War on terror and
Making his annual 'Heroes Day' speech last Monday, LTTE
supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran stated that, given the
attitude of the Government, the Tamil people have no
alternative but to seek a separate state. Cataloguing
the reasons to justify this course of action, he placed
the blame at the Government's door.
His words came as no big surprise,
the Government having inadvertently played into the
hands of the separatist lobby, providing enough fodder
by way of an escalating humanitarian crisis in the north.
Though the President was rather dismissive
of the speech, other schools of thought suggested that
it merited study, that these speeches are well crafted
and every nuance needs to be analysed if one is to map
out counter-strategies. It has been argued that the
LTTE is not showing interest in devolution, or politically-negotiated
settlement, and that the military option is the only
path it will pursue. Both views are probably right.
On the one hand, the LTTE hierarchy
could not take any different approach than blame the
Government -- especially given Prabhakaran's speech
last year that gave a maximum one-year ultimatum to
begin a genuine dialogue for peace.
On the other hand, it was tantamount
to a Declaration of War, not that such a declaration
was ever required by the LTTE which must accept the
rap for precipitating this cycle of violence when it
moved into the Mavil Aru dam site, spoiling for a fight.
Friday's attack on the Defence Secretary
was independent of that declaration of war, rather a
continuation of the undeclared war that has bled this
country for over two decades.
The Government, for its part, seems
to believe that surgery is the cure for this haemorrhaging,
slow national death. And clearly, the mandate it received
to end this insurgency still holds valid.
There are increased reports from Tamil
Nadu that explosives and weapons are being stockpiled
in that southern Indian state for shipment to Sri Lanka.The
people now seem to be bracing for eventualities, the
increasing dangers of everyday life, as the country
positions itself for what is tantamount to a fight to
the finish or as the Army Commander puts it "to
militarily weaken the LTTE".
Whether the Government is prepared
for the consequences of this strategy, only they will
know best. But the question is whether the maximum is
being done to ensure security. What the people see is
the movement of military top brass on public roads with
predictable regularity, but then again, one cannot presume
to proffer counsel on defence strategies.
The stark truth is that the people
will now have to be prepared for more hardships, greater
fears and little hope of turning the corner and joining
the rest of the world that is forging ahead with economic
development and prosperity for the people.
Last week, our columnist The Economist
concluding his analysis of the Budget for next year
warned that the fiscal crisis was fast coming to an
explosive head. He pointed out that unless something
effective is done, public debt will be out of control
-- due to massive spending, particularly on the war,
on debt servicing, public service salaries and subsidies.
Yet if people seem willing to endure
many hardships, there are other distasteful aspects
that are difficult to swallow. Our front page story
today reveals inflated prices being paid to buy MiG
fighters because of obvious kickbacks. We have reported,
over the years, how some Air Force, Navy and Army commanders
have profited from this war. Then what can we expect
from lower ranking officers?
The news that investigations are already
on the way to ascertain whether junior officers have
accepted funds from the enemy to spy on their own colleagues
clearly shows how a never-ending war can corrupt anybody.
Arms dealers, many of them living abroad, are smacking
their chops as it were -- at the prospect of the conflict
escalating here on Sri Lankan soil.
This is what hurts most. This is what
demoralises the most. On Friday, the Defence Secretary
appealed to the public to "avoid any action that
will demoralise and weaken the determination of our
troops". Isn't corruption in defence procurements
a sure-fire way of doing just that?
Thus a heavy burden rests on the shoulders
of the President to curb these ugly happenings. The
diaspora may egg both sides to battle, but only those
who continue to live in this once resplendent isle know
its terrible toll. To the ordinary Sri Lankans, the
President owes that example and encouragement that if
it is his considered intention to fight this canker
through surgery -- then that his scalpel, at least,
is clean. Though it is up to the Government to decide
its strategy, if there is corruption at the top and
a further humanitarian cost than what the country has
had to bear, he cannot continue to expect much support
from either side.