Reconciliation - essential requirements
Reconciliation in Sri Lanka is a promising possibility and a need,
although it is not easy or self-evident. Reconciliation is about coming
together, understanding each other, admitting and forgiving for the past
mistakes or atrocities and working towards a united, democratic,
peaceful and a prosperous Sri Lanka irrespective of ethnic, religious,
language, regional, political, social or other distinctions.
In any country reconciliation entails multiple facets and factors.
The difficulties of reconciliation would largely depend on the intensity
of the past (or present) conflict, its duration and the issues involved
among others matters. There is no doubt that the conflict in Sri Lanka
was a protracted one, the violent phase lasting for nearly three
decades, and given the involvement of outside factors, the conflict was
more complicated than the usual. Ethnic conflicts by nature are hard to
reconcile given the emotions, perceptions and extra-political
Free flow of traffic on the A9 road
There are nevertheless some promising conditions for the
reconciliation in Sri Lanka. The conflict is not at all racial. All
three groups to the conflict - the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims
- are of the same people who have lived together for centuries or
millennia in peace and harmony, intermixing with each other. Their
differences are based on language, religion or culture in relative terms
and for any ‘forward looking’ or ‘modern’ person these or even racial
differences are not reasons to fight or kill each other except that any
discrimination based on these differences cannot be tolerated or
It is basically extremism on all sides that has prevented
reconciliation in the past and the necessary defeat of one form of
extremism, and that is ‘terrorism,’ has paved the way for reconciliation
although the ‘process of defeat’ itself must have created new forms of
difficulties to reconciliation. There are other promising conditions.
Any analysis of root causes of the conflict reveals the phenomenon of
different communities ‘fighting for the small cake’ whether in the
sphere of employment, business or education. However, with the expanding
economy or with the ‘bigger cake,’ there are possibilities that many
demands of different communities being resolved amicably. Economic
development undoubtedly is a promising condition for reconciliation.
Whatever the difficulties or temptations in the past, largely due to
the conflict itself, Sri Lanka has admirably preserved its system of
democracy which should allow an added momentum to the reconciliation
process. Reconciliation is not something that could be achieved outside
democracy. It should grow within. The parties to the conflict should
have faith in democracy, whatever the weaknesses. The weaknesses should
be rectified through the reconciliation process itself.
Whatever the conducive conditions, however, reconciliation is not
automatic or inevitable. It should be forged consciously and in a
planned manner as much as possible. In this respect, there are at least
five major requirements for reconciliation. They are the leadership,
policy, environment, processes and strategic measures.
Leadership for reconciliation
Leadership is a decisive factor in many human endeavours. This is
correct in politics, society, religion, business, or even day-to-day
life. Even without a rudimentary leadership, nothing would move in
society. This is correct in human society and also in the animal
kingdom. There are different types of leadership, and a large number of
theories about them, but what is important for reconciliation is a
Leadership is not about one person. One person like the present
President of Sri Lanka might be decisive, but the leadership for
reconciliation should come from all necessary sectors. This involves not
only the leaders among the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims but
also the leaders who are seemingly beyond ethnic differences. The latter
group i.e. leftists or liberals could play a decisive role in ethnic
reconciliation as neutral or independent elements. However, they should
be more realistic than idealistic.
As reconciliation is a cooperative effort, the leadership for
reconciliation should necessarily be a cooperative leadership.
They may begin without much cooperation, but eventually they should
be able to forge more cooperation between them and with others. The
leaders of reconciliation should be ‘transformational leaders.’ They
should be able to transform situations and transform people.
Reconciliation cannot be forged without transforming the attitudes of
the people, and attitudes of the leaders themselves.
The traditional leaders are not usually geared for reconciliation.
They should be modern. They can be charismatic to the extent of leading
the people, but not arousing people for populist ends. They should be
rational, but not so much 'legalistic' in its adverse sense. They should
be practical or realistic against being 'idealistic' or 'utopian.'
It might be easy to come to agreements between two or three leaders
i.e. Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact etc. but difficult to implement.
The leadership for reconciliation should be broad based.
There should be a committed 'policy' for reconciliation on the part
of all parties to the conflict. The commitment is something which is
very difficult to verify. The commitment is a matter that the other
parties would continuously doubt. The realization of this mutual 'doubt'
at least should neutralize the mutual 'suspicion.' A policy is always an
evolving phenomenon. This should not mean haphazard policy or
opportunism. There can be change in policy but with justification and
with consistency. All should take into account the changing
circumstances and the need for policy development but not policy
The policy for reconciliation or policy discussions for
reconciliation should not limit to one or two matters or constitutional
reform only. The policy for reconciliation should entail a comprehensive
framework addressing the respective policies for example on (1) the
nature of society (2) the state (3) ethnic relations (4) language and
religion (5) devolution (6) power sharing (7) peace and democracy (8)
the fundamental rights of citizens and all other relevant matters.
Not only the parties to the conflict, but all registered political
parties should be persuaded to declare their policies on reconciliation
particularly addressing the above or any other matter that they consider
important for reconciliation.
