Rajapaksa and the pursuit of peace
A year and nearly a month to the day - and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa marked "Victory day" last Friday with the island's biggest military parade ever. It wasn't just a year without the LTTE that the President had to be proud of; the parade down Colombo's Galle Face came days after very successful talks with both India and China.
In Delhi his meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resulted in several assurances: he signed seven agreements worth thousands of crores; commitments to rebuild rail-lines, the airport, a harbour, a stadium and a cultural centre in Jaffna. Within hours of returning to Colombo, President Rajapksa received Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Deijang - and signed six agreements detailing cooperation in technology, industry, information technology and construction, and taking forward the 550 million dollar Hambantota port project.
Amidst the cheer though, President Rajapaksa has also had to face some tough questions. First, in New Delhi, India made its concerns over rehabilitating Tamil IDPs (internally displaced persons) clear. And then from the UN, that is set to announce a panel to enquire into human rights complaints in Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa has angrily denied the human rights allegations and responded to questions over rehabilitating Tamil IDPs with a promise that the remaining 54,000 people still registered as living in the camps would be sent home in the next 3-6 months.
But shutting down the camps can only be the beginning. The promise of justice to Tamils, devolution of power to the region, holding provincial elections and the full implementation of the 13th amendment to the constitution are all promises that must be kept if the dreaded terror group is to be denied a chance to regroup. President Rajapaksa himself seems aware of that danger. He appointed an eight-member "Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation" to recommend measures to ensure "that there will be no recurrence of such a situation."
Several separate and seemingly insignificant events in the past few weeks should tell the government there is little time to rest on military or electoral laurels. The first occurred in Philadelphia, USA, at a conference of the new "trans-national government of Tamil Eelam" (TGTE) - representatives of the Tamil diaspora in nine western countries. According to the TGTE's website they began proceedings on Prabhakaran's death anniversary, with pledges to keep his dream of Eelam alive.
Later in the month, Tamil nationalist groups were able to force one of India's most powerful film families, the Bachchans, to cancel their trip to Sri Lanka for the IIFA film awards. Days later, Indian security agencies sat up with a start after train tracks in Tamil Nadu's Villupuram were blasted by suspected LTTE supporters and then 3 LTTE operatives were arrested. In Malaysia, Interior Minister Hishamuddin Hussein has now warned that the LTTE's new leadership is using that country as shelter and a logistics base. None of these events individually, and even taken together, signify much by way of the Tigers' resurgence; but they are warning flags that must have been marked by the Sri Lankan government as it tries to script a success in its efforts.
It needs look no further than the region for examples of how it could go wrong. The fall of Kabul in November 2001 was welcomed by all in Afghanistan except the defeated Taliban. Within weeks more than 60 countries had pledged more than 15 billion dollars for the reconstruction effort, towards the promise of a new Afghanistan. With each passing month that promise faded. Eight years later (and despite 38 billion dollars in American financial assistance alone) only 2 per cent of Kabul has round-the-clock electricity and access to clean water is the lowest in the world, at 22 per cent. As a result, just two years after the fall of Kabul, some were beginning to predict the resurgence of the Taliban. Eight years later, international forces battle a fully re-strengthened Taliban force, and the Karzai government's Jirga discusses making peace with the very men they once swore to protect their people from.
While the situations in Sri Lanka a year after the LTTE and post-Taliban Afghanistan are far from comparable, the common lesson is that time and goodwill run out very quickly. It should also be remembered that the Sri Lankan army didn't win its war against the LTTE on its own. India's moral and naval blockade that ensured LTTE fighters were starved off supplies as well as escape routes; the US and Canada's financial strictures that turned off the terror-funding tap.
It will take a similarly consistent and consolidated international and domestic commitment to keep the peace and win justice for the people in the island's North and East. For as so many other nations that have battled insurgents claiming to fight injustice have found: the absence of violence is never peace, merely the presence of an opportunity for it.
(This post originally appeared in 'The Indian Express' edition dated June 23, 2010)
More about Suhasini HaidarSuhasini Haidar is Diplomatic Editor, The Hindu. Earlier, she was a senior editor and prime time anchor for India's leading 24-hour English news channel CNN-IBN, and also hosted the signature show, 'World View with Suhasini Haidar'. Over the course of her 17-year career, Suhasini has covered the most challenging stories and conflicts from the most diverse regions including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. In India, she has covered the external affairs beat for over a decade and her domestic assignments include in-depth reportage from Kashmir. In 2011 she won the Indian Television Academy-GR8! Award for 'Global news coverage',and the Exchange4Media 'Enba' award for best spot news reporting from Libya. In 2010, She won the NewsTelevision NT 'Best TV News Presenter' Award. Suhasini is the only journalist to have interviewed Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his family, a show that won the prestigious Indian Television Academy award as 'Best Chat show' for the year.
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