Situation Report

6th October 1996

'Delivered' from the oppressor?

By Iqbal Athas

An oft repeated claim by the government and vociferously echoed by politicians in that they are winning the hearts and minds of the people in the re-occupied areas of the Jaffna peninsula - or, at least, they claim, are now accepted by the people as their “deliverers” from the suffering and privation under LTTE domination.

How real is this claim and does it manifest a political turnaround of the Tamil opinion or at least a nascent political shift from a pro-Eelam mindset?

The much tossed around now trite phrase of winning the hearts and minds of the people is a dressed up expression for pacification operations in insurgency war. Though defined in fancy language, in essence, it is nothing more than a programme designed to remove the reasons of the conflict. Herein lies the challenge to a successful pacification exercise.

Control regained

By regaining control of much of the peninsula, the government has established its writ in an area which was for many years under LTTE control. This mandate has now been extended to Kilinochchi.

Even though the official news releases of the Operational Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence state that the civilian population has abandoned Kilinochchi, it is a matter of time before they return to their homesteads as was the case in the peninsula in the aftermath of the series of operations code named “Rivieresa.”

The return to their lands and homes is an overwhelming compulsion especially to a society with limited land resources. This does not by itself necessarily signify a demonstration of confidence in the government or express dissatisfaction with the LTTE.

Implementation of rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes in these areas is a government obligation. It is what is expected of government. In doing so a measure of goodwill is generated as a bonus to public relations. The winning of hearts and minds, however goes beyond the mundane provision of public utilities and material comforts.

Details of phase three of Operation Sath Jaya, one of the momentous military operations, cannot be discussed in view of the ongoing news blackout due to the censorship.

The Eelam conflict challenges the viability of the Nation. Therefore the process of pacification must necessarily address itself to that challenge. A successful hearts and minds programme is more difficult than providing for the physical needs of the people.

In fact Marie Antoinette tried it by offering cakes in place of bread!!! Is there a similarity.

The failure of inappropriately formulated pacification programmes in other insurgencies illustrate the socio-political complexities encountered in even the most well meant situations. Vietnam is perhaps the best example of the failure of both French and United States efforts.

Of course, in the Vietnam example as in many other cases the “benefactors” were invariably foreign powers intervening in indigenous conflicts with little in-depth feel of the socio-political realities.

In Sri Lanka’s case the situation is not quite the same though the two nation syndrome, which has been drummed into the Tamil political psyche by their political leaders and the LTTE for two decades, can be contentious. Shibboleth though it may seem to political opponents, that syndrome is central to the Eelam ideology.

In the overall approach to a total war strategy, a clear political objective is sine qua non. This fact is often repeated by our political leaders but little else has been done to determine a clear and purposeful political strategy. Part of the reason for this hiatus is the lack of national unity.

In stating this, the reference is not the divisiveness resulting from the Eelam war but the lack of consensus and co-operation among a nation as a whole sadly fragmented by political and other social fault lines.

Whereas the social divisions are breaking down even though they are steeped in historical and cultural practices, the political divisions regretfully appear to be getting from bad to worse.

Economy affected

This not only affects the economy and well being of the country but more disastrously is a threat to the security of the country and its people. In the past two decades, two insurgencies and a full scale war have brought the country to the brink of disaster.

Even today, with the country spending over 30 billion on defence with the prospect of this increasing in the upcoming budget, there is no prospect of any political will to bury the hatchet in regard to parochial party differences. Party interests have superseded national interest.

Even in news conferences given by Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte under a tight censorship highlighted in the media, whilst explaining his war strategy he opened fire on what he calls were lapses on the previous regime. There is no quarrel with his war strategy as indeed it must be calculated approach to the war balancing the many aspects which goes to formulate national policy.

Indeed if there was a variation in the war strategies between this regime and the previous one, it would have been and should have been as a result of the deliberation of the political, economic and military factors. This would have emanated from the National Security Council in which there is a military representation.

The people of this country have to assume that whatever strategy that emanated was in the best national interest and not designed towards selfish, parochial party interest.

It is futile to keep harping back and blaming previous regimes and administrations. If one were to logically or illogically trace back the history of the war, the finger could also be pointed at the major constituent party of the ruling People’s Alliance.

It was in the 1970, that the then Prime Minister, Hon. Sirimavo Bandaranike on visiting Jaffna responding to an appeal made on a public platform by the then Mayor of Jaffna, the late Alfred Duraiappah, released some 42 youths in Police custody for inquiries into politically motivated offences. Among those released was Velupillai Prabhakaran, who expressed his gratitude by killing Mr. Duraiappah.

Ridiculous exercise

The good Minister Ratwatta now a General should well remember this incident for he was, I believe, in Jaffna as a mere Lieutenant Colonel in the Army as Security Liaison Officer accompanying then Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike at that moment of history.

Alas, since then how much more water has flowed under the bridge!!!

That incident occurred during the beginning of the guerrilla movement.

Thus the finger of responsibility, if one were to stretch arguments, could also be pointed at the SLFP. It may be possible to even go back a little further and point the finger off blame at the UNP government which preceded the 1970 SLFP government, or even the Chelvanayakam pact with Dudley Senanayake and S.W.R.D. Bandaranike. This needless to say, is a ridiculous exercise akin to the argument as to which came first, the chicken or the egg.

What the public expect today is not to blame political parties and leaders for their omissions and commissions but rather for the politicians to get together and solve national problem. And the greatest of these, which is bleeding the people of this country is a the Eelam war.

The need of the day is national unity. The requirement to find a peaceful solution to the war also emanates from national unity.

The paradox in Sri Lanka's mad political culture is that a bitterly divided parliament, confrontational or even the gravest national issues, is attempting to negotiate peace and national unity in the northern conflict. Befitting this situation is the adage physician heal thyself.

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