Marapana’s brave stand

After weeks of charges from the opposition and denials from the government regarding the fragile character of the security situation in Trincomalee, Defence Minister, Tilak Marapana has gone on record to admit that the LTTE has increased its strengh in the areas surrounding the Trincomalee harbour during the current ceasefire. He has acknowledged, perforce, that there is an increasted threat.

This admission is important on several counts. This is the first time that a senior member of the cabinet has admitted that things are not as rosy as the general public have been made to believe, a fact that the media has continuously pointed out editorially and otherwise ever since the MoU was signed. It takes courage to stand up and admit, virtually, that maintaining a silence on this was counter-productive.

Also, given that the matter of seeking to secure peace is as arduous as making war, and in fact fraught with greater complexities on account of the delicate nature of the process, it is imperative that the government obtains the support of the people for its initiative. The surest way of losing support is being dishonest or cagey about the ground situation, especially since one cannot expect the public to forget all the atrocities of the LTTE and believe it has turned over a new leaf just like that.

For too long the government has either been in self-denial or has believed that the people can be kept in the dark without suffering any political fallout. This increasingly led to a massive loss of credibility in the eyes of the people about the government’s capacity to read the political manoeuverings related to the LTTE’s covert and overt military operations in the North and East. Since it is by now clear that whatever agreement is reached between the government and the LTTE regarding the political parameters of a lasting peace, it has to be approved by the people, it is political suicide to lose the confidence of these final arbiters before the event. Marapana’s statement therefore is more a boost for the peace initiative than an indictment of the same. It strengthens the hand of the government in the negotiations and simultaneously pulls the rug under the feet of oppositional protest, especially since Marapana has also pointed out that the government has not been sleeping while all this was happening. Marapana claims that the armed forces are prepared for any evntuality.

That the LTTE has been stockpiling arms, conducting recuitment drives, conscripting children even as they were "releasing" child soldiers (whose existence they had steadfastedly denied for well over a year), extracting illegal taxes from people in the North and East, is all known. They have gone to the extent of thumbing their noses at the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission with respect to the Manirasakulam camp, clearly indicating that they have not abandoned the so-called military option, despite Thamilselvan’s avowal that the LTTE will not go back to war. All this is in keeping with the LTTE’s considerable history of thinking war while pledging to a peacefully negotiated settlement. The government had to expect from day one that the LTTE will find war and war-preparation a hard habit to kick. It is one thing to dismiss criticism of the LTTE’s commitment to peace as being authored by anti-peace, chauvinistic political interests and quite another to kid yourself.

There is a difference between being optimistic and being pragmatic. Optimism is the stuff of political rhetoric and it does have its uses. Optimism without a shadow of pragmatism could be called buffoonery and whatever the people of this country may deserve, they don’t deserve this. Marapana has made the correct move this time. He has said it as it is.

Saying it is not enough. There is more to be done. The government has to regain the initiative that it has willingly conceded to the LTTE in the negotiations. The LTTE must be taught that a negotiating process is akin to commerce. There is a "give" and there is a "take". The LTTE has to be taught that if it is not prepared to do the "give" part of the deal, then the deal is just not going to work. The government can easily claim to have walked not just the extra mile (willingly, unwillingly or unwittingly) but several miles in fact. It can now stand and say, "It is pay-back time". To do this, all the anti-peace activities of the LTTE have to be revealed to the public. It is a thin line that lies between revelation and vilification, but the government has to take the risk of doing this delicate balancing act. The government has decided that it will talk. The government has to see that all this talking will come to nought if the people turn around and say, "Enough!" and "Out!" That is the challenge of the would-be peace-maker. Tilak Marapana has taken a brave stand. Let us hope his government is brave enough to follow suit.

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