My writing

Many more articles on my personal blog.

Denial and Polarisation

The undeclared Eelam War IV in Sri Lanka shows no signs of abating. The Ceasefire Agreement, whatever is left of it, is enervated and made more irrelevant daily. Violence in the north and the east increased dramatically in 2006. Thousands continue to be displaced – unable to return to their homes, starving, without access to basic human necessities or redress against repeated human-rights violations. Many more have fled Sri Lanka to South India, bringing back memories of the exodus of refugees in the late 1980s. In Colombo, a draconian government with scant regard for human rights uses the continuing intransigence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as an excuse to clamp down on civil society, NGOs and the media. Legislation enacted in 2006, most notably the anti-terrorism regulations, has stifled democratic rights and civil liberties. Many peace rallies around the country have been routed by thugs and goons affiliated to current members of Parliament.

Read full article in Himal Southasian, February 2007 issue. 

Crossing over into Chaos

A look at the crossing over of 16 UNP MP's in January 2007, appearing in Montage, a monthly news magazine published in Sri Lanka. Click here for a copy.

The Promise of Citizen Journalism

Article originally published in the Madrid11 website on January 2007, setup to encourage global dialogue about how the threat from terrorism can be confronted through democratic means. Click here for full article.

Responding to Kebettigollawa

 The central disconnect between conflict resolution theorists and the essential nature of terrorism lies here – we do not really know the logic that drives terrorism, a logic so alien to us that we cannot even imagine it. It is a logic that driven by a rationale  and psychological imperatives that may make little sense to us – the capture of the Jaffna peninsula, in this light, can be considered as a very real objective of the LTTE despite the myriad of arguments that can be made against such a course action by those outside of the organization.  

The LTTE in this light needs to be seen as an organization that cannot only be engaged by speaking with those who staff its Peace Secretariat, or the constellation of experts that guide its constitutional and political dialogues. For sure, the strategic use of such dialogues may in the long term be the creation of channels of communication that form the bedrock of a political settlement. This is not going to happen in the short term. 

Download the full article or read online the version published in the Daily Mirror on 19th June 2006.

The end of the process?

This then is where we stand. We are resolutely against the LTTE’s hypocrisy of word and deed and stand resolutely against all forms of violence. However, we recognise that violence, like it or not, is likely to be a dominant feature of the peace process in the months to come. However, and this is essential, the peace process itself must not be allowed to die – we must be as committed to peace now as we have been in the past, recognising the violence alone, no matter how precisely calculated and meted out, will never bring a peace worth dying for.

Our imagination, even in light of seemingly insurmountable challenges, is what enables us to seek new ways to build peace. We must never let it wane.

Read full article here.

Beyond the Peace Talks in Geneva

In all, it’s important to felicitate a fledgling Government negotiation team on engaging with the LTTE despite statements made against the CFA, the Norwegians and the peace process in general in the run-up to the Presidential elections. The LTTE also need to be commended for engaging with a government widely perceived to be against its core set of demands for a negotiations process.

Beyond the heady optimism and self-congratulatory note of Geneva lies, as I wrote last week, the greater challenges of both the peace talks and the peace process. For example, the CFA required the UNF Government to disarm all Tamil paramilitary ground 30 days after it was signed. The incumbent has a little under twice that time to do the same.

These are not easy challenges and are central to the political credibility of the Rajapaksa government in the future. With the JVP still a strong voice in the government and in general in a froth over what they see as a pyrrhic peace process, the challenges of these new negotiations are in essence too large for government alone. As citizens, we need to be clear about what we seek to see through these peace talks and communicate this to those in Government and the LTTE. It is only through clarion call of peoples across Sri Lanka for the two key antagonists to adhere to the words they set down on paper that we can truly construct a process worthy of taking forward our aspirations for peace and justice.

See here for full article. 

