FROM VICTORY TO NORMALISATION IN SRI LANKA
No war is fought sans atrocity. It destroys everything. Even when a war is fought with the best adherence to internationally accepted laws of warfare; it still breeds hatred, enmity and many a horrific sentiment that violates human decency.
This may be why Union General of the American Civil War, William T. Sherman, said â€œI am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.”
Glory of victory sometimes overtakes humanity and humility. Hence normalization immediately after war is tedious.
Aftermath of war
Was it only the LTTE that was defeated militarily? Wasn’t it also the political, economic, social decision making fascist monopoly held at gunpoint? Hence, forgetting triumphal, cannot one look at the opportunities open for Sri Lanka? This could be one way to profit from war outcomes, though some losses like ‘life’ are irrecoverable; irreplaceable.
Different priorities have been suggested by commentators, especially to denote where to start after war. Government prioritizes development; affected and civil society to return to original habitats; politicians to enunciate political reforms. Some consider power sharing as the holiest issue to be addressed. Some go to extremes demanding the same solutions in statecraft, as orchestrated by the separatists. Another plans for Transnational Eelam Governments. To the latter clock has not turned its arms! This irks Sri Lanka, which results in a power sharing solution becoming as illusive as the Holy Grail!
Though not happened immediately after war victory, in spirit, UPFA’s double election victories are a reinforced, brave ‘push force.’ Nevertheless, victories could act as a cowardly, dispirited ‘pull-back force,’ based on the nature of demands and attitudes .When some sophisticated believe that â€œmost of the grievances which were supposed to have been in existence among Tamils some decades ago are no longer in existence” and â€œthat the problems faced by the Tamils and Muslims in the North and East are same as the problems faced by the people in other parts of the country,” UPFA will prefer to play safe on a â€œpolitical solution.”
It is equally sad to note some governmental authorities maladroitly stating that since a clear two-thirds majority was not received the government is not mandated for constitutional reforms. If so, what is UPFA’s mandate for selective constitutional amendments for ‘political self-perpetuation’? This is political plagiarism.
The most effective post-victory security consequence arises due to erasure of terrorism, public rejection of war and thirst for peace and democracy. Effective normalization hopes arise also due to interest of the internationals that support normalization, reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction, public thirst for change and development, especially in the North and East.
The constitutional changes have several facets. One focus is to implement the 13th Amendment and enhancement of power sharing thereafter, within a framework of a united democracy; introducing a Second Chamber and new electoral systems. The need to participate in government as equal partners, erasing discriminatory divides, determining their own business (i.e. Principle of Subsidiarity) is the principle behind.
The identified weaknesses in the Provincial Council (PC) system, reduction of unnecessary central hold on PCs nullifying genuine power sharing have to be corrected. Perhaps, the recent workshop in Delhi, initiated by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs might assist Sri Lanka in formulating ‘improvements’ on power sharing.
Nevertheless, there is the controversial issue of sharing Police and Land Powers. The government bargaining to retain Police Powers had been historically manipulative, from the days of President R Premadasa, who lawfully hindered it. The selfish fear of political opponents handling Provincial Police might have been the main cause for such hindering though this intention was camouflaged. It could have been the reason for Chief Minister (CM) Kumaratunga to demand Police Powers as CM of Western Province, and hypocritically denying Police Powers to PCs for eleven years as President! However, sharing Police Powers with PCs can be arranged, if willing.
Arguments for and against can be made on sharing Land Powers. Frankly, is not this an ethnic issue now than a resource issue? Therefore, Tamil Parties may quote the agreed working arrangements between SJV Chelvanayakam and SWRD Bandaranaike / Dudley Senanayake, which could be used as the bases for negotiations on acceptable sharing of Land Power.
Appropriate politics for Constitution making
Due to political rivalries compromising among southern Parties political reforms had failed. The UNP being the author of power sharing should magnanimously support appropriate changes to achieve peace. Minor southern parties (e.g. JHU) should shed narrow thinking and support acceptable constitution making. Rather than to fight for the pound of flesh, Tamil / Muslim Parties should consider the background of no LTTE life-threats and the strength of the incumbent government that could make amends and successfully market them.
The UPFA should magnanimously focus on issues it had been reluctant to compromise previously because they now have an overwhelming parliamentary majority. It should proactively think of enhancing powers of Provinces and reduce involvement from the center. Changes should apply to all PCs.
Simultaneously, all politicians should consider that in the foreseeable future there cannot be the currently observed mandate, charisma and cherished opportunity for any Party to convince the electorate and seal permanent peace.
Concurrently, reforms should be undertaken, e.g. presidential powers, introduction of a new electoral system, on local democracy institutionalized in Local Authorities, further strengthened Fundamental Rights, as done in the Draft Constitution- 2000 and on governance by reinforcing the 17Th Amendment. These are not all reforms needed, but the most urgent.
