Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka
The British House of Commons lost no time is trying to export its commendable achievement in ushering peace to Northern Ireland through a power sharing agreement between the Protestants and the Catholics. The MPs in that Mother of Parliament speaking on a motion on the situation in Sri Lanka last week, gave some gratuitous advice that it was pertinent for this island-nation to consider the example they have set in their island-nation.
It took nine years for both the militant IRA and the Catholic Sinn Fein to have more confidence in the peace process and for their leaders to begin entering mainstream politics, get themselves elected to the House of Commons in London, and gradually shun terrorism as an instrument to winning their political objectives.
Indeed, there are parallels between the situation in Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka, as much as there are differences. No two situations are identical.
But the fact of the matter, and a point even the British MPs speaking on Sri Lanka conceded, was that the violent military campaign pursued by the IRA to try and force the British Government to yield to its demands did not succeed. As one MP succinctly put it; "Yet, it (the IRA) finally realised that the British Government and the British people would not buckle to its tactics. Thankfully, we have now seen an end to the IRA's campaign of violence. The LTTE and others should take their lead from the IRA and involve themselves in the political process".
No self-respecting Government or self-respecting people will want to cave in to terrorism, however hard the experience may be. Successive British Governments and the people endured bombings in public places, assassinations, ambushes on policemen and soldiers -- though nothing on the scale of the LTTE's violence, but terrorism nevertheless, and refused to bow down.
They imposed emergency regulations, curbed human rights, and restricted press freedom. And they had their share of frustrations when the Irish diaspora began funding the violent campaigns of the IRA. Even foreign friends gave their tacit blessings, like in the case of US President Bill Clinton. But neither the British Government, nor her people succumbed to these pressures. Through it all, there were those who worked silently, behind the scenes, from all sides to bring the warring factions closer. There had to be a change of heart, a change of attitude and this takes time.
Proposals for power-sharing were put in place and worked on laboriously to convince both parties that it was a win-win situation for them. But the golden thread that bound the process -- and the issue on which the British Government refused to compromise -- was that the IRA had to renounce terrorism and decommission its weapons, a process supervised by international observers so that there was a complete cessation of hostilities.
On our front page today we have a story of President Mahinda Rajapaksa telling the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State that his Government was willing to stop its military campaigns against the LTTE if that organisation is willing to stop theirs. A Government cannot keep turning the other cheek when it gets slapped by a terror based organisation. The British Government did not do so in Northern Ireland.
A cessation of hostilities is the first step towards peace in Sri Lanka, but even the Northern Ireland situation has proved that the peace process and terrorism, if it has to, can go side-by-side. The overall objective in any event is to bring the LTTE into mainstream multi-party democratic politics. It is a fact that it was the LTTE that precipitated the latest round of fighting that commenced shortly after President Rajapaksa took office, and what is happening now is almost a prestige battle between the two sides on the pretext of going to the negotiating table from a position of strength.
One must salute not only Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland for burying the hatchet and entering into a power-sharing agreement, but also successive British Governments -- the outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair no less -- and the people of Britain for their patience in the face of terrorism. Terrorism is not dead in Britain with the agreement reached in Northern Ireland. With the closure of one chapter, a new and even more dangerous one is opening in the form of Al-Qaeda's indoctrination of British-born Muslim youth to commit unmitigated terrorism in that country.
The example from Northern Ireland is that attitudes can change, that moderation can triumph and that situations are never hopeless. But there must also be the will to change. Neither terrorism nor counter-terrorism should be a business for those engaged in it to profit by. Most importantly, there must also be patience and hard work to produce beneficial results.