Tough talk and tight laws
The President's address to the nation this week was as sudden as it was potent. It had a strong anti-terrorism thread running through it -- probably to offset the strident nationalist voices demanding a total ban of the LTTE, a cessation of the truce and the booting out of the Norwegian facilitators.
The President asked the nation not to take him lightly when he said that he was not going to commit the mistake of allowing democracy to be misused for the benefit of terrorism. "The democracy that creates an opportunity for terrorism is a joke. It is no simple joke but a deadly joke," he said.
He went on to appeal directly to political parties, the media, and all people's organisations -- "You decide whether you should be with a handful of terrorists or with the common man who is in the majority. You must clearly choose between these two ideas. No one can represent both these sides at any one time". In other words, what the President meant is, "You are either with me -- or against me" in this war on terror in Sri Lanka.
One cannot dispute that this country has had enough of terrorism. Twenty years and counting, this is more than most countries have endured.
Even where it has stretched for longer, like in the case of the IRA and the United Kingdom, the scale of the violence, the killings and misery caused were never so intense. It increasingly appears that the ordinary people of Sri Lanka, sans bodyguards or armour-protected vehicles will have to brace themselves for 'never-know-when' terrorist attacks.
And then again, surgery may be the ultimate cure for this festering sore -- plastering and antibiotics not providing an answer to end the northern separatist insurgency/national question.
The Presidential address seemed to set the tone for the Government's modus operandi in speaking to the terrorists "in the language they understand".
Not to be outdone in the war of words, the LTTE this week gave a chilling rejoinder referriing to a "monumental irrecoverable state of destruction".
Citing the US, President implied that the US had abandoned democracy in order to combat terrorism.
That is not entirely correct. Even if his premise has some truth, by way of the US Homeland Security Act and the Patriot Act, and their treatment of alleged terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, these issues are constantly scrutinised. The US Supreme Court passed stricture on the handling of suspects at Guantanamo, and the US media which initially supported the invasion of Iraq have now come to question President Bush's judgement.
The question is then, whether President Rajapaksa should ever shut the door to constructive criticism from well-meaning opinion and decision-makers -- the judges/media/political parties etc.
The newly promulgated Emergency Regulations contain all-embracing provisions that prohibit anything that would endanger national security and even "Governmental change".
While the State's lawyers play these down, there is always a sense of unease that some hotheads in Government can misuse these provisions "to teach someone a lesson" as has been the case whenever the Public Security Ordinance has been invoked in the past.
The President must see that he does not make the error of allowing the Emergency Regulations to continue indefinitely, like when it was introduced in 1971 to quash the JVP uprising, being removed only in 1977, long after it was quelled.
There are other troubling issues that have been argued ad nauseam with no answers. Are laws to be silent during a clash of arms? Are the media to shut their eyes and ears to improper conduct by those prosecuting the war?
Why did President Rajapaksa not say in his address that corrupt military top brass would be taken to task? Would that have demoralised the military? Or is it that reeking corruption in the forces is the offspring of a long and never-ending war that has demoralised the foot-soldier? These questions also need an answer.
While the nation would -- and should -- back its Commander-in-Chief in his war on terror, it is the duty of some to show him where he may be going wrong. That cannot mean they are against his Government, surely.
The majority of the minority Tamils, still remain loyal to a sovereign Sri Lanka, but a fear-psychosis has naturally enveloped them in the belief that the new laws promulgated this week could mean further torment and harassment to them in their daily lives.
The Rajapaksa Government must, therefore, take every step, nay go that extra mile, to ensure that these hapless citizens of the country are not thrown further into the open arms of the terror organisations -- for that would defeat the very purpose for which these laws have been promulgated.