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'India can make or break peace in Sri Lanka'

Last updated on: August 26, 2006 19:10 IST
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In the second part of his interview, Jayadeva Uyangoda, Professor and Head, Department of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Colombo and Founder-Director of the Centre for Policy Research and Analysis, explains to Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt why he thinks the ethnic conflict will take time to resolve, and the role India can play.

Part I : 'The LTTE is a unique case'

When do you see the conflict ending in Sri Lanka?

There is no early solution to the Sri Lanka problem because, as I said, LTTE has maximalist political agenda of regional autonomy and the Sinhalese political class has a minimalist political agenda for regional autonomy. This the challenge which India, which is a player in the region in a big way, should understand. I have a feeling that neither India nor international community understands the extreme layers of complexity of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict.

What is it that India and the world community cannot understand?

Sri Lanka's complexity is something like this: you have a majority ruling class which is not yet ready to work out the settlement that would give equality to the ethnic minority of Sri Lanka. Second, they do not, they cannot, acknowledge and accommodate the minimalist position presented by even the non-LTTE Tamil groups. These old Tamil forces also say that settlement of conflict requires enrichment and rearrangement of regional autonomy that should go far beyond the 13th amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution that was imposed by the Indians in 1987.

So what is the answer?

Any workable solution will require recognition that Tamils are a distinct community and the North and East will require what we may call asymmetrical autonomy. And that is not yet recognized in Sri Lanka. You know, the most advanced Sinhalese politicians would say that when provincial powers are given to the Northern region, where Tamils are in a majority, and the Eastern region where Muslims and Tamils are dominating, they should have equal powers as the rest of the areas in the country. But that idea won't work. And the Sinhalese have not even agreed to those equal powers.

In the last 20 years Indian federalism has come to recognize some asymmetrical autonomy. Look at the North-east and Jammu and Kashmir, India is redefining internal boundaries without any problems. The Sinhalese political class is not yet ready for the radical reconstitution of the State power structure. A final solution of Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict requires reconstitution of the post-colonial unitary State. I don't know whether it will be with the LTTE or without them but even after 25 years of conflict the Sinhalese political class have not come to that stage yet.

How many more people will die before that understating comes?

That's the tragedy, the fundamental issue. Many more people will have to die for the Sinhalese political class to understand that Sri Lanka needs radical reconstitution of State powers. Protracted ethnic conflict always requires a protracted peace process. That's why perhaps, initially, one has to have an incomplete and imperfect peace process. Some may call it negative peace. We need a credible ceasefire agreement to begin with.

How has violence changed your society?

Violence has become a part of Sri Lankan society. It's very difficult to see how Sri Lanka can extricate itself from this culture of violence. At the political, cultural levels we have become a violent State. We are a highly militarized State. The counter State movements like JVP and LTTE are equally violent. We have no moral qualms in using violence. We have a great level of individual violence in Sri Lanka. Individuals have turned violence against themselves. There is high level of community violence. Unfortunately, we have internalized violence.

Surprising, because Buddhism, the majority religion, is based on non-violence.

We have Buddhism which has been highly politicised. There is a contradiction between what is preached and what is practiced. It's a paradox of Sri Lanka. Every Sri Lankan is flabbergasted and intrigued by the obvious dichotomy of compassion preached in our religion and extreme violence that defines every day of Sinhalese life.

What kind of a role does India have in Sri Lanka?

India can make or break peace in Sri Lanka. India is a part of Sri Lanka's conflict as well as its solution. It's involved since 1980. I am not only talking about the training of the LTTE by India. This conflict is Sri Lanka's problem but it's solution will be a South Asian solution.

As I said earlier, the Tamil nationalist project is to get maximum and extensive regional autonomy, more than the North-east provinces as an alternative to a separate state. But the Sinhalese fear that the moment you give regional autonomy to Tamils it will be a stepping stone to separation. What it means is that Sinhalese want political guarantees, while the Tamils and LTTE believe that no agreement will be fully implemented by the Sinhalese political class. They quote past experiences.

The LTTE thinks that the armed struggle, military equilibrium with Sri Lankan army and the strategic equilibrium with Sri Lankan State will only guarantee negotiations and implementation of any peace settlement. The LTTE thinks that political guarantee given within Sri Lanka won't work, it has to come from outside. That political and security guarantee can't come from US, Japan or France but from South Asia.

In the case of the Mozambique peace agreement the guarantee came from the South African region. India will have to be very careful in their engagements in Sri Lanka. There will be a lot of resistance among Sinhalese nationalist forces against India's engagement again. India has the 1987 experience before it that suggested that no solution can be imposed from outside. It has to come from within, and India should facilitate the solution. The LTTE is for normalization of its relations with India. Sri Lanka is also watching carefully the developments in South India. Initially [when the Congress led government was formed in New Delhi] many believed that India will back military action against the Tigers, and now Sinhalese nationalists are a little disappointed that it is not going to happen.

In the fast changing global scenario, how long can the LTTE strategy survive?

As far as I understand, the LTTE is not going to allow the Sri Lankan State any regional or global military alliance to destroy what they consider as achievements of  the Tamil liberation struggle. Eventually, the LTTE wants a political strategy to work for a Tamil regional sub-state.

Do you read more into US interests in the issue?

I don't think the US will back any military solution for the Sri Lankan problem. It seems the US policy is now to back India in its policy in Sri Lanka.

How do you read Prabhakaran's current state of mind? Is he a despot with a paranoid mind?

It's difficult to describe him. He is a man with a historical sense. He thinks that he is a person who can deliver political freedom to the Tamil nation. He thinks that he can manipulate his military strength and political strategies to get it. I think he is a great manipulator. He is a very clever military and political strategist. I don't know where or when or why he will fail. To say anything about Prabhakaran is utterly controversial. It creates massive reaction. When I say anything about Prabhakaran I have to think 100 times. Before I speak I have to remember that I have to live in Colombo.


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