Norwegian peace initiative was fated to fail – Galtung

by Namini Wijedasa

The Norwegian peace initiative was not only fated to fail but was stillborn because it had excluded other parties, says a Norwegian professor who is widely regarded as the founder of the academic discipline of peace research. Prof Johan Galtung was in Sri Lanka earlier this month to deliver a talk on the peace process. In a subsequent email interview with The Island, Galtung said there had been "no real peace process, no real track, only meetings centered on the CFA". Excerpts:

Q: You have expressed the opinion that the Norwegian peace initiative in Sri Lanka was a failure and that this had been predictable due to the methodology of the Norwegians. Could you please elaborate?

A: Let us start with a distinction between ceasefire talks and peace talk. They are not the same thing. For a ceasefire you obviously have to engage the two belligerent parties, in this case LTTE and GoSL. But you also need excellent contacts with other parties. Any party left out of such important matters may easily turn against any accord: "We were not consulted? You will be hearing from us". In the Basque case, in Spain, it was a major mistake not to involve the opposition, and not to involve Basques opposed to ETA.

Multi-layered talks may be one approach. And in Sri Lanka, the cohabitation system might easily lead a Chandrika to oppose whatever a Ranil has signed, or vise versa. Any focus on two parties only will dialectically lead to a flourishing of conflicts, with an opposition, with a JVP, a JHU here, and or Karuna there. Their views have to be reflected from early on. For peace talks, this is absolutely crucial. At least three from the south, among them Government of Sri Lanka, three Tamil groups, among them LTTE, and the Muslims—seven as a minimum.

Q: You have also said that Norway had failed in the Mideast peace process due to the same unsuccessful methods that they had applied to Sri Lanka. What do you mean?

A: Norway initiated a process between Arafat-PLO and Rabin-Labour. I do not think it was very difficult to predict the reaction of right wing Israel and left wing Palestine, both excluded. Rabin was murdered, and Hamas started suicide bombing.

The idea of making peace in the middle and let it spread to the wings of the spectrum makes sense in Norwegian domestic politics, maybe excluding only five to 10%. If you exclude more than 50%, the failure is imminent. The process did not die, it was still born.

But I would like to add a point: Please don’t see this as something particularly Norwegian. The focus on two parties trying to make a deal is a part of an unfortunate diplomatic tradition. The desire to broker a deal is so high, for all kinds of reasons, that third parties are easily blackmailed: "If you invite those people forget about any facilitation."

Q: How do you think the Norwegians could have done this differently? The Norwegians issued a statement recently saying they had tried without success to broad-base the peace process. Is it, therefore, more the fault of the main parties rather than the Norwegians that the scope was so narrow?

A: Do not always go for the top people. Try it out at lower levels. Grassroots people are often much more reasonable. The leaders may be leaders precisely because they have very strong views. But they may also change them to keep the leadership position, being unpredictable. Let 1000 local dialogues among people blossom, listen carefully for ideas, let the GNIP—Gross National Idea Product—grow.

This is what happened in Northern Ireland with the help of women and clergy from both sides. The "silent majority", 85% unnoticed by explosion-hungry media, was mobilized. But they also had important political talents on the Sinn Fein side. Something is personality. And something in Sri Lanka is politicking, not politics.

However, if you bring in more views then a situation may look even worse. Much creativity is needed to reconcile, say, Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris over that issue—and they all have legitimate points, like the parties in Sri Lanka. It is tempting to limit a process to two parties for intellectual ease.

Q: There is considerable criticism about the cease-fire agreement drafted by the Norwegians. Even die hard peace activists concede that it is too much in the LTTE’s favour. Would you agree and, if so, did this have an impact on Sri Lanka’s peace process? What can the Norwegians do now?

A: I see the CFA more as a technical matter. The critique is well known, but I do not find CFA that biased. What worried me was the PTOMS (Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure). Here, the two-party model from the CFA was brought into a totally different context, putting LTTE on par with Government of Sri Lanka. I understand fully that the Supreme Court threw it out. The PTOMS came close to endorsing the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA), itself an independence declaration.

The LTTE must learn to relate to parties in the south directly. There was, and is, enormous suffering everywhere. They should all have reached out in compassion for each other, with the government together with the international donor and UN community coordinating it all. Had Mr P (Prabhakaran) in the north and Madam K (Kumaratunga) in the south grasped this opportunity to bring help together to all victims, then their pattern of cooperation would in itself have been peace—and they might have shared the 2005 Nobel peace prize. We were close. But we also know this was not the road that was traveled.

Q: The Rajapakse regime believes that terrorism must be defeated militarily. We see the war-for-peace strategy again. Will this work? Has it worked in other conflicts?

A: Yes, there is talk about a winnable war—like from the South African and the Israeli apartheid government. That approach did not succeed in the former, nor will it in the latter. In Sri Lanka, both parties have soldiers in uniform pitted against each other in war. The Government of Sri Lanka has, in addition, state terrorism, bombing, killing civilians and the LTTE has terrorism. The LTTE also has a guerilla capacity. It looks to me as if both have the capacity to deny the other victory.

