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OSLO DECLARATION GOING DOWN THE VANNI DRAINS

by H.L.D.Mahindapala

The history of the north-south relations is saturated with the north blaming the south for everything that went wrong in the post-independence era. Every failure of the peace talks in the past too were blamed on the south with the NGOs manufacturing excuses justifying the northern claims. Now at last, after the Oslo Declaration, they are finding it rather difficult to blame the “chauvinist Sinhalese” because it was witnessed and signed by the international community – the independent third party. If they renege on the Oslo Declaration (it is an incorrigible habit with the LTTE) then it is their political allies in the UNP and Norway who will have to face the music. The LTTE is hoping that they could wriggle out by demanding a “consensus” in the south. Norway and the UNP (hereinafter referred to as N-UNP) are repeating the LTTE line with the intention bailing out all three signatories. But N-UNP are in a bind. Both parties will either have to stick to their triumphalist claim of getting the LTTE to sign an agreement to abide by “a federal formula within a united Sri Lanka”, or admit that they have been taken for a grand ride by the LTTE.

In the current phase, the LTTE is not only denying that there is a commitment by all parties to a federal solution, as stated in the Oslo Declaration, but also insisting that talks should begin on the Interim Self-Governing Administration (ISGA). Accepting one is an automatic rejection of the other. They have two basic arguments: First, they claim that ISGA is important to them as a humanitarian instrument to ease the condition of the Tamil people by bringing home the peace dividends. Second, there is no consensus in the southern polity for a final solution and, therefore, the ISGA should be given priority over the final solution spelt out in the Oslo Declaration.

This turns the Oslo Declaration into a hot potato in the hands of N-UNP. They would dearly love to drop Oslo and focus on the ISGA – the preferred option of the LTTE. Because this option is not available at the moment they have diverted attention to demand a “consensus” only from the southern polity. This issue is now cranked up by the LTTE as priority number one in their political agenda. A good sample of this new agenda of the LTTE was reported in the TamilNet, its mouthpiece: “The so called 'Sinhala Consensus' is a perfidious mirage. It is now time for the Tamil people to call the bluff and prepare to forge ahead on their own", said Mr. Senathirajah Jeyanandamoorthy, TNA MP for Batticaloa, speaking to TamilNet Monday about Colombo's reaction to the latest proposal by the LTTE to restart the long stalled peace talks in Sri Lanka. (November, 15, 2004).

Not surprisingly, the N-UNP are repeating the LTTE line of needing a consensus in southern politics to settle the north-south conflict. The Sunday Times (November 14, 2004) reported that Erik Solheim had raised the issue of a consensus in the south at a meeting with the President. But he was shot down in flames when Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, asked him to name one democracy where he could find consensus. Solheim just couldn’t name one. An equally pertinent question to Solheim would have been to ask him why he, as a co-signatory to the Oslo Declaration, can’t produce a consensus either on the meaning or the intent of the Oslo Declaration. G. LTTE Peiris says that in Oslo “all parties agreed to a federal solution within a united Sri Lanka”. Anton Balasingham, the other signatory, says that there was no such agreement. So why is N-UNP demanding consensus from the southern polity when they can’t produce a simple consensus on their own Oslo Declaration?

It is quite apparent that it is the failure of N-UNP to produce a “consensus” on their Oslo Declaration that has caused the current impasse. The reality is that even if the government closes rank it cannot progress because there is no consensus among the signatories on the Oslo Declaration. As for the UNP, instead of demanding a consensus within the UPFA it should give the lead to establish a consensus with the government by backing its own Oslo Declaration. After all, if the government is willing to open talks on the Oslo Declaration, UNP has a moral, legal and political obligation to provide consensus by backing its own formula, whatever divisions there may be in the ranks of the government. As one of the leading authors of the Oslo Declaration it is the primary duty of the UNP to establish a consensus in the southern polity by extending its unreserved cooperation to the government. But their tactic is to divert attention from the lack of “consensus” among themselves on th eir grand formula to settle the north-south conflict to a lack of consensus in the government ranks. Focusing on the lack of consensus in the ranks of the government is also another way of backing the LTTE on its demand for the ISGA. Their manoeuvering gives more credence to the ISGA than their own creation in Oslo.

The bottom line, however, is that there is no consensus either in the ranks of the government or the signatories to the Oslo Declaration. But on this issue, the proverbial buck stops in Oslo and not in Colombo. So when N-UNP insist on “consensus” within the ranks of the government they are not only putting the cart before the horse but also attempting to escape their responsibilities of holding the LTTE to the letter and the spirit of the Oslo Declaration. They have forfeited the right to ask for political consensus from the people in the south because N-UNP cannot guarantee consensus on the meaning, the intent and the implementation of their formula for peace.

