Now that the government appears to be fighting the war to a finish, it behoves concerned members of our civil society to put their heads together to evolve an optimum Peace Package that could win over as many contenders as possible in our ethnic dispute.
Once I blamed a Tamil friend of mine who is a leading professional, for not taking an active part in the search for a solution to the ethnic impasse. He was despondent and thought it a waste of time to get involved with a problem that no government after independence has had the guts to get to grips with. According to him, all of them have been intimidated by the threat of a highly inflated vociferous minority of demagogues and the moderate Tamils have been silenced by the violent reaction to that lethargy. Reason on both sides has become the prisoner of these forces.
‘If we are genuine and pragmatic in our search,” my friend said, “the solution is simple. Let the Tamils put down their minimum demands clearly and let the Sinhalese decide the maximum they are prepared to go along with. Then let the two sides sit down and hammer out the differences until a consensus is reached.”
The idea looked simple. Coming to think of it, that is what we are supposed to have been doing all the time. But it would appear on hindsight that we have only been going round and round the mulberry bush with the problem, for two main reasons. We never had a clear policy on the modalities of resolution. The second reason which is essentially the cause of the first, is that our leaders never had the wisdom, the sensitivity and the courage to handle the problem with statesmanship. In the alternative, they were exploiting the dispute for their own survival in power.
The latest make-believe is the All Party Representatives Committee without some of the most relevant parties, no less logical than ‘Sinhala only with Tamil also’. Judging by its record of performance, the APRC is destined to drag its feet ad infinitum with even the only recommendation they have made so far, allegedly under dictation, not implemented in full up to now. It is in this scenario, that I say the intelligentsia has a duty to engage themselves in the search for a consensus to the vexed problem of our ethnic conflict, if the Tamils are not to be left at a dead end at the end of the fight.
At the going rate of state procrastination, the international community is very likely to become the final arbiters of the dispute, as has already happened in other theaters of ethnic conflict, sometimes to the detriment of the intended ‘beneficiary’. No self-respecting nation could be happy about such an intervention. The best way to prevent such humiliation is for opinion leaders on both sides to engage themselves in a brave and open debate on the minimum mutually acceptable Peace Package.
It is my belief that coordinating the evolution of a Peace Package calls for an NGO eminently qualified and resourceful enough to handle such a momentous undertaking. Fortunately we already have non-partisan, intellectual institutions dedicated to the resolution of the ethnic conflict. It is earnestly hoped that one of them would rise to the occasion and undertake the venture. I suggest that the effort be coordinated on the following lines;
- Publish a paper indicating what the minimum requirements of the Tamils would be. This could be written by an internationally recognized Tamil with a standing equivalent to that of the Late Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam. The writer may remain anonymous to avoid imaginable risks from both sides.
- The second stage would be extensive publication of support, objections and counter-objections to the Paper.
- Once supporters, advocates and activists on both sides have had their say, a Constitutional Law Expert can sum up the debate short-listing the challenged moot points at the end of the report.
- An Institution with wide experience in statistical analysis of similar questions, then conducts a survey on the responses to the vexed points. It is important that this survey is conducted in Tamil majority areas as well, unlike in the past. The East should present no problem now. Even the North may be roped in by courtesy of the Public Service and a diplomatic approach to the Peace Secretariat of the LTTE. Any objection by the latter would reflect on their honesty of purpose.
- The results of the survey are then referred to an Expert with an international reputation, for formulation of a Draft Package. It would be helpful to ensure that the selected Expert is neither a Tamil nor a Sinhalese. But the selectee should have an abiding interest in the affairs of this country, having his umbilical code with the island still intact.
- The draft Package is then considered at a Workshop. It is important to ensure that this occasion is well attended by representatives of stake-holders, intellectuals and international activists. The Workshop will fine-tune the draft and finalize its text. The experts referred to at A, C and E above would be an ideal Panel of Rapporteurs for this occasion.
- The finalized Package is then presented to the Government for active and prompt consideration and implementation. No government will be able to play hide and seek for long with a package built up with such transparency, debate, investigation and analysis of optimum preferences.
- The Government will then refer the Package to a real 100% APRC. It is possible that some parties would boycott the Committee for ulterior motives. Abstinence has always been a favourite weapon of sabotage among our political parties. But the Government should have the courage to ignore any party that does not have the guts to fight their case before a properly constituted forum. The final recommendations of the genuine APRC will then be implemented without trepidation.
In view of the grave urgency to find a way out of the canker of our ethnic dispute, it is necessary that the process of evolving the Peace Package is implemented on a strict time-frame. Though the ideal should be three months, imaginable problems of the statistical survey may extend it to six.
Armed with a Peace Package filtered through the above process, the President should feel confident to act on it decisively. The international community which appears to be closing in on our ethnic conflict, is unlikely to turn a Nelsonian eye on a Hamlet-like approach to the Package.
In implementing the Peace Package, the President should take the cue from his predecessor as Chairman of SAARC, Manmohan Singh, who only recently pulled out victory from the jaws of defeat with his undaunted action in the teeth of opposition to the Atomic Power agreement with the US. In the ultimate analysis, it is the determination and statesmanship with which the ethnic issue is handled that would decide whether Mahinda Rajapaksa or his challenger, Veluppillai Pirapaharan would live longer in history.