Millennium Post

Jaffna yet to over come trauma of war

A fortnight back I was in Jaffna, the main city in the north dominated by Tamils. Though the city and its people are yet to come out of the trauma of the 30-year old ethnic war, the compulsion of survival has made them catch up with the time. Shop owners or small traders felt that while the financial condition of the people of the city is yet to make a substantial improvement, the area has undoubtedly attained a comparatively good economic growth rate. They shared the perception that soon the area will witness comfortable growth as the people are determined to achieve development.

In the post-war scenario, the business activity has increased substantially. The main problem for them is the high level of expenditure. Even for a small auto ride, people have to cough up not less than a hundred bucks of the Sri Lankan currency. This is interestingly being projected by the business and trading circles as the indicator of a robust economy and steadily growing business in the north.
There is a sharp contrast between the living standards of the cities of Colombo and Jaffna. While a large number of apartments and multi storeyed buildings have come up in Colombo, the residents of Jaffna continue to live in the traditional colonial type of houses. Since Jaffna does not have a well-defined infrastructure, the region still depends on power generated from diesel, an independent source of energy. Many areas even today depend on wells for water.
Nevertheless, in recent time the focus has been on improving the standard of living of the people and boosting education. Since a sizeable portion of the land has been under the effective control of the Army, agricultural activities have not picked up in right dimension and dynamics. In fact, the challenge before the Sri Lankan government is to define the nature and contour of development in the conflict-affected areas of the country and at the same time stabilise the conflict-infected areas. The challenge of moving forward with balanced development in a way that furthers the accord between ethnic and religious groups is a priority for the Government of Sri Lanka.
The primary vocation of the people of Jaffna, fishing, is also in a confusing state. The traditional fishermen are finding it a tough proposition to survive on fishing. Most of the sea sides and beaches are under control of the Army. The government needs to make a huge investment in the northern province. Incidentally, the flow of foreign investment has not been sufficient to boost economic activities. Sri Lanka is very fortunate that both India and China have shown a very keen interest in integrating its economic development to their respective economic development plans for the region.
It was the confrontationist attitude of the earlier Rajapaksa government towards some foreign countries that has been primarily responsible for the unwillingness of the global fraternity to invest in Sri Lanka. The foreign policy adopted by the Rajapaksa regime during the last stage of administration was irrational. Rajapaksa alienated most countries. The attitude of the Sri Lankan government resulted in many powerful states, including India, showing reluctance to contribute in a substantial way for implementing the development projects designed for rapid economic growth. Only China was willing to assist Sri Lanka but that too in lieu of major concessions.
In April this year Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met Prime Minister Modi and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in economic development projects. Several mega-development projects, such as the creation of industrial zones or special economic zones in identified locations in Sri Lanka, a project for road connectivity and railway track upgrading and also a container terminal in Colombo, have been included in the MoU.
The prevailing political situation in Sri Lanka is also witnessing a fresh regrouping of the political forces. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga is getting ready to stage a comeback and leads these forces. After the end of her Presidency in 2005, Chandrika Kumaratunga was living a life of semi-retirement. She had made it clear she was not interested in formal political power. Using the opportunity her rival Mahinda Rajapaksa consolidated his grip over the state, defeated the LTTE in a brutal war and expanded his family's control.
Kumaratunga believes this is a 'golden opportunity' for Sri Lanka to address the Tamil question, for both the major parties of the country are in government together. Otherwise, the track record has shown that when one party attempts something, the opposition does its best to wreck it. Only Rajapaksa is outside now, but without a party apparatus, he will not be able to do much.
She is now the chair of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, which is kicking off a set of projects. This includes returning large tracts of land that were taken away by the military to the people; it would include trauma counseling for the families, which have seen enforced disappearances and have not attained closure; it would also include resettlement and building houses with the assistance of the international community.
The end of the war in 2009 completely shifted the macroeconomic fundamentals. Apparel manufacturing, which had long been the backbone of the economy, started losing its significance and service oriented industries such as tourism came to the forefront. It exceeded well above 70 per cent as opposed to the apparel industry average of less than 50 per cent. This prompted the government to align its strategies to changing economic fundamentals, resulting in a significant number of international organisations entering the tourism industry.
LTTE as a fighting force was destroyed in May 2009. The organisation was rendered completely combat ineffective. Majority of its fighters were killed or detained, their infrastructure decimated and their territory occupied and dominated. There is a lurking fear in the minds of the rulers that the LTTE may resurface at some stage. This is the reason that the government of Sri Lanka still continues to maintain a heavy military and intelligence presence in the territory previously controlled by the LTTE and that the government "retains complete control over all areas of Sri Lanka". In fact, this apprehension has been primarily responsible for hastening up the process of development, but the fact remains that the dimension and pace of development are not satisfactory. No doubt the roads have been spruced up but the focus on livelihood need is yet to gain priority.
Going around the island, one comes to acquire the impression that the paradigm and matrix for the development are not well defined. It needs deeper understanding and analysis of the ground level realities. The government has to exploit the natural resources instead of depending on foreign help or precisely Chinese intervention. The people and intellectuals of the island share the view that China has been more concerned about its gain than the welfare of the people of the island and treat the island as its colony. The people are wary of the Chinese intentions and moves.
(The views are strictly personal.)

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