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Tamilnation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Conflict Resolution - Tamil Eelam - Sri Lanka > Norwegian Peace Initiative > Interim Self Governing Authority & Aftermath > The Pursuit of Peace in Sri Lanka - Bradman Weerakoon

Norwegian Peace Initiative

The pursuit of peace in Sri Lanka
Bradman Weerakoon
Seventh Dudley Senanayake Memorial Lecture
21 June 2004

A public lecture on the subject of peace in Sri Lanka would have a validity and relevance at most times and most places. Given the contemporary political condition in our country when we seem to be hovering between peace and war again, and the decisions of our political leadership can have very far-reaching consequences, no subject can have a more immediate concern and significance to all of us.

The presence of so many important Sri Lankans and friends of Sri Lanka - who have worked so long and hard for peace in our land - at this memorial lecture, is just one indication and representation, of that deep yearning for peace amongst all our citizenry.

We have all experienced the horrors and anguish of war and savour today the joys and fulfilment of an islandwide ceasefire that has held with some few aberrations for almost two and a half years. Nothing can be more important for this country than the consolidation and preservation of that condition and its forward movement towards a durable and just peace...

As several have said it is much easier to make war than peace. So speaking about the pursuit of peace is truly appropriate. It is a goal to be pursued with persistence, with tenacity, with resolution and with courage.

It is not for the chicken hearted. It is necessary to emphasize this for often the peacemaker is held to be the opposite of all the qualities I have referred to a moment ago - he or she is cowardly, indecisive, always conceding, timid and so on. The hero in history is the one who won the great battles - either in other lands or defending his own.

So popular history - which we all grow up with - extols the warrior king or emperor - the Alexanders, the Napoleons and our own Dutu gemunu who defeated the Tamil Elara and united the country. There is romance in war - and tales of valour, of heroism and self-sacrifice which stir the imagination and kept one's pulse racing. It makes good stories in film and print.

Of course what it does not show is the suffering, the death, the loss and pain of the millions usually civilian and poor, who are left behind after the victory parades are done.

Bad news is usually not news; so one hardly gets to know about it and in any case why think about it. It's depressing.

Our country, Sri Lanka has I think experienced over the past 50 odd years most of the negative effects of war. Perhaps some have savoured the thrill of small victories. But they have been short-lived. Most of the time as far as the mass of the people have been concerned war has meant deprivation, lack of mobility, disempowerment and limitations on freedom.

To combatants directly involved - much more; thousands of men permanently disabled and the dead; (it was recently officially announced that the number of dead and missing in the armed forces alone was 21,000). This figure presumably did not include the police.

And the calculation was apparently for the last 20 years since 1983 when the war is said to have officially begun. But what about the other side who are also Sri Lankans The LTTe some months ago referred to around 18,000 on their side but this could well be an understatement. And the civilians - as the news reports euphemistically say "caught in the crossfire"; Scholars of internal wars - incorrectly called civil wars - because there nothing civil about them, and there are no rules governing internal wars, unlike in wars between countries in which the Geneva Conventions guide behaviour - have led to the most ghastly atrocities on both sides.

Generally the number of civilian deaths in internal wars is about double the number of combatant deaths. Which would give us a figure in excess of 100,000 and not the economical figure of 60 or 65,000 which the news agencies have been regularly putting out since about 5 years ago. But beyond the figures - the spectacle of broken families, displayed people, loss of livelihoods and anguish and fear replacing joy and hope regarding the future.

I believe the importance of peace for us in Sri Lanka arises from the impact that its constituent elements - states of emergency, road blocks, militarization and criminality, cost escalation of goods and services, misallocation of limited state resources - indeed all of what is captured by the phrase the costs of war, - have on all of us. It is not as some imagine something that can be hidden away in a part of the country. In Sri Lanka it has been all pervasive. It cripples and engulfs us all, in unimaginable ways.

