The Government has taken a step back, rather wisely if one may say so, even at this late stage saying it would, after all, investigate any credible evidence there may be in the allegations that International Humanitarian Law violations occurred during the last stages of the military offensive against the LTTE in 2009.
After the initial chest-thumping, and sometimes theatrical reactions to often duplicitous demands by the Western countries for accountability during those critical days, the Government has not only seen the writing on the wall but some sense as well.
We have long urged a measured and clinical approach to this call by the West, however, flawed it may have been. International real-politik demanded such an approach; not the hysterical one that we saw.
There may have been genuine concerns in the corridors of power that the West, slighted that its call to go slow on the assault on the LTTE was not heeded at that stage, was pandering to the pro-LTTE Diaspora in Western countries and stirring the pot in Sri Lanka.
These same Western countries saw things with a Nelsonian eye on human rights violations during times of war, and were blind to what their own armed forces were doing in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the whole issue was thoroughly mishandled by the authorities here and now the final report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) seems to have at least put things in perspective -- and given the Government a fresh lease to rectify matters, even at this stage.
Indeed, the LLRC had no mandate to make individual investigations and it is now up to the Government to set the record right. There is, however, no need, to bend backwards to appease the human rights bloodhounds who are active everywhere in the world other than the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan The Government would do well to study and adopt the very legal mechanisms taken by these Western countries to investigate, inquire, reprimand or punish those men in uniform fighting their 'war on terrorism'. These could range from military tribunals to special commissions. For these probes produce only hot air, but then they wont be able to complain.
It is not possible to comment on the recommendations of the LLRC with the Government keeping the report close to its chest and not making it available in the public domain. What lessons there are to be learnt from the 30-year horrific experience the people of this country went through as the learned commissioners have to tell us after their deliberations will no doubt be eagerly awaited.
From what little driblets of information we have of what the report contains, it would appear that the commissioners were not hamstrung by the limited mandate and time frame given to them to probe only what happened since 2002; and that they have gone very much into the roots of the problem. But if we are to hazard a guess at this stage, we can ask if the commissioners dealt deeply enough with the Indian equation in this entire saga.
Not that it matters too much today with the end of the 'war' and new issues at hand, but it would certainly be of more than academic interest for students of international relations and strategic studies and a lesson learnt that Sri Lanka cannot simply live in blissful isolation in the modern world.
Demilitarise society gradually
Questions may arise in some circles as to the need for a large Budget allocation for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) -- second biggest after the Ministry of Finance - in peace time when other sectors, long ignored during the 30 year 'war, are crying out for a financial hand.
The MoD has been allocated a tidy sum of the Rs. 2.22 trillion total Budget for 2012 - Rs.230 billion or 10.3 percent of it. The end of 'war' does not mean the country should lower its guard. Vigilance is the eternal price of liberty may well be the thinking behind the massive allocation for defence although the last LTTE bomb to go off on the surface of this country was almost three years ago. We are still paying the price, financially for the war with weapons bought on IOUs, but from the accounts we see that a large part of the money voted for the MoD covers the ministry's recurrent expenditure that goes into the payment of salaries and maintenance for a military that leaped in numbers to defeat the terrorists.
Besides, there are social issues linked to the welfare of the soldiers who fought to uphold the territorial integrity of this country, especially those who suffered permanent disability. Slashing the defence budget and downsizing the military could mean dumping the soldier on the street into the ranks of the un-employed. This cannot be done at least until such time the economy is strong enough to absorb them into worthwhile jobs which give them a living wage. The eight per cent economic growth the Central Bank boasts of may not still be enough.
Furthermore, new factors came into play with the advent of a former Army Commander into the political arena. There has been a purge of men in the Army and Police with questionable loyalty to the incumbents in office, and any mass scale demobilization might swell the ranks of political opponents of the Government. The Government must be looking at these men as young, disciplined and able-bodied to be detailed to do a job of work their civilian counterparts drag their feet in doing. We saw them at work cleaning canals, demolishing buildings and selling vegetables.
And yet, in a democracy, the military's role is well defined. The military must be confined to the barracks only to brought out in times of national emergencies and threats to public security. By encouraging the military to dabble in normal civilian chores or ordinary commercial enterprises will turn Sri Lanka into another Egypt or Pakistan or even China where the military controls close to one third of the national economy -- owning land, housing schemes, hotels, golf clubs, engaging in business activities and even manufacturing pots and pans. In such a scenario, the military gains a stranglehold on both the administration and the economy and needs to become an appendage of the Government, one needing the other, a state within a state as in Egypt and Pakistan. Invariably, democracy suffers, the citizen is suppressed, while corruption and nepotism is rampant.
Hence, the Government needs to rethink this strategy as we move further away from the defeat of terrorism and demilitarize society, gradually. It must not lapse into the false comfort of believing it needs the military to prop it up. It is far safer for the Government to rely on the popular support of the people for its continued existence.