How to cope with the Eastern front
the national backdrop to the peace process was looking to get surreal
by the minute, like a Salvador Dali canvas (except gorier) there
was nothing much left to do except sit back and watch all the little
social niceties nosegays and devices people were making use of to
deaden the reality.
Here we were,
with the Eastern province almost looking like a zone of anarchy
even though not a zone of war or a zone of peace. But, Professors
talked of the Sri Lankan weaknesses, the country's intellectual
brittleness and its lack of leadership. "We do not have a Mahatma
or a Mandela they said ,'' and correct of course, but with the East
in disarray it seemed a little abstract and a little too abstruse
-- all this talk of finding a leader that is made in the mould of
a real hero, without clay feet.
to be beyond talking about the reason for the violence in the East,
and of conflagrations that involved the Muslims who were being eliminated
at the drop of a hat. Instead, they wanted to talk of theoretical
positions that made them feel more comfortable yet responsible at
the same time. It was not as if they were forgetting the problem
or its dimensions.
But for the
moment they had found a way of dealing with it in the larger canvas
-- without bothering about the details of how many people were being
killed and why. But yet, you couldn't blame these people. They were
coping, even though some said (and they were foreign) how can a
peace process go on while they kill so many people -- how can the
international community of any of the players countenance it?
difficult, the government's dilemma too could be appreciated. Nobody
really wanted the government to walk out on the peace process. The
government was being rendered impotent - but there was hardly any
treatment last week for that condition.
was strategy or not was hard to tell, but it was also possible that
the government thought the best way to deal with the problem was
to pretend that it does not exist.
Hence all the
talk of a war between Ministers and the Treasury, and of the Emirates
deal -- as if a few airplanes worth of purchases would make most
of the Eastern province disappear from the national consciousness.
to the situation in Liberia. They figured, that if Liberia could
go through so much blood-letting, a little killing here and there
in the Eastern province is but a murmur in the long journey to extricate
peace out of bedlam. But how is the surreal quality of ritual killing
when a peace process is in progress be reconciled with that? The
fact is that even peace theories and conflict resolution paradigms
have not prepared us for it.
There is nothing
much in the books on conflict resolution that says that an "armed
group might declare a ceasefire'', engage in negotiations while
eliminating detractors and minorities in the process. There is nothing
in the conflict resolution books definitely, which tell us what
a ceasefire monitoring committee or a mediator for peace should
do about it.
The other take
on the problem was that the killings were marginal statistically
speaking. Muslims were being killed, but in terms of figures the
numbers were much less than those who were being killed while there
was open hostilities. Therefore, the killings were being seen by
some as turf wars, and not real hostilities that had anything serious
to do with the peace process. They would of course be held to breaches
of the peace, but it was a different 'peace' that was being breached
and not the 'peace'' that was being associated with the peace process!
Some also saw
it as a breach not of the letter of the document but of the spirit
of the document. The ceasefire document for instance does not say
in the fine print or in the large print that Muslims returning from
chena cultivation cannot be killed during the pendancy of the ceasefire
as it was in violation of the spirit (not the letter) of the ceasefire
agreement, it was seen as being less of a violation of the agreement
than if it was a violation of the letter of the agreement itself!
One thing that makes all of this surreal is the fact that Sri Lanka
is not Liberia. Politically incorrect though it may sound, Sri Lanka
compared to sub Saharan and some other African countries has been
a polity that has been at least orderly and at least marginally
democratic. (If there was no all out war that is.)
But the question
is whether for the international actors Sri Lanka is on a par with
Liberia, or countries like Liberia for instance? For instance, would
it be soon before outsiders engineer ''regime change'' within Sri
Lanka, as they engineer say regime change within Iraq, and Liberia
or some other countries which are not democracies even in a nominal
There may not
be leaders of the calibre of Mandela or the Mahatma, but these above
are some of the reasons this country calls for extraordinary leadership,
perhaps of the type that even Mandela or the Mahatma could not offer.
South Africa was ripe for a change of apartheid regime, and the
days of colonial hegemony were over, when Gandhi led his movement
But, in Sri
Lanka, nobody sees either a need or an imperative to see an end
to the violence. The Mahatma if he was here will be seen as a Sarong
Johnny, and Mandela as a jailbird.
And even Mandela
and Mahatma wouldn't be able to do much about that -- because while
there are killings that continue on a daily basis, they seem to
be seen as all collateral and needless killings. Nobody in this
country has identified a larger purpose for the killings, and hence
there is no passion to end it all and almost no room for leaders
to rise to the occasion in the vast non-event of our conflict.