& A on the Peace Process
By R. Chandrasoma
R: This is a kind of explanatory day-dreaming that is very popular with politicians but is hardly in consonance with the facts. The wretched state of our country is largely the result of the opportunism, the double-dealing, the short-sightedness and the total lack of patriotism of a leadership catarpulated into power by a flawed electoral process in which the poor barter their votes for quick-fixes promised by politicians. The terrorist Prabhakaran has certainly queered the pitch by his brigandage, but the salient point is that this brigandage would have been minor were it not for the shamelss dithering of those in power during the critical years.
SD: Have we not spent billions on the armed forces? Have we not supplied with assiduity their every reasonable want? We had given them a carte blanche to defeat the enemy and they have failed spectacularly. Not only is this war pointless - it is futile. Those fighting for a righteous cause cannot be defeated by a mere deployment of the best in weaponry. It is time the foolish Sinhalayas digested this basic truth. To point out this truism is in no way to demean the effort of our fighting men. Our forces must be employed to defend an integrated Sri Lanka rather than to quell regional identifications that are an inalienable feature of the many and varied peoples that inhabit our fair island.
R: Billions have certainly been spent on the armed forces but it is a moot point whether these billions have been cost-effective in terms of actual fighting capacity. Billions are spent on education with results that are spectacularly meagre - does this mean that we must give up the fight against ignorance? More importantly, the billions spent on defence have been robbed on a scale quite unprecedented in the annals of public administration in this country. Political stooges and nincompoops (ably assisted by disgustingly venal servicemen in pivotal positions in the command- structure) made large-scale purchases with an eye on commissions while turning a blind-eye on their use in the battlefield. The Air Force spent billions on attack-helicopters that, alas, played no significant role in ground-attack for fear of shoulder-fired missiles. Most were lost for reasons unknown. The once-proud Air Force is now a Taxi-Service for Tiger and non-Tiger VIPs. It is not my intention to tarnish the image of our fighting men but the truth must be told about a saga of profligacy in defence spending that had little to do with the actual defence of our motherland. Let me advert to a more telling truth in this regard. It is no good spending millions on a hospital if the clinical staff is directed by politicians whose agenda may not quite be the expedious treatment of the sick and the dying. Likewise, there cannot be a cost-effective military campaign if the political leadership is constantly plagued by thoughts of the morality and usefulness of the conflict. Indeed, the position was more dire - no political leader of Sri Lanka (with the possible exception of President DBW) had a clear commitment to defeat the enemy. The battle-cry at the time - if indeed, it could be called a battle-cry - was to weaken the enemy so that he may be forced to get to the negotiating table. With this kind con-talk by a leadership whose inner sympathies were with the enemy, is it any surprise that a stronghold manned by around 40,000 men (Elephant Pass) was starved, poisoned and overrun by a few thousand armed ruffians? Indecision and cowardice trickles down. You say the war is pointless and futile. It is certainly futile if it is waged in the sorry fashion that I have tried to outline. On its pointlessness - the nub of the matter is the issue of perspective. For those who regard history and nationhood as expendables in the unsavoury game of horse-trading with the enemy, the battle is, indeed, futile.
