The war ends, the battle for peace begins

In war, to the victor go the fruits of victory, while the vanquished end up with just deserts. That has been the age-old lesson, and this week, after all too long, the Commander-in-Chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was able to announce victory and declare an insurgency of nearly 30 years, closed.

A generation of Sri Lankans has grown up not knowing anything but bombings, killings, curfews and economic stagnation. In the North and East where the now decimated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam launched their military campaign for independence from Colombo and their utopian state of 'Eelam', it has been a life not worth living, buffeted as they were by two warring forces engaged in a bloody fight for supremacy.

It has been fashionable for foreign dignitaries, visiting envoys and diplomats on short-term tenures, politicians and peaceniks of varying nationalities to mouth the mantra that the LTTE took up arms because the 'genuine grievances' of the minorities had not been met in Sri Lanka since Independence in 1948. This is repeated even today, ad nauseam.

The hard truth is that the LTTE and its fellow travellers sprang from discrimination within their own community. It was no different to the rise of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna of yesteryear among the majority Sinhalese. Thousands of politically active youth had the same chance as a snowball in hell of getting into Parliament if they happened to be born to the 'wrong' caste. Even though the traditional politicians will not admit it, in the 1977 General Elections, when the mainstream Tamil United Liberation Front won 14 seats and with it, the office of the Leader of the Opposition, 13 of the MPs were from the hierarchy of the traditional Hindu social order - the solitary other entered by a quirk of circumstances.

This was the fundamental reason the LTTE took up arms, because Parliament was not a place that they could desecrate with their presence. That is why they looked outside the parliamentary system, first eliminated the traditional Tamil political leadership, then the competing factions so as to proclaim themselves the 'sole representatives of the Tamils'. That was step one of the 'liberation movement' - a liberation from the mainstream of traditional politics because of their own repressive social order in which they were damned for good as if they were the children of a lesser god.

If one traces the origins of this bloody insurrection, the early attacks were on their own people in addition to attacks on state institutions. The 1983 race riots in Colombo and elsewhere, however, gave this 'liberation' movement a completely different colouring - an ethnic flavour, so to say. Quickly, the LTTE shed whatever Marxist orientations it had because Marxism was losing its appeal worldwide and acquired an exclusively racist approach. With it the "genuine grievances of the Tamils" refrain was also sustained almost like a broken gramophone. While to this President goes the eternal credit for 'finishing the job' insofar as breaking the back of the evil LTTE military machine, one must not forget nor lightly dismiss the different roles played over the last three decades by the different leaders in this tragic chapter of contemporary Sri Lankan history.

This week's Presidential announcement has been the culmination of a process - a very long process, which made it easier for both the Sri Lankan public as well as many worldwide (with the possible exception of those in the Western world who somehow saw things through a different prism, and whose duplicity knew no bounds) to accept the reality that the LTTE was not interested in a negotiated settlement. The LTTE wanted to keep its war machine active partly because it was too inter-linked to the Tamil Diaspora octopus that was funding the vast organization known as 'Eelam Incorporated'. They knew all too well that the funds would have evaporated unless they waged war. The LTTE leaders knew too that even if they may not have had a realistic chance of winning a separate state by force of arms, they were 'dead ducks' should they have opted to a political system of government, given the number of enemies they had made among their own community in their ruthless quest for supremacy and a one-party state.

The insurgency craftily choreographed by India was thrust upon the J.R. Jayewardene administration thirty years ago. Due to India's backing of the LTTE, the West which the Jayewardene government bent backwards to please in search of economic assistance at the time, shied away. It was Pakistan and China that came to our assistance - with Israel as proxy for the US and in search of diplomatic recognition at the time. Despite all its unpreparedness, that government appointed a Minister of National Security to oversee the 'war effort' and was on the verge of a military victory as far back as 1987 when the now well chronicled Indian intervention put paid to that exercise. To make matters worse, India force-fed this country a system of government called the Provincial Councils.

In between, the Jayewardene government tried to talk peace with the LTTE under Indian supervision. It paid no dividend. President Jayewardene's successor President R. Premadasa also tried peace, believing as he did that the LTTE would trust him, unlike his predecessor. Ultimately, he paid with his life at the hands of the LTTE. His successor, President D.B. Wijetunga succeeded in clearing the East, and the new President, Chandrika Kumaratunga also tried the peace approach - then the war approach -then again, the peace approach with Norway.

And then came the much-maligned tenure of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the controversial MoU with the LTTE in 2002, brokered by Norway and backed by the Sri Lankan donor community. The entire fault in allowing the LTTE to re-build has been laid at the doorstep of that MoU and the ceasefire of 2002 - which incidentally, was as popular then as is the crushing of the LTTE now.

People - north, south, east, west and central just wanted peace. So much so, the LTTE was disturbed by this massive mass support for peace even in the north and east. It is true that the LTTE made use of the MoU to re-arm and build its infrastructure; it had its own de-facto state with its banks, taxes, courts and even a law college. Most of these factors were highlighted at the time in the Defence column of this newspaper, and the then Opposition knew how to take political advantage of these developments. But, it was also a fact, that the LTTE leadership was thoroughly unnerved by the undercurrents of 'peace'.

