The plethora of arguments and criticism about the outcome of the Geneva talks reminds us of the story of the seven blind men who, in their attempt to ascertain the shape of an elephant, described the animal in terms of the part of the elephant`s anatomy each touched. The contents of the Geneva agreement are similarly described by different parties, groups and persons in conformity with their own motives, wishes and intentions.
It is indeed surprising that a simple seven-paragraph document such as the one produced at the conclusion of the Geneva talks has generated this amount of controversy. The principal bone of contention between the parties is whether there has been an amendment to the February 2002 Cease-fire Agreement (CFA). The Government negotiators are claiming that what has been agreed upon in Geneva amounts to an amendment to the CFA while their LTTE counterparts maintain that there has been no such amendment. Without stopping at rejecting the Government claim, the LTTE strategist Anton Balasingham has reportedly used harsh words to condemn the interpretation given by the Government team.
His concluding assertion that ?these sinister attempts to misinterpret the current peace dialogue, will seriously impair the mutual trust between the parties and undermine the peace process,? confirms that a degree of mutual trust between the parties has developed. This exercise of splitting hairs over what has been agreed upon, amounts to an obsession with the shadow leaving aside the substance and it will bring to naught the efforts made to narrow the growing mistrust and misunderstanding and to develop mutual confidence in each other. It is a pity that both parties failed to understand why attempts are being made by different parties to give different interpretations to the contents of the document.
Most of these interpretations are motivated by their desire to satisfy or encourage those from whom they derive support and power. They are obliged to tell them what they will to hear. The Government is concerned about satisfying the parties having divergent views and attitudes that supported President Mahinda Rajapaksa to initiate talks with the LTTE.
So, the Government negotiators attempted to show that there, in fact, had been an amendment, indirect, if not direct, to the CFA, as desired by some of these parties, as well as by the Government. The LTTE, on the other hand, had to satisfy the Tamil expectations raised and nurtured over the years, to have a separate administration for the North-East region. The negotiators had to demonstrate to Tamils around the world, their continued commitment to the cause towards which they had lavishly contributed. If this situation is properly understood by the parties, they would be able to keep the impulse for angry and caustic confutation of the different interpretations given to the Geneva agreement, under control.
The legal experts may argue about the correct interpretation of the terms of the agreement. But it would be clear to any layman that there is no patent amendment to the 2002 CFA. The question of whether the new items, such as the one that deals with children, which says: ?The GoSL and the LTTE discussed all issues concerning the welfare of children in the North-East, including the recruitment of children,? constitutes an amendment to the CFA, in any event, is only of academic interest.
What is important is the implementation of what has been agreed upon. When there is agreement to stop all killings, abductions and other forms of violence by all parties, it is unfathomable why some parties refuse to support this agreement. True, no amount of agreements will bring about the desired results unless there is an honest and serious effort to enforce them. But the fact remains that this act of renewing the LTTE`s commitment, before the international community, ?to ensure that there will be no intimidation, acts of violence, abductions or killings,? seems a significant move forward. It is unfortunate that there could be objections to this commitment being exacted from the LTTE. What is important now is to prepare an atmosphere conducive to holding the scheduled April talks on core issues.