That is why the people of this country have so often - in public opinion polls, and at election time voted so overwhelmingly for peace and the approach of peaceful settlement of our outstanding national problem - call it the ethnic problem, the national problem or if you will, the terrorist problem, - by negotiation rather than by the resort to arms.

Today more than at any time in the past the public (barring a few who will perhaps never be converted) are convinced that it is not possible to overcome the situation we are faced with by force of arms - the conventional ultimate sanction of the sovereign state.

Lessons abound around the world from Chechnya to Bosnia to Palestine or Iraq confirm over and over again that superior arms alone cannot bring about a durable peace of conflictual situations in the present times. Peace which has been often sought through war - and possible achieved in another age and time, seems impossible in the 21st century. There are a variety of reasons for this which I think most of us are well aware of but time does not permit exploration.

So perforce whether we like it or not, we like many of the past leaders, I shall now turn to, resorted to the alternative approach - the more difficult one of talking; of discussion; and of negotiation of a political solution.

A Brief Historical Survey of the pursuit of Peace

I shall now attempt a quick visual run down of the highlights of the 50 year 'peace process' between the Sinhala and Tamil communities in the nation building project we commenced in 1948. constraints of time compel me to skip over particular events that are relevant and important in any comprehensive survey but time necessarily compels me to be selective.

I shall try to be as objective as possible. To make what may be dull and factual, or something which everyone knows, as attractive as possible, I shall illustrate this section of my lecture with a Power point presentation.

In this final section I shall attempt to draw some general propositions from the experience of the processes we have touched on above.

1. The political pursuit of peace has always represented some very challenging choices. Life is not easy for the decision maker at the top. And whatever the extent of consultation and discussion on the southern side the final decision is made by the leader of the government. The Leader always carries and bears the responsibility for the choice which is always excruciatingly difficult.

The precise determination of the offer or response on the government side is one made by the leader - PM or President and a very few like minded persons around him or her:

* Whether BC pact

* DC pact

* Indo - Sri Lanka accord

* Ceasefire Agreement

* Acceptance of the ISGA proposals as a basis for discussion

Often it is a matter involving life and death, not only indirectly to many thousands, but as has happened in our history to the chief actor himself or herself. Either by death or serious injury.

2. Not ever possible to obtain bipartisan political support. Our competitive political system ensures that the other major political formation will oppose the proposed solution.

They would deny its validity and expose its many flaws and with the help of many others - nationalist minded civil society organizations, prominent individuals, some parts of the media and even external agencies do all possible to thwart the actions of the government.

What motivates his non-cooperative attitude is the recall of an earlier period when one's own call for cooperation was not responded to, or worse vigorously opposed.

Political memories are long and the ejected overture is not easily forgotten. At the worst the other party who can make the difference and even help obtain the 2/3 rd majority to change the Constitution, remains arms folded on the sidelines or at the worst starts attacking from the rear. The end result is failure.

The tactic is to attack the devil in the detail.

The Southern political opposition to the Government of the day has usually focused on the following elements:

* This is the First step to a separate state; there is a great attachment to the post - Westphalian soverignity issue and the unitary state.

* Conceding far too much in the face of terrorism; and more recently with human rights entering the discourse

* Bartering away the human rights of groups within the disputed territory

These are all issues with enormous potential for the mobilizing of widespread political opposition to the Government policy or strategy.

3. Cracks or fault lines appear within the government party itself and the leader feels and is more and more isolated. The support constituencies leave.

* EBP and bhikku protest

* Resignations from Cabinet

* Important persons within Cabinet dissent-eg Prema re Indo - Sri Lanka Acord

* JVP reaction to ISGA response of President.

4. Growing pressure for return to the easier option of WAR to settle the issue. Force rather than negotiation. The impulses for war to settle the issue are very strong and pervasive.

Usual arguments are; defence analysts and political theorists become very active; They are arming; setting up camps; binging in arms shipments; (in the current peace process we are told by high authority that 11 shipments came in. When, where, how and what they carried has never been disclosed. We long for details. What action did our Navy take to stop this violation of the CFA etc)

We are the majority we should just smash them up before it is too late.

