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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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What's the Solution?

25 January 2000

A Sinhala visitor to the  tamilnation website, Stuart Hiran Leanage, wrote on 25 January 2000 and asked: "What's the solution?"

Response by tamilnation:

The words of Roger Fisher in *Beyond Machiavelli : Tools for Coping With Conflict may help to focus minds:

"One thing we know for sure: if the conflict is continuing, whatever we have been saying and doing so far has not worked. It has not produced the result we want, or we would have turned our attention to other matters by now..."

In the end, a solution to the Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka conflict will have to be found by looking behind the stated positions of the parties to the conflict and trying to clarify and understand  the interests that each party seeks to protect. There is a need to genuinely understand these interests. There may be a need to refine, and build on, the approaches spelt out in Sri Lanka-Tamil Eelam: Getting to Yes.

In an important sense, the interest that each party to the conflict in the island seeks to protect is the mirror image of the interest of the other party. The Sinhala people seek to secure their national identity in the face of a Tamil majority in the region. The people of Tamil Eelam seek to secure their own separate national identity in the face of a Sinhala majority within the island of Sri Lanka.

The question is whether the two peoples sitting together as equals cannot agree upon political structures which protects each of their interests. There may be a need to telescope two processes - one the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam and the other the terms on which an independent Tamil Eelam may  associate with an independent Sri Lanka, so that the national security of each may be protected and guaranteed.

Having said that, it is also true to say that a party to a conflict will negotiate in good faith only if it believes that such negotiations will yield a result better than its BATNA (its Best Alternative to a Negotiated Arrangement). Otherwise, it will simply use the negotiation process to either reduce its opponent's BATNA or increase its own BATNA.

The Northern Ireland peace process serves as an useful illustration. For the United Kingdom, its 'Best Alternative to a Negotiated Arrangement', was to continue facing IRA attacks in the mainland, including London and Manchester with rising insurance premia and the costs of maintaining a military presence in Ulster. If this BATNA was preferable to anything that was achievable at the negotiating table, then the UK would have insisted that the Northern Ireland question was an internal matter and would have continued to rely on its armed forces to annihilate the IRA. Again for the Sinn Fein, its 'Best Alternative to a Negotiated Arrangement' was to continue with the effort to rid Northern Ireland of British rule and of the better equipped British Army. If this BATNA was preferable to anything that was seen as achievable at the negotiating table, then Sinn Fein may have yet participated in the talks, but not in good faith.

There may also be a need to remind ourselves, yet again, of the words of Professor Marshall Singer in 1995:

"One of the essential elements that must be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict is that, since 1958 at least, every time Tamil politicians negotiated some sort of power-sharing deal with a Sinhalese government - regardless of which party was in power - the opposition Sinhalese party always claimed that the party in power had negotiated away too much. In almost every case - sometimes within days - the party in power backed down on the agreement." - (Professor Marshall Singer, at US Congress Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Hearing on Sri Lanka November 14,1995)

MonkWe may need to recognise that a 'golden thread' runs through every single set of proposals from the 1928 Donoughmore Commission recommendations, through the 1957 Bandaranaike Chelvanayakam Agreement, the 13th Amendment and the Kumaratunga package - and that is the Sinhala people's rejection of an asymmetric approach and the insistence that whatever 'devolution' or 'decentralisation' that was on offer was equally available to the Sinhala provinces (which had never struggled or demanded 'devolution' or 'decentralisation') and to the Tamil areas in the North and East of the island.

The record of broken pacts, dishonoured agreements and evasive proposals reveals Sinhala fundamentalism's  refusal to recognise the existence of the Tamil people as a "people" with an historic homeland and their right to freely determine their political status - the right to freely negotiate the terms on which the Sinhala people and the Tamil people may associate with each other in equality and in freedom.

However, if Germany and France were able to put in place such 'associate' structures despite the suspicions and confrontations of two world wars, it should not be beyond the capacity of Tamil Eelam and  Sri Lanka to work out structures, within which each independent state may remain free and prosper, but at the same time pool sovereignty in certain agreed areas. Sovereignty is not virginity.

Admittedly, the negotiating process may be complex. But, strange as it may seem to some, the struggle for an independent Tamil state, is not in opposition to many of the underlying interests of the parties concerned with the conflict in the island - and that includes Sri Lanka, India and the United States.

Whilst the demand for an independent Tamil state is not negotiable, there may be a need to explore fresh pathways and agree the terms on which an independent Tamil Eelam may associate with an independent Sri Lanka - and that  process is  not   simply a question of  negotiating about boundaries. There is everything to negotiate about. Here, the words of Velupillai Pirabaharan, uttered some nine years ago are not without relevance:

"It is the Sri Lanka government which has failed to learn the lessons from the emergence of the struggles for self determination in several parts of the globe and the innovative structural changes that have taken place.."

But, so long as the Sinhala people believe that they can conquer the Tamil homeland and rule a people against their will (perhaps through quislings and collaborators), so long also will they fail to see the need to talk to the Tamil people on equal terms. So long also will they fail to see the need to recognise the existence of the Tamil people, as a people, with a homeland and with the right to freely choose their political status. So long also will they fail to see the need to structure a polity where two peoples (and two states)  may associate with each other in equality and in freedom.

An armed conflict is no afternoon tea party and there is a need for all of us to understand fully the import of Sir Stephen King-Hall's comment in Defence of the Nuclear Age:

"The fundamental meaning of war is that it is the expression of a difference of opinion. The object of war must therefore be defined as follows: the object of war is to change the enemy's mind. This simple and almost platitudinous statement is of supreme importance and a failure to remember it has led to the most deplorable efforts..."



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