Reaching 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
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.

Another 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 prevent it.

The 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.

In 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!

Devolution or Decentralization?
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".

The 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.

Here 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."

The 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.

Although 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.

A miniature prototype
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.

One 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.

One 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.

One 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 own tongue.

My 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 keeping them.

The 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.

At 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 peace process
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.

Every 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.

A 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.

The 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.

In 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.

Constitutional reform
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.

To 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".

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.