The Straight and the Narrow Path
by Victor Gunasekara
In the following article Tisaranee Gunasekara makes the old but very important distinction between the Battle and the War. Vaharai is no doubt an important battle which the GOSL forces won, but it would be dangerous to conclude that it constitutes a victory in the War. Tisaranee begins by quoting a Russian proverb to the effect that you must not drive straight on a twisting road. But equally you must not meander on a straight road. The road to Killinochchi is straight and narrow. That is where GOSL should be heading. Sampoor and Vaharai are detours getting further and further away from Killinochchi where the heart of the insurgency lies.
Tisaranee warns that the Vaharai victory should not lead to premature euphoria with the reminder that the post-Sampoor euphoria vanished after the Muhamalai failure. However Sampoor is still in GOSL hands and Vaharai too will remain so. The question is: How critical are these losses to the Tigers? It is also clear that the extinguishing of LTTE power in the East is partly due to the activity of the Karuna group. We do not know if the SL forces operate in league with the TVMP of Karuna. If so there will be a debt to the Karuna separatists which will take away some of the gloss from the victories in the east. According to Tissaranee the recent report of the UN Sec-Gen (UNSG) contained the following statement:
"Reports have also been received in Batticaloa District that on 14 and 26 June, Sri Lankan Army personnel carrying weapons, accompanied Karuna faction members who forcibly abducted and recruited nine children aged 14 (two children), 15 (one child) and 17 years (six children)."If this is true it indicates that SL forces work in collusion with Karuna and any success in military operations against the LTTE may have to be shared with Karuna. It will carry with it obligations to the TVMP, another Tamil separatist terrorist group. Some commentators give the entire credit to GOSL. Thus HLD Mahindapala recently wrote: "the Sri Lankan forces have effectively pulled the teeth and claws out of the Tigers in the east." However even HLD has to admit the main game is in the North. Tisaranee's solution is the oft repeated one, viz. that whatever military gains are obtained in the East or elsewhere they have to be followed by concessions to the non-LTTE Tamils in the form of devolution or federalism. The fallacies of this argument have been exposed so many times that they need not be rehearsed once again.
In one respect there is some substance in what Tisaranee says. This is that SL is no longer an independent player and they are bound to heed what the "international community" (IC) is dictating. This surrender to the IC has taken several years to develop. It started with the CBK-Ranil administration but is still carried on by the Rajapakse administration. In fact it has become even more compelling now because the foreign aid card is now being played openly. Germany has already withdrawn aid and is urging others to do so. The aid consortium scheduled to meet later this year in Galle is said not to agree to any specific aid disbursements. As the economic crisis is said to deepen this will mean that the Mahinda regime will yield to IC pressure. Even though the IC may not openly support the LTTE it is overwhelmingly in support of the Tamil devolution and federalism. This will merely establish another baseline from which a new revamped LTTE can operate.
"You may not drive straight on a twisting lane."– Russian Proverb
Vaharai is a humiliating defeat for the Tigers and a significant triumph for the state and the government of Sri Lanka (and Col. Karuna's TMVP). However Vaharai is not the end of the Fourth Eelam War or the end of the LTTE. That is one very good reason why our reaction to the victory in Vaharai should not be a repetition of our reaction to the Sampoor victory. Post-Sampoor we succumbed to the sin of Hubris; Sampoor made us arrogant towards Tamils and the world, intolerant of dissent and criticism and disinclined to devolve power. The result was a loss of support for the Lankan cause in the international arena (it also led to the debacle of Muhamalai).
A similar wallowing in triumphalism should be avoided post-Vaharai, especially because the battles ahead will have to be fought in theatres in which the Karuna factor is not of significance. Consequently it is incumbent upon us to win over Tamils, here and abroad; not to antagonise Tamil Nadu even further; and not to alienate India and the world more than we have done already.
