A Permanent Solution?
The struggle for a separate Tamil Eelam continues
Whether the punitive action against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) can ensure positive peace at social, political and economic levels was among the most important questions raised after the killing of Vellupulai Parbhakran by the Sri Lankan army. After nearly three decades of being conflict stricken, Sri Lanka is currently going through a transitional phase.
During the transitional phase of any conflict, a society assumes slow progress and development in every sphere; politics is no exception. The country is facing challenges and risks at various fronts. International development agencies are conducting postwar peace building processes. They are funding and supporting ongoing activities and initiatives for the rehabilitation of war victims as well as the reconstruction of a war torn society.
To ensure a long lasting peace process, it is pertinent to streamline uninterrupted and sustainable development, further the reconciliation process to remove ethnic paranoia amongst all groups and have a viable and culturally sensitive peace-building program in different parts of the country. Following the accusations of alleged war crimes, rebuilding the international image of Sri Lanka is also critically important. However, more pressing issues such as the re-integration of the LTTE in the socio-economic system to prevent them from recuperating their military strength, pose a serious risk and challenge to the Government.
In the backdrop of Operation 2009, expectations developed for a quick mechanism to address and redress the ethnic grievances of the Tamil minority. The lack of political will to discuss and experiment different options, including the granting of total autonomy or creating Tamil Eelam through a referendum under UN auspices, frame the current political scenario of Sri Lanka.
Since the beginning of 2012, Indian leaders have been visiting the country to gauge and discuss the political scene. Indian Minister for External Affairs, S.M. Krishna visited the country in early 2012 followed by Indian Opposition leader, Sushma Swaraj, who recently visited Colombo and discussed various issues including the 13th amendment (for more power sharing in the provinces).
Since India hosts a sizeable Tamil community, it is genuinely concerned for a better and feasible conflict management process to address Tamil deprivations. The Indian experience of peacekeeping in the island country does not serve as pleasant memory amongst the Indian Government or the military.
Karunanidhi, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu, has said that a referendum, conducted by the UN, to establish the Tamil Eelam is the only solution. He argues that a number of countries have gained recognition through the UN and post war Sri Lanka is no different. This particular statement raised eyebrows in India as to how an already dissatisfied Tamil community in Sri Lanka could challenge the territorial integrity of the two countries. The Tamil tigers are known for their tactic to lay low, regain their military strength and hit back with greater force. Keeping strategic and geographical purview in the scene, India is more interested to anticipate and support a federal solution under unitary perspective to cure ethnic and socio-economic ills of Sri Lanka.
At home, there is palpable unrest among the Tamil minority as the war crimes are considered a question of genocide. Given the bitter past, the Tamil community has lost all hope and trust in a permanent solution to their problems. To them, any permanent solution to their grievances is nothing short of an independent state called Tamil Eelam; an autonomous entity that will bring an end to the negative peace Sri Lanka is currently enduring.
On the contrary, the Sinhala dominated Government is neither talking about implementing the 13th amendment nor has it offered any power sharing package to Jaffna, the capital of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Reviewing the statement by former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, the Sri Lanka government does not wish to surrender its national interests by holding a referendum or deciding the fate of the Tamil minority through or under UN auspices. In any case, a federal solution within a unitary framework sounds favorable.
Regionally, any solution out of territorial integrity or federal arrangement would not be welcomed by any South Asian state. Unfortunately, all eight states are turmoil prone and serve as a hotbed of internal crisis, civil war and secessionist elements or insurgencies. If the Tamil minority is given the privilege to hold a referendum or is given a UN sponsored solution then Kashmir, the seven states of northeast India, the Maoist movement in Nepal, internal strife in Bangladesh and Afghanistan and intra-state conflicts in Pakistan will no longer require the federal and unitary system of their respective governments.
The economy, foreign relations, industry, agriculture, governance and the building of state institutions are sectors where a newly formed state has to focus all energies sans disruption from the sub-ethnic or sectarian groups.
Having discussed the options of a Tamil Eelam at the local and regional level, a federal arrangement, devolution package and power sharing mechanisms in the north east of Sri Lanka may prove as a breathing space to the suffering Tamil community. While it may not serve the purpose of securing a separate entity, this move will buy the government some time. Maria Saifuddin Effendi is Assistant Professor for Peace and Conflict Studies at the National Defence University.