Giving Tigers 'oxygen of hope'

President Barack Obama is a leader one is loath to criticise. But, unfortunately he doesn't seem to follow the policies of the great man whose bible he used at his inauguration in January, where a sovereign nation's right to protect itself against separatist terrorism is concerned. Hadn't President Abraham Lincoln––President Obama's hero––defended America through military means and prevented its disintegration, there would not have been a country left for President Obama to lead today.

President Obama on Wednesday took up the issue of Sri Lanka's war. (Please see the report in this paper today.) It is only natural that he is concerned about the plight of civilians in Sri Lanka's war zone, though why he is not so moved by the suffering of tens of thousands of Pakistani and Afghan civilians, who have borne the brunt of the US-led war against Taliban/Al Qaeda, is baffling. He asked the LTTE to disarm and release civilians in its clutches. Then, he urged the government of Sri Lanka 'to live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone'. He also called upon the SL government to grant UN humanitarian teams access to the civilians trapped in the theatre of war 'so that they can receive the immediate assistance necessary to save lives'.

President Obama has not called for a humanitarian pause or a ceasefire as such. But, if the Sri Lankan government does as he says and lets UN teams enter the LTTE-held area, then the UN will demand that the army stop operations for the safety of its workers. That exactly is what the LTTE wants at this juncture. The LTTE, it may be recalled, has a history of abducting UN workers and forcibly keeping them in the conflict zone with impunity.

Technically, a ceasefire declared at the behest of the UN will be tantamount to the UN recognition of a separate area of Sri Lanka under the LTTE, however tiny it may be. In such an eventuality, the international community will have turned the LTTE's defeat into victory.

It is this kind of build-up of international pressure that the LTTE had in mind, when it forcibly evicted the Vanni civilians and used them as a human shield. Prabhakaran may have achieved the objective of stopping the army, if the government had given in to unbearable pressure from powerful nations including aid donors.

Prabhakaran has, thanks to a spate of heinous crimes against civilians, managed to be on President Obama's radar screen, albeit too late in the day. The question is how President Obama would react if Taliban took civilians hostage and used them as human shields against the US-led forces bent on removing the scourge of terrorism? Or, what if all terrorist groups adopted that method in dealing with legitimate militaries pursuing them?

Isn't the US unwittingly encouraging its enemies like Al Qaeda to shift from destroying economic and military targets to hostage taking to have the US aggression stopped in Afghanistan?

No sooner had President Obama issued his statement than the LTTE welcomed it. But, true to form, it chose to remain silent on the US call for disarming and releasing civilians. Instead, it demanded an immediate UN intervention in Sri Lanka so that its leaders could escape death.

Now, what would President Obama do? The LTTE has not given a damn about his strident call! How would he deal with the outfit banned as a foreign terrorist organisation in the US? The US government has not spelt out action it intends to take against the LTTE for non compliance.

If the US could force the LTTE to disarm and let go of civilians in keeping with President Obama's wish, the humanitarian crisis will be over in no time.

How does the US propose to make the LTTE fall in line?

The Obama administration has already taken punitive action against the Sri Lankan government for defiance: It is blocking an IMF loan facility to this country for the 'crime' of not agreeing to a humanitarian truce with a terrorist group. That is the US is meting out collective punishment to a democratic sovereign state for battling terrorism, while allowing a ruthless terrorist outfit to go scot free in spite of its non compliance as well as barbaric crimes.

Is this how the US is promoting democracy in the world?

President Obama has stressed the need for putting aside some of the political issues as regards the conflict and putting the civilians first. We cannot but agree with him that 'more civilian casualties and inadequate care for those caught in resettlement camps will only make it more difficult to achieve the peace that the people of Sri Lanka deserve'.

But, how can a lasting peace be achieved without the elimination of the LTTE from the equation. The LTTE, it may be recalled, has scuttled all past peace processes and rejected all the solutions offered––to wit, provincial councils, regional councils and federalism, as the EU Parliament pointed out in 2006 giving reasons for banning the outfit.

Even at a time death is staring the LTTE in the face, President Obama should note, it is clinging on to Eelam like a limpet. LTTE spokesman Nadesan's thank you note to President Obama begins with reference to 'Eelam'––"Tamils in Eelam and around the globe…"

Isn't this clear proof of the LTTE's intransigence, the main obstacle to a political solution?

The blame for civilians' suffering at the hands of the LTTE must be apportioned to some members of the international community. The present humanitarian crisis could have been nipped in the bud, if the world leaders had told Prabhakaran at the beginning in no uncertain terms that he could not bank on their support to open an escape route by taking civilians hostage, and cracked down on the LTTE sympathisers drumming up support for Prabhakaran in western capitals. The anti-war campaign the international community embarked on in response to a worsening humanitarian situation and lobbying by the Tiger sympathisers only emboldened the LTTE to seek an escape route by exposing more and more civilians to danger.

Regrettably, President Obama is only aggravating the suffering of civilians by giving the blood thirsty terrorists some 'oxygen of hope' which keeps them going at the expense of innocent men, women and children.

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