By Dr. A.R.M. Imtiyaz
Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon till 1972) has a long and rich history. The island of three main communities – Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim – however, has attracted global attention in recent years, particularly for its deadly ethnic civil war. Sri Lanka, once hoped by the West as a model of democracy, requires political solutions to ease ethnic tensions and to restore the trust of the marginalised minorities. Hence, I suggest the following – what I call “The Ten Commandments to Restore Peace” – to build the trust both of the minorities and of the system.
Political elites and politicians shall seek a non-ethnic platform to win and hold power. In other words, Sri Lanka cannot afford any longer to have politicians who still strive for emotional symbolic policies that have power to trigger war rather than peace. Civil society institutions and intellectuals shall jointly work among the masses to promote non-racist politicians and leaders who have the ability and willingness to think beyond ethnic and religious lines.
There shall be tangible efforts by the global community to push the conflicting parties towards attending and address the issues concerning human right violations and abuses. The modern state of affairs requires respect for human values and freedom. The ethnic crisis in the island of Sri Lanka is unlikely to win peace as long as parties to the conflict disrespect the rights of the common man and take inhuman measures such as the forceful ethnic expulsions that occurred on June 7, in an effort to weed out what Colombo calls Tamil terrorists.
There shall be pressure to halt the current war against the Tamils of the North and East and to seek a meaningful political solution. War is only capable of stimulating hatred and engendering destruction. Sri Lanka has already shed enough blood; hence it urgently deserves peace.
Global forces, particularly India, the US and Norway shall call for peace talks in non-Sri Lanka territory, preferably in Scandinavian territory. Both global and local institutions shall exert pressure on the ruling political elites to reform the state structure and its institutions to allow all communities to make economic progress in a peaceful environment without the ravages of war, and to meet the aspirations of the minorities and to manage the challenges posed by modernization. Such reforms shall strongly encourage adoption of, in tactical political science language, a power-sharing formula both at central and regional levels (i.e., ethnic autonomy).
If the state and politicians in Colombo seriously agree to seek a political solution, there shall be concrete measures by the global forces on the Tamil Tigers to ease its deadly ethnic resistance. Tamil nationalists shall recognise the right to self-determination of the Muslims of the North and East and their desire to be identified as a separate if not distinct group.
The Muslim political establishment shall freeze its anti-Tamil nationalist approaches. Nothing herein shall preclude their continued cooperation with or giving critical support to the Sinhalese ruling class in Colombo, as they have been successfully doing since independence in the name of the Muslim masses.
Politicians and leaders shall sincerely understand the need for harmony among the different ethnic groups and peace in Sri Lanka. The earlier they understand the better for Sri Lanka’s future. Sri Lanka desperately needs peace. Peace would strengthen embattled democracy in Sri Lanka. War only fortifies ethnic identity and sooner or later creates space for genocide and ethnic cleansing. Then again, resistance to peace can create more ethnic warriors. In brief, failures to engage peace eventually could lead a society into a state of affairs where people of Sri Lanka find nothing but ethnic hatred, bodies, and suicide bombers. In other words, peace would aid Sri Lanka in realising its dream to become the Singapore of South Asia. [Courtesy of: The Sunday Times – Sri Lanka]
[The writer is a visiting scholar at Department of Political Science, Temple University, USA. His primary research interest is in the study of ethno-political conflict, both in Sri Lanka and in other countries.]