This Oslo Declaration was supposed to have come with iron cast guarantees from the international community and if they cannot stand steadfastly by their own agreement can the people of the south be expected to accept their word? If the international community, the UNP and the LTTE – three pillars of the Oslo peace formula – cannot arrive at a consensus on the contents and implications of their own Oslo Declaration who else can secure the future of the Muslims, the dissident Tamils and southern people? In any case, it is now apparent that the implementation of the Oslo Agreement which was hailed a big breakthrough is not likely to take off the ground fundamentally because there is no consensus on what the Oslo Declaration means and who should be held responsible for its implementation. Not knowing which way to go, the N-UNP are demanding a governmental “consensus” to pass the buck. It is, most of all, an admission that the Oslo Declaration is going the same way as Neville Ch amberlain’s Munich agreement with Hitler. Or to localize it, it is going the same way as Prabhakaran’s agreement with Rajiv Gandhi!

The track record of LTTE has been to keep on talking to avoid talking on the core issues. Or when they are confronted with the core issues they will throw up impossible demands to avert facing the inevitable. As a last resort they might even start Eelam War IV to avoid talking on the formula agreed upon in Oslo. Consider first their demand for ISGA. Apart from gaining legitimacy to run an administration of the LTTE, by the LTTE for the LTTE it is a move to stall the talks. Predictably, the key operators are embroiled in discussing the pros and cons of the ISGA ignoring the only agreement that has come with international guarantees. Then there is their demand for “a consensus in the south”. This is merely a ruse to dodge the pressures coming from the Oslo Declaration. Also, with this demand for “consensus in the south” they are merely running rings round the international community like the way they did to India. They played out India by first making Rajiv Gandhi believe that they are on his side and later took him on militarily. Not satisfied with that they bided their time and eliminated totally. Those who preached that “Blessed are the peace-makers” never counted on the LTTE, did they?

Anyway, the LTTE will find it very difficult to do what they did to Rajiv Gandhi to members of the international community. So they are treating them as jokers for the moment. Erik Solheim and Jan Petersen think that they are smart salmon-eaters experienced in conflict resolution. But Prabhakaran knows that he can string them along and prolong the conflict going on as long as he wants, with some excuses manufactured by the NGO pundits like Jehan Perera, A. T. Ariyaratne, Jaydeva Uyangoda et al. All what he has to do is to keep them amused with an occasional appearance and send them home empty handed. Yasushi Akashi, Chris Patten, Jan Petersen and numerous Western diplomats have come and gone taking back what?

At this critical juncture the international community has to decide whether they are going to stand by their own declaration in Oslo or are they going to be distracted and fall for the demands of the LTTE. There is certainly no doubt that consensual politics should be given due consideration. But it should not be confined to the narrow limits demanded by the LTTE. The LTTE demand for a consensus from the southern polity is a red herring drawn to deflect the focus away from the broader consensus that is needed to work out a durable peace. For N-UNP to insist on “consensus” from the southern polity alone is neither in keeping with the basic principles of consensual politics nor will it produce the desired results in the long run. There has to be a broader consensus, including the dissident Tamils and the marginalized Muslims for a lasting peace. The granting of equal weightage to all those having a stake in the peace process is the only way to weld a viable consensus. A narrow consensus between the JVP and the SLFP is a non-starter unless there is consensus among Norway, UNP and the LTTE, to begin with. After that consensus must grow to embrace the other groups as well.

Besides, before demanding a consensus from the south it is relevant to ask whether there is a consensus in the north and the Tamil-speaking people in the north and the east. The pressures brought on the southern electorate by N-UNP demanding a consensus also implies that the show of “consensus” put on by the LTTE expresses the general will of the Tamil people. In other words, they assume that the claim of the LTTE to be the “sole representative of the Tamils” is the Tamil version of consensual politics. But political observers agree that it is nothing but the imposition of will of one man. The dissident Tamil political parties and the break-away Karuna group challenge this N-UNP version of “consensual” Tamil politics. The new rising wave of anti-LTTE forces within the Tamil ranks do not give legitimacy either to the concept of “the sole representative of the Tamils” or to the “consensus” claimed by the LTTE. If N-UNP are genuinely committed to consensual politics (which is c ertainly legitimate and the need of the hour) then it cannot stop at merely surrendering to the specious claim of “consensual Tamil politics” put up by LTTE. Consensus is not attained by suppressing the will of the people. N-UNP, hopefully, are fully aware that “consensus” grows out of roots like a flower that blooms naturally in a free and congenial environment. Their crime is in their desperate bid to legitimize the “consensus” that comes out of a gun.

