The Costs and Consequences of Ã¢Â€Â˜Clearing’ the East
From Morning Leader – 10th January 2007
Last week this column ended with the statement that there was a lot to be learnt and unlearnt in 2007. The new year is now with us and with it the unfolding of an endgame. As to who will be left standing and how and as to how long it will take remains to be seen. The point about the learning and unlearning remains, however.
Last year saw an escalation of violence resulting in civilian misery through death, displacement and abduction that put us down there in the catalogue of human suffering with Darfur, Palestine and Lebanon. Presidential commissions, international eminent persons, food consignments from Colombo and Chennai, pseudo -patriotic vitriol and diatribes against the Norwegian facilitators, the SLMM, Ambassador Alan Rock, NGOs and INGOs cannot erase or obscure this fact. The war began and with little regard for human rights and basic humanitarian norms. And on the evidence of the indiscriminate bombing and cowardly bus bombs, the horrendous human shield and siege tactics in Vaharai, it will continue in this vein, until and unless victory is won by one side or the other.
This needs unpicking.
It is now on record that the strategy of the GOSL is to Ã¢Â€Â˜clear’ the east of the LTTE and then move on to do likewise in the rest of the territory under complete or partial LTTE control. Nothing it would seem will stand in the government’s way short of international intervention or military defeat – both eventualities being subject to varying degrees of improbability at present. Talk of little herds of elephants crossing over and thereby obviating the need for another general election notwithstanding, it is also highly probable that were the government to succeed in Ã¢Â€Â˜clearing’ the LTTE from the east – it is highly likely that a considerably weakened LTTE will effect a strategic withdrawal to avoid defeat- a provincial election there and a general election in the country will surely follow. A likely victory for the government in this electoral contest will in turn obviate the need for dependence on the JVP and/ or the UNP – two parties it does not trust – for a secure majority in parliament. And trust him or not, Colonel Karuna will triumph at the provincial level.
The government will then be riding high or more likely, it will ride high for a while, numbered perhaps in months, before guerilla attacks against its defending forces commence and the costs of military victory are fully registered on the cost of living. Defence estimates stand at approximately Rs 140 billion and climbing. The government’s proposals for a political settlement, which we are told will be ready in two months, may not be the subject of negotiation on this reckoning, for two years or more – that is of course if the two month deadline is to be met in the first instance. It is highly unlikely that the LTTE will come to the negotiating table, sans a politico-military presence in the east and with their pretension of sole representation of the Tamils of the north and east, demonstrably and conclusively busted.
The war will go on or as it is characterized in the jargon – a period of protracted conflict will ensue. Or more accurately, the period of protracted conflict will continue as it has for three decades with the brief exception of the early days of the CFA.
Of course this may well be totally off the mark, the wishful thinking of an LTTE apologist and traitor as this columnist is frequently labeled by our mala fide patriots. The unremitting rationale and relentless logic of the current government strategy is, has to be, must and will be, total victory. The LTTE will be Ã¢Â€Â˜cleared’ from the east, given no respite and therefore Ã¢Â€Â˜cleared’ from the north as well. It would be fatal to give them a break; they will be reeling and it will be time to go for the kill. Besides, would it be fair to allow only Colonel Karuna to inherit in the east and not Minister Devananda in the north ?
The Rajapakse government has to think long and hard about this. Whatever it may say, the logic and rationale of what is has embarked upon is that of war unto victory. It is a huge risk taken at even greater cost. It is a trap. In the first instance, can Colonel Karuna be trusted ? What will he do if he is and just as pertinent and probably more dangerous, what will he do if and when he finds out that he is not ?
We have gone back to the future. As demonstrated on the battlefield and by the logic of the military strategy adopted, we are back to the dominant position of Ã¢Â€Âœthere being no ethnic conflictÃ¢Â€Â but rather a Ã¢Â€Âœterrorist problemÃ¢Â€Â. Majoritarianism is at the heart of this government with the JHU ensconced as its high priests. This government gives greater priority to defeating the LTTE in the east than to designing its proposals for a political settlement of the conflict. The clearest, unambiguous statement of the government’s strategy for conflict transformation is surely that of the Army commander with regard to the defeat of the LTTE in the east and elsewhere. And the manner in which the government conducts the war, confirms that through siege and ceaseless bombardment and the sustenance of a climate of impunity, it seeks to depopulate the north and east to effect demographic change and thereby consolidate majoritarian political hegemony.
The LTTE are perversely complicit in this. Imprisoned in their comfort zone of violence they have banked on civilian suffering and misery to be the catalyst for international intervention to their advantage. This is a measure of their limited and limiting understanding of the international community and international power politics. It may now be too late for their supporters and sympathizers who condone their every error and attempt to obfuscate their every atrocity, to convey to them that the enormous sacrifice of lives and livelihoods they have demanded from the Tamil people is in danger of also becoming synonymous with the sacrifice of the political rights and aspirations of a people. The LTTE too is in a trap, largely of its own making. Given the government’s stated objective, they have no option but to resist, to ensure that they are not defeated but live to fight another, more propitious day. This will mean unconventional warfare and the widening of the theatre of war through acts of terrorism in response to the bombing campaign in the north and east.
In the meantime, in camp, bus or hospital, civilians will be killed, maimed and starved. Set a thief to catch a thief; terror to combat terrorÃ¢Â€Â¦.
Can national security and liberation be so miserable ?