Sri Lanka’s future as a post-conflict state

Thursday, 19 September 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The President has expressed his annoyance with the TNA Manifesto, perhaps because of their demand for the merger of the north and east – the original provisions of the 13th Amendment which were overturned by a Chief Justice who lawyers would say certainly exceeded his mandate. At the end of every conflict there is a peace treaty or agreement where the two sides that engaged in the conflict agree to cooperate in future on some agreed basis. The Government has failed to engage in such talks and reach a solution to the demands of the Tamils despite promises to India and the UN. The international community has been urging the Government to reach out for a political solution. But the Government has looked upon the Tamil problem as merely the result of the neglect of the development of the Tamil areas by previous Sinhala Buddhist governments and proceeded to spend an enormous amount of money on restoring and even developing the infrastructure of the north and east. The cost of this program will have to be borne by all the people, particularly the majority Sinhalese Buddhist population in the days to come. The Government has ignored the cost that people have to pay for this development either by way of inflation or taxation or both. It would have been much easier and less costly if a political solution was put in place giving the Tamil people the necessary devolved power to enable them to develop the area themselves since the expatriate Tamil population has enough resources having made good in the West.     Economic development is no substitute Anyway, economic development is no substitute for the resolution of the political demands of the Tamils. True that the LTTE wanted nothing less than Eelam and hence the war had to be fought to a finish. But the TNA is asking for autonomy and not for a separate state. There is really no case for refusing a wide measure of autonomy to them except the fears of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalists that autonomy would lead to secession. It could but not necessarily so if enlightened policies are put into effect to work in cooperation with the Northern Provincial Council instead of trying to dominate and dictate to them and creating a phobia against them among the Sinhala masses. But Tamil people are settled all over the island and there are also the Tamils of Indian origin living in the plantations who also form the backbone of our economy. They have also migrated to Colombo in search of employment and there are significant numbers of them in Colombo. So any partition of the country as took place in India in 1947 is not feasible and those now leading the TNA must be conscious of it. Sinhala Buddhist nationalists would undoubtedly demand then that the Tamils in the south should be driven away in the event of a separate state being established in the north. But won’t it lead to sectarian violence such as prevails today in Syria and Iraq? Won’t it end with disastrous consequences to both communities? Peace and stability in the present international context in the 21st century will only be achieved when trust is established between the minority citizens and their states across the globe. It will be so whether in Sri Lanka, Iraq or Pakistan. Those states that fail to win such trust of their minorities are doomed to perish as we see in Syria today. Decades of persistent conflict in the world have exposed millions of people to insecurity, loss of opportunity, and increased risk of falling into poverty. Failure or wilful discrimination against the minorities has been at the heart of this crisis of governance and human rights violations in many countries ranging from Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Islamic States of the Middle East and the African States.     Loss of legitimacy The loss of legitimacy is the primary cause of the fragility and failure of such states. The vicious cycle of violence begins with loss of trust in the state by the minorities. Yesterday it was the Tamils in the north and east. Today it includes the Muslims and the Christians as well. The attacks on the Muslims and their cultural practices cannot be justified. If Buddhists don’t like animal slaughter they only have to abstain from eating the flesh of animals. They cannot use State power to enforce their ethical code on the rest of the population. The Islamic countries try to do the same – the enforcement of Sharia on all people but this is being resisted by the Christian and other Muslim minorities including the enlightened liberal Muslims as in Egypt or Pakistan. The Sinhala Buddhist political class which was swept into power in 1956 failed to create an inclusive political, social, and economic order made predictable by the rule of law. Our ancient Sinhala kings and queens often acted arbitrarily. The last king ordered a cruel and brutal form of death for Ehalepola family sans a trial. The post 1956 MPs are resorting to the same behaviour pattern for they think power gives them the right to act arbitrarily. So the Sinhala Buddhist State spearheaded by the SLFP has lost legitimacy and the present regime has become sectarian catering mainly for the Sinhala Buddhist majority. But a plural society cannot hold together if the State is sectarian. One has only to look at the Middle East today where Sunnis are fighting Shiites and Egypt where a Muslim Brotherhood wants to establish an Islamic state where the Sharia law will be imposed on non-Muslims and liberal enlightened Muslims. It is the same issue in Afghanistan or Pakistan. But sectarian violence is tearing up these states. Some of the markers coincident with loss of legitimacy are: an increase in illegality (vide the criminal acts of our Provincial MPs such as rape and sexual harassment of women), informality in the conduct of State business, and criminality in the economy; ineffective delivery of basic services; failure to maintain or expand essential public services like health and education; increase in corruption; and appropriation of public assets for private gain as in the elections. As a result, administrative control weakens and the bureaucracy is seen as an instrument for abuse of power, in turn leading to a crisis in public finances—where both revenue and expenditure are unpredictable and budgeting becomes an exercise in emergency management postponing bills and accumulating payment arrears on a selective basis. The ultimate marker is the loss of legitimate use of violence by the state and emergence of armed groups that openly mock the authority of the State and gain control of various areas of the country. Accountability, effectiveness, transparency, and rule of law—the interlinked concepts that are now considered the basis of good governance and economic development have vanished. It is easy to destroy institutions which are not rooted deeply. The values of modern democracy, human rights and justice are not familiar to the post 1956 generation educated in Swabasha. The attempt to romanticise the ancient past of feudalism of our Sinhala kings and the imagined golden era of Sinhala Buddhism has now given way to the harsh realities of the present world, particularly the economic realities.       Legacy of the war The legacy of the war has been an important contributing factor to the undermining of humanitarian values. During that period, political, military, and financial resources were provided to the military and they were looked upon as heroes when the LTTE was roundly defeated in a ‘no holds barred war. The emphasis during the war and since the war victory is on personalisation of rule rather than on institutionalisation of authority, as particular individuals were considered the lynchpins of the war victory. They could get away with any misdemeanours. Those in the media who exposed their misdeed or criticised them demanding accountability were marginalised or repressed. As a result, a systematic dismantling of state institutions and the diversion of massive public assets for private gain takes place. It is doubtful whether the present State can embark on any meaningful process of reform to bring back the Rule of Law. The risk of State-failure is evident today in our post conflict State. About 50% of countries that have entered a peace agreement after persistent conflict have descended to conflict again within 10 years according to evidence gathered by think tanks. A comprehensive discussion of a development strategy with State-building as its ultimate goal requires equal attention to the creation of the market and the constitution of civil society because functioning states, markets, and civil societies are all essential ingredients of a developmental paradigm. As civil societies and markets depend by definition on the existence of a stable and functioning State for their security, an enabling environment for free economic activity is essential. Instead we find a crony capitalist structure where every big business must pay pooja to the new gods often accompanied by offerings as well and the NGOs are suspected and intimidated. Private sector business can triumph only if they assume the form of patron-client dependence. Others risk being penalised by the powers that be. The ordinary people seem to depend on charismatic leadership where the principle that the king can do no wrong prevails as in the days of our ancient kings.

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