The other aspect emphasized by the LTTE is the urgent need for ISGA (even before a federal solution, as outlined in the Oslo Declaration) to provide humanitarian assistance to the displaced Tamil people who are yet to reap the benefits of peace. Though the aim is commendable, this aspect needs to be examined further to explore whether the LTTE can deliver humanitarian assistance with or without the ISGA. For instance, the LTTE has never shown any lack of resources and skill to wage a prolonged war against all other communities and its own Tamil people. Only when it comes to delivering goods and services to its own suffering people does it cry for international and humanitarian help. It also claims to run a de facto state with forcible recruitment Tamil children (a war crime), engage in ethnic cleansing of 72, 000 Muslims from Jaffna, to destroy 150 Muslim places of worship, to liquidate Tamil dissidents, to levy taxes (30-40 million a day, according to some estimates), to ru n police stations, etc., etc. So if it can run an administration on this scale – particularly to kill, destroy, violate humanitarian and international laws – why is it in need of an ISGA to deliver humanitarian assistance to the Tamil people?

It is either they are totally incompetent in delivering elementary goods and services to their people or they are harping on “humanitarian services” to cover up their hidden agenda. Even a cursory glance at the ISGA will reveal that it is defined as an instrument to reinforce the powers of the LTTE as a fascist killing machine and not as a deliverer of humane assistance. Besides, demanding an ISGA as a tool to deliver humanitarian assistance runs counter to their claim of being a mighty power that had taken on the India etc. If they have all the skills, resources and global networks to shop in the international underworld for bullets, guns, hand grenades and all other instruments of war by what logic can they argue that they are totally helpless when it come getting a tin of milk for babies, or medicine for the sick, or rice or parippu for their own people? If they have the means to send handpicked suicide bombers to kill their opponents why can’t they find some skills to re habilitate their displaced people? Sudar Oli recently hailed Prabhakaran as Lord Krishna who is about to establish the “regime of dharma…. by liberating the Tamil people from the thralldom of the modern-day “Narakasura”, namely the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka state”. (Hindustan Times – Novemeber 11, 2004). Does this mean that he will preside in his elusive “regime of Eelamist dharma” as the lord of death and destruction and not as the lord of bread and satisfaction?

This is not a war that anyone wants. This is the unwanted war launched officially by the Tamil leadership when they passed the Vaddukoddai Resolution in 1976. This is the war that was launched and perpetuated by the Tamil leadership. The fathers of separatism encouraged their “boys” to acquire skills in violence. They manufactured ideological myths and demonized the “other” (namely, the Sinhalese) in their hate campaigns to mislead Tamil youth into violence. They whipped up mono-ethnic extremism in the northern electorates blaming their failure to co-exist in a multicultural society with the Sinhalese who had shared the land for centuries in comparative harmony with all minorities. Political records reveal that the internal failures of the Tamil leadership, competing with each other for supremacy, were driving them into mono-ethnic extremism. It was the only means by which they could survive competitive electoral politics.

For example, 1970 was a turning point in the northern electorate when the stalwarts of the Tamil State party (Dr. E. M. V. Naganathan, Appapillai Amirthalingam, S. M. Rasamanickam) lost their seats. Even S. J. V. Chelvanayakam was returned with a reduced majority. Their next move, especially those of firebrands like Amirthalingam, was to the take the electorate to the extreme end of the violent Vaddukoddai Resolution. They financed, propagated, organized, legitimized and led the violence of the north against all other communities. When the leadership of Jaffna, which was in the hands of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (Tamil State Party disguised as the Federal Party), was defeated in the 1970 elections in Jaffna they pushed the electorate to further extremism by passing the Vaddukoddai Resolution – the only community to declare war officially on other communities in Sri Lanka. This extremism paid off instant dividends. The Tamil State Party returned en bloc. But it was sho rt lived. Amirthalingam paid dearly as victim of the violence he launched in the Vaddukoddai Resolution. Chelvanayakam, who endorsed every word in the Vaddukoddai Resolution, escaped this sentence by dying before his “boys” could get him.

Today the Tamil community is paying for the sins of their political fathers that relied on superior racist ideologies backed by extreme violence. The frustrated Tamil youth (like the Sinhala youth in 1971 and 1998-1990) took up arms in the hope of finding a economic salvation. The educated Sinhala youth turned to a localized rendition of Marxism and the Jaffna youth took to racism. Both “isms” appealed to the disillusioned youth. The LTTE took over from their political fathers first by liquidating their political fathers. But they haven’t given up the habit of their political fathers of blaming the “other”, the “chauvinist Sinhalese.” Predictably, they are blaming the “Sinhala chauvinist” government for the lack of humanitarian services to the displaced Tamil people. Like father like son. If they are expressing a compassionate desire to deliver humanitarian assistance in their demand for the ISGA they should prove their bona fides by first agreeing to talk peace on the Oslo
Declaration. In the last analysis, it is not ISGA that can deliver humanitarian assistance to the Tamils and other victims of a needless war but peace – probably peace based on their signed and sealed agreement in Oslo. Without peace the ISGA will be another instrument of war. Is this what the Tamil and other communities want?

So the plain but critical question that Anton Balasingham and Prabhakaran must answer on the coming Hero’s Day oration is: if they have the capacity to buy guns without an ISGA why can’t they buy bread without an ISGA?



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