SD: Undoubtedly, there is some truth in what you say about the bungling and mismanagement that characterized the conduct of the war against Prabhakaran. On the moral equivocation of our leaders regarding the exact modus operandi to be adopted in dealing with a dangerous uprising of our Northern Youth, I cannot agree with your contemptuous analysis. There is, indeed, a problem that has been resolved definitively by our current leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. He has no qualms on this issue - the rights of the indigenes of the North and East must be respected and their autonomy guaranteed. War is no solution. He is not prepared to sacrifice lives for a cause that has neither moral warrant nor operational feasibility
R: On the issue of lost lives, let me remind you that about 2000 of our citizens are butchered annually on our roads. Tens of thousands are maimed. Our suicide rate - largely achieved through the ingestion of agricultural insecticides - is about the highest in the world. The murder rate of poor females employed in the Middle East (about a thousand per year) would have appalled the conscience of any civilized nation. Have your soft-soured leaders who are so touchingly conscientious on the issue of battlefield deaths given a thought to these matters? Our soldiers were duped into believing that they were fighting to defend their motherland. The wisdom that they were mere expendable pawns in hypocritical game played out by politicians came (for some) too late to save their lives. Regardless of the niceties of interpretation, sacrificial death in battle is a price that any sovereign nation must be prepared to pay to safeguard its independence. On the inalienable rights of the minorities, two distinct issues have been cunningly conflated by the political leadership of both camps. The issue of Prabhakarans brigandage must not be confused with minority militancy and claims for territorial autonomy. The war must be ruthlessly prosecuted against the law-breaker, killer and internationally renowned terrorist Prabhakaran. No sane person has advocated a war to suppress the Tamils. The disaster we confront today is the willing acceptance by the government in power that the terror-regime of Prabhakaran authentically represents a Peoples Uprising of the Northern and Eastern Tamils. Indeed, it has gone beyond this - its emissaries are cries-crossing the globe imploring heavy-weights in the international community to help rebuild the North and East. An autarchic fighting state is being created by the very people who will be its victims in a future conflict. This kind of madness has few parallels in history.
SD: All this is fine rhetoric but we must face reality in all its harshness. Sri Lanka is no longer whole - part of it has broken off and is, indeed, a de facto state. This Eelam has its unquestioned leader recognized by his fellow-fighters and the people of the disputed territory. It is Hobsons choice for the Sri Lankan Government - deal with him or quell him by force of arms. Since we have found the second route a cul-de-sac that has won us few friends and many powerful enemies, it a wise move to make our erstwhile enemy a collaborator in building a peaceful Sri Lanka. That our government has the backing of the International Community in pursuing this radical pitch for peace gives us a strength that more than overrides concerns expressed by some over the legality of these moves. Confederacy is the lesser of two evils, the other of which is outright division. This explains the paradox of dividing Sri Lanka to preserve its unity.
R: The dichotomy you describe is a wilful misrepresentation of the choices available to a prescient leadership. If the enemy was too resourceful to be defeated and, if socioeconomic pressures made open warfare too costly to countenance, a third choice was open to our leadership and ought to have been seized with alacrity. Our forces should have been strategically redeployed to defensible positions. The enemy should have been hedged into areas in which his dominance could be challenged only through perilously stretched supply lines and a wasteful use of scarce military resources. The East and the Trincomalee region with beefed-up perimeter defences could then have constituted the new theatre of operations in which the enemy could have been kept at bay with the minimum use of naval and ground forces. All this could have been done at a time of heightened global concern over the threats of terrorism. An economic blockade of the Tiger-held territories under the auspices of a global campaign to eradicate terrorism would have brought Prabhakaran to his knees in no time. This was not done. The interesting question is why this healing option went a begging. Your talk of an already divided Lanka is laughable in its naivety. The brigand held sway over large swathes of territory that were fed and watered by a foolish central government. Today the brigand has become an all-conquering hero with the Sri Lankan Host at the beck and call of the blood-thirsty parasite Prabhakaran.
SD: These hypothetical posturings and argumentative subtleties are of no interest to a nation passing through a period fraught with challenging and stressful difficulties. Our leader has a solution backed by tried and trusted friends in the International Community is the duty of all patriotic citizens to give him their full backing.
R: It is not for me to question the bona fides of the leader who has been thrust upon us at this fateful hour in the history of our tormented nation. He, doubtless, acts with great sincerity in attempting to reshape Sri Lanka in ways that reflect the elitist culture within which he was spawned. The vast majority of the people of this country hold this culture to be alien if nor abhorrent. To this sidelined majority, the religion of The Buddha and the Sinhala Nation-State are ineradicable engrams in the constitution of that which we call Lanka. To barter this away in the name of a spurious peace is the ultimate betrayal.
|NEWS | OPINION | BUSINESS | EDITORIAL | CARTOON | SPORTS|