Colombo Telegraph

Basil, Wigneswaran And Trust Building For Reconciliation!

By Austin Fernando

Austin Fernando

‘Trust’ is defined as assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. Therefore, to consider trust as the closest relative one has, is right.

This definition is reminded as two politicians from the Government and the Opposition, worrying over trust has revealed “the extent to which absence of trust remains an obstacle to ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka.” (The Hindu reporting Minister Basil Rajapaksa), while concomitantly the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) Northern Provincial Council (NPC) Chief Minister (CM) Candidate- former Supreme Court Judge CV Wigneswaran– has told media (Lakna Paranamanna in Daily Mirror) that he firmly believed “trust can be built through mutual understanding.”

The Minister has reiterated his heightened mistrust on devolution saying “Sri Lanka would never risk a provincial government forming its own “army” through devolved police powers (PP).” Yes, it could happen only if the government does not implement powers clearly demarcated in the Reserved List and some powers in Appendix II and if NPC blocks implementation by some means. Distrust emerges again!

There had been pro-government politicians commenting that sharing land and PP to the Provincial Councils (PCs) would lead to separation. Is it jockeying distrust? Minister Rajapaksa has been charitable by dropping land powers – not mentioning even once- in his presentation. Did he mean that land powers were already devolved? Or, is he silently distrusts such finality? May be, ignoring Appendix II, he considers that the National Land Commission has to fulfill its functions consonantly with List II – “National Policy on all Subjects and Functions”.

Government’s distrust

The Minister’s suspicion on security related to PP was historically founded. He quotes the Tamil National Army (TNAR) as — “a militant outfit raised by the beleaguered 1988 EPRLF PC in the NPC” and its “futile attempt to protect itself against the LTTE.” One may counter-argue that such futility is absent because the LTTE is vanquished and former leading LTTE cadres stand with the government. The counter-argument will be that the Diaspora and Tamil Nadu will initiate destabilization and the state should shield- not the NPC.

However, I opine that the TNAR was strengthened by the presence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). High Commissioner JN Dixit did not accept such coalition (IPKF + TNAR), after the Chief Priest of China Bay was killed. Like many others, he proved Sir Henry Wotton: “An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”!

Concurrently, there had been continuous Indian interventions on Tamil rights in Sri Lanka. In the latest to CM Jeyalalithaa the Indian Prime Minster has said “We have long advocated the creation of an environment in Sri Lanka in which all communities, particularly the Sri Lankan Tamils, are masters of their own destiny within the framework of a united Sri Lanka. We will continue to work towards this end.” This is not novel thinking but provoking. He has demanded non-diluting of the 13th Amendment (13A), while Sri Lankan authorities demanded dilution. Though he has annulled the separation demand, balance statement can be added to Diaspora’s. Trust wavers between two friendly countries!

Who could provoke the new NPC to act in par with CM Vartharajah Perumal’s TNAR? The Minister’s certainty “that a TNA government in the North would be on collision course with the Centre” could be a forewarning of a “future beleaguered NPC”, attempting to “protect itself against” the government’s uncooperativeness.

As trust matters, isn’t it plausible for political authorities to identify ‘areas lacking trust’ and unite to create trust? In a way, if the government did not suffer discomfort of separation during the Eastern PC election, where TNA would have even gained control, why is this great suspicion now? Is it factual or pro-militaristic (as TNA complains) or the government’s distressing distrust on winning NPC elections?  

Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) and trusting

In fairness to the Minister, one may additionally reason the suspicions created by the Diaspora through TGTE. The TGTE Charter focuses on: (1) creation of an independent and sovereign State of Tamil Eelam, as the only viable option to lead a life with security, dignity and equality, both individually and collectively; (2) the long drawn conflict for protection against genocide and pacifying the demand for self-determination and receiving justice against perpetrators of genocide. (3) establishment of the North-East “territory of the State of Tamil Eelam”, and its maritime and aerial limits according to international laws, the region being the ‘traditional homeland.

The government does not accept these Charter components (e.g. genocide, Eelam, ‘traditional homelands’ etc). It believes on the right to security, dignity and equality for the Tamil population. These logical and accepted principles have to be developed further. Cannot TGTE rely on other viable mechanism than the Eelam? In a polarized background how can one expect the distanced trust to narrow with the cumulative TGTE demands? TNA spokespersons swearing that they do not adhere to TGTE is unfortunately unheard. Even non-chauvinists will rethink of trusting devolution if these are the devolution demands. But Tamil politicians hail these as lost rights which justified the conflict and not restored after May 2009.

The second demand for “self-determination” has to be achieved within the constitutional provisions and in a united country (i.e. also the Indian Prime Minister’s thinking), and not on TGTE specifications. But, Candidate Wigneswaran’s statement to media (Namini Wijedasa in Sunday Times) “…..self-determination, separation, that or this. That is a long-term plan“ could be interpreted and misinterpreted as similar thinking to TGTE’s on separation— as a part of a “long term plan”! It will create an unfathomable fissure in trust.

