During his recent visit to Sri Lanka, Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna gave support to the Sri Lankan government’s intention to have a Parliamentary Select Committee work out the modalities of a political solution to the ethnic conflict. The Indian government has consistently expressed its interest in a political solution and that the Sri Lankan government gave such assurances during the war that elicited international support. President Mahinda Rajapaksa had also informed the Indian Minister that his government would be pursuing a political solution to go beyond the present framework of devolution which was an outcome of the Indo Sri Lanka Peace Accord of 1987 and contained in the 13th Amendment to the constitution.
However, what has been said is in the realm of words and sentiments. Those who are skeptical of any movement forward have expressed concern that such proposals are mere posturing on the part of the government to gain time rather than a sincere expression of the policy of the government. The National Peace Council is of the view that procrastination will not resolve the problem but only harden the attitudes of the Tamil polity. Despite the end of the war more than two and a half years ago, little has been forthcoming so far in terms of any advance towards a political solution that is based on devolution of power. The Sri Lankan government’s announcement that it is considering a senate or upper house of parliament that would be a bridge between the centre and the provinces but it cannot be a solution to the demand for autonomy in managing local and provincial affairs in the language of the Tamil people.
The National Peace Council believes that concrete deeds on the ground need to accompany the words spoken and sentiments expressed. The primary areas of concern are to improve the livelihood of the war displaced people of the North and East, for whom the Indian government has pledged the construction of 50,000 houses, of which 1,000 are now underway. Unfortunately much of the other infrastructure developments that have taken place, such as the construction of highways and government buildings, have yet to translate themselves into improved livelihoods for the war-affected people. The government needs to be supported by the international community in reconstructing the north and east according to the needs of the people. The government also needs to carry out its development in consultation with the local people through their representative institutions and in response to their priorities.
The other area of importance is that of civil-military relations. Dysfunctional civil military relations in the north and armed groups and vigilante groups posing threats to the ordinary people will only jeopardize and pose a threat to the process of rebuilding trust and reconciliation. The trust citizens in the north and east have in the security forces can either enhance or hinder the process of reconciliation. The military must be accountable for their actions in the north and east at least to a body from civil society consisting of people of the area. For a start we believe that the military command should have regular consultations with elected politicians and civil society leaders on issues of concerns to them at local levels. Civilians need to feel that military presence in these areas is to support and empower war affected communities and not rule over them but sustain and protect democratic values. In this regard the following recommendation of the LLRC becomes relevant: “(9.134). …..the Commission, as a policy, strongly advocates and recommends to the Government that the Security Forces should disengage itself from all civil administration related activities as rapidly as possible…..” Taking this concept further it will be necessary for the military to be withdrawn to barracks and the police entrusted with the maintenance of law and order as called for by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.