Reconciliation should have a favourable environment internally and
externally. If the situation is not conducive, the situation should be
changed. The international community also could play a major role in
creating a favourable external environment if they intend to do so, and
if the local actors, including the government, unnecessarily do not
spoil the situation.
Some may consider the situation after the military demise of the LTTE
as favourable; the others may differ. However, the situation since May
2009 has been more than 'relatively peaceful' with normalization of life
in the South almost to the fullest, and in the North and the East, to a
greater extent. There are no bombs exploding and there are no arrests or
military roundups taking place.
The mobility between the North and the South are strong through A9
road and other means. Over 90 percent of the internally displaced
persons are now resettled whatever the incumbent weaknesses. There is a
relative resurrection of economic life in the North and the East. Some
of the irritants for the people in the North would still be the large
military presence and the much inconvenient high security zones. The
holding of elections for local governments in March and July 2011 has
strengthened the democratic participation at the grass roots level. The
lifting of the emergency also has gone a long way in creating an
enabling environment. A major challenge nevertheless would be to
maintain the atmosphere continuously.
A favourable environment does not however mean only the objective
conditions. The subjective conditions also should be favourable. This is
something lacking in the current atmosphere. The mood in the South at
best is 'lethargy' or 'satisfaction' without feeling positively for
reconciliation. The mood in the North or the East is 'reserve' or
'caution' without perhaps knowing what to expect. In this sense, the
environment is not so favourable. There are no intermediary actors or
strong civil society engagement to change the situation. The creation of
a favourable subjective environment for reconciliation by and large is a
task for the civil society and peace organizations.
There are more spoilers in the international scene than in the local
context. The remaining LTTE support base in the Diaspora and in South
India appears to have not changed much irrespective of the changed
situation in the country. To defuse the situation, the Indian support in
There is a considerable policy gap between the government and what is
understood as the 'international community' including some sectors of
the UN. If these matters are not resolved favourably, the atmosphere
will remain an obstacle to reconciliation.
Reconciliation should be an all-inclusive process. It should not stop
at the top but should incorporate the bottom and the intermediary as
much as possible. If politicians are the top, the large bureaucracy and
the business sector are the intermediary. The ordinary people
unfortunately are the bottom, but decisive.
Reconciliation is also a social process as much as a political one.
This means that there should be a national effort with a clear agenda
and targets to mobilize the people for reconciliation. The media and the
civil society organizations could play a decisive role in the national
There is nothing wrong however if the process is unleashed from the
top. There are two major layers of democratic institutions that could be
utilized for reconciliation from the top:
There is at least one layer of democratic institutions that could be
utilized from the bottom. That is the Local Governments.
The role of Parliament in reconciliation should not be limited to a
Parliamentary Select Committee. Before the Select Committee or parallel
to that, Parliament could discuss the issue/s, all parties submitting
their policies for reconciliation openly and frankly. Parties outside
Parliament and any other sector or citizens should be able to submit
their policies to the Select Committee. There should be a time frame,
perhaps two years maximum, for the Select Committee to submit its
The role of the Provincial Councils is crucially important in the
reconciliation process. A province like the Eastern Province is an acid
test for reconciliation. All Provincial Councils should and could have
reconciliation programmes giving prominence for power sharing,
participation, consultation, language policy, multi-culturalism, equal
opportunity and human rights. Two or more Provincial Councils could
cooperate in implementing the reconciliation programmes not on the basis
of ethnic similarity, but dissimilarity. For example, the Northern
Province and the North Central Province could cooperate in
reconciliation. The public service and the business sector should be
involved in the reconciliation process together and separately as the
intermediary layer. Almost all the sore points of ethnic relations are
located at places where people come to deal with the government
officials for example at police stations, divisional secretariats, the
ministries or even hospitals. The situation should change.
In addition, there are now the army posts or establishments that the
people in the North and the East have to deal with. The public servants
and the public service should be geared to reconciliation, including the
Police, Army, Navy and the Air Force. There is much potential of
mobilizing the business sector for reconciliation and it should be
within the overall process. The potential of the local government system
is the most important in reconciliation. They are the most closest to
These institutions should be motivated through training, and making
financial resources available, to undertake reconciliation programmes
accompanied by economic, social and service activities. Reconciliation
process should go hand in hand with rural development and income and
It is not only the overall designs of leadership, policies,
environment or long term processes that would practically bring
reconciliation to the country. There are some strategic measures or
steps that could bring reconciliation to the forefront. As the saying
goes, 'one practical step might be more important than hundred
The holding of elections for the Northern Provincial Council or the
early constitution of the proposed Senate is strategically important.
Equally important might be to neutralize the vociferous sections of
the Diaspora if at all possible. If the former Eastern LTTE Commander,
Vinayagamurthi Muralitheran, and the international LTTE leader, K.
Pathmanathan, could be won over for a process of reconciliation, the
winning over at least some of the remaining Diaspora leaders cannot be
that difficult. The effort should be genuine, frank and should come from
the highest possible leadership of the government. If this could be
done, the reconciliation could be rest assured provided that the
reconciliation processes with leadership and policies are implemented.
The writer is a former Senior Professor in Political Science and
Public Policy at the University of Colombo and currently a Visiting
Scholar at the University of Sydney