|A 9: Humanitarian and
II yielded a nice line: peace talks break down on the A-9
highway. No one can dispute that there is a serious
humanitarian crisis before us, especially in the North and
The LTTE has refused to consider alternatives routes to deliver
essential supplies to Jaffna and this fact should not be lost on
the Co-Chairs when they meet in Washington tomorrow. The
problem, however, is that while terrorists can deny anything and
everything to populations undergoing severe depravation, a
government cannot without compromising its claim to be
representing all citizens and that it is committed to taking
care of basic needs as per the social contract.
Today NGOs and other self-labelled ‘civil society’ groups who
were strangely very silent in all the years that the LTTE shut
down the A-9 have suddenly discovered a conscience about this
closure effecting adversely the people of Jaffna. They have
their agendas, their outcome-preferences, and, as some argue,
even a perverse need to compromise the strength of the state not
to mention territorial integrity and sovereignty. Still, the
government cannot reference any of these things when it comes to
delivering basic needs to sustain life (in the very least) to
the people, wherever they live, whatever they do and regardless
of their identity in terms of caste, ethnicity, religion etc may
The Co-Chairs are meeting tomorrow and they are bound to talk
about the situation in the country, the prospects for
negotiation, donor-coordination, the SLFP-UNP MoU, India’s role
and the humanitarian crisis and how the A-9 figures in all
this. It is possible that conditions may be imposed on the
government which may even include the threat of aid-freeze. It
will not be lost on the Co-Chairs that all avenues need to be
explored in terms of getting the government to arrest the
deteriorating law and order situation and to get its act
together on the humanitarian front before considering such
action. Such a move would in effect give parity of status to a
government and a terrorist organization. This can only make
things worse. Not to mention of course setting a horrendous
precedent and severely compromising the growing move world-wide
towards zero-tolerance of terrorism.
Opening the A-9 would in all probability dominate the discussion
because it is Norway’s baby. The government’s position has been
that opening the A-9 constitutes a security risk. This argument
is not entirely unsupported by the available evidence. Human
beings, however, cannot and should not be asked to wait on
resolution, whether militarily or through negotiations.
No one in his/her right mind, least of all the Co-Chairs, would
suggest an unconditional opening up or the A-9. It is no secret
that the LTTE imposed ‘taxes’ on everything that went along the
A-9 and that the bulk of this money went to arms procurement.
The government can insist on conditions because just as the
humanitarian concerns of the people of Jaffna need to be
addressed, so too the security of all citizens, in Jaffna and
other places, in the North and the East and in other parts of
the country. For the record, just yesterday a claymore mine was
detonated on the A-9 killing four soldiers and injuring 15
civilians. ‘No blank cheques to terrorists’ therefore is a
There is an impasse, agreed. Is there a way out? Perhaps. The
Co-Chairs can insist that the A-9 be opened with the caveat that
there will be zero-taxation and no pilfering. Practical
mechanisms to ensure this can be worked out. The government can,
and should, insist that the first violation by the LTTE will
result in the A-9 being closed again, thereby calling
Prabhakaran’s ‘humanitarian’ bluff.
These are not easy times. The space for humanitarian work is
directly correlated to the degree of threat to national security
involved. The government has to get its act together in terms
of law and order but no government, however well-meaning it may
be, can make miracles happen. The Co-Chairs will no doubt avail
themselves of the relevant pragmatism. The ball, as it often
is, is in Prabhakaran’s court, one observes. He could stop
beating around the bush and get down to substantive issues. He
can consider walking a road called Democratization. Or confirm
to the world that he is not interested in the well-being of
anyone, least of all the Tamil people.
As for the Co-Chairs, let us appreciate that the A-9 they might
choose to walk is not free of booby traps.
Budget? Yes, we’ve heard that word before…
Time was when the annual budget
was eagerly anticipated, read carefully, debated hotly and
critically analysed. Not any more. A budget is many things: a
statement of policy, a development plan, and an indication of
what kind of goodies or belt-tightening to expect, a set of
reasonable hopes or fears.
Budgets are passed, amended and key elements abandoned
altogether. They come as 5-year plans and, as in this budget,
10-year plans. Government change, policies change and strategies
debated and accepted are duly trashed.
More than all this, the general public’s manifest apathy
regarding budgets stems from the fact that people are not only
sick and tired of politicians, but have learnt to treat them
with a healthy mistrust. ‘Words’ and ‘wordy’: these are what
politicians are about. We read manifestoes, elect, see
manifestoes and mandates distorted and re-interpreted and have
no recourse to recalling from office those who lied to us.
What the budget will or will not do, frankly, is resident in the
realm of conjecture because there will always be ‘exigencies’.
There will be, also (going by recent history) pilfering of the
Treasury. There will be wastage. And there seems to be no moves
towards putting in place effective mechanisms to combat these
and other ‘leakages’.
This budget is being marketed as a harbinger of ‘development’
with fidelity to social, cultural and political realities and
one where ‘the local’ has not been foot-noted. The proof, as
they, say, is in the eating. Life gives the lie to the cooking
of numbers, sooner or later. It will be difficult to ask people
to keep an open mind, but there is little else that the people
can do anyway. Minds close when stomachs remain empty. Let us
hope it will not come to that.