The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

200 year old vintage - it is good for peacemaking
Now, Velupillai Prabhakran has a 200 year old sentence under his belt. When Sri Lankan ministers such as Rauff Hakeem and Thondaman travel upto the Wanni, they will have to respect this new feather in his cap by sufficiently raising their obeisance quotient. All it seems to do at the moment however, is to add to the Prabhakaran mystique. Noises have been made at the Rose Garden that the Tigers have been 'hurt' by this new sentence handed down, but the negotiators know that nothing really has changed.

Some 'political experts' have been quoted in Reuters to the effect that the sentence will make it 'more difficult' for a person who wants to meet Prabhakaran to do so. Like hell, it will. India had put a similar price on Mr. Prabhakaran's head already, but that did not prevent some of the highest ranking Norwegian officials and high-flyers from the Asian Development Bank meeting and breaking bread with our celebrated Asian fugitive. Besides, legally speaking, harbouring a fugitive is one thing - shaking hands with him is another.

Prabhakaran was still heading a legally proscribed organization when Hakeem and Thondaman made that trip to the Wanni immediately after the April 10 press conference to meet the great leader. How come Reuters did not seek a quote from some instant political quote machine to the effect that 'it is brave meeting Prabhakaran' due to the fact that he is heading a legally banned outfit? (It is another thing about these quote-vending machines. A whole lot of them were transported to Thailand, during the peace talks, for example, for the express purpose of ' providing quotes on the Sri Lankan situation' for the press corps. It is refreshing - it is instant. Have a quote and a smile! Of course, Coke everywhere has to be the same, and quotes everywhere have to be the same. So, no bets for guessing why all the instant quote-machines who were transported to Thailand courtesy an NGO of course, were all like minded people.

They were guaranteed to give a made to measure quote that will not rock the boat, but will pack sufficient gravitas to inform wire-service readers that their agencies have done their job. Though the very idea of having a pack of quote-machines ready for that express purpose of 'dispensing quotes' may sound rich - you ask any one of those quote-vendors - and I will bet you one large Coke - they will say 'making peace is no funny business.')

Small wonder the Rose Garden talks have given us the rosiest picture yet. At the time of writing, several breakthroughs had been made, one of which is on the key issue of Muslims in the North and the East. The International Center for Ethnic Studies, which seems to be a breeding ground for militant Islam jihadists (who we later learnt were in fact just moonlighting there, and were not there with official ICES grants or express ICES sanction…) was one place where the Eastern Muslim factor was being analyzed, even as Balasingham was discussing the question with Hakeem in earnest at the Rose Garden. "Peace committees will not work, for the simple reason that one side is armed, and the other side is not,'said one older Islamic radical, who has credentials to boot, being a former Chairman of a peace committee in the province.

"Islamic radical' is not being used here in any pejorative sense. As the lady Chair of the ICES session said, "the situation of the local minorities has not been given sufficient attention.''

Back to the ICES sessions later, but for the moment, one track of thought that has been constantly emanating from the East seems to be that the Muslims there feel far more insecure than when the war was at its height. Many polite explanations have been sought and have been given for this situation such as 'when the riots end the war begins - and when the war ends the riots begin.'' The security forces may have been there for the protection of the Eastern province Muslims, but also, another reality that rarely emerges from any polite discourse is that the LTTE packed the firepower to silence the Muslims into submission. When peace broke out, what broke out with it was a little bit of democratic chaos. Eastern province Muslims were able to talk of jihad, without getting strung up on a lamppost.

Now, Muslim sensibilities in the East have been hyper-sensitized. When Kumar Rupesinghe made his first post-peace-phase comeback at the ICES seminar, he made the innocent mistake of referring to the Muslims as a third party at the Thailand meditations. "How can they be a third party?'' shot back a former army Major taking up the cause for the EP Muslims, who need not have had any sympathizer for their cause, as they were by now bringing the roof down at the ICES auditorium. 'We are not a third party!'' (Ouch) Kumar Rupesinghe, then granted the year's award-winning sop to the shrill EP Muslims, and said 'the Muslims are the party-third at the Thailand negotiations.'' EP people were sufficiently appeased to hand Rupesinghe what looked like some jihad-tracts after the lecture. Who says it isn't all about mind over matter?

But, one needs to take peace making seriously, and too much comic relief is like too much caffeine. But, caffeine can be of all forms, and the Thailand quote-vending machines, they give out a good caffeine shot too. In the end, it is all about semantics. Make third party party-third, and you would have avoided jihad in Sri Lanka, courtesy Kumar Rupesinghe. Negotiations may be about sensibilities, but isn't this semantic fine-tuning sweet, especially with Karuna and Shantha Kottegoda eyeing each other across the table? But half the trick about making peace, is calling a spade an incrementally inclined soil-ejecting device? That's how a 200 year sentence becomes an act of asserting the independence of the judiciary. Just that, a minor blip, in this vast acreage that is called the peace radar.

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