Sunil Bastian

(2006) Sri Lanka’s International Straightjacket.

Himal, December 2006

The failure of Sri Lanka’s peace process is partially due to its simplistic formulation of ‘government versus LTTE’ adopted by international mediators. Meanwhile, still other global players only seek stability of the Sri Lankan state.

While the history of Sri Lanka’s globalisation goes back to the colonial period, the opening up of the country’s economy 40 years ago worked to intensify the process. The civil war that has plagued the island nation for more than two decades has done almost nothing to undermine this dynamic. On the other hand, the conflict has brought the international system into affairs that had hitherto been protected on the basis of sovereignty. Today Sri Lanka is indeed a fragmented state, part of which is controlled by the LTTE, but all of which is now inextricably linked to the global system.

Unfortunately, it is largely the contradictions of the global system that have exerted such influence on Sri Lanka, leading to pessimism in the context of the breakdown of the peace process. The dynamic today is relatively straightforward: on one side, violence and conflict; on the other, a framework for the peace process, dominated by international actors, that is not working. Even when the war was being fought at its highest intensity in the past, this had not been the case. For example, at the time of the People’s Alliance regime’s ‘war for peace’ strategy, war was a reality on one side, but the space for peace was still open and available. Today that space is closed, with a framework that does not seem to be working, while the violence continues.

Within Sri Lanka there have been diverse responses to the intervention of international actors in the country’s peace process. The Sinhala nationalists and old-style leftists have been uncomfortable with this intervention, and some have actively opposed it. On the other hand, some liberal internationalists view the world community as a bunch of do-gooders, ready to deliver peace to the island. They ignore the politics and power-play that are part of these interventions in a globalised world. The construction of the term ‘international community’ itself is a ploy to hide the politics and power of this dynamic. What Sri Lanka needs today is an analysis that can highlight the politics of power of these interventions, so that its citizens are able to spot the contradictions, as well as the opportunities available to promote the cause of peace.

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