The military; We will do the job; Leave it to us but we need more troops and destroyers and planes and gunships and RPGs etc. etc. Of course the more balanced like General Denzil Kobbekaduwa always said it would only be possible to have a peace through a politically negotiated settlement.

5. With all this, the engagement with the Northern party - the armed opposition which has temporarily ceased fighting comes under strain. It's almost the end of the honeymoon.

- the discussion or letters become acrimonious

- phrases like - broken promises, undertakings un-fulfilled;

- being led into a peace trap

- charges of duplicity etc fill the air.

And then the fuse reaches the powder keg and the whole thing starts again.

6. All Governments in going forward to a politically negotiated settlement have to face this environment and work in a generally hostile background. But there are also some formidable factors which keep the peace process going.

I think a question, we the public, should seriously be asking ourselves is why do our leaders, as they have consistently tried to do with varying degrees of success, finally taken the peace approach rather than, as is made out the easier alternative of war as a final solution.

I believe that the lessons of our history have taught them - that contrary to the advice of various experts of many kinds - legal, constitutional, military and so on - the war option for many good reasons is not an option at all.

In today's world - the globalised, interdependent, technologically advanced 21st century the easy option of war as a solution of a political problem has been found gravely wanting. It does not solve anything and makes the problem more difficult to solve in the long run.

Government finally have to factor in some realities These are:

* The strength of the 'other' party

* Militarily;

* Conventional forces

* Guerilla tactics - hit and run

* 'Safe houses' in the capital

* Suicide bombing (eg of US situation in Iraq)

* Politically;

* Emergence of the TNA as representative of the LTTE in Parliament and popular support. (flawed elections, UTHR reports and child recruitment not withstanding)

* Tamil diasporic influence

* Human rights concerns around wars launched by governments. The perception of the State as aggressor is hard to debunk.

* International community pressure-donors; aid agencies

* The domestic economic imperatives.

* The effect of war on the Southern economy;

* Distortion of Budget

* Investment

* Trade and

* Tourism

* Employment (except for increase in defence and security industry)

Aid dependency;

To fulfil its 'protector' and 'provider' functions modern governments of SL have to have massive aid. Both for rehabilitation and development.


- 50% on salaries and pension and payment of earlier incurred debts

- Balance 50% on care and maintenance of existing services - irrigation, health, education etc (at what levels of efficiency?)

All real new work needs foreign support of various kinds - loans, grants etc. All these, more and more, imperiled by war.

So in the last analysis modern Governments are in a fix.. Most times you don't want to have to go to war. But you are pushed to it. You have to retaliate.

There are some interesting new factors in the current peace process;

* the neutral intermediary. Some one to sort out the misunderstandings;

* the peace lobbies; NGOs; writers; activists;

* the international community - of the UN system and the bilateral donors

On this final rather more positive note than where our earlier discussion would have led us allow me to generalize on our crisis-ridden condition.

There are some profound questions to be addressed.

* Can the modern state with its limited resources resume its responsibilities as provider and protector?

* How does it act, in the face of the centrifugal forces generated as a reaction to globalization, to win back the loyalty of individuals who have withdrawn into their communal identities?

* Can the strong centre, as symbolized by the unitary constitution and the executive presidential system hold?

* Could a transformation of the country's political and economic institutions in the direction of federalism save the democratic state?

The late Dudley Senanayake among other leaders in a less complicated time were troubled by similar questions. But our future leaders will have to face them, enhanced and magnified in their complexity.

They will be called upon in the coming days to redesign and reconstruct, boldly and creatively the new institutional structures - political, economic and social - that will enable us to reach the yet unachieved goal of a durable and just peace for all our people.

Grasping that cherished goal and right, and holding it, will not be easy. It will need a Herculean effort; immense courage, patience, unremitting toil, an appreciation of the realities to be addressed, and most of all a practical hands - on approach to the problems as they arise each day.


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