EVERYONE knows that reconciliation is the main challenge for Sri Lanka. But few would know what to do about it and present it in a concise format. In this respect one of Sri Lanka’s own raised some interesting points that put the onus beyond the Government in reconciling ethnicities.
Head of International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore Prof. Rohan Gunaratne is a renowned international terrorism expert. Addressing a gathering of the business community on Monday at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), Prof. Gunaratne called on the private sector to actively take part in reconciliation by recruiting former LTTE cadres and investing in the north and east without waiting on the Government.
Among the interesting points he raised was the need for fostering a Sri Lankan ethnic identity. Recalling the many politicians who tagged themselves along ethnic lines to represent Tamil, Sinhala or Muslim nationalism since independence caused divisions, he insisted that the reconciliation process needed politicians to move beyond these boundaries.
Fostering understanding would be easier if there were Sinhala politicians who cared about Tamil and Muslim people while Tamil politicians cared about Muslim and Sinhala communities. Building understanding for common good rather than ethnic based nationalism was advocated by him and utopian as the idea may sound, it would move the different communities together.
The second point that he emphasised on was the challenge to construct a moderate Tamil political mainstream that would give voice to a wider range of ideas and embody pluralism. In this way, he summarised, the Tamil people would have a channel to get their views across without limiting themselves to being represented by a few elements that may be seen as extremist.
Making a strong statement about the active external LTTE organisations that are still operational abroad, Prof. Gunaratne called on the Government to engage, especially with the international media so that the rehabilitation progress is relayed to the rest of the world. Establishing a competent media arm in the External Affairs Ministry that would respond, pre-empt and engage with the local and international media was strongly promoted by him.
Critical South Indian politicians and international community members should likewise be able to maintain a dialogue with the Government in his opinion so that biased reports, such as those that helped formulate the controversial UN report, would be dealt with before they cause irreparable harm to Sri Lanka’s reputation.
Reconciliation can also be fuelled by the private sector, in his view. Speedy investment in the north and east along with employing conflict-affected people including former cadres would make significant inroads to healing the breaches created by conflict. Assisting social integration and acceptance of these people is crucial to establishing normalcy along with a good standard of life. Former cadres cannot be expected to only become farmers and fishermen. Therefore, companies can work with the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID) to provide employment to rehabilitated cadres.
Terming the Tamil Diaspora as the “greatest untapped resource of Sri Lanka,” Prof. Gunaratne called on the Government to encourage them to invest in the war-affected areas so that more economic opportunities can be created. Aiding the reconciliation process without waiting on the Government is the responsibility of every citizen. In this instance the private sector along with business chambers and civil society can lead by example.