Will Peace be more expensive than war?

by Godwin Fernando
It is indeed a tragic irony of humanism that peace has often been sought due to the inability of the antagonists to win a war. Is it not the situation in Sri Lanka where neither party has been able to win the civil war that has been raging on for the last twenty years. The victory of the allies in World War II after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the breakaway of East Pakistan as Bangladesh were decisive military victories. But the scores of civil wars that have been fought the world over, with the exception of the Biafran war in Nigeria and the break-up of Yugoslavia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, has ended in some sort of tenuous peace that has been foisted on the antagonists in the inability of either party to achieve a decisive victory. Of course experts in conflict resolution say that in conflicts such as in ethnicity, there can be neither victor nor vanquished and peace could be achieved only in allaying the fears of one party over the other and less the resolution of the core issues of the conflict. Once the fears have assuaged, the specifics of disagreement and divergence would smoothly move towards resolution, they say. Both parties have nobly to be subdued and neither party made a winner. But are they not noble concepts with shades of idealism not seen in real life? Is not peace in often times really a short truce, where the weaker party renounces his claims, justly or unjustly, till such times he finds an opportunity of asserting them by the sword?

In the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict serious expressions of separatism (and later war drums were beating) started way back in 1949 when S. J. V. Chelvanayagam at its national convention said "... the Tamil speaking people in Ceylon constitute a nation distinct from that of the Sinhalese by every fundamental test of nationhood ", (these words of separate nationhood are from the far less radical Chelvanayagam than Prabhakaran.) and in 1956 with the passage of the Official Language Act. Even since, the slow but steady forward march of mutual distrust has continued with actions adding fuel to the fire of deepening suspicions. The Official Language Act of 1956 followed by the first race riots of 1956 and the holocaust of 1958, the aborted Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam Pact of 1957, when Bandaranaike publicly tore the document in the face of protests by Buddhists monks in the lawn at his Rosmead Place residence, the non - implementation of the Dudley Senanayake - S. J. V. Chelvanayagam Pact of 1956, the University Admission Regulation introduced in 1971 were -fanning the embers of racial hatred. Terrorism became first associated with the ethnic conflict when the Mayor of Jaffna, Alfred Durraippa was assassinated in 1975 opposite the Krishna Kovil near Jaffna by the LTTE. Thereafter terrorism became a means, a phallic symbol of racial superiority, witnessed in the burning of the Jaffna library in 1981 consigning to flames an invaluable collection of books and manuscripts, the race riots of 1983 where innocent Tamils were butchered and their belongings plundered by the Sinhala mob and the UNP government of the day turning a blind eye to such atrocities. Thereafter the enraged LTTE went on a rampage of terror by slaughtering over 100 Sinhala prisoners on parole in the Dollar and Kent Farms in 1984, 144 civilians moved down by machine gun fire at the bus stand in the sacred city of Anuradhapura in 1985 and the sacred Bo Tree itself irreverently fired upon, the throats of 29 Buddhist Samaneras gruesomely slit by machetes whilst travelling in a bus at Arantalawa in 1987, 144 Muslims mercilessly and brutally gunned down whilst at Jumma Prayers in a mosque at Eravur in 1990 and one week later a further 120 Muslims at worship in a Mosque at Kathankudy similarly gunned down, 105 employees and other bystanders blown into smithereens at the bomb explosion at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in 1995, fuel tanks set ablaze turning Kolonnawa into a virtual inferno in 1996, the sacrilegious attack at the sacred Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in 1998 and lastly the assault by the LTTE on the Air Force base at Katunayake destroying 5 jet-fighters and 2 helicopter gunships together with the destruction of 6 Airbus civilian aircraft at the Bandaranaike International Airport in 2001 with a loss of over Rs. 30 billion. Whilst both parties have engaged in terror tactics, there has been many a conventional battle. The LTTE has demonstrated convincingly that they not only resort to terrorism, but superior in conventional warfare as well.

The many milestones in the quest for peace have been the Timpu talks initiated by J. R. Jayewardene in 1985, the J. R. Jayewardene - Rajiv Gandhi pact of 1987, which brought in the IPKF into Sri Lanka and the negotiations initiated by R Premadasa at the Colombo Hilton Hotel in 1989 and finally the talks initiated by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1995 in Jaffna. All have ended up in dismal failure. Why? There is no question that the grievances of the Tamils should be addressed, forthrightly, bravely, justly and now, without any delay. The Sinhala majority has been going on the theory that during the British colonial rule, their divide and rule policy favoured the Tamil minority and what the Sinhala post independence governments are doing is to redress this imbalanced favoured position. Whilst the statistics in the post colonial era certainly substantiate this position, a one hundred and eighty degree turn of depriving their just rights is certainly not the answer. Though terrorism can never be condoned, there is no doubt that it is Sinhala chauvinism that gave birth to the terrorism of the LTTE. Terrorists are made, not born. Any solution to the present ethnic conflict is possible only with a realization of this root cause.