But imagine it happens: Killinochchi is flattened, Mr P is dead, LTTE dissolved. Will the Tamil dream of a Tamil Eelam die? Of course not. It will be revived, and new cycles of violence will occur. And probably new CFAs. And possibly the same mistake, confusing ceasefire with peace, using it as a sleeping pillow to do nothing.

Q: Then again, have peace processes been more successful? Can a peace process be successful in Sri Lanka, given the nature of the LTTE?

A: And of the South, for symmetry. Yes, I think so. Imagine, just imagine, that the following could happen: [1] the LTTE finds devolution with high autonomy palatable. They redraft the ISGA in that direction—of course, sharing coastline and the sea and state lands with the rest of Sri Lanka. They insist on Tamil Eelam as the name—nobody gives their life for a province called "North" with a part of "East"—partitioned after de-merger and referendum, for instance. The name has to be in it. The soul is in the name. [2] There are excellent points in the Majority expert report. I had the honor of meeting with some of these highly competent people. And the base-line is not some European federation but your somewhat big and close neighbour: India, its linguistic federalism being a brilliant success, making Sri Lanka look like the non-success in that union, Assam (and LTTE like Naga-land).

Look at the Indian boom now that all that pent-up energy used for conflict has been liberated for something constructive. The same will happen to Sri Lanka which is not a failed state but a stagnant state, bogged down since 1983 at least by the conflict. So, here is the point: If New Delhi could stomach a Tamil Nadu, watching the independence movement wither away with that name, then for sure Colombo could one day have a province named Tamil Eelam.

Soon it would become T.E. for short. You would get used to it after a month or two. And Sri Lanka would blossom. And discover that the world continues even if T.E. should have consulates in Chennai and wherever there are sizable Tamil diasporas. Embassy is for the Sri Lankan state, with proportionate power-sharing.

Q: There is now a fear in Sri Lanka that the international community is conspiring against Sinhala Buddhists. As opposed to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the southern polity is encouraging the majority of people to look upon the international community with distrust and dislike. What is the reaction of the international community, as you perceive it?

A: The international community has simplified complex matters. Some pick up the idea of suppressed linguistic minority fighting for its liberation, some pick up terrorism as strategy, some pick LTTE suppressing other Tamils. They are all right and all wrong as they see only one aspect,

I can understand skepticism toward the international community. And that the international community brought much of this upon themselves by being insensitive to complexities. Yes, I think one can talk about a fallout from an over-internationalization of the conflict. I only hope I myself and my excellent Austrian partners Gudrun Kramer and Wilfried Graf are not victims of the same. We try our best, stimulating dialogue with prominent Sri Lankans, and doing conflict sensitive reconstruction in tsunami-hit areas in the East. Incidentally, I come and go. I am on call. And I am called.

Q: When foreign diplomats ask the question "what can we do to help put the Sri Lankan peace process back on track", do you think they are being naive? And what can the international community realistically do to put the peace process back on track?

A: There was no real peace process, no real track, only meetings centered on the CFA. Only recently something new happened and not from the international community: the Majority expert opinion. Put it next to ISGA and let the documents merge, I see lots of possibilities within the Rajapakse formula of maximum devolution within a unitary state.

But if the international community should be involved I am not so sure states are the best mediators. They may have skeletons in their closets. And those who call for the USA as a successor to Norway should have a look at the US track record, in Iraq for instance. How about involving international personalities? A Carter, a Gorbachev, a Tutu, a de Klerk, a Mary Robinson? Talking with all the parties on a one-on-one basis because a room with all seven or so around those tables diplomats that love might become a little too hot for comfort. For sure, ideas will emerge, building on the GNIP above, on 1000 dialogues.

Q: Where do you think the Sri Lankan conflict will end up in the short term, medium term and long term?

A: OK, let me try. In the short term, the "winnable war" strategy till there is some major LTTE counter-attack. Then the discourse switches again from war back to peace; and once again not very clear what peace means. There will probably be a CFA or a revival of the dormant one. And if again nothing happens to peace, then violence will break out.

In the medium term, serious negotiations, involving more parties, in complex rounds, using the space offered by the majority created in the parliament. The Oslo formula: federalism-devolution is explored, is taken seriously. Indian expertise and experience enter, with its councils of chief ministers, linkage to panchayat systems, etc. Give it some years. It will succeed. The South is now cohering. Maybe we do not even need the short term.

The long term, the blossoming of Sri Lanka, and don’t be so modest that you think only in economic terms and "dividends" and tourism. Social growth, new bridges across community divides. Cultural growth: let the faiths come even close together, no ganging up against Buddhists, they are so much of the soul of the country—I myself am actually one—but this incredibly rich island has many souls. Let them play together. The sky is the limit.

(Johan Galtung is the founder and director a Transcend, a peace and development network. Galtung established the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, in 1959, the Journal of Peace Research in 1964, and co-launched the Nordic Institute for Peace Research in 2000. )via .. The Island

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Posted on February 2, 2007, in Sri Lanka and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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