Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka: A Tamil Perspective
“The way we see the problem is the problem”
(Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
A recent seminar that was hosted by the Eelam Tamil Association of Victoria, has created a media frenzy sprouted with various sections choosing to quote and misquote what was said.
In particular the talk given by Dr Maheswaran triggered some excitement within the Tamil community as well as in the Sri Lankan and web based media. I have here attempted to give my own version of what was said to rest the confusion that has ensued
Dr. Jay Maheswaran a member of the LTTE’s negotiating team at the last Peace talks, delivering Prof Eliezer memorial lecture in Melbourne Australia spoke about the need for a new Paradigm, for the island of Sri Lanka to achieve Peace and Reconciliation. He emphasized that for the Tamil nation and the Sinhala nation to exist in true peace, there needs to be a shift in the current paradigm towards an environment filled with trust, respect and justice. This speech, which has been widely misquoted by vested individuals.
The Sunday Observer carries a report stating that “Dr. Joy Maheswaran, one of the key negotiators of the LTTE when the outfit engaged in talks with the Government from 2002 to 2005, said that the LTTE made a severe blunder by withdrawing from the peace talks and had dug its own grave”. In fact the above statement was made by Professor Damian Kingsbury, from the School of International and Political Studies, Deakin University and an expert peace negotiator who has been involved in the crisis in Aceh, East Timor and West Papua.
It was refreshing to hear from a Tamil Diaspora leader sans the rhetoric. It was encouraging to hear from a man who participated in the peace talks, articulating a pragmatic approach to redress the problems of the Tamils facing today. It was heartening to hear that Tamil Diaspora leaders with a clear vision for the Tamils of Sri Lanka are coming out and articulating their views with courage.
Dr. Maheswaran laid the scene for setting the architects of his new paradigm by listing down the reasons why the 2002 Peace talks failed based on an analysis performed by the reputed International Crisis Group. This report which was issued on 28th November 2006, lists down 4 major reasons for the failure of the peace talks.
1. The peace process consisted of discussions between only two of the parties to the conflict. There was little transparency and no place for other affected communities – Muslims, non-LTTE Tamils, other Sinhalese parties.
2. Lack of structural reform - inability of the government to begin to address some of the root causes of the conflict
3. Neither side wanted to rush into substantive political issues
4. Limited International Involvement
Then he went on to list down the reasons from his own experience as a development advisor to LTTE’s negotiation team. They were
1. Inability of the government to get political consensus amongst the Sinhalese
2. Failure to implement agreed resolutions at different tracks of negotiations, SIHRN
3. Non-willingness to address day-to-day needs of war affected populations
4. Failure to negotiate and seek a way to implement the ISGA
5. The lack of inherent trust between the parties to be genuine
In recent media quotes (or misquotes), whilst the first four reasons did not receive much coverage it is the last point that got highlighted albeit in a twisted manner to suit the reporter. The Sri Lankan Government’s official news paper Sunday Observer quoted Dr. Maheswaran as saying “the outfit (LTTE) did not negotiate honestly to reach a durable settlement to the national question in Sri Lanka and did not conduct themselves in a reliable manner”. Surprisingly, The Tamilwin website, which generally does not cover news from the Sunday Observer, carried a word to word translation of the above news item.
The fact that both parties didn’t trust each other is a well known fact. Dr. Jay Maheswaran is not the first to publicly state that LTTE didn’t have trust in the Government nor will he be the last. LTTE’S Chief Negotiator Anton Balasingham speaking on Nov 27th 2005 at the commemorative meeting for LTTE Great Heroes’ Day held at Alexandra Palace, London stated that “If we voted for Ranil, we could have gone for talks with Ranil but Ranil is a dangerous fox. Why I say this is because I am tired of talks”.
Dr. Maheswaran then went on to outline why he believes the Sri Lankan Government needs the Tamils. He said that if the Government fails to engage the Tamils and achieve peace with justice, Sri Lanka will “continue to be in a state of war”. He further added the cost of maintaining a large military machinery, the loss of economic opportunities and exclusion from the international community will all act as incentives for the Government to seek peace with the Tamils. Quoting Prof Galtung, a renown peace activist, he also warned that the failure to do so may revive the Tamil militancy in the future and also highlighted the economic benefits which could be derived by the participation of the “Tamil intelligentsia in the development of the nation”
The Tamils, Dr. Maheswaran said, need peace to give a chance for the Tamils in Sri Lanka to regain their lives, to realise their economic and intellectual potential, to be accepted in the international community and to halt the exodus of thousands of Tamils taking perilous journeys seeking refuge.
Prior to articulating his strategies, he emphasized the need for the Tamils to accept the ground realities. He said that the International community is not in favor of separation at present. Does the Tamil Diaspora needs Dr. Maheswaran to say this hard fact, when each and every envoy to Sri Lanka has publicly stated that they do not support separation?
He went on to drive home the truth that the Tamils have lost the military war, but not the struggle for freedom. What is so controversial about it, when the LTTE itself declared on the 16th of May 2009 that they have decided to silence their guns? To date they have lived by that statement and have not done anything in contrary by word or deed.
“The rights of Tamils living in Sri Lanka are severely curtailed, Tamils lack a cohesive and credible political force in Sri Lanka and the ability to reach a political consensus must be strong amongst Tamils living internationally” were the other three ground realities he specified.
In the final part of his address, Dr. Jay Maheswaran articulated a four pronged strategy (a paradigm shift) to achieve peace and reconciliation from a Tamil perspective. Whilst the International community has been urging the Sri Lankan government to take steps towards Peace and reconciliation, it is the first time a Tamil perspective on peace and reconciliation has been published.
Following is the summary of the four strategies articulated by Dr. Jay Maheswaran
1. Aiding the resettlement and rehabilitation of displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka
- The Sri Lankan Government is not committed to a respectable resettlement
- However, as a sovereign government which controls the NE of Sri Lanka we have
no choice but to work with the Government to help the displaced
- the validation of land ownership is critical, to stop the colonisation
- the need to build a self reliant society, not one dependent on hand outs
- Need for small to medium sized investments, to stimulate the NE economy
2. Building a cohesive and credible political front in Sri Lanka
- The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is the best political choice
- The others are all ex-militants turned opportunists
- The Tamil political entities should be given the space to formulate and
articulate their policies freely and internationally
- Tamil parties should look at developing a third force which is pluralistic
3. Unifying an effective Diaspora that speaks with one political voice
- Tamil Diaspora is the strongest entity that can give voice to Tamils in Sri
- Collectively we have an economic clout
- Many organisations can emerge, but should have a consensus approach on Sri
4. Making all accountable for atrocities committed
- The western democracies may pursue the war crimes issues for more
sinister reason, but for Tamils it is Justice
- This may take a long time, the international community may give up, but
Tamils have to keep it alive
In conclusion, I believe, Dr. Jay Maheswaran articulated in his speech that the armed liberation struggle waged by the Tamils has come to a “bitter end.” The defeat at the hands of the Sinhalese regime has shaken the Tamil community all over the world. However, root causes for the Tamil liberation struggle has not been resolved yet. If peace, justice and reconciliation need to materialise in Sri Lanka, then the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamils need to be met.
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty” - Winston Churchill