It is said that politicians start conflicts, diplomats then step in to resolve the conflict, and solders take over when the conflict cannot be resolved and nations go to war.
Many are of the opinion that the American Civil War was about slavery. Actually it was not. It was about the South wanting to secede from the United States and declare independence.
No doubt the quarrel started over slavery. The North, which was industrialised, wanted to end slavery, which would have hurt the South that depended on cotton and hence on slave labour.
Because of this disagreement the South wanted to leave the Union and that was when and why the civil water started.
Hence when we wish to negotiate we need to also use diplomacy and not just politics. Any negotiation that starts of with the word ‘non-negotiable’ is doomed to fail even before it starts. That is not a negotiation but an ultimatum.
Today, people always talk about a win-win situation, whether in business or in government. And in a win-win situation both parties need to feel like they have walked away from the negotiation table with something to gain. A winner-takes-all stand benefits only one side and the other side would be sent home with a bitter taste in the mouth.
We must also be realistic and practical. If we enter into a negotiation knowing that our demands will not be acceptable by the other side then it is a waste of time to even start. We already know it is going to fail.
Maybe on the question of autonomy for Sabah and Sarawak, whether full or partial, we should put politics aside and put on our diplomat’s hat. Let the message that we send to Putrajaya be clear that we wish to seek a compromise. That will attract Putrajaya to the conference table.
It is like how Pakatan Rakyat is negotiating in Sarawak regarding the state seats allocation for the coming state election. From the onset PKR says it wants 70% of the seats and there is no compromise on the matter. This matter is non-negotiable.
This means this is no longer a seat negotiation but a demand.
We must remember that secession is not provided for in the Malaysian Agreement. So it is not like Sabah can demand and then leave Malaysia if this demand is not met. At the end of the day we can only express our dissatisfaction and request that Putrajaya takes note of this and try to meet us at least halfway, somewhere in the middle. That, to me, would be a good start.