21st January 2001

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Moderates plead whose brief?

The so called moderate Tamil par-ties in Colombo, have made a joint statement to the effect that the government has squandered an opportunity for peace by not reciprocating the "unilateral ceasefire'' that was proclaimed by the LTTE.

The LTTE itself is talking of "fighting back''. Anton Balasingham, the self-styled LTTE ideologue has said that the recent setbacks the LTTE suffered on account of the army's Kinihira operations were in fact "withdrawals based on strategic reasoning.''

Strategic use of semantics could never hide setbacks in the battlefield, and this was true for the Sri Lankan forces as it is true for the LTTE today. Balasingham wouldn't himself be talking of "fighting back'', if he doesn't feel that the LTTE has not actually suffered any losses.

Kinihira is not exactly the moment for the army to exult, but army morale seems to be high because the forces are seeing a glimmer of hope in that Kinihira may come to signify a phase of victory and consolidation.

But, the army morale cannot be spiked by strategic countermoves in the political sphere.

Demoralisation would very probably be the result of withdrawing forces now, when the army is having at least a razor thin edge over the LTTE, which itself is not conclusive, given the group's previous turnarounds and the heavy armaments at the army's disposal.

Military analysis is best left to the experts, but it is the proxy war that is being waged on behalf of the LTTE in the political sphere and in civil society, that has to be deconstructed and taken apart.

Engaging in negotiations is one thing, and the Sri Lankan political elite has never eschewed negotiations or peace talks. But, disengaging in the battle-front is quite another matter, and it is this heinous intertwining of the two issues that seems to be the cockiest gambit of the persons who are seeking to wage a proxy battle on behalf of the Tigers.

The TULF for instance, which has lost many of its leaders and men to the LTTE and not a single man to armed forces of the country has little business holding a brief on behalf of the Tigers. Fear of course could be the key to the TULF's ceasefire call, particularly since the third mayor of Jaffna in four years has just been inducted into office by the TULF which lost two previous mayors as a result of the aggression of the one-time 'boys', now middle-aged men.

But, the Tamil parties despite the fact that they harbour a fear psychosis, need to take continued political responsibility for their statements. They are not speaking in a political vacuum, and when the party exhorts the government to call a "reciprocal ceasefire'' and expresses disappointment at the government's failure to jump up and grab the LTTE's offer, the party must remember that its exhortations have to be viewed against a clear political context.

These Tamil parties are not merely exhorting the government. They are also apportioning blame on the government, and sending out a message to anyone who is within earshot including the Norwegians or whoever is eavesdropping, that it is the Sri Lankan side that has spiked the peace.

This is a dangerous game. Any war has its vital strategic parameters, and these Tamil parties probably know what they are talking about, and why. Suffice then to say that the armed forces are not fighting just the LTTE, but also master theoreticians and word spinners. We are not disabusing ourselves of the notion that there are Tamil moderates; but even moderation seems to come in its various forms and degrees in these times.

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