President Mahinda Rajapaksa is not the darling of some members of the international community. In their eyes, he is a hawk believing in a military solution to the conflict. They seem to consider him a bigger impediment to the peace process than Prabhakaran. Hence, their efforts to give him a bad name and oust his government! One foreign envoy is alleged to have gone to the extent of helping President Rajapaksa`s rivals to engineer defections from the government ranks.
Since the conflict manifested itself in the present form, the country has had five presidents whereas the LTTE has had only a single leader who sticks to his goal of militarily carving out a separate state. So, whether the changing of any more heads of state is going to help evolve a solution is the question. Why is it that the international community doesn`t consider Prabhakaran as an obstacle on the path to peace?
While a black picture is being painted of President Rajapaksa internationally, the Japanese Special Envoy Yashushi Akashi, who is working alongside the international community to resuscitate Sri Lanka`s peace process on the heart and lung machine, has given him an impressive character reference, according to the government controlled media. He is reported to have said President Rajapaksa is not a hawk but a leader who believes in a negotiated solution to the conflict. (We hope the President won`t catch the next flight with an elephantine entourage to rush to Tokyo with a bunch of araliya flowers for Akashi!)
Discordant as the note Akashi has struck may sound to the international community, he is not wrong altogether in his assessment of President Rajapaksa. The 2005 Presidential Election saw a lily-livered Mahinda Rajapaksa ascending the throne. He was all at sea at that time, not knowing what to do with the peace process. He chose to continue with it in spite of pressure from his JVP and JHU allies to depart from the path his predecessors had trodden. He struck a responsive chord with the international community, which kept urging him to carry forward the peace process in tatters, though LTTE leader Prabhakaran was threatening to resume hostilities.
President Rajapaksa made no war preparations and put all his eggs in the peace basket, though within days of his election, the LTTE had started targeting the security forces and the police with claymore mines as Prabhakaran had promised in his heroes` day speech (2005). But, President Rajapaksa continued the appeasement policy much to the consternation of his supporters who had elected him to counter the LTTE militarily. His government took part in negotiations with the LTTE and he finally had egg on his face when the outfit turned its back on the government delegation in Geneva.
Notwithstanding the LTTE`s unilateral withdrawal from talks, the President continued to dilly-dally hoping for its return to the negotiating table. Then the LTTE captured the Mavil Aru reservoir giving him a choice between military action and appeasement, which would have emboldened Prabhakaran to capture more irrigation works in the East. The President opted to fight it out and is faring well on the battlefront. Thus, the Tiger chief has unwittingly helped lionise a wavering President, who used to coo like a dove.
Now that Akashi has paid a glowing tribute to President Rajapaksa, it will be interesting to know his assessment of the LTTE chief, who is no stranger to him. Does Akashi believe Prabhakaran is for a negotiated solution? It takes two to tango and a political solution is not possible unless both leaders are amenable to negotiations. Akashi should tell us whether Prabhakaran is a hawk or not.
Most of all, anyone who calls for negotiations should first of all find what Prabhakaran really wants by way of a solution. He has so far spurned all offers of power sharing, to wit, devolution at the district level (District Development Councils), at the provincial level (Provincial Councils?PCs), at the regional level (President Kumaratunga`s Regional Councils?RCs) and at the national level (federalism envisaged in the Oslo Declaration). Is he willing to opt for something other than a separate state? The International community has ruled out secession as a solution. And is he amenable to a federal solution, which the government is under pressure to adopt?
Prabhakaran`s strategy has been to make governments offer devolution packages and then reject them so that the degree of devolution that the state offers gradually goes up. He rejected President Jayewardene`s PCs and got an offer of RCs from President Kumaratunga. He rejected them and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe agreed to federalism, which he rejected. Now, what can President Rajapaksa offer? If his solution is to be acceptable to the LTTE, it will have to be more than federalism??something like the LTTEISGA, from which separation is only a hop, skip and a jump away. That is something that neither the President nor the country can afford.
Akashi has reportedly said that no outside solutions are feasible. True, a solution to be found should suit this country if it is to be feasible. But, the Co-Chairs of the peace process ought to make their position clear on the Oslo Declaration, which the LTTE first agreed to and then reneged on. Now that Prabhakaran has reminded the Co-Chairs of their `moral obligation` to `protect the peace efforts` in his recent heroes` day speech, the custodians of the peace process should inquire from him about his commitment to the Oslo Declaration. Since he expects the international community to help him carve out a state like East Timor or Montenegro, the Co-Chairs must tell him in no uncertain terms that such a solution is not possible.
Showering blandishments on President Rajapaksa with a view to cajoling him into continuing with his quest for a political solution while Prabhakaran is pursuing his military goal is not the way forward.