|Wednesday, 7 January 2004|
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Need for stake-holder cooperation
A Tamil human rights activist, whose talk in London on the current stalemated peace process was, apparently, raucously disrupted by persons described as LTTErs, may have been echoing what many in this country already believe to be the principal reasons for the peace effort's derailment.
That is, the narrow-based nature of the peace exercise with no provision being made for the inclusion of opposition opinion in carrying it out.
As has been widely opined by many an authority on peace-making, a prime requirement for the success of an enterprise of this nature is the inclusion in it of all major stake-holders.
It is now regarded as a home truth that no effort at arriving at a political solution to our ethnic conflict would meet with success if we do not evolve a "Southern consensus" on the issue.
It goes without saying that agreement between the Government and the Opposition on such a solution is integral to a "Southern consensus". Accordingly, the opposition needs to be regarded as a strong stake-holder in the peace process. Small wonder, then, that the peace process is up against a number of daunting challenges.
If, on the other hand, a PA representative was included in the peace talks from the beginning, the opposition would have been compelled to stand by the process and ensure its perpetuation.
With no such provision being made, the opposition was little inclined to unreservedly support the peace effort. It is, of course, not too late to kickstart the peace process by remedying this fundamental defect of leaving the opposition out of it.
Given our distressing legacy of fiercely competitive, polarised domestic politics, a special effort should have been made to ensure that the peace process is broadly inclusive, with provision being made in it for opposition participation.
Considering the unashamedly opportunistic nature of the political contestation between our main political parties, there is nothing to prevent either party from puncturing the peace initiative of its opponent - however much legitimate it may be.
This is, of course, not the case with most other thriving democracies. In such societies, bipartisan support is usually forthcoming for projects which further the common good.
This is, sadly, not true of Sri Lanka. Therefore, no effort must be spared to clinch that hitherto, seemingly elusive, "Southern consensus" on the ethnic conflict by enlisting the cooperation of all major political actors.
It is our hope that fresh efforts would be made to put the peace process back on track after a successful remedying of its principal defects. This task needs to be undertaken on an urgent basis in view of the fresh tensions which are being stoked in our body politic.
If the peace process is fatally fractured, anti-peace, hawkish elements who are today mouthing religious slogans, would take matters in hand and this would spell disaster for the whole of Sri Lanka.
Should there be armed marshals on airline flights ? Governments and airlines are seeking an answer in the context of a heightened terror attack alert.
The rationale behind the call for armed guards on board flights is the possibility of terrorists hijacking airliners for massive attacks, September 11-style. Marshals are already deployed on thousands of US airline flights.
Several countries including France and Singapore have backed the US plan, deploying armed guards on their national carriers' flights. Others such as Portugal and Sweden see no need for airborne marshals. European pilots associations also oppose the move.
Planes have always been preferred targets of terrorist groups. Until recently, even hardline terrorists drew the line at hijacking airliners to get publicity or win some demands.
Some went further, blowing up civilian airliners using on-board bombs or surface-to-air missiles. September 11 changed all that: Two hijacked planes were flown into the New York World Trade Centre in a suicide mission.
This exposed lax security at airports and on flights. Aviation authorities implemented several security measures including a ban on sharp objects in personal baggage and strict baggage/passenger screening.
Airport security and entry clearance procedures were also improved. The US has just begun a biometric identification (fingerprint) programme for all passengers arriving with visas.
The threat of further terrorist attacks using airliners remains. A global air security alert has forced the cancellation of several flights over the past two weeks. Governments have to be lucky all the time, but terrorists have to be lucky only once.
This seems to be the thinking behind the deployment of armed marshals in planes. But has basic safety been forgotten in the rush to enforce heightened security?
Some aviation experts believe that armed sky marshals would jeopardize airline safety. In the words of a Portuguese pilot, "marshals could lose control of their guns to terrorists, or a bullet could miss its target and damage key airplane equipment".
Herein lies a dilemma for airlines. The best option would be extra vigilance at all times, additional preventive measures and where necessary, sky marshals. There should be no compromise on passenger safety.
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