In 1987 India and Sri Lanka signed a treaty titled ‘Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement to Establish Peace and Normalcy in Sri Lanka.’
Popularly known as the Indo-Lanka Agreement or Peace Accord, it marked a very significant event in Sri Lanka’s relations with its immediate neighbour and the regional great power India. It seemed that, during the 1980s, J.R.Jayewardene’s Government had failed to identify the significance of India as the most important regional power for Sri Lanka, which under JRJ’s Executive Presidency was differing from Mrs. Bandaranaike’s foreign policy approach in dealing with India.
Embarking on an open economic policy, JRJ assumed the only way to develop the economy was to improve trade and investment relations with the western allies. However much the UNP government emphasised on a non-aligned foreign policy, it had placed the country on the track of a pro-western policy, which had certainly brought negative implications for the regional balance of power.
In undertaking this ambitious journey, JRJ could not clearly take into consideration the dynamics of the ethnic conflict and its regional dimension over the new foreign policy approach. The country, which had then just opened itself to the open economic relations, began to feel the tension of the ethnic conflict and subsequently India’s intervention over the domestic issue. During the 1980s therefore, Sri Lanka’s national security had been greatly challenged due to the emerging ethnic war and India’s intervention in the conflict. In the backdrop of such deteriorating national security and national integrity of the country, India’s offer to sign a peace treaty became controversial, but it all took place signifying the influence of the structural implications of the regional politics on the small nation.
The critics of the Treaty pointed towards the questions of international law of treaties and sovereignty of Sri Lanka as a contracting party to this agreement. Despite all the criticisms, protests and violence which took place around the period, the agreement was signed, and the Indo-Lanka Agreement came into effect. Also it could well strengthen the traditional friendship that existed between India and Sri Lanka. However, today, the question may be raised as to whether the Indo-Lanka treaty could achieve its major objectives of bringing a resolution to the ethnic problem and the assurance of safety and well- being of all people living in this country.
A careful analysis of the 1987 agreement with India shows us that the strategic importance of the treaty lies in its recognition that ‘Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual plural society consisting, inter alia, of Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims (Moors) and Burghers.’ Also article 1.4 of the agreement mentions, “…each ethnic group has a distinct cultural and linguistic identity which has to be carefully nurtured.” The next line of the agreement (article 1.5) says, “…the Northern and Eastern Provinces have been areas of historical habitation of Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking people.” Thus the Indo-Lanka agreement provided a significant basis for understanding the causes of the ethnic problem and thereby providing a possible cure for the issue in the form of Provincial Councils.
Though the Indo-Lanka agreement was not much welcomed by the domestic constituency, internationally it was praised by powerful nations, specially the USA. US administration expected the agreement would bring an end to violence. However, the accord did not end violence in Sri Lanka, but, instead Sri Lanka’s political administration was oriented to a different dimension with the introduction of Provincial Councils under the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The idea of devolution of power was communicated to the larger public in the evolving discourse on Provincial Councils.
As per the Indo-Lanka agreement, Provincial Councils were established to devolve power to regions. The major aim was to devolve power to the North-Eastern Province and bring normalcy to that region. Except for this region, in all the regions Provincial Councils (PCs) got established and elections began to be held regularly. Despite the aversion of the extremist elements like the LTTE for the PCs, the idea of separatism also could be fought to a certain extent using this new system of governance. Today, the Tamil National Alliance has expressed its willingness to contest the northern elections in the North, if the election is to take place with the guarantee of providing constitutionally stipulated powers to the PCs. The Tamil-speaking community of this country has begun to recognise the importance of the PCs, and they are demanding the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.
In this context of revival of the minority’s aspiration for participating in the governance mechanism, the nationalist elements in the government who seem to have gained a determining influence on the regime have embarked on a project of refuelling ethnic tensions. It is understood that the regime in power has been convinced by the nationalist ideologues that the land power and police power should not be given to the PCs, although the constitution has offered such powers to them. Therefore, the regime is going to amend the 13th Amendment hastily before the September elections in the Northern Province.
If we forget the international repercussions of the act that the regime is undertaking for a little while, we can clearly see the domestic conflict is being refreshed by such short-sighted actions of the regime. Today, for the first time, all the Tamil-speaking people of the country have voiced their displeasure over the government’s project of amending the existing powers of the PCs. However, this issue never had received such attention prior to the announcement of the regime’s decision to hold elections in the Northern Province where above 90% of the people are indigenous Tamils.
Now it is very clear that the major issue of this country for- ever remains the ethnic conflict. Some believed for a certain period that it was the LTTE that wanted to divide this country. The Government’s war victory was hailed by many sections of the country who believed permanent peace had dawned in the country.
Nevertheless, the latest developments with regard to the 13th Amendment, now clear all our doubts and establish the fact very clearly that those Sinhalese nationalists are not willing to see that Sinhalese and Tamils will live in harmony in the absence of the LTTE. So, the nationalist forces of both sides who always clamoured for ethnic purism can now start a new war against each other which will help continue them in bloody politics and remain in power forever.
Unmistakably, today, Sri Lanka is heading back to the anarchy which had prevailed in the latter period of the 1980s. Neither the introduction of PCs with external intervention nor the annihilation of the LTTE could ever bring peace to this country. The ideologues of ethno-nationalism are not happy that they will share the power in some form with the minority. The term minority was a banned term in this country and it is in fact a taboo to speak of the minority’s human and political rights, because they are not human beings according to war mongering nationalists.
Comments - 4
ss Sunday, 16 June 2013 01:29 PM
Decentralization is not a problem. The performance of the politicos needs to be checked.
Centralization will not work!
M.O.A. Careem Monday, 17 June 2013 01:34 AM
1987 showed gun....to an external leader -this is how this was started
U.P.Gamage Thursday, 20 June 2013 09:56 AM
I read with interest.
Nanda Saturday, 15 June 2013 01:42 PM
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