Now we are on the threshold of yet another quest for peace as the peace talks between the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE are held in Thailand. The hard fact remains that successive Sri Lankan Governments have miserably failed to bring the LTTE to the negotiating table from their position of strength. Now the LTTE has maneuvered the Government of Sri Lanka to the negotiating table from their position of strength. The bitter truth is that the government has lost all other alternatives. I am reminded of what Adolph Hitler said in Mein Kampf - Mankind has grown strength in eternal struggles and it will perish through eternal peace.

The well-known Time Magazine columnist Charles Karuthammer in an essay on the Arab - Israel conflict titled - When Diplomacy Becomes Obscene, Why should Israel negotiate with those who deploy terror and violence - argues strongly on the morality of negotiating with those who have employed terror as a weapon towards achieving ones ends. Though it could be argued that some soldiers in the Sri Lankan Army have resorted to terror to subdue LTTE cadres or extract information, terror has never been a means or a policy of the Army as an institution nor of any government in Sri Lanka when fighting the LTTE, whereas it has been undoubtedly so of the LTTE. It has taken decades for many western nations, whose liberal policies for refugees have always been abused to the limit for the purpose of collecting funds and financing the arms purchasing of the LTTE, to label the LTTE as a terrorist organization. After a carnage that Jerusalem suffered in 1997, British Foreign Secretary implored - "I am horrified at this devastating bomb attack and deeply regret the loss of life. This tragic incident reinforces the urgency of a return to dialogue and negotiations ". Expressions of such sentiments have been indeed many, after every incident of terrorism. Karuthammer jibes at such moves towards negotiating with terrorists.

The questions that begs for an answer is whether some ethnic groups do employ terrorism as a means of forcing the hand of the other party, who does not use such means, to negotiate from a position of strength. The present Government Sri Lanka position of helplessness is quite apparent. There appears to be no other alternative. History has shown that successive Sri Lankan Governments have repeatedly failed to gain a position of military superiority. Why?

Sri Lanka is a small country with limited resources. There is no question that the government can afford to spend nearly 35% of its income on military expenditure.! The economic consequences are devastating. It is also a fact that Western democratic countries whilst denouncing terrorism has not done anything tangible by way of military assistance to crush the terrorism of the LTTE. Superior military technology which could have crushed terrorist strongholds have not been made available to the Government of Sri Lanka even though the government was prepared to pay for same. When such a request was made to a western military power, whilst refusing such technology, the ambassador of that country added that even Prabhakaran has human rights. They have been taking the lofty high ground of insisting that we negotiate with the LTTE, who they themselves have labeled as terrorists. The US woke up only when terrorism hit its doorstep.

After September 11, 2001, President Bush demanded Bin Laden dead or alive (negotiating with terrorists to the US is unthinkable). This is the lot of poor third world countries like Sri Lanka who have to face the brunt of terrorism. It is quite evident that we do not have powerful nations to fight terrorism, even though they themselves will never negotiate with terrorists. This is the hard fact.

Sri Lankan politicians due to their power hungriness have always placed their own interests and the interests of their party before the national interest. It is they who are mainly responsible for the present disastrous situation. There never has been a strong united effort by the two major political parties towards a negotiated settlement of the conflict with consensus. We have never confronted the LTTE unitedly.

When S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike abrogated the Bandaranaike - Chelvanayagam Pact did he act in the interest of the nation or the interest of his party? Why did Dudley Senanayake not implement the Senanayake - Chelvanayagam Pact? Why did J R Jayewardene do away with the District Development Councils? Were they acting in the national interest? A negotiated conclusion at these early stages would certainly have not given rise to this present disastrous situation. When Premadasa gave arms and money to the LTTE did he act in the national interest or in his personal interest to perpetuate his power? When President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga treated rather shabbily the LTTE and displayed little interest in solving the problem politically, in whose interest did she act? Why did she send bankers and architects for political peace negotiations?

When the PA government of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga formulated a package giving concessions to the Tamil minority, which she herself would have found it very difficult to carry it through a referendum with the more chauvinistic Sinhala majority, the UNP in the opposition, opposed it tooth and nail, even burning the draft bill, when debated in Parliament and the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe sat passively silent in Parliament whilst his party was creating pandemonium within the chambers of the House, Now they are in power and we do not see much positive cooperation from the PA. We have yet to see what will be offered by the UNP government at the Thailand talks. Will it be conceivably more than what the PA offered and opposed by the UNP then.

The only common ground between the UNP and the PA is that both profess a united Sri Lanka; Up to now there is no agreement on the constitution of powers in the event of the formation of a Federal Government on the core issues such as national defence & Police, atomic energy and mineral resources, manufacture of arms, ammunition and explosives and industries pertaining to defence, national criminal investigation, treatise and agreements with foreign nations with trade and other matters, post and telecommunication, broadcasting and TV, justice and the jurisdiction of courts, finance pertaining to national revenue, monetary policy, taxes and customs, ports and harbours, aviation and airports, rivers and waterways, immigration and emigration and extradition, conduct of elections and many others.

