Peace and Conflict

The LTTE is falling down. So what should the Government do?

One must not belittle this victory as one that has been won by one community over another. It should not be interpreted as defeat of the North by the South. This is a victory for our entire nation and country.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa

The dawn of the New Year was indeed a special moment for the Sri Lanka Armed Forces. Within the space of 24 hours, the Army had overrun both Paranthan and Kilinochchi, effectively ending the LTTE’s de-facto state and setting the stage for control over the entire Jaffna peninsula. Indeed, the fall of Elephant Pass is only days away. The LTTE will be forced to retreat to Mullattivu but with the fall of Oddusuddan, it is a matter of time before this final bastion also falls. Mullattivu houses the military headquarters of the Tigers and is said to be where the rebels are strongest. But the newly formed Task Force IV will aim to advance along the Oddusuddan-Puthukudiyurippu road and overrun LTTE installations in Puthukudiyurippu. Meanwhile, the 59 division is simultaneously marching on to Mullattivu from the south. The rebels will be trapped. The conventional military defeat of the LTTE is imminent and will be accomplished within the year. On the whole, the military campaign has been a huge success. But we must be weary of neglecting the political aspect to this struggle if the LTTE is to be defeated in earnest and rendered rebels without a cause. For this, there is no time like the present to forge ahead and prove to the northern and eastern polities alike that President Rajapaksa’s promise to safeguard their security and freedom will be fulfilled.

Such fulfillment can only be achieved through a reformulated political system, a task that rests squarely with the APRC. Tissa Vitharana, its chairman, commented late last year that the committee was working on a proposal that included a second chamber of parliament. This is encouraging news. Such a proposal, if the rejected ‘majority report’ offers any insight, would effectively pull the rug under the LTTE’s feet. It would offer devolution of power including to the northern and eastern polities, thus satisfying a need for its people to have more control over their affairs. The key would be to afford such autonomy while still preserving the sovereignty of the Sri Lankan state. One must be weary of assuming that the military defeat of the LTTE alone will usher in a peace that would hold. This is an illusion. The birth of the LTTE was a by-product of a failed parliamentary project for securing Tamil democratic rights. That the rebel outfit resorted to terrorism and tyranny, in the process abandoning on the wayside the very Tamil cause it claims to represent, is a strength that democratic forces must exploit. The Tamil voice, just like the Sinhala voice and the Muslim voice, needs space within the democratic mainstream and must be freely heard. Such voices should operate with no fear of the gun. Democratic politics must be founded on parliamentary principles of open debate. This is an atmosphere that the APRC can facilitate through its formulations for such political structures. Its thinkers must thus be permitted to function at their full potential, devoid of political interference or external pressures.

It is in this context that a statement by the Patriotic National Movement ( PNM ) at the weekend calling for the abolishing of the APRC is a cause for concern. This lends heavily to the belief long championed by the likes of the PNM , JVP and JHU that there is only a military solution to this war. The government must be cautious not to overplay the populist card at this crucial stage in Sri Lanka ’s history. President Rajapaksa can pat himself on the back for his role in the monumental military achievements but he must keep his eyes firmly set on Sri Lanka ’s future. When holding high political office, distractions are easy to come by. He must jettison them all and stay on course. The task for his strategists would be to ensure his political future without sacrificing the best interests of the Sri Lankan people. Any failure to address political problems with political solutions would result in nothing less than a return to a bloody insurgency that would surely drain what remains of the Sri Lankan state. This administration should thus be a government not just for the present but for the future.

The President has a choice: peace in his term or peace in his time.