A window of opportunity seems to have been opened, at least partly, for another round of bipartisan effort to bring in peace and reconciliation after President Mahinda Rajapaksa invited the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leaders R. Sampanthan and the Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council C.V.Wigneswaran for talks on the national question, during the final day of the budget debate in Parliament. The optimism of this window of opportunity was underlined as Mr. Sampanthan responded to the invitation somewhat positively.
This call for talks and the response to it came at a time when a section of the government was accusing the TNA leaders that they were acting with a hidden agenda for a separate Tamil State using the newly acquired provincial powers, while Chief Minister Wigneswaran had expressed fear that a former LTTE commander had been commissioned to restart an armed group subservient to ‘the powers that be’.
The need for talks between the government and the TNA arises from the general perception that there are issues to be resolved between the two parties for lasting peace in the country in spite of the fact that the war ended four and a half years ago.
President’s latest invitation and the fact that the government appointed a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) in June for this purpose reflect the government’s own admission that unresolved issues really exist.
On the other hand, the Tamil political parties have long been clamouring for changes in the power sharing system prevailing in the country.
The international community including the UNHRC and India too has been pressing the government for more meaningful devolution of power for which both these parties have to engage with one another in a broad perspective.
However, the history of talks on the national question with or without the involvement of international players has been disheartening no matter which party was running the country during such talks or who was responsible for the failure of such negotiations.
Such bitter experiences of the past lead none to believe that the government and the TNA would come up with a commonly accepted solution through negotiations this time.
But in a cultured world, there is no way other than engaging with one another to resolve differences regardless of the number of times previous negotiations have failed.
It is now clear that the PSC has entered a dead-end, with its inability to muster the support of even some allies of the ruling coalition, leave alone the main opposition UNP or the main protagonists of the ethnic issue, the TNA.
It is most unlikely that the UNP, JVP or the TNA would join the PSC although its term has been extended for another six months. It is also most unlikely that the government would suppress the Tamil demands, genuine or politically motivated which were not subdued even after the crushing military defeat of the so-called sole representative of the Tamil people.
It is similarly unlikely that the TNA or any other Tamil group would achieve what they strive for, by threatening the existing establishment. All these point to the fact that a common ground has to be found only through consensus.
As things stand now, the ball is in the President’s court as the TNA has conditionally accepted his invitation for talks and all eyes are on the President as to how he would handle it in terms of the spirit of the invitation he extended to the TNA.
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