Wars occur first in the realm of ideas. Therefore, the elimination of physical elements of wars alone can neither bring peace nor permanent credible solutions to conflicts. When a war is fought particularly on identity issues of people, peace and reconciliation becomes even more difficult. Sri Lanka’s ethnic war led to the physical elimination of a major party to the war, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. However, even the Government concedes that the end of the war with the removal of the LTTE has not yet brought reconciliation and argues that reconciliation will take time. In the absence of well directed conscious efforts and political will to achieve reconciliation, no matter how long a country waits for time to heal the wounds of a war, especially ethnic wars, true peace will still prove elusive. For peace should be created in the realm of ideas first, and then those ideas of peace should be made part of public’s consciousness and popular imagination. More the parties to a conflict breathe life to violent memories and ethnic hatred, the longer it takes to achieve peace. If the mainstream political practice of a Government is to perpetuate its power with a strategy of using hatred and violent memories, then the very unity of that nation becomes a far cry.
The failure of Sri Lanka’s reconciliatory attempts after 2009 maybe attributed chiefly to its lack of strategic vision to foster ideas of peace and reconciliation. Government of Sri Lanka has continued to believe in the power of material forces rather than the power of ideational forces. It is true that not only ideas, but material power as well matter a lot in attempts at state-building. However, whereas the primary focus should be given to the ideational realm, the Government has paid it very little attention. Therefore, reconciliation and positive peace have become a more distant possibility and this is costing the nation hugely in many ways. Government has failed to lead the nation(s) to think in terms of one nation because in its ‘imagined nation’ there is no scope for the imaginations of the minorities of the nation.
Though the Government believes in a policy of ‘no minorities but only Sri Lankans’, it has not focused on the issue of ethno-religious divide in the country seriously. A few from the Government’s side like Minister Vasudewa Nanayakkara (endangered remnants of old left politics) has seen the importance of ideas in bringing permanent peace to the country. But, mostly, Government’s mainstream approach for peace has been confined to economic development activities through mega projects to create infrastructure in order to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). This FDI targeted development has been projected to the world as an attempt to ‘rebuild and reconcile’, but its real achievement in terms of its two aims remains so unimpressive, looking from the vantage point of the real needs of the people. People of the North have asked for a fair share in the democratic decision making process, restoration of livelihood and normalcy in their daily life without military presence, and sought cultural, economic and political autonomy within a united Sri Lanka. In the South, people have asked for more investments on education, health, housing, industries, freedom and liberty. But, none of these needs of the people, both in the South and the North-East, have been sufficiently and satisfactorily met by the Government so far.
Instead of undertaking a mega project to change people’s attitude towards each other’s ethnic and religious differences and highlighting the need to respect such differences within diversity, Sri Lankan Government has preferred and prolonged the old colonial policy of divide and rule. It is true that, at the end, Government had to bow down to international pressure and hold NPC elections. But, in reality, in the South, the Government has allowed ethnic tensions to thrive by letting its major ideological partners like National Freedom Front, Patriotic National Movement, Jathika Hela Urumaya (National Patriotic Front), Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Army of Power), Sinhala Ravaya (Voice of Sinhalese), Ravana Handa (voice of Ravana) and several other political groups to attack every possible efforts by the civil society toward ethnic reconciliation in the country. Thus, Government’s local policy has been to maintain the status quo of the ethnic conflict and not to change it positively. But, internationally it has broadcasted much about its attempts to create reconciliation through development without much positive response from the world. Therefore, both the local and international policies of the Government with respect to creating peace in the country has been unable to either stabilize the local system of governance or win it the support of the international community in facing charges of war crimes.
The failure of the UPFA Government’s strategy to create reconciliation locally and boldly face the international community in international forums like the UNHRC and maintain goodwill with its closest and most historical friend India (India has chosen not to offer visa on arrival status for Sri Lanka while granting the same for 180 other countries) has been due to its narrow and devious game for electoral politics in order to remain in power as the major local actor. The electoral strategy of the Government for long has been to win the majority’s (rural Sinhala voters) consensus by dividing the opposition and ethnic groups and thereby further harming the democratic practices and norms of the country. So far, the Government has won almost all the elections, except for the NPC, but what the country has achieved with respect to strengthening its democratic character remains questionable. Due to the bad precedents set by its electoral strategy, surely the Government’s record of holding elections has done more damage than good with respect to restoring the character and the quality of democracy in Sri Lanka which has been in tatters for long.
