Creating Peace in Sri Lanka: Civil War and Reconciliation

By Robert I. Rotberg | Go to book overview
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The diplomatic avenue is thus the default direction. Several of the chapters in this book suggest how that avenue should be traveled, and to what goals. Others have suggested how those objectives might be sustained by economic, social, and political efforts at reconstructing state responses to Sri Lanka's major unresolved problems. But the missing element, running as a common if unwritten component throughout all the essays, is leadership.

All crises are resolved by far-seeing leaders. President Kumaratunga is such a visionary, but as personally able and innovative as she may be (in the Bandaranaike tradition), she is a political leader at the head of a Sinhala political movement which, ultimately, is answerable to Sinhalese voters. Until she can forge an unassailable alliance with her Sinhala adversaries she, and others who aspire to her position, cannot carry the majority of Sri Lankans into the kinds of arrangements which Edrisinha and Uyangoda rightly suspect are versions of the only winning negotiated settlement. The bold leadership required is within a Sinhala political framework as much as across the Sinhala-Tamil divide. Without the first, the second is much harder until and unless Prabhakaran sues for peace. It would be optimistic in the extreme to believe that he would agree to cut his losses now and opt for the kinds of preferences or payoffs that would invalidate the meaning of his and his followers' long struggle.

However it is arrived at, Sri Lanka needs a peace that recognizes and appreciates Tamil culture and traditions. Ethnic fairness and justice must be the moral basis for whatever new social contract can be constructed out of the wasteland of war. Fairness and justice can provide the normative framework for a new egalitarian system in which all ethnic groups are treated equally and equally valued.

Daily News ( Colombo) ( 17 December 1998).
Gulf News ( 16 November 1998).
Sunday Observer ( 29 November 1998).
James Manor, The Expedient Utopian: Bandaranaike and Ceylon ( Cambridge, 1989), 234. See also W. Howard Wriggins, Ceylon: Dilemmas of a New Nation ( Princeton, 1960), 335-58.
See Kingsley M. De Silva, Managing Ethnic Tensions in Multi-Ethnic Societies: Sri Lanka, 1880-1983 ( Washington, D.C., 1986), 202.
Amita Shastri, "Government Policy and Ethnic Crisis in Sri Lanka," in Michael E. Brown and Sumit Ganguly (eds.), Government Policies and Ethnic Relations in Asia and the Pacific ( Cambridge, Mass., 1997), 146.
Stanley Tambiah, Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and the Dismantling of Democracy ( Chicago, 1986), 13-22. For the earlier riots, see also Tambiah, Leveling Crowds: Ethnonationalist Conflicts and Collective Violence in South Asia ( Berkeley, 1996), 36-100.
Raymond Bonner, "Tamil Guerrillas in Sri Lanka: Deadly and Armed to the Teeth," New York Times ( 7 March 1998).


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