The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Where and how the peace goes from here
No talks? The public's reaction to that has been similar to one that greets a cancellation of a one day match owing to a downpour. Public apathy cannot be measured, but it can be understood, and it appears the public is more worried about the distant almost non-existent threat of SARS than it is about the suspension of talks with the Tamil Tigers.

This is Vesak season, and the public has other things on their mind, and suitably, a one day cricket tournament is being played at the "Buddhist seat of learning'' in Dambulla, or so said one news report.

With Buddhism in the driving seat, and cricket being the opiate, the talks become a non-issue. This of course is not the fault of the average Sri Lankan. Nobody has been more used to the condition of the changing fortunes of Sri Lanka's conflict than the average Sri Lankan who has been used to the yo-yo craziness with which chances of any resolution to the conflict fluctuates.

But, now there can be posters printed, and tickets sold too to this pantomime, because the conflict has acquired a distinct theatrical flavour. Why are Sri Lankans tuned-off? Tuning-off seems to be the best reaction to a chain of events that is looking so scripted, that the only thing that has not been done is to name the ingénue, and write an opening night blurb.

Though there are few who take the dissenting judgement, the general consensus is that the Tigers will waltz back sometime to the negotiating table. This in itself is not the issue so much as the fact that the reactions of the principal actors to the 'suspension' of the talks looks scripted and predictable, that we might as well ask when the dress rehearsal for all this took place. The Japanese envoy Akashi for instance, is prancing about from one photo event to another, and says the LTTE should be back at the table. He takes for granted that they will no doubt be back. His only point is that the LTTE should be back at the table, before and not after the Japan donor conference.

The vast conspiracy theory is attractive, and it is tempting to say that there is a vast 'conspiracy' between the actors of the current peace drama. In South Africa, for example, the books that came out after the successful dismantling of apartheid, indicated that there was so much 'collusion' during negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid rulers of the dying regime, that the public was most often kept right out of the loop.

No particular figure, not even Mandela, was larger than the 'process.'' To some extent, Mandela was 'scripted' as well, inasmuch as he was expected to play the role of Gandhi in South Africa, and be there as the potent symbol of the freedom struggle while the actual dialogue took place between the ANC and the De Klerk government.

Here in Sri Lanka, people seem to have divined earlier than in South Africa that there is a script. They know that they do not see a tenth of what's really going on in the peace saga despite the various titbits that are being shoved towards them by a the know all media who would say, Sri Lankan style, that such and such a negotiator made a call to his opposite number in the negotiating team at such and such a time.

Players in the media who dish out the fancy detail would also perhaps think that they are privy to the peace process and its workings, that they have that so called 'ringside view.'' What a load of bullocks that view would be, if the expression be pardoned in this sanitized world of peace karma.

All of the above might indicate the suggestion that if the Sri Lankan peace moves are orchestrated as they were in South Africa, that they are also headed for success as they were in the South African instance. But this article will not really suggest anything so sanguine -- all that can be said at the moment is that the actors hope that the whole process would lead them in the direction of success that finally obtained in South Africa.

The LTTE is one 'actor' that cannot be totally sized up, and at any given moment that makes any sort of assessment of the current peace moves difficult -- more difficult for instance than things were in South Africa. Also this is not South Africa.
But the similarities are eerie. A scripted performance is the demand of the hour. In South Africa, apartheid had no chance against the forces that were arraigned against it, and the only thing that remained in the end was forging the way out for an honourable exit for a white regime which the big powers of the world never really wanted to see condemned and abandoned.

When Ranil Wickremesinghe talks of the international safety net, he is vocalising the hope that there are similar imperatives here. He seems to say ' as much as conditions were ready for South Africa to evolve from a white dominated apartheid regime to a democratic regime led by the ANC, conditions are also ready in Sri Lanka for a resolution of the Sri Lankan conflict, with the LTTE not being abandoned by the international community.''

In many ways though, the safety net of the international community is for the LTTE and not for the Sri Lankan government. In the manner that the international players ensured that the white led government in South Africa was not destroyed in the process of transition, but were honourably nursed and nurtured out, (much against the wishes of most elements in the ANC) the international safety net is here to ensure that the LTTE is given a 'deal that is deemed appropriate.'

The favourite argument of those who do not necessarily see things in this way is that the LTTE is always the wild card. There is merit in this view undoubtedly, considering the whole audacious military orientation of the LTTE and its devil may care past. But, notwithstanding all that, it appears that the Sri Lankan conflict has entered that highly scripted stage that it is becoming difficult if not entirely impossible for any player to act out of script.

So let us just say -- if the Tigers walk out of talks, even with difficulty they may be keeping to script. But, if Moragoda walks out - make no mistake, it is most certainly according to script...

Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.