All politics is local

The President and his government need to ensure that this well-spring of public support translates into concrete actions that ensure the strengthening of the peace process. As Raheem points out, everything is connected - disarmament can only occur in a framework that guarantees fundamental rights and human security. These were cornerstones of the CFA signed in February 2002. The LG elections result strengthens that which gave life to the CFA – the firm desire of all communities for peace. Given that peace is won or lost at the community level, it is imperative the all political parties heed the voice of the people and work together to create political conditions that ensure the continuation of the peace talks and strengthens the peace process.

Read full article here.


Talking Process - Why do we need a Peace Process?!

If the CFA was constructed on the partnership for peace strategy, it’s folly to believe that this partnership endures to date. The incumbent government and the LTTE go to peace talks as antagonists, fighting for the primacy of their own definitions of peace with much the same tenacity as the battles on the ground for geographical advantage. This essential antagonism colours the lead-up to the peace talks itself, with the understanding of federalism and power-sharing on the part of the government and the LTTE showing marked differences.

It’s inevitable that any partnership for peace between the Government and the LTTE will take time to build, if ever. Mitigating the potential for partnership are several problems. The constituent members of the coalition in government have yet to articulate a united stand for a common approach to the peace process. There are marked differences of opinion between what the President, the JVP and the JHU opine. How peace talks can be conducted in such an atmosphere of divergent views is an open question.

Read the full article here.


Thoughts on the Presidential Elections - November 2005

Mr. Rajapaksa faces a Herculean task - unproven in the high office of President, he will have to work hard to address not just the partisan aspirations of satellite henchmen, but the very real concerns of communities who realise that following this victory comes a time of great hope and of great fear.

Hope, because the new President offers a breath of fresh air to the rotting peace process.

Fear, because the collapse of democracy and peace in Sri Lanka is a fate too terrible to contemplate.

Read the full article here.

The sickness of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka follows a predictable pattern of ejaculatory commentary on democracy and peacebuilding. The death of a prominent personality gives rise to a frenzy of debate and discussion. This discussion hotly contests the nature of the death, the ideals of the person who was killed, his political affiliations and his ideological bent. The best friends of the deceased emerge from the woodworks to sing hosannas, while others, less friendly, brand him (or her) a pariah, terrorist, journalist hack, criminal, womaniser, enemy and all manner of labels as they see fit. Both camps engage in a fierce battle of words that at first concentrate on the circumstances of the death but become increasingly radicalised to drown each other’s claims. Soon, the discussion takes a life of its own, with each side using the deceased and their interpretations of his / her life and writings to add veracity to their outlandish claims, until the public get sick of the ignoble clash and switch off – emotionally and intellectually.

And then silence. Until another murder.

Read the full article here.

Imagining Peace

Central to a new phase of peacebuilding that is attendent to the possible outbreak of violent conflict in the weeks ahead is the profound intellectual and moral courage required at the highest levels of polity and society that support imaginative approaches towards peace and reconciliation.

In sum, the imminence of war calls us to question the very existence of our role as peacebuilders. It is a time that is ripe for public dialogues on all the vaible options that Sri Lanka faces to avoid more bloodshed – a time for honest debate about how we as a nation will not allow this peace process to die.

Are we up to the task?

Read the full article here.

Against vigilante nationalism

We have not talked to, about or with people.

The people are at the heart of any peace process – they are its firmament, the fire through which the process itself, and any agreement that is part of it, is forged. Multi-stakeholder partnerships, involving the widest possible spectrum of participation from civil society (not just Colombo based NGOs, but civil society writ large), business, media and all shades of grassroots communities does not lead, as many argue, to cacophony and a lack of direction, but rather, encourages multiple dialogues at various levels of society that can effectively counter efforts to derail the peace process by spoiler mechanisms. Working in sustained partnerships with grassroots communities, reflecting their unique and collective ideas, concerns and fears in the fabric of Track 1 dialogues, a peace process can achieve the resilience needed to combat the many challenges that are an inextricable part of conflict transformation. No single or collective effort from civil society, media activism and international opinion can fully transform the dynamics within Sri Lanka itself – this transformation lies in the confluence of such interventions coupled with initiatives to broaden the debate on the peace process within Sri Lanka itself. Such processes would strip away what is currently a top-heavy and exclusive peace process to make way for inclusive, participatory, open, accountable and transparent dialogues.

