Colombo, Peace and Conflict


Dayan Jayatilleke in the Lanka Academic has attempted a rather more refined apologia for the discordant cacophony that passes for government in respect of conflict resolution and peace nowadays, than the government itself has been capable of. He says that the President’s speech to the nation last week and the majority report of the APRC Experts Panel represent two complementary strands of a cogent response by the government to defeat the LTTE’s terrorism and meet the aspirations of Tamils. He is not only sycophantic, but also fundamentally wrong. If this is a strategy, then it sounds remarkably like CBK’s disastrous ‘war for peace’ policy.

The majority report is to be welcomed as a rare voice of reason in an otherwise miasmic scenario apropos peace in Sri Lanka, but to overstate the originality of its substance is surely not only historically incorrect, but also inimical to a real debate about its proposals. It attempts to grapple with tough questions, but answers them inadequately, hesitantly and predictably, relying time and time again on ideas rehashed from the Constitution Bill of 2000 with some tepid innovations (such as on asymmetry). In others, it either goes back to solutions as old as the Mangala Moonesinghe proposals (the North-East apex council), or merely tinkers with the Thirteenth Amendment (the lists of powers).

Its real use perhaps is as a broad brush strokes discussion document, where the real demons lurk in the details of the future comprehensive reports on a plethora of constitutional questions it has promised. Witness the division of competences, the allocation of powers, the fiscal and financial arrangements etc. One may be forgiven for stifling yawns, but if a Southern consensus can be built upon the principles of the majority report, then it would have more than served its purpose. How that debate pans out will determine how ‘federal’ or ‘unitary’ the concrete constitutional propositions will look like. There is nothing inherently precluding either eventuality in the majority report, but of course, there is also nothing to suggest that the majority views of the Experts Panel resonate with the dominant inclinations of this government.

One hopes that the majority report will be supported by the government, and that the development of the framework it proposes will be done with a view to conflict resolution and constitution-making in Sri Lanka, rather than merely instrumentally in isolating the LTTE internationally, while trying to defeat them militarily. This state-centric and binary approach has failed so spectacularly in the past that it is remarkable it is being trotted out again as viable policy (notwithstanding the arrogant and irresponsible attitude of Washington, Colombo’s new best friend). Neither the government nor the LTTE has any claim to the moral high ground on terrorism or democracy. The interests of Sri Lanka lie in compelling both these recalcitrant entities to sit down and resolve what really matters to all Sri Lankans, not in deluded zero-sum game-playing. However orgasmic for the hard-line pundits on either side, this does not ask the real questions that require to be answered if a constitutional settlement is to be found, and in the meantime, the tragedy is that it means death, destruction and misery for ordinary people.