ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 27
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Wijeya Pariganaka

War on terror and corruption

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.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.