Sunday, January 6, 2008

Twenty five Years of War…..

Mr. Robert O Blake, the current American Ambassador to Sri Lanka is reported to have raised a few pertinent issues regarding the Sri Lankan conflict at his recent interaction with the JVP fire brand and MP Mr Wimal Weerawangsa. He is also reported to have met Mr Ranil Wickremasinghe upon the UNP announcement of renouncing the 'federal concept' as a solution to the country's conflict. He appears to believe that devolution and not the military drive to be the only answer to the country's conflict and in his own words '25 years of war has not taken the country anywhere'.
Mr O Blake is a representative of a country that has, since of late, taken a heavy beating in the hands of unbridled terrorism and therefore is not trying to justify terrorism but nevertheless appears to be a victim of separatist propaganda generated by the high flying 'NGO's and some 'international minded' national leaders in this country. Even at this moment of time when the forces are battling to liberate the people from terror, there are Cabinet Ministers in the Rajapakse Government who make official press statements with similar insinuations. Therefore, for the sake of Mr O Blake, the ambassador of the most powerful nation on the earth, or for our own sake, it would certainly be opportune to analyze the ramifications of this conflict during the past 25 years, because we ourselves are in a state of confusion as to whether we have been 'fighting terror' or 'talking peace' during the past 25 years. True, the casualties have been high, but are they casualties of war or casualties of a faint hearted and a confused 'peace'? It certainly is time that we pause for a moment and have good look back at the whole scenario.
The war clouds started gathering momentum over the skies of northern Sri Lanka as far back as 1979 after Mrs. Ghandi started training the Tamil insurgents in Dehradun in the Northern Indian state to teach a lesson to Mr JR Jayawardene, the then SL President for following a US/Israel aligned policy in politics and a capitalist economic strategy. This gave hope to the separatists Tamil politicians who expected Mrs. Ghandi to do what she did to Pakistan a few years back. Hence by the early 80 's there was a considerable rebel population of Tamil youths who were teaming up to fight the Sri Lankan security forces. First they started attacking the Police stations and by the year 1983, 15 police stations and 18 banks have been attacked thereby bringing the North and some parts of East in to a state of anarchy. Army had been mobilized in those areas and TELO, EPRLF and LTTE and other splinter terrorist groups were active killing the likes of Alfred Duraiappa, other popular moderate Tamil leaders, journalists and Policemen. Hence the conflict had actually started by the late 70's.
The riots of July 83 in the South gave license to India and the Church to support the so called Tamil cause in Sri Lanka. In fact the wide publicity was given to July 83 incidents by the Indian press and the western media was to denigrate the Government and the Sinhala community and then create a platform to interfere in the affairs of the country. All the heinous crimes committed by the Tamil terrorist were white washed by the Tamil Diaspora and the western media so much so that unbridled violence and terror became order of the day in Sri Lanka. Organizations like the National Peace Council, funded by the west, practically monopolized the Sri Lankan media justifying the mayhem and slaughter of innocence the name of a 'Tamil Cause'.
This 'Tamil Cause' and the manufactured 'historical grievances' was a hype created by the western media and the Tamil separatist lobby. Tamils of Sri Lanka, as Mrs. Bandaranaike has stated in her response to Mr. Amirthalingam in 1987, had been one of the most privileged communities anywhere in the world. The fact that the Sri Lankan Tamils had a Diaspora of 700,000 professional migrants, gainfully employed in western countries and that they dominated the country's commerce and education even by the 1970's would bear testimony to this. Therefore these so-called grievances was ruse manufactured to arrest the loss of privileges in the post independence era.
The role played by the western media and the reason for such unqualified support had always been an enigma for a lot of us Sri Lankans. The western media always take the side of the Church, but why should the Church in Sri Lanka align itself so heavily with the Tamils when there is an equally strong Sinhala Christian community. The answer is that the church too lost its position after independence and therefore had its own grievances against the emergence of Sinhala Buddhist. Specially the Church was controlling the education in Sri Lanka for centuries thereby producing western friendly English speaking elite who managed the affairs of this country all that while. The Church lost that monopoly with the take over of schools by the Government and the Swabasha act of 1956. Therefore it was in the interest of the Church to preserve the status quo of privileged minorities in Sri Lanka.
The Vedamarachchi operation in 1986 was a turning point in this conflict. Up to then the Sri Lankan forces were fighting the terrorist to finish them and disarm them. They had successfully fought them and the terrorist, Prabhakaran and his LTTE, were marooned in the jungles of Vedamarachchi sending SOS's to India in the face of the SL army onslaught. Those who talk about the invincibility of Prabhakaran should read the many books written by Indian author Narayan Swamy and the Indian intelligence reports to find out how helpless Prabhakaran had been in the jungles of Vedamarachchi. In the interviews given to the Indian press from the jungles of Vedamarachchi, Prabhakaran refers to Mrs. Ghandi as 'our mother'. India salvaged Prabhakaran with their Parippu/relief drop from the skies and ushered a new dimension to the conflict with direct Indian intervention. This resulted in the Indo Lanka Peace accord in 1987.
Since this 1987 Peace Accord and the resultant 'Peace Talks' there had been a series of 'Peace talks' between political leaders of Sri Lanka and the terrorist LTTE. They are the peace talks between, President Premadasa and the LTTE, President Kumaratunge and the LTTE and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and the LTTE. In other words every leader that came to power after 1987 has held talks with the LTTE even disregarding the fact the LTTE was a terrorist outfit that was responsible for, ethnic cleansing in the North, assassinating dissenting Tamil politicians in the North, assassinating Sri Lankan and Indian national leaders, targeting the Sri Lankan economy nationally and internationally., slaughtering scores of innocent civilians in the South. Etc.. The fact that these negotiations were held with the legitimate Government of the country imposing no conditions whatsoever including the laying down of arms is a testimony to the sincerity of the incumbent Governments that held talks. The change of Governments through the democratic process gave the LTTE the advantage of repeating its scrupulous designs on successive Governments accruing advantages in military supplies and intelligence.
