They're barking up the wrong tree

No war is devoid of politics. War is an extension of politics by other means as Clausewitz famously said, for a war is always fought to achieve a political goal at the behest of a political leader. But, the surest way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, so to speak, is to over-politicise the prosecution of a war. This country has a long history of making that mistake and results were catastrophic. Victories that were few and far between came when politicians desisted from interfering with the military. Operation Liberation (1987) under the JRJ government was a huge success as the armed forces enjoyed freedom to decide on their priorities in taking on the terrorists. The army had almost taken Prabhakaran, when India intervened and rescued him.

The late President Ranasinghe Premadasa's regime experienced only a string of humiliating defeats, as it dithered on the question of war not knowing whether it was making peace or waging war. President Premadasa, as a political writer cynically wrote once, was running with the Tigers and hunting with the military and in the end he did not know whether he was running or hunting! The country fared well in war under President D. B. Wijetunge as he did not let his political agenda clash with the priorities of the military. He managed to clear most of the Eastern Province and hold LG polls there. The Kumaratunga government, too, proved the country had the potential to crush terrorism by taking back Jaffna which was considered an impregnable bastion of the LTTE in 1995. Then politicians began to do generals' job and the rest is history.

We saw the country's total capitulation to terrorism under the Wickremesinghe government which allowed the LTTE to stockpile arms, infiltrate the South, expand its terrorist operations in the North and the East, collect illegal taxes and prepare for the next phase of war taking advantage of a fragile truce.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government, in spite of its initial vacillation, finally began fighting terrorism systematically. For the first time, the war was fought professionally over a considerable period of time with politicians leaving fighting to generals. It was the present Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who made this approach possible. He positioned himself between the government and the military warding off political interference. He is undoubtedly one of the architects of the present war which has helped nearly decimate the LTTE. Without his military expertise, will to fight, burning desire to defeat terrorism and unwavering commitment to the national cause, the country would still have been fighting losing battles like Operation Jayasikuru to clear roads with the LTTE inching towards its goal. In other words, Gotabhaya is the linchpin of the present military campaign which has brought the LTTE to its knees.

Therefore, it is only natural that Gotabhaya has become a prime target of terrorists as well as the various anti-national forces hell bent on sabotaging the war. The LTTE made an attempt on his life and now we have some Opposition politicians venting their spleens on him in the wake of a controversial television interview where he lambasted the opponents of the government to his heart's content.

A plain-spoken battle hardened soldier lacks diplomatic finesse and is given to vituperation. Old habits, they say, die hard. Therefore, the government propagandists should have known better than to interview a person like Gotabhaya live on TV. The interview in question may have gone down well with his admirers and the ruling party loyalists but it has offended media rights activists and provided the Opposition with some political ammunition at a time it is desperate for something to upstage the government which is successfully marketing its battlefield gains in the run-up to an election. The Opposition is also crying blue murder about Gotabhaya's vow to have a television journalist arrested for blaming the government for a recent attack on the MTV in an interview with CNN. Dissident SLFP MP Mangala Samaraweera, in trying to settle old scores with the Rajapaksas, has gone to the extent of seeking an explanation from the US for Gotabhaya's conduct on the grounds that the latter is an American citizen!

We take exception to any threat––veiled or otherwise––to a journalist or anyone else for that matter. Likewise, we don't agree that anyone has a right to exercise his or her freedom of expression to the point of supporting terrorism and jeopardising national security. Democracy does not mean the freedom of the wild ass.

However, that is not the point we wish to make. Instead, it is that this is not the time for political battles between the government and the Opposition or attacks on those who are leading the country's war. It defies comprehension why the government decided to have PC polls at this juncture. The hustings have blinded politicians of both camps to the pressing need for cooperation at a time the armed forces are poised to drive the last nail into the LTTE's coffin.

The person whom the Opposition should be zeroing in on is not Gotabhaya but Prabhakaran who has killed so many political leaders and ordinary people. The UNP has lost the crème de la crème of its leaders at the hands of the LTTE including a President and is therefore duty bound to bring their killers to justice.

It is not Gotabhaya whom Mangala et al should be reporting to the US government but Bruce Fein and other American hirelings aiding and abetting LTTE terrorism.

Likewise the government must not expend its time and energy on vitriolic attacks on the Opposition and its activists while asking them to be conciliatory and accommodating.

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