By J Jeganaathan
In September 2011 the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation ( NORAD) – a directorate under the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a report titled Pawns of Peace-‘Evaluation of Norwegian Peace Efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2003’. This report probes two important questions: what went wrong with Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka? And what lessons does the failed Sri Lankan peace process offer to conflict resolutionists? The report fascinatingly correlates the peace process in Sri Lanka and Norway’s multiple roles as a diplomatic broker, arbiter of the ceasefire, and as a humanitarian and development funder from 1997-2003. This article reviews the findings of the report in the context of lessons to be drawn by international players.
At the outset, the report states that Norway’s role in the Sri Lankan peace process is by and large a failed mission in terms of bringing an end to the civil war. However, this is too simplistic an assumption as Norway’s role in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict is quite complex. Even though Norway was invited by the Sri Lankan government and LTTE for a mediation role and its peace initiatives were appreciated as well as acknowledged by external players, its efforts to achieve mutual resolution were derailed.
These effots should not be overlooked for two reasons: internationalization of the ethnic-conflict in Sri Lanka and marginalization of big regional players such as India, whose intervention in Sri Lanka had been a complete failure. Until 2003 the peace process was effectively handled by Norway and it was only after the ‘Col Karuna’s split’ that the peace process started gradually depreciating. It was an unexpected development for the Norwegians.
At the same time, the report downplays India’s crucial role in weakening the LTTE that inadvertently contributed to the attrition of the peace process. Indisputably, India is an intervening factor in the Sri Lankan ethnic-conflict which has major geostrategic and geoethnic stakes. For instance, it was the geopolitical interest that drove the then government led by Indira Gandhi to nurture the LTTE as a strategic fence against US dominance in its backyard. The same factor influenced the nature and outcome of the war in 2009 leaving India in a catch-22 situation when China and Pakistan made strategic inroads. Moreover, ever since Norway initiated the peace process, India was nonchalant towards it, and reluctant to move beyond the Sri Lankan Accord. This stand was reinforced when the UPA government came to power in 2004. It seems that personal grudges played a major role in India’s policy against the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. This is substantiated by Brahma Challeney, a leading strategic commentator, who argued that India failed to contain Chinese and Pakistani strategic inroads into Sri Lanka.
In addition, the report makes explicit claims that “the return to power of the Indian National Congress in 2004 and declining influence of Sri Lanka on Tamil Nadu politics mean that there are fewer inhibitions on a military solution to the conflict. India thus continues to advocate for the accommodation of Tamil aspirations in Sri Lanka, but does not apply any pressure against the Rajapaksa government in relation to the military option.”
Overall, the report derives five broader lessons for peace building based on the Norwegian experience: Peace processes produce unforeseen and unintended consequences, the balance between hard and soft power, ownership approach, aid cannot be a substitute for politics and exhibits an ‘Asian model’ for conflict resolution
The most startling derivation is the failure of the liberal peace-building model of conflict resolution and the far-reaching implications of the Asian model, which, according to the report, is built on Westphalian notions of sovereignty and non-interference, a strong developmental state and a military solution for ‘terrorism’. What this report reveals about the Tamils, the intended beneficiary of the conflict, is that they became pawns in geopolitical strategic rivalry between India and China; and the Rajapaksa government exploited this situation. India will be very comfortable with the Asian model of peace-building even though it believes in liberal values because of its domestic constraints. But, in the long-run it will have an adverse impact on its human rights records.
In sum, what can India learn from the Norwegian experience? It is unfortunate that India did not have any such evaluation report after its unsuccessful IPKF mission in Sri Lanka even though it paid a huge cost. The report denotes that India should learn to derive lessons from its foreign and security policy failures. India should also have a similar evaluation report on its IPKF mission as well as on its policy during the last Eelam war. The Norwegian experience also forewarns India to think about a balanced approach combining hard and soft power resources while engaging in any peace process. If India is reluctant to learn any lessons from its own failures as well as from the Norwegian experience, it will never be able to formulate an effective foreign and security policy strategy towards Sri Lanka.
Research Officer, IPCS
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