The latest statement by the UN Secretary General on child soldiers is important in this regard because it helps us to understand the contours of the 'Big Picture'. The statement highlights some of our weakest points as well as those of the LTTE. Consequently it enables us to figure out how we can maximise international support for our cause while exacerbating the isolation of the LTTE.
Currently our approach to this critically important report consists of celebrating the anti-Tiger parts while ignoring the clauses which are unfavourable to us. We have publicised the strictures on the LTTE and ignored/downplayed the strictures on us. This is what the Tigers used to do, whenever the UN or some other international player criticised their anti-civilisational activities such as child conscription. That method, while helping to submerge the problem in the short term, brought them proscriptions in the medium term and may bring them UN sanctions in the near future. We would be doing our own cause the greatest possible harm if we ignore the strictures on us; from the perspective of enlightened self-interest (even if we ignore moral-ethical factors) it would make sense pay attention to the warning contained in the UN statement and take corrective measures voluntarily before they are imposed on us by the international community.
The Report of the UN Secretary General is extremely critical of the Tigers and recommends targeted politico-military measures against them for the use of child soldiers. If this recommendation is followed through, it would signify a devastating political defeat for the LTTE. The Secretary General's statement once again demonstrates an undeniable truth - the LTTE is the worst enemy of itself and of the Tamils it claims to represent. This is a truth the Diaspora needs to acknowledge, at least now; it is no honour, no glory to be singled out for condemnation by the UN, and for the crime of abusing children of one's own kind. More than any other action of the Tigers, this one crime demonstrates their cannibalistic nature and their unsuitability to become a member of the international state system.
The Secretary General's statement was based on reports by the much maligned Alan Rock and Radhika Coomaraswamy. Whatever Mr. Rock's political involvements may be, his report was extremely unfavourable to the Tigers. Unfortunately we became so incensed by the one reference to our own activities; we forgot the fundamentally anti-LTTE nature of Mr. Rock's and Ms. Coomaraswamy's reports. We did not have the sense to realise that it was in our interests to take some credible corrective measures before the matter came up at the UN; instead we preferred to burn Mr. Rock's effigies, accuse him and Ms. Coomaraswamy of being Tiger stooges and in general make fools of ourselves.
The result is obvious in the Secretary General's Statement: "A particularly disconcerting development during the reporting period was the increase in abductions and recruitment of children in the east by the Karuna faction. Reports have also been received in Batticaloa District that on 14 and 26 June, Sri Lankan Army personnel carrying weapons, accompanied Karuna faction members who forcibly abducted and recruited nine children aged 14 (two children), 15 (one child) and 17 years (six children)."
This criticism is far less stringent than the criticism of the LTTE because child conscription is not yet the norm for the TMVP and aiding and abetting child conscription is not yet the norm for Lankan Forces. Still, in this relatively muted criticism there is a clear warning of stronger action, if we fail to mend our ways, on our own: "TMVP and its military wing, the Karuna faction, should cease all recruitment and use of child soldiers, including abductions, with immediate effect and engage with UNICEF, as a matter of priority, to release all children among its ranks, ensure a transparent verification process and devise procedures for age verification with UNICEF, to prevent further recruitment, failing which targeted measures may be considered". I stress the need for the Government to investigate immediately allegations that certain elements of the Sri Lanka security forces are involved in aiding the recruitment and/or abduction of children by the Karuna faction in the East, and I invite immediate support from UNICEF and other relevant agencies to address those allegations".
Evident in our reaction to events is a distressign lack of moderation and and a disastrous abeyance of intelligence. The example of the Dutch NGO accused of helping the Tigers is a case in point. The initial accusation was made by official spokespersons.
Acting on it the JHU took the law into its own hands (thereby displaying its affinity to both the JVP and the LTTE). The office of the ZOA in the heart of Colombo was attacked by a JHU mob. The government did not have either the sense or the decency to condemn this act of terror carried out by one of its allies. Then came the belated, somewhat shamefaced admission by the Defence Authorities that there is no evidence of such a collusion between the ZOA and the Tigers. By that time we have done enough damage to our reputation, far more than the Tigers can do with all their propaganda (just as the best anti-Tiger propaganda is the LTTE's own misdeeds, the best anti-Lankan propaganda is our own misdeeds).
