29th April 2001

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War, peace and talks

While the UNP camp was enacting Julius Ceaser, with a great many Brutus's plunging their knives into their leader, a far more decisive battle was taking place in the Jaffna peninsula. The theatre of war does not have any slow motion intrigue of the variety displayed within the confines of the UNP.

Instead of petty intrigues, there is a nasty battle that is being waged, with no quarter given or asked for. It's the familiar tableau of blood and carnage, re-enacted. Our Defense Correspondent was witness to some of the scenes of war now going on in the peninsula, which he describes in the opposite page.

Our series on the fall of Elephant Pass, on the other hand, which began last week is now almost erased entirely from the national psyche. But, it is not prudent to forget the fact that last week, more than 500 homes had almsgivings and pirith ceremonies on account of the incompetence of the civilian and politico-military leadership of that time.

At about the same time this year, the scene was set for another battle.

However, on this occasion, the military was on the offensive, and was said to have an edge due to the array of sophisticated weapons that were at it's disposal due to the enormous amount of military purchases that took place in the frenzied aftermath of Elephant Pass last year.

The operation had been christened Agni Keela (Fire Rod) which purported that the psychological advantage was also with the military, with an operation which sounded as intimidatory as it was meant to be on the ground.

But, Agni Keela was the victory that never was. It is one thing to do the post-mortem on a enemy attack and a military rout, but it is another to do one on what was supposed to be an operation of calculated aggression.

Where did the calculations go wrong? Despite the protestations of the army top brass, the casualty far figures exceed a militarily permissible ratio. The military is used to surprise attacks, but there is no such thing as a surprise offensive. This offensive was planned, and it had the unconditional backing of the political establishment, which had not stipulated any deadlines. The mandate was to gain territory, with one eye on the talks. The almost clichetic "position of strength'' was sought after, and the army was supposed to secure this position through the offensives planned in the peninsula soon after the LTTE had declared their "unilateral cease-fire'' officially ended.

But, the fallout from a retreat, or at least an operation that was aborted, would be that the political establishment will still have on it's hands now a tricky situation. Talks which it seems cannot be avoided, are now looming round the corner. Across the table will be an enemy which had cleverly circumvented the traps which were set for it, and walked off quite unscathed in the bargain.

That's the problem of the poltical establishment, but how has the military helped. Not by much. The military insists on reporting the war as well, and it has all but prevented any persons covering the war in an objective manner.

But, the military position on Agni Keela is not anywhere close to the reality that obtains on the ground. Agni Keela is said to be a "success'' that was somehow "didn't go according to plan'' if the military handouts are to be believed.

The problem with these giant prevarications are that they make a bad situation worse. They advance the palpable fallacy that the army is gaining, when it's actually taking a beating, and that is a dangerous fiction. Without a proper appraisal of the situation, the political establishment is bound to make more miscalculations, which is certainly not going to help either the military or the country on the long run.

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