The collapse of the Government –TNA talks has an air of inevitability about it for no other reason than the central one of the seriousness and commitment of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime towards a political settlement, its rhetoric notwithstanding.
We are back to the APRC, albeit by another name and back perhaps, to another protracted process of rhetoric and repetition, prevarication and procrastination.
To the rest of the world, the regime will point to a process and make sanctimonious pronouncements about how it should not be pre-judged and how it will and must take time, given the nature of the issues at stake. In the meantime, on the ground, there is the sobering possibility of going back to the past – of both sustaining and reproducing the sources of conflict and accordingly of being stuck in the post-war as opposed to moving to the desired post-conflict.
The usual chorus will rise to denounce a TNA emboldened by its local government election victory, for behaving like the LTTE on account of it seeking clarification from the regime within ten days on the structure of governance, the powers of the centre and provinces, and finance. The more strident will, given the temper of the times, make out that the TNA is in cahoots with the pro-LTTE Diaspora to keep the pot of ethnic conflict boiling and/or a paid up member of the western conspiracy of regime change that would facilitate Tamil Eelam. It is worth looking at what has transpired in these direct talks.
The short answer on the basis of available evidence is not much, because one side did not want much to come of them. I say this on the grounds that the only proposals mooted by the regime were in respect of a second chamber and therefore marginal to the central issue of the balance and distribution of powers between the centre and the provinces.
The Thirteenth Amendment is not to be implemented in full – talk of “Thirteen Plus”, simply wishful thinking. It is “Thirteen Minus” and an exercise in attrition to consolidate the existing status quo. The regime has yet to come out with its proposals for a political settlement. That day, I suspect will never come because the regime has its settlement in place. Both the APRC and select committee are ruses to pass the buck, spread the responsibility to everyone else so that the regime can throw up its hands in mock despair and say it tried and tried again to arrive at a political settlement acceptable to all, but others were opposed.
We should not forget that the question of a political settlement has been talked and talked about for over two decades and that the APRC went at it for a couple of years. Yes, of course a political settlement must be acceptable to all and cannot be a deal between the regime and the TNA alone. If it is the priority it should be, why doesn’t the UPFA expedite the process, come to a common position amongst its constituent parties, which can then be presented to the others as well as the representatives of the Tamil polity?
A parliamentary majority is surely not the issue, nor on the basis of the Eighteenth Amendment, should the ability to act with speed and urgency. That amendment went through before one could say Mahinda Chinthanaya!
The talks were divided into two sections – the immediate return, relief and rehabilitation issues and the political settlement. Even with regard to the former, not much progress has been made. A notable example is the repeated request made by the TNA for the list and whereabouts of detainees to be made available to families in Vavuniya. This was promised on a number of occasions. Families went in expectation of getting this information on more than one occasion and on more than one occasion were disappointed. Why? Why promise and not deliver, repeatedly?
In similar vein, one can ask as to why the interim recommendations of the LLRC have not been implemented and why confidence is being eroded on the ground. The violence in the local government elections is now a matter of record and the reduction of parliamentary seats in the Jaffna district a formality.
Pending is action with regard to the assault on the editor of the Uthayan Mr. Kuganathan – a police report on which has been handed to the president three days ago. How could this have happened in the most militarized part of the country? Does this not go to the very heart of the rationale for the heavy military presence in Jaffna? Were they looking elsewhere or the other way? Or is there some other explanation for this? This is reminiscent of abductions, disappearances and killings in high security zones. Let us hope it will not end up as yet another reinforcement of the officially sanctioned culture of impunity in respect of rights violations.