by Rajiva Wijesinha
Much water has flowed under the bridge since then. Indeed much water has flowed over several arms laden ships which the Tigers have sunk, suggesting that the bridges might soon collapse. For my own part, I have also had the privilege of talking to several people connected with the now defunct TULF, and this has helped to clarify my views on what might happen.
I will not name them, except for one who I think will not be under any threat. I refer to Mr. Sambandan, who has managed throughout his career to keep everyone at least moderately happy, while also being eminently rational about most issues. He will not be assassinated, whoever else is, but at the same time he is someone whom everyone involved in discussions and negotiations should listen to, in view of his extensive and comprehensive experience.
Interestingly enough, he was categorical in dismissing a report in the ‘Hindustan Times’ that a group in Mullaitivu had urged the Tigers to return to armed struggle. I was a bit nervous about this, because I remembered, as Mr. Sambandan did, that in 1987 the Tigers had gone to war with the Indians ostensibly because of a memorandum by groups in the South East urging them to take up arms. But his view was that the current report was an exaggeration, and that the Tamils in general wanted peace.
The other two people I met, relations of TULF leaders who are no more, also agreed about the Tamil position. One of them however, with doubtless bitter memories of the astonishingly bold assassination that had caused the bereavement, was less sanguine about the Tiger position. Reference was made to the argument now advanced by one of the few Tamil politicians who has not joined the TNA, that the Tigers had agreed to the cease-fire for four reasons.
One was to infiltrate Colombo. The second was to infiltrate and take over the areas in the North and East which they had been largely shut out from before. The third was to eliminate the informers who had managed before the cease-fire to put the Tigers on the defensive in at least some respects. The fourth was to build up the manpower that had been reduced significantly in the preceding couple of years, and to stock up on new weapons.
All this, I was told, had now been accomplished. So it was only a matter of time before hostilities were resumed. And this seemed also the attitude of the third person I spoke to, who clearly has no continuing interest in politics. The bottom line in that case was that the Tigers were determined to establish a totalitarian regime, as the assassination of Mr. Subathiran made clear. He was a relation of sorts, and I realized then how many Tamil politicians had lost relations, not so much to the Sri Lankan army or the Indian, as to the LTTE. I was told that Mr. Anandasagaree for instance has lost a couple of nephews, and in such a context it is understandable that he and the LTTE should part company once the incompatibility of their priorities became clear.
Should Ranil then start preparing for war? Not at all, I feel, since peace is what the majority of Sri Lankans, Sinhalese as well as Tamil, fervently desire. But promoting peace requires concerted effort, not the corrupt caricatures of commitment that the government has so far managed to offer. In that respect, as I said a few weeks back, Mr. Balasingham’s letter raises some very real issues.
The Tiger position is that, given the staggering incompetence, if not always dishonesty, of the majority of Ranil’s minions, only they can solve the problem. Ranil’s problem is that Tiger control of rehabilitation means Tiger domination with regard to weapons, manpower, terrain and public sympathy. There are those who argue that that would not be a bad thing, but even they are thrown off balance by the single-minded Tiger determination to eliminate all opposition. Even tactful Mr. Sambandan had to admit that the spate of killings was unacceptable, though he would go so far only as to claim that it diminished confidence. But if that is the carefully balanced view, the horror of a more immediate response cannot be gainsaid.
What makes it impossible for Ranil to deal with this? One argument is that he believes that his administration is totally incapable. The argument, presented before the Tokyo Conference apparently by a spokesman from ‘the Prime Minister’s Office’, was that ‘"the ability to use the monies"’ pledged was ‘"one of the main drawbacks"’. Hence ‘the Sri Lankan delegation is expected to take up the position that Government Ministries are no longer capable of drawing up all the proposals, and that "outsourcing" such exercises would be on the cards soon’.
Now if I were in charge of a government that was that incapable, I would long ago have retired. But unfortunately, instead of electing me four years ago to the Presidency, despite the opportunity the Liberal Party so generously offered the nation to do this, the nation decided that Chandrika was to be preferred. Then, two years ago, realizing its mistake, it threw Ranil in for good measure. Neither has been able to deliver the goods on their own, which strengthens my conviction that the country made a fatal mistake way back in 1999. But, to be optimistic, I am sure that between them they would not be quite as incapable as they have proved themselves individually.
Why then do they not combine? In this instance I do not think we can blame Chandrika, since the proposal for cooperation needs to come from the stronger if it is to be a partnership of equals rather than an absorption of the weaker by the stronger. Unfortunately, as we saw with Chandrika in 2001 and with Ranil over the last eighteen months, the quality of grace is singularly lacking in Sri Lankan public figures, so what might be termed stooping to conquer is quite beyond them. So, where Ranil should at least now be working seriously at making cohabitation a positive force, he is more concerned with suggesting to the nation that Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Blair and even that large Mr. Armstrong are cooperating with him even if Chandrika will not.
Will he ever learn? Some say that is impossible, given his record. Others say he would try but he is fearful that cooperation will mean Chandrika, with her superior public relations capacities, running away with the credit. In short, he cannot afford to allow either Chandrika to win public sympathy for any peace agreement that is reached.
So it is possible that nothing will move forward. But if that happens, clearly everything will start moving backward. Ranil cannot afford that, given how much he more than anyone else relies on the peace dividend. So the chances are that, given his incapacity to find efficient people to develop the North East, given his pathological incapacity to compromise with the President, when he next puts forward proposals for an interim administration, he will grant the Tigers much of what they want. Not absolutely everything, since I believe the man does have at least some self respect left. But since compromise with Tigers is preferable to dealing disingenuously with the President, the Tigers will find that their intransigence has paid off.
As they would have known all along. After all, having studied Sri Lankan army dispositions so carefully for so long, there is little doubt that they would also have studied the psychology of our revered leaders. And that, sadly, is a bit of a pushover.
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