials. The Sri Lankan government is about to be suckered, say the grim admonitions.

But, the contours of the conflict were arranged in such a way, that there was very little possibility for the Sri Lankan government to avoid peace talks. The simple fact is that the UNP government couldn't have come to power without a peace agenda. The UNF could not have won the poll without minority support and there would be no minority support if the UNP did not follow a peace agenda.

This was true in the 1994 situation as well. Someone quoted Clauzwitz and said "ceasefires are part of the strategy of war.'' He might as well have gone a little further and added that "elections are part of the strategy of war also.''

On the one hand, it would have been very difficult for a PA government to continue in power, a situation which was also brought about precisely because of the PA policy on the conflict. The war had left the economy in tatters and the people were looking for a new government. The only viable option seemed to be the UNP which necessarily needed to have a peace agenda if it was to win the polls.

Even the critical mass of opinion that's building up against the peace talks, seems to acknowledge that these talks have the ring of inevitability about them. Most acknowledge, at least tacitly, that things developed in such a way that there was no choice but to opt for negotiations.

But, if the talks are inevitable, say the analysts, their collapse seems even more inevitable. The Jayatillekes, the Silvas, the Swarises, they all say it is a matter of time before the Tiger springs again.

But, if the talks were inevitable, seeing the devious monster in the Tiger, true or false, may only be academic. If the ceasefire is an inevitable part of war, and if the Tiger is going to spring anyway, what is the Sri Lankan government going to do about it?

If the peace process is inevitable, and if the collapse of the process is also according to developing critical mass of opinion inevitable, what's also interesting to watch is the inevitable drama that repeats itself. The Sinhalathva thinkers cabal is issuing their own dire prognostications, with suitable amount of accompanying theory, and the Editorialists and the political analysts point out with unerring facility that Prabhakaran is a devious militarist whose only aim is to hoist the Sri Lankan government on its own petard.

The peace lobby on the other hand is saying that conflict resolution is a process that depends on mutual trust, and that the government, in particular, should go the full length in building up this level of trust. There are very few Editorialists who follow that line, but academics who do, and other "free-floating intelligentsia'' (to borrow a phrase from a fellow columnist) say peace should work, if only it is given a proper chance. Read: the Sri Lankan government must give more concessions.

If it is the same process that is repeating itself, the question that fairly begs to be answered is is it any use, if this is history repeating itself, to keep-on beating the same tired tom-tom's?

Read the papers of the 1994 peace-interlude, and find out for oneself, that the articles and the opinion was divided exactly on the same lines. A) Prabhakaran is an untrustworthy maniac, and those who ride the Tiger will end up in its belly limerick and all. B) Peace is a process that needs hard work, concessions, and plenty of mutual trust to work, so god help us. Signed Peace Lobby.

If the peace process is inevitable one can take it. If the peace-collapse is inevitable, one has to take it too. But, is the peace charade, the whole accompanying devil-dance of warnings, prognostications and exhortations inevitable too, and does it have to be taken like the dose of medicine that accompanies this malady that now strikes the country unfailingly, just about every four years? 

Perhaps if the peace process is inevitable, and the peace - collapse is inevitable, a little constructive thought about this "inevitability'' may taste a little less like a decoction that is swallowed. Susantha Gunatilleke was veering towards such constructive-ism a few weeks back, when he said " enjoy the peace, but prepare for war.'' Full points for a course of action suggested about the inevitable.

Is the peace folly already accomplished, and is Ranil a dunce? The Sri Lankan government can think about developing its own strategy for the collapse of peace, on the other hand. If the Sri Lankan government looks as innocent as possible, and paints itself as the perfect sucker, when the Tiger strikes as predicted, at least Sri Lanka would have won the propaganda war.

But, the war, from a purely militarist point of view, will go even farther from Sri Lanka's control if the peace process collapses. That's the general commonsensical assumption. The Tigers would have built the bunkers replenished arms and ammunition. If that's so the Sri Lankans are in a no-win situation. Talk and you are damned. Don't talk, and you are damned. Any constructive thought about that? Only "enjoy the peace and prepare for war''?


Inside the glass house
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