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Needed: A change in strategy and  blueprint for political settlement

Notebook of  a Nobody

by Shanie

Violence and Peace

The violence and the killings that are going in the country, not merely in the north and east, is frightening. It brings back a reminder of the atmosphere that prevailed in the eighties and early nineties. What prevailed then was a sense of fear and gloom and the country’s international image reached a very low point. Tamil youth, and in the late eighties Sinhala youth as well, were arbitrarily arrested and some disappeared never to be seen again. This was all part of a failed counter insurgency strategy.

In the early eighties, the then President sent his Army Chief-of-Staff nephew to Jaffna with a mandate to wipe out terrorism within six months. Disappearances and extra-judicial killings followed. But the net result was to marginalise the democratic forces among the Tamil people and to strengthen the militant groups which sprang up in numbers. The ordinary Tamil people turned to these groups in despair. These groups themselves used the same killings strategy to not only get rid of the democratic Tamil leadership but also to eliminate civilians whom they considered collaborators. This strategy inevitably led next to internecine killings within the groups.

Many in the South did not realise the extent of the tragedy that the Tamil community was facing. Some who knew nodded in approval. A few others like Bishop Lakshman Wickremesinghe, Sarath Muttetuwegama, Vijaya and Chandrika Kumaratunge and Vasudeva Nanayakkara had the courage to raise their voices in protest. Among the Tamils, acts of terrorism were being condoned and the lone voices that stood for human rights and decency were, by and large, silenced not only by the militant groups but also by the security forces.

Dawn of a new culture

Over the last ten years or so, this was slowly but surely being reversed. It is to the credit of Chandrika Kumaratunge that she strove to bring about a new culture of democracy and respect for human rights. Within the first years of her Presidency, she put a stop to the counter insurgency strategy that was leading to disappearances of Tamil youth. Her rise to the

Presidency brought about an euphoria among the Tamil people. This upset the LTTE who obviously did not want any diversionary leadership that would have marginalised them. That is why they broke the cease-fire and re-started their acts of terrorism.

There were many serious acts of provocation by the LTTE during the past decade – the attempted assassination of Chandrika Kumaratunge, the assassinations of C. V. Gooneratne and Lakshman Kadirgamar, and so on. In response, the then Government saw to it that mobs did not go berserk and attack Tamils. This restraint received international recognition and support for the Government’s stance. All the hard work done over those years in winning international support for our peace efforts should not now be lost by returning to the eighties war strategy.

The recent actions of both the LTTE and the security forces indicate that none of the lessons of the past appear to have been learnt. The rhetoric and the counter-insurgency strategy being adopted are chillingly reminiscent of that dark era of the eighties when every Tamil was presumed to be a terrorist. The response of the security forces to every act of provocation by the LTTE is just what the LTTE wants – to distance the Tamil people from the Government so that they can continue to keep their iron hold over the Tamil people.

Kadirgamar Initiatives

It is imperative therefore that President Rajapakse takes some decisive and immediate steps to nip the deteriorating situation in the bud.

The counter insurgency strategy must change. The lessons of the past must be learnt or we lose the support from both within the country and outside that is necessary to defeat terrorism. President Rajapakse came into power with tremendous goodwill. He still retains that goodwill and still has international support available. This goodwill and support was earned as a result of a military strategy with a human face and enabled Lakshman Kadirgamar and others to push a successful diplomatic thrust. The proscription of the LTTE in major countries like the USA and UK and now in the EU states is the result of those diplomatic initiatives.

It is a truism that a terrorist organisation will never understand the language of democracy. For too long the LTTE has wielded the gun and crushed the spirit of freedom and dignity among the Tamil people. They will not willingly give up their power and their hold over the people under their control. That is why they will not agree to any political settlement that does not ensure a pre-eminent position to them. That is why they have systematically eliminated both independent and non-LTTE voices among Tamils as also voices within the LTTE who posed a threat to their leader. That is also why they will keep placing obstacles to continuing negotiations that lead to a democratic political settlement. That is why they will continue with acts provoking the security forces to respond in a similar manner and attack Tamil civilians.

Blueprint for a settlement

President Mahinda Rajapakse has therefore to work on two fronts: First, to change the war strategy that his defence advisors have adopted and foisted on him. Second, he needs to put before our people a blueprint for a political settlement. He has before him the framework that G. L. Peiris and Neelan Tiruchelvam presented in 1995 and on which the then All Party Conference worked and agreed, resulting in the draft constitutional proposals of 2000. This can be discussed and modified where necessary. Action must be taken on both fronts on an urgent basis. The present strategy is taking us nowhere and will lead to an erosion of support locally and internationally, with disastrous consequences for our beloved nation. The EU resolution makes that clear; so let us build on the existing goodwill.

The country cannot afford the luxury of waiting indefinitely for the LTTE to come to the negotiating table. For how long can we allow them to hold the country to ransom? A blueprint that ensures for the Tamils and Muslims a real sense of belonging, equality and dignity and which is just and fair by all the people needs to be presented to our people. If it is found acceptable to the Tamil, Muslim, Sinhala and other communities who make up our country, it will politically defeat the LTTE and in the longer term, militarily defeat them as well.

State Assembly Elections in India

The results of the recent state assembly elections in neighbouring India are heartening for the reason that the communal and anti-secularist forces were roundly trounced in every state that went to the polls. In West Bengal, the Communists won a record seventh term. In a very populous state with huge problems of governance, it was their pro-poor economic agenda and the incorruptibility of the political leadership over the years that saw the Communists win with an increased popular base. In Tamil Nadu again, the non-communal secular parties like the Congress and the Communists made big gains. In a way, these results reflect the message that our own voters gave at the recent elections to parties that adopted communal and religious rhetoric. Positively, it reflects the same faith our voters placed in a pro-poor and secularist agenda.

Local Government Elections

The results of the postponed elections to some local bodies in Sri Lanka confirm the mandate that President Rajapakse received at the Presidential Election and PA received at the main local elections held last month. The voting pattern by and large remains unchanged. It is a pity that Colombo’s English-speaking class were and are still unable to come to terms with this rural southerner’s victory at the Presidential Election. But what is worrying in this voting trend is the polarisation evident in the electorate. While the PA is predominant among the Sinhala voters, the Tamils and Muslim vote is for parties representing their own respective communities. This is the reason why it is so important for President Rajapakse to present without delay an acceptable political package that will ensure justice and equality for all.

Vasudeva Nanayakkara was an inspired choice as candidate for Colombo Mayoralty. He is popular with all sections of society and the minorities and the under-privileged in particular find in him a doughty champion of their cause. But unfortunately he had to carry with him the defence establishment’s war strategy baggage. Even though the UNP has emerged as the largest single party, it is far from clear as to who would form the next municipal administration. The parties representing the minorities will now have to decide as to who would best serve their cause and the cause of the Colombo ratepayers.

Although a veteran parliamentarian, this was Vasu’s first foray into municipal politics. In London too some years ago, a firebrand leftie Ken Livingstone contested as an independent, standing against candidates of the three main parties and won election as the Mayor of London. He proved an able and popular Mayor and is now serving a second term, this time Blair’s New Labour coming to terms with him -IOL

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May 26, 2006 - Posted by | Media Journalism, News and politics, South Asia, World News

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