Monday, May 4, 2009
Does eliminating the LTTE solve the problem?
This analysis on the Sri Lankan situation appeared first on the ORF website.
Sri Lanka is on the verge of defeating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or so the Rajapakse Government claims. The key question, however, is whether militarily crushing the LTTE solves the island-nation’s ethnic conflict. The Rajapakse government has so far not proposed any political package in dealing with the problem. Military victory, not backed by political package for Tamils, can prove disastrous for Sri Lanka. Such a situation could in fact lead to the birth of many more LTTEs in the future.
While majority of Sri Lankan Tamils may not want a separate state of Eelam, they do want to live well and live with dignity. How can this be assured by the Rajapakse government? While it is clear that there will not be a separate state of Tamil Eelam, the existing unitary set up also remains unacceptable. From the time he took over power in 2005, Rajapakse has been of the view that he is for maximum devolution of power within a unitary state. But it is not clear what that means. There has to be dramatic changes made in the political architecture of Sri Lanka in which the Tamils are able to find a political space for themselves. The aspect that needs to be kept in mind in understanding the Sri Lankan ethnic problem is the Sinhalese allergy to the word “federalism.” One must though admit that the Sinhala government has come a long way, when in December 2002, the Joint Communiqué after the end of the bilateral talks with India, noted that the idea of federal structures would be examined. This was again reiterated in the Tokyo meeting. During Rajapakse’s visit to India in December 2005, the Joint Statement said that more devolution of powers would be undertaken. However, President Mahinda Rajapakse is yet to do anything to live up to this commitment.
In today’s situation, there is only a small miniscule representation of Tamils in various bodies, including in the Sri Lankan Army, where Sinhalas represent 99.4% of total strength and the Sri Lankan Police, where the figure is 96%. In the case of civil administration, one or two Tamils are selected each year. The government will have to undertake to undo several of its legislative measures of the past that established the discrimination and alienation of the Tamils. In fact, successive legislations brought upon the Tamils by the Sinhala governments, including the enactment of “Sinhala Only language policy” in 1961, brought down Tamil representation in civil administration, armed forces and police services. Similarly, the government will have to revisit the 13th amendment (which established Provincial Councils) and bring all Tamils under a permanent merger of the North and East Provinces, done originally under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987. India, however, having burnt its finger once, remains wary of getting involved in the conflict. In such a scenario, India’s recent actions appear designed more to soothe the anger of the regional parties in Tamil Nadu than a genuine expression of concern.
What are India’s challenges? India, being a neighbour, should keep in mind that unity of Sri Lanka is of utmost importance to India in the sense that any disintegration of the country can create problems for India. In that sense, it is in India’s interest to ensure that Sri Lanka remains united. India, entrenched in coalition politics, is tied down by several constraints. However, India can contribute significantly in ensuring a political package for the Tamils. India needs to start talking to the major parties -- SLFP, UNP -- on a political package. After reaching a consensus with these two major parties, they can convince JVP and other democratic Tamil parties and thereby start a political process and see how best to implement the 13th amendment. The 13th amendment is critical since it devolves some authority to the provinces and in essence, the provincial councils will enjoy statute power with regard to items in the provincial list, including local infrastructure (roads and bridges), education, health, land, irrigation, agriculture.
Military solution unaccompanied by a political package will give birth to new problems.