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.
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.
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.')
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.
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.
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.