a solution stick by stick and step by step
This week we conclude an article on the peace process
by veteran civil servant Somapala Gunadheera
Cease-fire violations, rather the failure to avoid them has generated
vociferous arguments. The hot topic is LTTE reinforcements under
a CFA. Ex facie it is undoubtedly an improper thing to do. But equity
demands that the rule apply to both sides equally. One side cannot
reasonably enlarge its armoury while denying such preparedness to
the other. After all the CFA is only a suspension of hostilities.
Suspension presupposes resumption of fighting, if the talks fail.
That calls for maintenance of a balance of power. The side that
fails to maintain the balance may as well abandon the struggle and
fall in line at once, without wasting time on the blah blah.
serious charge was that the LTTE was expanding their territory under
the cover of the CFA and new camps were being hitched in areas under
Government control, causing an imminent threat to the armed forces
and to the security of the country at large. The rule is that if
there is illegal reinforcement or expansion and the SLMM fails to
check the violation, the Government has the right and the duty to
complaint was that the previous regime failed to do so in the teeth
of arms smuggling by the LTTE. Was the failure due to timidity or
a part of the strategy to keep the Peace Ship on even keel? Were
they bending over backwards to prevent the snapping of fragile ties?
The grouse was that they were over bending themselves and the country
was about to bite the dust.
the meantime the Government has changed hands and censors have become
performers. Nevertheless there does not appear to be any significant
change in the ground situation. Manirasakulam defiantly continues
to house the rebels. Key operatives of the forces are still gunned
down by unidentified gunmen who are never identified. The only difference
is that the hue and cry is now heard from the opposite camp. facile
dictu, difficile factu!
There is yet another debate on the quantum of devolution.
The protest against autonomy and self-government has subsided after
the rebels hinted at Federalism. But it is still argued within the
ranks of the Government itself whether it is to be Devolution or
Decentralization and the debate hots up further the moment the area
concerned is referred to as the "Homeland of the Tamils".
JVP is prepared to live with Decentralization but not with Devolution.
Their protest may not be rejected out of hand as a communal cry.
Devolution connotes a process of separation that may mature in time
to a complete break up, as the word does not sustain continuing
ties between the parties. In Decentralization both sides retain
their mutual claims and bonds, a position of equal importance not
only to the centre but also to the periphery. It is that bond that
would underwrite their union in the long run.
again it appears to be wiser to lay down the proposition in basic
terms without getting lost in a semantic tussle. Perhaps it would
satisfy both sides, if the exercise is supposed to "enable
a people, who were traditionally living as a majority in an identifiable
area for an immemorial time, to manage their own political organization
democratically, in that area, subject to recognizing the sovereignty
of the country as a whole."
need of the hour
Evidently the above peripheral and extraneous issues are
stultifying and impeding the Peace Process, which will stand hamstrung
until the stage is cleared of the debris. The need of the hour is
a clear perception of the crux of the problem and a concentrated
effort to solve it without being diffused by irrelevancies.
there appears to be general agreement on a policy of attaining consensus
through negotiation, the debate goes on. What is the time frame
for negotiations? What are the strategies, methods, tactics and
the modalities? Political adversaries want to see everything cut
and dry and declared up front, including assurance of uberrima fides.
They are only repeating what they were told when they were in power.
These preliminary inquisitions remind me of an experience
of mine when I happened to be the Government Agent of Trincomalee
in the sixties. A paddy tract in Allai had been cultivated traditionally
by the native villagers of the area. Some official had imposed a
Block Out Plan on the tract and alienated the blocks among new settlers.
Ever since, the land had remained fallow, for every new season saw
a fight between the purana owners and the newcomers, often ending
up in murder.
day I was informed that the conflict was to recommence with the
oncoming cultivation season, with imaginable consequences. I decided
to intervene personally and left for Allai along with the concerned
officials, to discuss the issue face to face with the two sides.
My co-travellers were agitated as they saw no solution to the problem.
of them asked me what my solution was going to be. I told him I
had none and I deliberately did not want to carry a pre-conceived
model with me for that would impose a straitjacket on the meeting
and inhibit frank discussion. I did not want to force the issue.