The ceasefire agreement that was entered into between the UNP and the LTTE in February 2002, a rather unique agreement, where the two signatories, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran were not present simultaneously to sign the agreement, was certainly a step taken under duress from the position of the Sri Lanka government. Subsequent to this agreement almost all check points in Colombo have been removed. Whilst there is no doubt that people now can move in Colombo with a breadth of fresh air, the question that is being asked persistently is whether the LTTE will move in weapons of destruction into Colombo taking advantage of there being no check points and then use that additional position of strength to extract the maximum from the UNP at the peace talks. Will the UNP at the end of the day be able to deliver such concessions to the vast Sinhala Buddhist majority? By the time the talks end, (when, nobody knows as it appears to be open ended with no time frame - months? years?) will it not be too late and the situation much worse than before the ceasefire agreement. Would we not have walked into a peace trap? Both ceasefire agreements as a precursor to a negotiated settlement, firstly initiated by R Premadasa in 1989 and then by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in 1995 ended in disaster from the Sri Lankan perspective, as the LTTE clearly used these periods to rearm themselves. In the first instance when the talks broke down (to many it was a foregone conclusion that the talks will not succeed), it was followed by the massacre of over 600 policemen in Batticaloa using the very arms Premadasa provided the LTTE. In the second round of talks with the PA government, even before the talks commenced in early October 1994 the Sri Lankan Navy vessel Sagarawardana whilst at anchor off the coast of Puttalam was destroyed by the LTTE, in late September 1994. This vessel, the largest, the Navy had at that time under the command of Lieutenant Commander Ajit Boyagoda was destroyed by the Sea Tigers under the command of a woman Lieutenant Commander Kalyani when she slammed her explosive laden boat against Sagarawardana. In that explosion, out of 42 officers and enlisted navy personnel, 2 were confirmed dead, 20 missing in action, probably dead, 18 rescued and Commander Boyagoda and another captured and taken prisoners. Thus not only Sagarawardana was laid to rest, but probably the peace talks about to commence was laid to rest. And when the peace talks collapsed in mid April 1995, within a few days the LTTE attacked the Trincomalee harbour and sank two naval vessels and thereafter the LTTE shot down 5 Air Force planes, 2 Avro transport planes and 1 Sia Machetti jet by Stringer hand held missiles the LTTE had acquired during the ceasefire.

Will history repeat itself or will the events of September 11, 2001 have a profound effect on Prabhakaran that he will realize the folly of pursuing terror and settle down to a negotiated settlement and a civilized form of governance? Even if this is assumed, what form of government will the LTTE settle itself to? Can the LTTE supremo Prabhakaran exist in an atmosphere of peace? He has gunned down his own Tamil opponents - I am sure he realizes that he could be gunned down when peace is established by an accord and he will be the Chief Executive Officer of the Tamil Federal Region. He has certainly lived by the sword. In that scenario will he genuinely move towards peace? Or will he indisputably seek peace and opt for a retired life in Norway? Will he give up the throne after having waged horrific war and terror for over quarter of a century? Further there is a court order requiring the extradition of Prabhakaran for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. If Sonia Gandhi comes to power will she forgive Prabhakaran the murderer of her husband? It has been reported that if the Congress party led by Sonia Gandhi comes to power, the extradition of Prabhakaran will be demanded. A Sri Lankan court has convicted Prabhakaran and his accomplices for 200 years in prison for the terror perpetrated at the Central Bank.

The LTTE has always claimed that they are the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people even though there is no evidence at all to that effect. Knowing well that the nity backing the UNP initiated peace talks should seriously and prudently advise the UNP on such economic matters. It is a naive presumption that the present expenditure on war could be saved if there is a peace accord with the LTTE and such saved funds could be diverted to improve the economy.

With an LTTE fathered Tamil Federal Region legally and secularly in position and with a sympathetic mass of humanity as a northern neighbour in Tamil Nadu, will they not arm themselves to the teeth and pursue their ultimate objective of Eelam? There is a Dutch proverb that says that no one can have peace any longer than his neighbour desires. Yes, peace has to be enforced. Let’s make no mistake about that. But at what cost?

Will the anticipated peace be more expensive than the present war?

Godwin Fernando (lefty with Dr. Donna Hicks, leader, and Bill Weisberg of the Harvard University Conflict Resolution delegation at the residence of Godwin Fernando prior to their departure to Jaffna. On the right is Hon. Ravi Karunanayake, then Member of Parliament, now Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Dr. Donna Hicks (left), Godwin Fernando (centre) and Bill Weisberg (right) at Pooneryn in an LTTE hideout immediately prior to their visit to Jaffna. The LTTE secretly ferried them in a small 120 HP high speed boat across the Jaffna lagoon in a pitch dark moonless night taking evasive action from the Sri Lanka Navy patrol boats

After the discussion Thamilchelvam (left) Anton Balasingham and wife (Centre) and Godwin Fernando (right) in Jaffna