Louise Arbour’s prescription

Louise Arbour, President and CEO of the International Crisis Group prescribed “….we believe that the best means of ensuring the Tamils’ right to self determination is within the existing borders of the Sri Lankan state, with the Sri Lankan government improving both the conditions in which Tamils live and mechanisms for their representation in government. We even argue that the Tamil Diaspora chief source of financial and ideological support for the defeated Tigers – must not only renounce LTTE methods, but also move away from its separatist ideology if it is to play a useful role in resolving the conflict.”  This, coming from a usually anti-Sri Lanka government presenter shows Tamil rights could be won by means other than that of the TGTE.

Unfortunately the government and Tamil groups distrust interpreting the “best means.” The Minister was reported saying that his government “had given the Tamil people, “everything” — roads, railways, water, electricity, schools and hospitals.” It appears that the first criterion of Louise Arbour i.e. “improving the living conditions” is covered to an extent by the Minister with infrastructure developments.  Immediately, with distrust the TNA says that the boasted development is sans land ownership, demilitarization etc and such development has not uplifted the local community. They stand with what they perceive, i.e. Infrastructure is not an alternative to devastated minds!

But the second criterion of self-determination, i.e. “mechanisms for their representation in government” is restricted by the Minister saying “With nothing left to promise, a TNA provincial government would whip up other “emotional issues” that neither it nor the government would be able to deliver.” Therefore, Arbour’s second prescription falls by the way-side.

“Emotional issues”

The “emotional issues” as seen by the government are the proposed political solutions, i.e. 13A-, devolving power to the villages (President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga), resettlement, alleged war crimes etc. The Tamil groups add 13A+, merging North and East, return of the displaced to original lands, demilitarization, ceasing “land grabbing” by military, human security, disappearances, freedom of expression etc. Here again Candidate Vigneswaran’s “long term plan” inappropriately interpreted may fuel distrust. It is exactly what powerful southern bureaucrats, some Ministers, Buddhist clergy and media advocate against 13A. Tamil groups distrust such responses saying these are means of total militarization of the North. Distrust, more distrust!

The Minister, understanding this distrust, finds solace in the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) revisiting the 13A. Again distrust envelopes. TNA distrusts the PSC as improperly selected, with ideological bias, not supported by the Opposition, thus undemocratic, possessing predetermined finale etc. No wonder they do so when Minister Wimal Weerawansa (Dasun Edirisinghe in The Island) threatens to resign from the PSC if it does not proceed quickly to find solutions for police and land powers of the PCs and on merging provinces. Thus, the PSC solution is also hindered by mistrust  

Politics and mistrust

All governments after the 13A have evaded sharing certain powers with provinces. Incumbent government follows. Instead, withdrawal of PC powers has been repeated by all governments. It had been a political drama. As some argue Tamils not aiming at national leadership may be keen to control determinations on their clientele’s localized expectations through PCs. The minority political authorities who supported ruling governments thought so, but hid their sentiments; hide even now! Hence, building trust to balance this status will be an important requirement.

Many have been involved in trust building– with the government and Tamil political groups. Unfortunately this has sometimes enhanced distrust. Louis Arbour’s prescription that Diaspora must renounce LTTE methods and move away from its separatist ideology will partly answer the problems of distrust. This has to be expanded to internationals too. Unfortunately Arbour is not listened to and continued Diaspora and international negative involvements increase distrust and extreme polarization irritating reconciliation.

I think there are wrong assumptions made by spokespersons in supporting and opposing power sharing, i.e. human security, police, land, education, resource mobilization or usage etc. These are managed within constitutional boundaries, which may need amending, improving, dilution or any other suitable remedy. But these should not be forced by the government or on the government as forcing also irritates reconciliation. Representation and sincere dialogue should erase off distrust. This is why the PSC initiations and TGTE demands are challenged by either party. Good intentions should precede and beat distrust to propose new approaches.

For example, (not being  a lawyer, thus subject to correction), the Police Commission Act No:1 of 1990 Section 9, states: “There shall be a Provincial Police Commission for every Province, with effect from such date as may be appointed by the President by Order published in the Gazette. Different dates may be appointed in respect of different Provinces.” Therefore, can trust be created by the NPC agreeing for police power sharing after ‘trust creating dialogue’? NPC and police authorities should respect mutual fears. Can one ignore all the suspicions Ministry of Defense has? Can anyone ignore all purported violations made by the Tamil groups as all bogus? Of course, both government and NPC must not be extremists with hard-nosed stances based only on security and constitutional provisions respectively. Please note ‘Extremism will be rewarded with extremist repercussions’.

Let’s hope that the obstacles to ethnic reconciliation foreseen by Minister Rajapaksa will be erased through mutual understanding envisaged by Candidate Wigneswaran. I believe both are capable of successfully steering towards that end.

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