The successive SL leaders have been so 'starry eyed' in their quest for peace that the peace talks have proved to be destructively over optimistic over the years bordering on sheer asininely. It should not be forgotten that 650 policemen from the East who surrendered to the LTTE when the LTTE unilaterally declared war on the unsuspecting Premedasa regime were moved down by the LTTE contravening all civilized norms with impunity. In fact time and again it has been proved that Prabhakaran had reaped better dividends from the theatre of putative peace than from the theatre of conflict, to strengthen his position for a protracted conflict.
The year 1994 was another crucial year, or rather an important juncture in the North East embroilment. That was the year the Sri Lankan political leaders gave a different perspective to this conflict, in that the whole thinking of the Government elect, the people who voted for that Government, and to some extent even the opposition thinking took a new dimension influenced by a new philosophy. This new philosophy was introduced by the PA government in the form of a 'federal solution' to an 'Ethnic conflict' that we were told, existed in this country. Terms such as the "Ethnic conflict", "Political solution" were introduced to our day to day vocabulary by the Government sponsored print and electronic media.
Soon after assuming office as the country's president Ms Kumaratunga on an official visit to India was posed the question of 'Prabhakaran's extradition to face charges in India' by an Indian journalist. Ms Kumaratunge stated," So far no such request had been made by India, but I hope that the Indian Government will agree that it is more important to bring peace to a part of Sri Lanka, which was at war for the past ten years, than to bring one man to justice", insinuating that without Prabhakaran's blessings no peace would be possible in Sri Lanka.
Ms Kumaratunge quite boldly stated through the state media that a political solution is the only answer to the 'ethnic problem' and 'if you kill Prabhkaran today to solve this problem there will be many more Prabhakarans borne tomorrow'. It however appeared strange that the same logic did not apply to Wijeweeara, the Sinhala rebellion, and more recently to Karuna the ex LTTE Eastern commander. After having won her two terms of Presidency mainly on the majority Sinhala vote Mrs Kumaranatunge acted as a political ambassador to the LTTE justifying the most ruthless terror group on earth. This was a moral boosting the LTTE so badly required in the eyes of the world to descend on the Sinhala community and the SL Government. She ridiculed those who advocated the deployment of the forces to contain the LTTE saying that they are committing the poor youth in the army and challenged such advocates to go to the North and fight. But alas when she completed her 11 years in power in 2004 it so happened that she had caused the deaths of more than 35,000 poor young men during her fits and starts ' war for peace' from both the Armed forces and the LTTE. It should also be remembered that this was the period during which the LTTE reached the zenith of its power inflicting the maximum damage to the Sri Lankan economy. This period of 'putative peace' should go down in the history as the most horrendous period in this conflict. The only thing she proved at the end was, what she said at the begging of her term, that the LTTE can not be defeated by the Sri Lankan military forces.
Mr Wickremesinghe, another liberal minded, 'international community' inclined leader followed in her footsteps and entered in to a 'Ceasefire agreement' with the LTTE which finally proved to be a Cease fire only for the Government forces when LTTE went about a killing spree eliminating dissenting Tamil opinion and the Government intelligence personnel. Mr W even used his diplomacy to exonerate the LTTE from possible Al Qaeda connections in international forums. The CFA gave license to the LTTE to recruit child soldiers, build up its war chest, offered a semblance of international recognition and a demarcated land area of operation. All this, what the LTTE could not get after fighting all this while, did not cost the LTTE anything, not even an assurance of peaceful behaviour in the future. The return, if at all, was in the form of 'the enhanced future threat of war' as the LTTE openly trained its 'now conventional forces' while having their own mechanism to earn a revenue and established a war geared administrative mechanism.
Even in terms of casualties of the conflict, these period of 'putative peace' have been more costly than the period of direct war. As the conflict really started around 1979 and if we consider the 25 year period up to 2004 this period can be broken down in to three phases in terms of 'how the Government of the day treated this conflict'.
1st phase 1979 to 1987 8years Anti terrorist drive to disarm or eliminate terrorism.
2nd phase 1987 to 1994 7years Indian and SL Govt. initiative to bring LTTE to
3rd phase 1994 to 2004 10years International community and SL Govt. initiative for a
political solution to the conflict.
Although the accurate official figure are not divulged for strategic reasons, form the available past and present records the casualties relating to these three phases of the conflict could be deciphered as follows.
Security forces LTTE Indian army Civilian Total casualties
1st phase 1684 1235 --- 3156 6,075
2nd phase 3159 +650 2956 1260 3407 11,432
3rd phase 15365 14568 --- 9827 39,760
This being the history of this conflict and the economic and human devastation it has brought about, it cold well be observed that it is during times of putative 'peace' that this conflict has proved to be more costly. Furthermore, up to the point of Vedamarachchi battle, the SL forces were engaging the terrorist groups more purposefully even though there was indirect Indian support, and that was the most economical period of the conflict. It was after the putative peace processes started that the situation has got blown out of proportion and the LTTE has become ever more powerful. Therefore no person, even of the caliber of the ambassador of the USA, should be allowed to make passing remarks to say that the ' 25 years of war has not brought anything'. It would have been more appropriate to say that, 'the 20 years of peace has only exacerbated the conflict and made the LTTE stronger'.