The break-up of the LTTE military machine from which it never recovered happened due to this MoU and the peace talks at the time. An influential section of the LTTE was drawn out of the jungle and into the bright neon lights of a better world outside. The LTTE's eastern commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, has admitted that it was during the peace talks at the time that he realized that the LTTE's approach to a separate state by armed conflict would not succeed. This was the beginning of the end of the LTTE as a fighting outfit. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran himself conceded that the Wickremesinghe government's MoU and the 'international safety net' that guaranteed it, was a "trap", when he opted to call for a forced boycott of the 2005 Presidential elections in the Tamil districts ensuring Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa's eventual victory as President.

Next to the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi which alienated India from his campaign, the 2005 Presidential elections boycott would have been arguably Prabhakaran's worst blunder. He clearly under-estimated the new President believing him to be a military and political pushover, and he certainly did not bargain for the return of the President's brother to assume the role of Defence Secretary.

President Rajapaksa too tried the peace option by going for talks with the LTTE, until the LTTE again kicked the negotiating table aside and kept prodding him to a point of no return. It was at this stage that that he read the public mood, and felt justified in proclaiming that the LTTE was not interested in a political negotiation. It was then easy to convince both home and a large constituency abroad, that there was no other way than a military solution. And that lessons from past experiences showed not to allow another ceasefire. The single-minded pursuit of that military solution must go to the Defence Secretary together with the Service Commanders who saw through the final home run.

These are historical facts, and one cannot rewrite the script. That the Opposition, partly piqued by the Government's successes on the war front, and partly due to its own in-fighting, is now caught on the wrong side of history unable to stake its share in the dividends of this popular victory.

Questions are asked today whether the end justified the means. Whether the number of civilian casualties - and soldiers lost in battle - was worth the effort. In an insurgency that had already cost an estimated 70,000 lives and countless misery, the answer is clear.

History will also judge the rise and fall of the LTTE leadership, and how the leaders used - to the bitter end of their own lives - these same civilians as a shield for themselves.

The residual problems will now have to be faced once the victory parades are done and dusted. The gradual process of turning swords into ploughshares must begin and the families of the soldiers who shed their blood in that part of the country need to be rewarded.

One may need to anticipate sporadic attacks by the remnants of the terrorist group. But rebuilding lives and reconstructing devastated areas are the greater challenges ahead. The support of friendly governments and agencies will be required. Towards this task, some skilful diplomacy is sorely needed.

The LTTE succeeded in galvanizing the support of those Sri Lankans who formed the huge Diaspora that fled the country post-1983 and giving them an element of self-respect following the disgusting riots.

They built a huge empire that was able to arm their military machine, both by means fair and foul; coercion and intimidation being part of the ploy. They created what could truly be called 'Eelam Incorporated' that would make even organizations like the IRA look like boy scouts. They had a network that made inroads into every sphere of Sri Lankan life right up to the Cabinet of Ministers. This week, an Indian documentary film-maker who made the movie 'Cyanide' said that he was able to meet the LTTE supremo in the Wanni jungles through the good offices of a Sri Lankan Cabinet Minister. That was their deadly reach.

Unfortunately, they were unable to transform the organization into pursuing a workable solution and went headlong, knowingly, into a rock. They themselves had caught the tiger's tail and were unable to let it go.

Political analysts fear that the second generation of the Tamil Diaspora, young people who can't even speak the language of their forefathers have been made to carry on the 'struggle'. Western governments are concerned that they would take a leaf from the Islamic Diaspora in those countries, discriminated as they are in their daily lives, venting their frustrations on a different cause with which they can 'identify'. This Diaspora has a duty to put their money where their collective mouths have been these last few weeks complaining about the plight of the civilians who faced the brunt of the final assault on the LTTE leadership. They need to send their bank drafts for the relief and rehabilitation work ahead. They need to 'walk the talk', as they say in the West.

It is also time for the moderate Tamil political leadership to re-emerge -- the likes of V. Anandasangaree (who has written a special piece in this newspaper today), and those one-time rebels who have embraced the democratic process, so that those who are not necessarily in the right social hierarchy of traditional Tamil politics be given a chance to engage in political activity and become part and parcel of the political leadership of the North and East.

But that political leadership must shed the emphasis on the 'Tamil' part of their name. So long as we have political parties that emphasize a community, in order to win a class of votes, to be used as a bargaining lever in coalition politics, Sri Lanka will not be able to march to a single drum. Divisive politics will continue to stay.

The mantra of a 'political solution' will be bandied about by the same know-alls who spoke of the 'genuine grievances' of the Tamils in the weeks and months ahead. The best answers would surely come from the people who have suffered. Do they want their lives re-built or is the 13th Amendment the cure for all ailments?

The Government needs to ask them what they want; and having now savoured the moment, get down to converting

'Freedom Regained' to 'Paradise Regained' in the months ahead. In the words of the poet,
"He who did well in war just earns the right,
To begin doing well in peace".

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