However, selfish motives that influenced Kumaratunga administration while formulating the Constitution- 2000 are sure to surge. If the UPFA acts similarly, it will overshadow the main objectives of constitution making / amending.
Socio- Economic issues
The national socio-economy was adversely affected by the conflict. Now the conflict is over for one year, it is time to even belatedly re-focus on it. Though there had been some positive attempts by the government in the interim to resettle the affected, develop infrastructure, improve livelihoods, and relax unpopular controls, the complaints of a ‘militaristic approach’ in practice remain.
While the war victories had triumphal exhorts across board, losses in the form of kith and kin, failure to return to original areas of habitation, stress, depression, loss of physical assets, Rights demands, equality issues, grievance handling and good governance have created socially unpalatable consequences. There are similar experiences in economic activities too (e.g. fishing, cultivation in high security zones).
It is easy for some who never lived in or experienced such humiliation, stress, depression and loss, to speak of such consequences as unavoidable in war and ignore them. As reconciliation cannot be reached by only killing terrorists, new approaches to win the hearts / minds of the affected should be explored.
If minorities, especially Sinhalese and Muslims in the North-East, feel that their equal rights as citizens are assured, in the form of freedom, language /religion, culture, transacting business with the government etc, it will be a foundation for healing. The demands for return to their own habitations, free movement and value addition to Fundamental Rights have to be redeemed for social normalcy.
In their absence thinking will circulate that ‘state socio-economic terrorism’ has replaced that of the LTTE. It was not what those affected anticipated after ‘emancipation’ from the LTTE. It is not surprising if justifiable â€œtemporary militarization of the recaptured areas” and unjustifiably permitting selective armed Tamil political groups in cleared areas to act with impunity, for example, nurture such thinking.
These gaps have been identified by the internationals. They have criticized and created economic / political roadblocks consequential to alleged Rights violations, which originated from some stated gaps. Some allegations are exaggerations and some partial-truths and some truths. The government has taken these antagonistic allegations as cross-currents against its military successes and had been boisterously and notoriously critical.
This attitude has certainly affected foreign resource mobilization, though multi-lateral financiers have been somewhat accommodative. Hence, positive diplomatic dialogues with foreign financiers and donor countries, compulsorily with Opposition support are recommended, if the triple victories are to be meaningful, taken forward, sustained, benefiting the country, de-motivating another uprising- the latter being currently suspected even by the Secretary Defense and the Prime Minister.
The government authorities mostly seek refuge for delays on potential LTTE activists and demining. It concurrently proves that militarily crushing the LTTE has only ceased war, but not paved peace. Additionally, it proves that there could be attractions for communities to look up to LTTE or another group. What could cause these attractions? They are the unfulfilled political, socio-economic humanitarian gaps, where the government had partially succeeded (e.g. Uthuru Vasanthaya) during one year.
These gaps cannot be filled by constitution making alone. Nor could they be fulfilled overnight. If these gaps were closed while the government celebrates war triumphal, the north-eastern people would have voluntarily celebrated their emancipation from fascist terror. This genuine transformation will make the ‘war victory’ a ‘common man’s victory’ too- not only of brave soldiers.
Social reconciliation needs more democratic and human commitment. To act on the basis of â€œWinner has all and nothing for the loser” is unacceptable. How to attract the losers or the Diaspora or internationals to cooperate is a challenge. Converting ‘losers’ to be ‘contributors’ or ‘international critics’ to ‘partners’ for development, reconstruction, reconciliation, human benefit, Rights enhancement and forgetting the bitter past are approaches that can be utilized. Going for all kudos for the Government or the Opposition and internationals becoming permanent critics of the Government or indiscriminate rejection of civil society actions will not answer this call.
In this exercise the President and Prime Minister requesting the Opposition to contribute to nation building should be non-rhetoric and genuine. It should not be to subtly wipe out the limited political hold of the Opposition. The mutual cooperation of all political parties and the internationals is a must for normalization and the government should initiate action.
Even though the conflict was between a terrorist group and government forces it had been wrongly interpreted as an ‘ethnic war’. The erasing of this misconception is humongous, which requires an integrated political, constitutional, social and economic development strategy / approach / commitment. Internationals and media have a large role play in this. It needs shedding parochial interests, thinking and unreserved contribution from all stakeholders.
Whether the Government should give any space for such constructive interventions is its decision. Whether the Opposition considers this as an occasion to unite for greater good of the country is its decision. Involvement of the civil society is its decision. How the internationals should react is their decision. The country looks forward for collaborated action. Failure to achieve it will engulf the country in a worse status than the war period and hence none can be excused if it happens.
Every stakeholder has to think and act anew and change not only the conflict environment, but collaborative actions too. Are they ready?