In Sri Lanka, the Government in power believes that it should have absolute control over every sphere of the polity. Therefore it has practiced a policy of suppressing dissent wherever it surfaces; right from the moment such opposition gets expressed. Primarily, the Government has not believed in a central norm of democracy that it is through sound freedom of expression that a democratic nation should function and only then can it maintain its quality. Instead, the Government has preferred to exist in a desolated realm where there are no dissenting views, but its own monologue to please an uninformed citizenry. Internationally, the confused nature of the Government in facing the international community has become well evident through its attempts to counter the propaganda in some media networks in the Europe, like the Channel 4. The recent example has been to create its own monologue of ‘rebuilding and reconciliation’ with the help of an USA firm for image building in the form of a documentary video on its post-war achievements. If one carefully watches this documentary, more than boosting the image of the country it has further strengthened the critics who point out the failure of the one dimensional development approach of the Government. This documentary has not included even a single interview or a narrative on peace and reconciliation from the side of the war’s major victims, the Tamils in the North. Therefore, it has become a very partial account, in a way like the Channel 4 account, of the war and its aftermath. Government has not been genuine enough to accept the brutality of the war and the danger of further stroking the ideas which led to such brutalities. The documentary shows that the LLRC Report is well kept in a book-rack and that image speaks volumes as to what has happened to the recommendations of the report after it was published on 16 December 2011.
It is true that the Government has released most of the LTTE soldiers who were captured and subjected to a rehabilitation process in detention camps. Apart from that, the Government has been so far unable to bring in mechanisms to subject those who have perpetrated unlawful violence during the war from both sides to justice. The victims of the war expect justice for those have been killed or abducted without a trace. As a state which at least in principle has agreed to follow international democratic norms and human rights, Sri Lanka should not hesitate to start a credible process of investigation into the violence during the war. Partial depictions of violence by the parties to the war leads only to further segregation among the communities and does not help for reconciliation with a true understanding of the inhumane nature of perpetrating violence against any community on the grounds of ethnic and religious identity.
The NPC’s recently passed resolution seeking an international investigation on war crimes on the other hand has been much attacked by nationalist ideologues and hard core realists in the South. The game of power politics is one thing, but when it comes to the process of nation building what we require is a ‘discourse’ and this is not something acceptable for the ethnically biased advisors of the Government. The NPC’s resolution can also be seen as an attempt to influence the foreign policy of the state by a peripheral community. In a functioning democracy such practices should be welcomed and not attacked squarely. Not only the Tamils, but every individual of this country should have a right to contribute their ideas for the public policies of the country with foreign policy being a major and a foremost public policy.
The elite foreign policy makers, after the war, have followed a complicated policy where the local policy has been diametrically opposed to the policy structurally required at the international realm. The local policy of the Government and its advisors has been to keep the flames of the war burning for petty electoral gains, while at the international realm they have attempted to win the international community that asks Sri Lanka to be more democratic and transparent in its policy of governance. The Government’s ideological campaigners while attacking the UN, the USA, the EU, and also India at times (for 13th Amendment), using local media and protests in front of embassies, have shown that they are ready for an unremitting battle to establish the hegemony of a few who believe in a view of the world that corrupt power will enable them to run a fragmented and polarised nation for ages. Words of reconciliation and peace are used by Government agents here and there as a pretext to face the international community, but the real policy has been to continue the war (mind-set) in the domestic realm as the best available practice of politics for selfish gains without an enemy or clear target. This war has been against the idea of democracy itself and also against the core concept of a republic – that the state belongs to the people and hence a public property. Therefore it has endangered entire nation’s future survival and autonomous existence in regional and international spheres.