As donor nations pledged large sums of money to help civil-war torn Sri Lanka, donor nations also criticized the government’s overemphasis on military option and widespread skepticism over the recent splitting of the Opposition for political gain.
Recently, donor nations rebuked the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) on lack of
progress and had warned that aid money will flow only if there is forward
movement on the peace process. They drove the message home by further
criticizing the increasing adoption of and overemphasis of the military to deal
with the rebel controlled North and East. Donors were also annoyed that the SLG selectively leaked a secret report
that castigated the SLG, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and the break-away Karuna group of recruiting children in the ongoing conflict. As a carrot, the international community held out a promise of USD 4.5 billion over 2007-2009 subject to progress in peace, respect for humanitarian rights, and power sharing based on a political settlement. With this new commitment, the total development assistance to Sri Lanka will be in the region of USD 9 billion within the next three years.
The SLG portrayed it differently. It said that the “Government and the development partners agreed that terrorism should be separated from finding a solution to the conflict and that a lasting solution should be found through a negotiated settlement” when the donors clearly said that the aid will be provided when there is forward movement on peace. It is not known if the SLG’s statement is a refusal to acknowledge the message, mis-understanding of the message, or a political twisting of realities aimed at a domestic audience. Whatever be the basis, the conflict will see no resolution with such an attitude.
Politics and politicking seem to be the order of the day with President Mahinda Rajapakse. After signing a unity treaty with the opposition United Nationalist Party (UNP) to develop a “southern consensus,” Rajapakse lure 19 opposition party members into the government with cabinet posts so his government will now enjoy a simple majority. Ina major cabinet reshuffle, he rewarded the defectors with cabinet posts and removed dissenters within his Sri Lanka Freedom Part (SLFP) from the cabinet sending a clear signal that dissension, disagreement, and moderation is not required. Mangala Samaraweera was stripped off his Foreign Ministry position as he opposed Rajapakse on many issues. With this move, when the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe away in New Delhi for consultations, renders whatever consensus that emerged from the October unity meetings, including the Memorandum of Understanding, irrelevant. With the reshuffle, Rajapakse now has a jumbo 104-strong Council of Ministers with 52 Cabinet members including 10 from the defector list.
The upside to this move is that Rajapakse does not need to depend on the extremist Janatha Vimukthi Peramunna (JVP) support any more. The JVP had a dagger to Rajapakse’s throat and this bribed-defection will win him some respite. How he uses this freedom is something that needs to be seen.
If Rajapakse uses the freedom to bolster his military campaign to make territorial gain, the humanitarian crisis enveloping the North and East will deteriorate rapidly. If he uses the freedom to tone down the military option and seek a political compromise, then he will be able to access the aid money to rebuild the broken economies. Rajapakse may be tempted to take advantage of recent military wins in the East to consolidate power and legitimizing the his proxy (the Karuna group) and therefore show progress to gain access to funds that he may then use against the LTTE in the North. After all, Rajapakse has already publicly said that he will build up the recent military gains onto a larger onslaught on the North. As tempting as it is for the India Government to watch the LTTE disappear, the legitimizing of the Karuna group is only to supplant the LTTE with that organization which is no better.
India should ask the SLG and perhaps work a track-III initiative with the LTTE to work on a compromise limiting the LTTE’s scope to the North and the government’s scope to the South and East. If both sides work on an administrative compromise to access funds that is closely monitored and used only for development and not for military use, there is a possibility that some succor is brought to populations long trapped between the warring parties.