Politics and realities of war
It is not unusual in a long drawn-out guerrilla campaign, and the squashing of that campaign, that both sides would experience victory and defeat in differing measure.
Ever since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's separatist campaign started way back in the 1980s, this has been the case.
How many times have we seen the Government's Security Forces rolling over the guerrillas, and how many times, the guerrillas hitting back where it hurts.
The seemingly endless cycle of violence has once again erupted this week after the guerrillas recently vanquished in the Eastern Province -- for the second time in two decades -- hit back with the raid on the Anuradhapura air base. That the raiding party inflicted considerable damage to the Government's military air fleet is a matter of serious concern, no doubt.
To say that it has dented, if not retarded, a planned offensive on the LTTE's last bastion in the North and the Wanni areas of the country is an understatement.
The Government has already announced its plans for this offensive.
Any layman would have known that the cornered guerrillas would desperately seek to neutralise those plans. Their arms shipments were successfully disrupted and the pounding they were receiving from the air at times of battle also had to be minimised.
In the circumstances, that such a raiding party was able to do what they did with such consummate ease, some would say almost with gay abandon, is what is even more disturbing. Clearly, very few lessons have been learnt from the raids on the main air base in Katunayake in 1988 and 2001. The LTTE's modus operandi to gain access seems to be identical. Just cut the wires and enter. As simple as that.
When the attack is on, there seems to be no drill in place. That the intruders remained for an incredible five hours or more inside the base is almost unbelievable. But we shall not conduct further post-mortems into this other than to ask the questions the ordinary citizens of this country have been asking throughout the week.
On the other hand, we want to say one thing. Much of the Government's war against terror is aimed at the media. This is not a new phenomenon. Most politicians and officials prosecuting the war against terror have a political agenda aimed at elections. Needless to say, they do not want adverse publicity -- and they would always want good publicity.
But this 'war' is both good and bad, like all wars, and if the public has come to accept the good and bad of this war, the victories and defeats, ad nauseam, it is time the Government also took it in the same spirit.
There is now almost a witch-hunt on the media for being the purveyors of bad news.
Embarrassed officials are trying to hide the stark realities of this bloody conflict fearing not so much the drop in morale among the Security Forces as that of public morale.
They are only barking up the wrong tree.
The public, in the 'south' and the 'north' -- and the security forces -- are anaesthetized from victories and defeats. The public, by and large, would accept the realities of the war front and accept both with equanimity. And while the Government must be complimented for resisting calls from some quarters of the Establishment to impose a censorship on military related news, this week's coming down with an iron fist on five radio stations and a reporter does not augur well.
The propaganda war is indeed part of any campaign to quash terrorism. For terrorists, publicity is no doubt oxygen as stated famously by a former British Prime Minister who had to fight the IRA.
She tried to impose restrictions on media coverage of the IRA, but in this modern world of communications, it came a cropper.
Likewise, the focus of the Government's propaganda mandarins should be on how to check the LTTE's sleek propaganda machinery overseas. Immediately after the raid on the Anuradhapura air base, they managed to do some damage-control worldwide by whipping up the story of how the bodies of the guerrillas killed in the raid were displayed naked to the public, and at once the Government was on the back foot, defending itself.
Right through this extended insurgency, successive Governments have concentrated on bashing the local media for reporting bad news, and allowed a virtual free hand to the terrorists' propaganda machinery abroad, partly due to political compulsions at home, but largely due to sheer incompetence to meet the external challenge.
It may be time to shift their focus. The competence is available. It only needs to be properly harnessed.