Even as you read this, the last of the LTTE’s conventional military capacity would have been smashed. Whether Prabhakaran, his intelligence chief, Pottu Amman, and Sea Tiger leader Soosai, whose wife and two teenage children were found by the navy in a boat off the Mullaitivu coast on Friday, will be taken ``dead or alive’’ as has been promised remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the rapidly unfolding events last week clearly signaled the ability of the Tamil Diaspora to move the western powers to demand an end to the fighting with even President Barack Obama, in remarks made at the White House, joining the chorus. The LTTE too did not come off unscathed by what the world had to say. Obama was on record demanding that the Tigers let go the civilian human shield they held at gunpoint but even so, it was also clear that Colombo’s claim that heavy armour and airpower was not being used at this final stage of the conflict had few believers in the international community. While to varying degrees the various Western European nations mounting pressure on the Sri Lanka government conceded the LTTE’s dastardly human shield strategy, that was muted in relation to the demand that the military putsch be halted.
There is no escaping the reality that the past few days would have been hell for whatever number of civilians still trapped in the last theatre of this long-drawn war. While there are conflicting claims on the actual numbers involved, they would surely run into the thousands. That the LTTE did not care a jot for these hapless people is all too evident. Had they laid down their arms and surrendered to the inevitable, the carnage would have been avoided. But that is not the nature of the Tiger or of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran. They held on grimly hoping that international pressure to which Colombo did not succumb and the Indian election would win them the desperately needed lifeline. But Sri Lanka and its people must not assume that this tragic chapter in the contemporary history of this country is over merely because the LTTE, whose writ once lay over nearly a third of this island, has lost its conventional military capacity. That the Tigers retain a formidable terrorist capacity, as evidenced by Friday’s detection in Wellawatte, is obvious. Not only that. There is also perfidy even in the higher ranks of the military as suggested by the arrest of an army colonel consorting with the man who leaped to his death when he found the game was up.
Such fortuitous detections can only be the tip of an iceberg. While it is easy now to glow with satisfaction that massive international pressure was successfully resisted, there will be a lot of candle with that cake. For one thing, economic pressures will be mounted in areas like GSP+ and the USD 1.9 billion IMF facility. The Central Bank had expected arrangements with the IMF to be finalized in April or the latest this month. But a fund spokesman in Washington was quoted on Friday saying that it may yet take some weeks to reach finality. There is very visible foot dragging, no doubt out of the consciousness of the need to hold on to whatever pressure points that are available for future use if necessary. Experts believe that the IMF will not willingly subject itself to pressure unrelated to material factors like the borrower’s ability to repay and allow a dangerous precedent to be set by declining a facility for reasons such as those publicly adduced by Ms. Hillary Clinton. But a delay seems likely although the indications are that Sri Lanka will be able to sit it out.
Sri Lanka will also be hard pressed to meet the demands of properly caring for the internally displaced people and ensuring their speedy resettlement in their former homes. The LTTE has destroyed vital infrastructure and mined these areas; so how quickly the IDPs can go back is an open question. International assistance for resettling the displaced is vital and it remains to be seen whether the kind of foreign generosity manifest when the tsunami hit will once more be available. It is not only government’s that help at times of disaster. Private individuals and organizations too are moved to do whatever they can to help victims of disasters and there are wellsprings of human kindness that can be tapped if they are properly approached. It is well known that while a lot of good work was done in the wake of the tsunami, corruption and inadequate implementation was also present. While the balance may have tilted for the good, donors must feel comfortable that their resources are well spent.
The administrative costs of getting the job done in situations like that facing us today can be formidable especially if there is a large expatriate presence as was seen post-tsunami. . While management skills are locally available, whether the cash providers will be happy without the presence of their own people is a reckonable factor. It must be admitted that while strident lobbies bashing peacemakers and do-gooders flourished over the years of the conflict, we must not make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We must remember that not everybody can be tarred with the same brush and skillful diplomacy must be employed in obtaining vital foreign assistance on the best possible terms.
We have in these columns warned repeatedly about the dangers of triumphalism. It is not the Tamils who have been defeated but the LTTE. The majority community, praised most recently by Japan’s special envoy Yasushi Akashi for ``heartwarming’’ concern for the IDPs, must never forget that. We make bold to once more advocate what we have said before - that a special tax be imposed on all the people of this country to pay for the care and resettlement of the displaced. While voluntary efforts and individual generosity already manifest must be warmly acclaimed, much more needs to be done and all of us must bear that cost. Remember that these are also our people who, as much as the soldiers who fought to overcome one of the world’s most feared terrorist groups, have borne the brunt of the war over the years. They deserve the best we can give them even if we give till it hurts.