I was not in a hurry. I only had an open mind and a firm resolution
to be equally fair to both sides. My only strategy was consensus
through consultation and negotiation.
step at a time
The meeting was to be held at Verugal, at a point close
to where Prabhakaran's forces met Karuna's. The crowd was restive
when we arrived and tension was clearly written on every face. I
was at an advantage as I could speak to either faction in their
first question was whether there were any blocks of land that belonged
to the villagers that fell entirely outside the BOP. There were
such lands and imaginably, the new settlers had no objection to
their owners cultivating them. Then I repeated my question in respect
of the BOP lands. There were BOP lots that fell entirely out of
the purana tract and the villagers had no objection to the new comers
next question was whether there were blocks that included less than
half their extent in purana lands. There being such blocks, the
purana cultivators agreed to surrender their bits of land to those
entitled to the larger portion. In return the settlers gave up their
bits where the share of a villager was more than half the extent.
the end of the questioning, both sides were amazed to realize that
the vexed dispute had evaporated in the process of analyzing the
basics. Threats and jeers were replaced by claps and cheers and
to every man who agreed to surrender land in the name of peace,
I gave double the extent he lost, from the near by stretch and both
sides lived happily thereafter.
The ethnic conflict has now arrived at a watershed. After years
of bloody fighting, both sides have come to see the truth that war
is not the way out. There is no future for this country unless a
lasting solution is soon found and that solution is negotiation
and consensus through compromise.
responsible citizen is duty bound to honestly support that process
without putting spokes in its wheel for ulterior motives. Despite
the understandable drawbacks and inconstancies, the on-going peace
initiatives have much to commend themselves. The decks have been
cleared with a CFA that has been holding for over two years. The
pace of talks has not been rushed. Negotiators have been meeting
at various international venues more as a confidence building measure
than as an attempt to thrash out the core issues. It is a step by
step approach, "Hemin Hemin" as our first Prime Minister
used to recommend.
birds' nest in the making
It is as if a nest was being built inside a house under the protective
gaze of the inmates, the international on-lookers. Several sticks
have been placed one over another and the last has come from the
LTTE, their 'magnum opus', the Interim Self Governing Authority.
There has been a howl of protests at the very mention of the title.
Some have so blindfolded themselves intellectually, that they obstinately
refuse even to see what it is.
fact that the LTTE itself has offered to talk about the ISGA, is
ample proof that they themselves do not want the proposal treated
as a fait accompli. Otherwise they would have relentlessly insisted
on its implementation without further ado. Surely the LTTE cannot
expect to make a procrustean bed of their ISGA proposal unless they
are living in a fools' paradise. They cannot realistically look
forward to cutting and chopping the legitimate aspirations and rightful
interests of a vast majority of their compatriots.
It is natural for any rebel organization to put up their
demands at the maximum limit. The duty of the Government is to talk
to the rebels in consultation with the other stakeholders and persuade
them to settle at the optimum. Of late, the LTTE has shown remarkable
maturity. Their commendable restraint in the heat of the crisis
that followed the dissolution of Parliament last year, their continuing
commitment to the CFA in spite of several hiccups, their consent
to talk to a seemingly minority Government are all welcome pointers
to the supposition that after decades of tough experience, the LTTE
has come of age at last.
that background it is for the Government to pick up the only stick
the LTTE has voluntarily placed on the peace nest so far and prune
it to fit the size and shape of the structure by mutual consent
and common approval. This is more easily said than done unless the
initiatives are deftly handled by competent and resourceful men
of vision who have the authority to talk without having to look
continually over their shoulders. Once the LTTE's stick is acceptably
in place, it would be possible to put the balance sticks together
with speed and confidence.
It appears to be premature to attempt to reform the Constitution
piecemeal at this stage. Reform is on the cards but has to await
the resolution of the national bugbear, the ethnic problem. Once
a resolution is reached, all stakeholders will naturally be unanimously
keen to put the new structure on the Constitution, following the
recommendations of a Constituent Assembly consisting of broadly
representative and independent persons of repute and wisdom.
carry the parable of the Birds' Nest to its most desired conclusion,
let us fervently hope and pray that there would be a happy little
nest inside a strong and self contained mother nest, before many
moons have passed. That can become a reality only if all the nest
builders bear in mind the wise words of Sariputta, "attheneva
me attho. kin kahasi vyanjanan bahun".