After the dust settles

It would be foolish for Lankans to assume that everything will be tickety boo, as the popular hit song of yesteryear had it, now that the war is over. That is far from reality. The time for raucous hurrahs, hoisting the national flag and indulging in all manner of celebratory acts must now be quickly ended and the serious business of rebuilding the war-wracked country and caring for those who have paid the heaviest price in the decades of fighting must begin post-haste. Caring for the families of the men and women in the armed services who have given their lives and those who have been disabled as well as the tens of thousands internally displaced persons must be the top priority. The figures of military losses, both killed and wounded in action, since the all out effort to subdue the LTTE began at Mavil Aru in July 2006, are truly frightening. Some 6,200 have been killed and over 30,000 wounded and as the defence secretary and the army commander have both stressed, the military has paid a tremendous price for this hard-won victory. These figures must not be mere numbers in the national consciousness. The dead and wounded are real people of flesh and blood and they and their families must be cared for as best we can.

Though it has proved resilient, ours is not a strong economy and like the members of the armed forces and those who were condemned to live under Prabhakaran’s jackboot, the national coffers have been depleted during the long years of the war. Massive debts have been incurred and must be repaid. Undoubtedly the country’s economic potential had long remained unrealized and an opportunity has now been presented to catch up lost time and work towards giving our people the prosperity and living standards that is their due. This is not going to be easy in the context of prevailing domestic and global economic conditions. There are signs that oil prices that slumped to all time lows in recent months are now recovering. While they are not likely to go though the roof as they did not so long ago, rock bottom prices will soon be a thing of the past. While the Central Bank Governor assures us that we can wait for the disbursement of the IMF facility we have applied for, and that the funds are not needed ``tomorrow,’’ it would be a grievous mistake for us to assume that everything will work out as we wish. We must at all times be prepared for the worse case scenario.

Given that the president is widely expected to call an election, either presidential, parliamentary or both, to cash in on the popularity he enjoys as a result of finishing off what many considered an unwinnable war, it is likely that a great deal of energy that might have been devoted to rebuilding the country’s economic and human capital will be dissipated in an electoral effort. But this may not be a bad thing altogether as it could equip him to run a ``leaner and meaner’’ government. The conventional wisdom has long been that no two thirds majority will ever be possible under the existing proportional representation system of elections. But President Rajapaksa may well be able to disprove this long-held view and score a landslide notwithstanding PR. That will enable him to form a small and competent cabinet that can get a firm hold on the work that needs to be done and free the country of the jumbo-sized monstrosity that passes for a cabinet today. We now have over a hundred ministers because of the imperatives of realpolitik, with the people made to pick up the tab for ensuring that the government retains its majority come what may. This must change. Rajapaksa today enjoys the political muscle to do what needs to be done and it is to be hoped that despite his naturally easygoing ways, he will be able to do what is necessary.

We must also not make the mistake of assuming that the LTTE is finished, kaput, destroyed and will never be able to rise again. The diaspora demonstrated its ability to influence western governments during Tigers’ final hours with several powerful European governments doing their damndest to throw a lifeline at the dying moments of what was Prabhakaran’s admittedly epic struggle. Even President Obama went along with the wishes of Hillary Clinton’s State Department in this regard making some remarks at the White House which LTTE propagandists were quick to seize. Along with constituency pressures Tamils domiciled in the west were able to exert on their elected representatives, the LTTE has over the years built an extensive influence peddling network which has long rendered it useful service, most recently during the final assault on the sliver of Vanni territory that was Prabhakaran’s last redoubt. There wasn’t any kind of denial of the story The Island ran about the satellite phone conversation between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff, Vijay Namibiar, and the LTTE’s Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) in a KIA toilet. While we do not know who initiated the call, the fact that it happened made obvious that the LTTE has/had access to powerful international figures. We should therefore not under-estimate the residual influence of LTTE supporters abroad or its domestic terrorist capability, even though the Tiger hierarchy is well and truly dead.

KP who seems to control the LTTE’s overseas treasury and most likely its legal and illegal businesses abroad would obviously want to control the empire and keep the businesses ticking. With the arms procuring aspect of his operation rendered irrelevant, the bucks at his own disposal from these sources will be bigger than ever before. In that respect, that fact that there is no menacing shadow of Prahakaran falling over him will surely be a blessing. With the Eelam project aborted and its inspiration liquidated, whether the disapora will continue to dig deep into its pockets as KP and whoever else will now run the show would wish, remains to be seen. The LTTE’s extortion muscle must certainly weaken or disappear altogether in the current circumstances. Ideally, Colombo should in time refine its own act to enthuse wealthy Tamils living and working abroad to invest in traditional Tamil areas and better the lot of the native populations living there. That would be so much better than paying for killing machines.

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