As V Anandasangaree cautioned in a recent letter to the President "my only worry is that by criticising the NGOs we are not only insulting the good samaritans but also earn the displeasure of the Donor community that will prove detrimental to our interest" (The Island – 21.1.2007). We cannot afford another mob attack on an INGO office, particularly an affiliate of the UN: "Defense Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella says the charges which he made about certain INGO's providing assistance to the LTTE, directly, indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, were confirmed when the security forces ran over the Kanjikudichchiaru camp in Ampara. However addressing the defense briefing this afternoon the minister did not directly disclose the relevant INGO's but instead showed a video clip about the camps that were run over by the security forces. The video clip showed bags which food were wrapped, power generators, bousers and other articles which had the tag names of certain INGO's. According to what was shown to the media the relevant INGO's are The World Vision, The World Food Programme, UNICEF and Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation" (Lanka e news 17.1.2007). One simply cannot treat the UNICEF and World Food Programme the same way one treats the TRO! If this simple distinction cannot be understood by the regime we stand in danger of loosing this war, even if we win all its battles.
The statement by the UN Secretary General also contains another important recommendation that we can ignore only at our own peril: "I call on the Government of Sri Lanka and all relevant parties to ensure open and safe access by humanitarian actors in Sri Lanka to affected areas".
The triumph of Vaharai has turned around 30,000 Tamils into refugees (some of them have become homeless several times over). As the international media points out the people fled the LTTE controlled areas to save their lives from a war waged by two combatants neither of whom was concerned about civilian casualties. The responsibility of looking after these people cannot be shirked by us - not just because they are citizens of Sri Lanka but also because their plight has been caused by our actions as much as those of the Tigers. .
Vaharai in particular and Batticaloa in general can be turned into a model of reconstruction and rehabilitation, through a concerted effort by the state. The Premadasa Gam Uda model is relevant here.
Every year an underdeveloped area was chosen and a number of development programmes were implemented (the Gam Udawa exhibition was the culmination of this year long development drive). This Accelerated Integrated Development Programme covered areas as diverse as housing, water supply, electrification, education, health, agriculture and irrigation. The last such programme was implemented in Anuradhapura District (between June 1992 and June 1993). According to the Ministry of Housing and Construction under this the following activities were completed: 15,755 houses newly built/renovated; 637km of trunk roads and rural roads renovated; 7 major water supply schemes constructed; 334 new tube wells sunk and 721 existing tube wells renovated; 52 Reawakened Villages, Model Villages and Urban Housing Schemes provided with electricity; 13 rural electrification schemes commissioned; 335 schools provided with new buildings and other facilities; 281 agricultural wells constructed; and the Centre for Promotion of Agro Based Exports set up. The aim was to cause the overall development of the area concerned and to achieve a generalised improvement in the living standards of the people.
This is a model that can be implemented in Vaharai – a mini-Marshall plan of reconstruction and rehabilitation. What should have been done in the Northeast post-tsunami can now be attempted in Batticaloa, post-Vaharai. The programme must be carried out by the government with the assistance of INGOs (which was the Gam Udawa way). Incidentally in any rehabilitation programme (especially land allocation) care must be taken not to change the present ethnic composition of the East – a real danger given the Sinhala First worldview of the government and some of its key allies.
With such an effort we will be able to prove that there is no hidden Sinhala supremacist, anti-minority agenda in the anti-LTTE war. With such an effort we will be able to prove to the Tamil people that we do not consider them to be the enemy. This is necessary not only to cause a favourable change in the international climate but also to win over the Tamil people here and abroad – without which the war will become unsustainable irrespective of how many battles we win along the way.