Toppigala in perspective
As has been inevitable (considering contemporary politics of Sri Lanka), this week's seizure of a sizeable chunk of rebel LTTE held territory in the Eastern Province has got thoroughly embroiled in parochial politics.
This typifies the politics of the country today.
At a time when it should be a morale-boosting victory for the much maligned Security Forces, one section of the political opposition on the one hand does not wish to give the Government its dues for the Toppigala triumph, while another section of the Opposition is egging the Government on to gain more and more victories on the battlefront without any let-up. The Government meanwhile is trying to wipe out all their omissions and commissions by riding on the backs of the heroic soldiers who have liberated the East once again, at great cost to life and limb, from the clutches of the LTTE. It is this unsavoury spectacle that the country witnesses in the flush of victory on the bloody battlefields where young people are laying down their lives for what they believe is a just cause.
The LTTE has now been completely defeated in the East, militarily, with their last bastion of resistance, Toppigala falling to the Security Forces, a timely reminder to them of the futility of trying to win their political goals by military methods. This is not to say the war is over. The LTTE has indeed been defeated, but not vanquished and one must not lose sight of the fact that it is a wily outfit that has seen this all before.
They've been jettisoned from the East, by the scruff of their necks, so to say, so many times, whereupon they jump into the North; and when they are hounded there, they jump back into the East. They are pastmasters at playing cat and mouse.
Today, in a sense they are with their backs to the wall insofar as losing the East while having no permanent abode in the North -- only the Wanni -- left.
If this was their final battle, which they asked their supporters in the diaspora to fund, the fall of Toppigala and with it the East, is not good news.
The cornered rebel is now snarling and baring its teeth -- its wounded pride forcing it to threaten retaliatory attacks on military -- and economic -- targets.
There's a deafening silence to this -- almost a muttering resignation -- from the International Community (IC), clearly unhappy that the Government's Security Forces have defeated the forces of terrorism in the East.
The IC is unhappy because it feels that military victories might make the political solutions that it crows about, redundant. But for more than two decades now, the LTTE has shown its resourcefulness in staying afloat; hitting where it hurts; feigning to come for talks when matters get too hot, and generally spinning things out to stay in business.
The fall of the eastern flank of the LTTE brings the quarter century-old cry for separation to yet another watershed in the country's future. From what the Government is proposing to do next week, it would seem that the exercise is not only to give credit to where credit is due, i.e. to the soldiers in battle, but to shore up the shaking foundations of the Government.
In the process, wittingly or unwittingly they are giving out the signal that they are not interested in a political settlement; that they are confident of liquidating the LTTE once-and-for-all, militarily, however long and arduous the road may be. Yesterday, news reached us that the Government had launched on a military offensive in the North-West, changing the focus of battle now to the Northern theatre. To some, especially with a military perspective, this might stand to reason.
When morale is high on your side, and down on the other, it is a good time to press home the advantage.
The military, and indeed the politicians have long been blamed for not finishing the job and only engaging in half-way measures with the rebels.
Others less adventurous, however, reason that now that the Government has won the upper-hand militarily, it is time to go for a two-pronged approach i.e. both militarily to keep the pressure on while offering a political way out for the LTTE. True, the Government is offering Local Government elections and the Opposition as well as the International Community is calling for greater devolution measures as a way to get the LTTE to give up arms. How naïve is all that, is the question that begs an answer considering the past.
The LTTE position seems only to have got harder. And with increasing pressure on the Government from a people hard-pressed with the rising cost of the war, and an Opposition breathing down hard on them with accusations of corruption, nepotism and inefficiency, there is a real fear that the Government may use strong-arm tactics more and more to quell opposition even in the 'South'. That the country will get more militarised, undemocratic and evolve into a virtual 'Police State'.
In this context, the Toppigala victory must be viewed in perspective by the Government. Not only in a military perspective. One would hope that the President when he addresses the nation on Thursday will reveal the bigger picture he has in mind for the country.