Read the full article here.


Why we need to go to a war

Let’s leave aside peace and democracy for the moment. Both wonderful ideas, but seemingly anachronistic in the imbroglio we now face in this country. The preservation of a modicum of dignity and trust in the eyes of our own peoples requires a re-assessment of the principles with which we conduct the processes of nation building in Sri Lanka. It is a sombre task, conducted in the full glare of our inability to prevent the continued killings in Sri Lanka, most recently, of our Foreign Minister.

So much has already been said of the late Foreign Minister that to say more of his death is almost unnecessary. As with the death of Taraki a few months ago, many revel in the post-mortem affinities that bound the deceased to all manner of party political ideologies and partisan rhetoric. The late Foreign Minister, despite his deeply controversial views regarding the peace process and final outcome of the Tamil national question, is now the hero of our times – painted red by the JVP, painted saffron by the JHU, painted green by the UNP, painted blue by the incumbents in government. It is a tragedy then, that as a nation, we seem to not have the ability to speak of the deceased in a manner that respects the dignity of the living. In capturing Mr. Kadirgamar’s merits in the framework of partisan ideologies and bias, we caricature a life that deserves more respect – for in death, we must be as true to our disagreements with him, as true in our opposition to some of his ideas, as true in our respect for an intellectual, as true in our appreciation of difference, the creative friction that forms the bedrock of all sustainable progress.

Thus, we mourn more than the death of Mr. Kadirgamar. Today, we face the death of tolerance and pluralism, of our ability as a nation to encourage difference without fear of persecution or death, to celebrate democracy for all our peoples, to eschew the rise of fascism. The President stands correct in flagging forces opposed to peace as responsible for Mr. Kadirgamar’s death. These forces, ranging from the intransigence of the LTTE to the facile and vacuous diatribes of the JVP need to be examined head on if we are to avoid, as many analysts have warned of before, the balkanisation of polity and society in Sri Lanka.

For once, let’s contemplate war. 

Click here for full article. 


NGOs - A question of legitimacy?

But the future of NGOs and their public legitimacy in Sri Lanka rests upon it. It’s a challenge that if met ensures that the valuable work championed by NGOs is seen as contributing to that of the Sri Lankan State to strengthen democracy, while at the same time ensuring that the corruption and moral decay in the NGO sector itself is weeded out.

What say you critics?

Read the full article here.


Human Rights and Terrorism in Sri Lanka

We must also remember that a negotiated agreement or a peace process that address the symptoms of violent conflict must include provisions for future processes towards institution-building and transformation if they are to be sustainable. If they are merely concerned with ending hostilities but do not address the core caused of the underlying conflict, they will only be of temporary value. Institutionalising respect for human rights - through for example an independent judiciary, an independent Human Rights Commission and the constitutional entrenchment and animated application of fundamental rights – ensures that such Human Rights values inform and shape, and are an integral part of, conflict transformation processes.

In the present context, both the State and the LTTE have much to lose if the present peace process breaks down. Both have to recognise that indifference to historical antecedents, the international context and the aspirations of all communities in Sri Lanka, could irrevocably plunge Sri Lanka into a vortex of bitterness, mistrust, mutual acrimony and violence from which there could very well be no return. Finally, Human Rights activists must actively advocate the pivotal importance of Human Rights in processes of conflict transformation and constitutional reform, cautioning governments against easy solutions that ignore or undermine the central role of human rights within the space of democratic governance.

Read full article here.


A long term view for peace

A long term strategic vision for peace and governance in Sri Lanka is imperative for the country’s development in the future. The issue at stake is more than the peace process. If the vital concerns articulated by Kethesh Loganathan are the central pillars of a peace process, attention on the strategic design of solutions that respond to these needs that go beyond the boundaries of party politics or the tenure of a single government is of great consequence to our future.

Read the full article here.