Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sri Lanka - Is the Spring Far Away?

Sri Lanka - Is the Spring Far Away?
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The ethnic war in Sri Lanka has drawn to a close in terms of military operations after the liquidation of the LTTE’s military machine and the killing of its entire top brass, including the indomitable Velupillai Prabhakaran.

However, the end of the war that has come after a long protracted battle beginning since 2006 is fraught with serious humanitarian and political questions. The most important issue is what will be the relationship between rehabilitation, reconstruction, development and democracy in Sri Lanka.

The first and foremost priority of the Sri Lankan government is to address the issue of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people. Those people who have been living in the make shift camps. Those who have fled the war zone and are living elsewhere in the country, this includes thousands of Muslims who had been purged by the LTTE from Northern provinces some while ago. There is also the issue of large number of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees who have been sheltering in India and are living in camps spread across Tamil Nadu and Orissa.

The rehabilitation of such people requires reconstruction of their homes development of their locality and providing them basic amenities so that they can start their life afresh. This has to be done on the war footing same as the way Sri Lankan government has taken upon itself the job to dismantle the fountainhead of terrorism from the island state.

In the context of rehabilitation, reconstruction, development how the human rights situation is going to be addressed is also something that is being closely watched. The Sinhala Buddhists magnanimity is at test and how far they can go to accommodate their fellow Tamil countrymen remains to be seen.

There are reports from the eastern provinces that was liberated earlier that the some Buddhist monks are establishing their temple in every village. Their increased religious activity is giving the impression the places librated from the clutches of the LTTE are now become Buddhist colony. The construction of Buddhist temple is a mark of authority of the victor over the vanquished.

Some unconfirmed reports even say that in the name of alms, the men clad in saffron are collecting Jazzia from the Hindu and Muslim population in the so called librated zone for their protection and security. If this is true, this raises the serious doubts about the sincerity of the Sinhalese people towards granting equal human rights to the Tamil population.

Now when the armed conflict is over in Sri Lanka, the international community and the government of Sri Lankan should focus on the root cause of the three decade long ethnic strife and find ways and means to the political solution in that country.

What kind of political process that’s likely to be thrown up in Sri Lanka that is something closely being watched. The fear is Sri Lanka may emulate the Indian model of Jammu and Kashmir that’s administrated by the bayonet of the gun with a fa├žade of democracy set up on fear and coercion. If that is so, one can hardly expect a real solution to the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka.

Now when the LTTE is marginalized it remains to be seen how far the political solution will go. There are too many solutions on the table including the India- Sri Lanka accord of 1987. Also there are many Tamil political parties who can take the lead in the negotiations. Will they bring about an honorable political settlement for the Tamils in Sri Lanka?

One has to realize that democracy cannot flourish under the shadow of the guns. Militarization and democracy cannot go hand in hand. If the genuine democracy is to be established in northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka then the entire space has to be demilitarized. Will the Sri Lankan government agree to it is something that has to be watched.

The ideal situation would be that paramilitary and police force should take charge of maintaining law and order and the instill confidence among the people living there that they are safe and secure.

In the interim period, a roadmap needs to be developed that may clearly spell out the transitional process of establishing democracy in the war ravaged territories of Sri Lanka. It should be made the edifice on which the future solution of the Tamil problem should rest. So for a lasting peace in Sri Lanka a great deal of thought is required in chalking out a roadmap towards the political solution of the Tamil problem and establishment of democracy in Sri Lanka.

In this context, the role Tamil Diaspora spread across the globe is very important. So far they have been funding the war machine of the LTTE with the hope that it would establish a Tamil homeland. Now since its protagonists are consigned to the pages of history and Elam idea has become a distant dream, the Tamil Diaspora have to reconcile with the new reality. Harboring the ambition for the return to armed conflict would rally be detrimental to the peace process and democratic way of life.

The Tamil Diaspora should adopt a conciliatory tone and pressurize the governments where they are settled to get involved in the rehabilitation, reconstruction, development and bring in a just and democratic political settlement.

The chill wind has started blowing, if that’s the sign of the winter, is the spring far away? The new dawn in Sri Lanka in post LTTE phase suggests that the Tamil and the Sinhalese people need to work out a modicum of relationship to live together in peace and harmony. Will they do so? Well we have to wait and watch Sri Lanka, how this story pans out.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

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