Peace is the way

It is hard not to recall the collective sighs of relief in 2002, when almost two decades of blood letting came to a standstill and began to look as if it might just last. It seems like only yesterday that Colombo’s roads were opened up, light filled the streets, road blocks and military checkpoints along the way were removed and all of the land became truly ours again. Finally, we could see parts of Sri Lanka that had been closed off for so long, it became a safer place to live, a lovely land to saunter through and most importantly, for the first time in years, there was tangible hope for a better future.

We should have known then that it was too good to last.
Less than five years later, Sri Lanka has slipped back into a state of war, the capital is once more besieged and young men and women belonging to this small island, on both sides of the divide are giving their lives for two diametrically opposite definitions of one word – freedom. In less than a year, a brutal and unrelentless conflict has claimed over 3000 lives, both military and civilian – even though there’s barely a difference. As the first year anniversary of the Mavil Aru battle draws nearer, we are haunted by the reality of the last year we have known: where a battle for water and subsequent operations from then on have altered our world and left us bereft of hope once more.

During times of desperation even an iota of hope can bring much comfort to a beleaguered people. The Sri Lankan people have lived through the past three decades with little hope of a better future due to a long prolonged ethnic conflict that has been dragging our motherland to the nadir of humanity. We as a people therefore have evolved to be resilient, to take the small mercies of these precarious times as a gift and live on. Yet that yearning for a better and brighter future for this country has refused to disappear from the hearts of many. Even though our better judgment tells us not to be carried away with prospects for peace, it is impossible for a nation battered and bruised by a bloody conflict for a generation not to have that tiny fire of hope burn in their hearts whenever such hope is on the horizon.

It is in this light that the news that the government has made peace overtures to the LTTE through the Norwegian facilitators was received. The cynics among us who on most cases can call themselves the prudent realists will see this as nothing but another phase in the war where the “offer of peace” is nothing more than a tactic in gaining a military advantage. The LTTE is better known to have used this methodology to further their ultimate goal of a separate state. Cynics on the other side of the divide will look at the latest peace initiative by the government simply as the state following the example of the Tigers, as it is now known to do so in many spheres. Cynicism or prudence or whatever one might call it apart, for the many millions of Sri Lankans dreaming of a better tomorrow, this small and maybe insignificant gesture of peace by the government will no doubt rekindle that age old hope for peace once again.

Both the government and the LTTE would look to go in to peace negotiations from a position of strength. At the time the LTTE declared its unilateral ceasefire at the end of 2001, it was at the height of its military power having overrun the once impregnable Elephant Pass garrison and come within miles of the Jaffna town. Recently the government forces have gained near total control of the Eastern Province and taken the fight to the LTTE heartland in the Wanni. However like the LTTE realised in 2001 with regard to ousting the security forces from the Jaffna peninsula, the military too will realize that the cost of taking over the Wanni from the Tigers is going to be significantly high, with no victory guaranteed. Therefore even the Rajapaksa administration which is better known for its “act now and think later” policy seems to be fathoming the near impossibility and cost of the challenge ahead. The good news at least seems to be that both sides realise that a final military solution to this prolonged conflict is not possible. Both sides realize that the military campaign is a primary prerequisite to having an advantage at the negotiation table at which the final outcome of this conflict is going to be decided. However with both sides wanting to gain the military upper hand before going in to negotiations and refusing to negotiate from a point of weakness, it is also a near impossibility to see either side budging from their present hard line.

It is heartening that despite the negative vibes in their direction, the international community has not abandoned the people of this land. The Co-chairs in particular have informed both the government and the LTTE that they do not foresee a military solution to the conflict. In this day and age of globalisation where a country finds it impossible to be isolated, we Sri Lankans have no choice but to heed the concerns of the international community.
One school of thought in this country adheres to the notion that there is more than one way to peace; that war might sometimes be one way to finally achieve peace. For better or worse therefore, in Sri Lanka war has been the ground reality

But even as we wage this war, let us bear in mind that as a people, as a nation, we are bruised and we are bleeding. How much longer before we are lost in this war we are waging against ourselves? Shall we close our eyes to the fact that these ‘scorecards’ we listen for everyday ’10 of them for three of us’ – they are reports of a fate that has befallen our own people? It is for these reasons, that we the nation, welcome the latest peace moves.

Let not the leaders of our country disappoint its people again. Let not the majority desire for peace be shattered by the insanity of a minority. Let not this chance of peace, however insignificant and small it maybe wasted, for such chances are now becoming too few and far between to allow them to slip by.
There is no other way to peace. As Dutch pacifist, A.J. Muste put it, “Peace is the way.”