Mr. S.L. Gunasekera, a long time warrior for the cause against non-appeasement of the LTTE and a military solution to the problem of terrorism that bled Sri Lanka white over a period of nearly three decades, placed his finger on the spot when he said in an article published in the leader page of The Island on Monday that ``this damned nonsense must stop: and stop NOW.’’ Always candidly outspoken about his views on the only way to end the scourge of terrorism, Gunasekera was talking about the apportionment of credit for the war victory of government forces recently taking a strident tone with gossip and rumour that various elements are seeking to persuade General Sarath Fonseka to run against the incumbent as a common opposition candidate for the presidency in elections widely expected early next year.
We welcome the ideas expressed in Gunasekera’s article – especially in what he called the ``outrageous spectacle of an unseemly and equally petty scramble to claim credit for that mighty victory with a view to gaining some political advantage from it.’’ That is something we saw acquiring a near tidal wave of momentum after the war was won last May. There were hoardings and posters galore with self-promotion blatantly evident. Sycophants had a field day sucking up to their patrons, no doubt with a sharp eye on rich dividends such investments could yield. Yet the people were all too willing to forgive such excesses given the magnitude of the victory that had been won at a great price paid with the blood shed by the fallen heroes as well as the taxes paid by all Lankans, rich and poor, that enabled the massive funding of the war effort. The military and political leadership played a major role right down from the commanders on top to the infantrymen on the field who braved daunting conditions at grave risk to life and limb.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Commander-in-Chief, played a major role in leading the war effort, particularly after Mavil Aru, with the realization that nothing short of militarily subjugating the LTTE can finish the war. It was obvious that Prabhakaran did not intend to settle for anything less than separation although too many of the country’s leaders had previously closed their eyes to that reality. The long history of negotiations and efforts to find an acceptable compromise was conclusive proof that the Tigers would talk whenever their backs were to the wall to buy time to regroup and rearm. They also had a weather eye open on external opportunities, like the last Indian election, which they hoped would help their cause. Despite tremendous pressure, both global and local, Rajapaksa decided to fight to a finish and Sri Lanka today enjoys the fruits of that courageous decision. The country was equally fortunate in the defence secretary, a retired military officer who had seen action on the front, and the three service commanders, who mapped out the strategy and enabled the victory. All of them and their troops gave of their best and deserve the unanimous plaudits of the nation.
Having said that, we must also not forget the unsung heroes including the families of the men on the battlefront – wives, children and parents – who lived in the knowledge that the lives of their loved ones were always at risk. There were the informants, Tamil informants Gunasekera has pointed out, all too aware of the fate they and their families faced should their cover have been blown. Then there were those people who continued to live in the border villages despite the brutal massacres they had faced over the long decades of war – women and children including small babies hacked with machetes as they slept, who kept populated the buffer zone between the Tigers and the rest of us living in comparative safety in the government controlled parts of the country. Gunasekera has remembered people like the late high priest of Tantirimale who gave leadership and courage to these people to remain in their villages against all odds. Such heroes, sadly, are today almost forgotten. There were also the victims of the mindless terror, people who left home in the morning never to return having been blown to smithereens in trains and buses. Their families still live through that trauma on a daily basis.
There has been recent focus, and rightly so, on the plight of the internally displaced by the last phase of what was undoubtedly a brutal war, living in makeshift camps set up for them in conditions far from ideal. But many of us have forgotten the others, mostly Muslims ethnically cleansed from the Jaffna peninsula, who have lived in such camps for many years and attracted fewer bleeding hearts. Undoubtedly those who lived in LTTE controlled areas paid not only taxes extorted from them but also had to often surrender their children conscripted as child soldiers to Tiger ranks. They provided forced labour too for various Tiger projects and the extent of that can be gauged by the kilometers of earth bunds and ditches that fortified the Vanni in the last battles. These obviously were not built by committed Tigers fanatically trying to hold out against a focused and determined military putsch but by virtual slave labour imposed by those who called themselves the "sole representatives of the Tamil people.’’ They too, perhaps passively, to whatever extent possible, stood up the LTTE and contributed to the eventual victory over terror.
There are many heroes of this war and only a few of them are jockeying for political office. Therefore the efforts of one group or another to appropriate the credit for the war victory for themselves and cash a political cheque, is to say the least, unseemly. Thankfully we see fewer of those self-serving hoardings today suggesting that maybe those responsible for them are seeing the light and stopping what Gunasekera correctly branded as ``this damned nonsense.’’ Let us hope that they will not reappear at election time.