Cycles of war and
lessons from the past
Fifteen years ago, the elation was the same. In 1992, Army
Chief Cecil Waidyaratne and Chief of Staff Major General Lucky
Algama had led the military to victory, the east had been
cleared, hurrah and all’s well, the war was almost ended.
The military victory was quickly followed up by local government
elections to elect the people’s representatives and with a
feather in its cap, the government sat back on its haunches,
like the cat that got the cream. Months after the 1992 victory,
the LTTE assassinated the Sri Lankan President, Ranasinghe
Premadasa, elevating an aged D.B. Wijetunge to hold the most
powerful position in the country.
Two years later, we were dealt a rude shock when pockets of the
east fell once again to the LTTE, proving what military experts
are constantly saying – that winning land and claiming territory
is not as easy as holding it.
This is not to take anything away from the armed forces who have
fought tooth and nail for several months to penetrate this final
LTTE stronghold in the east and ‘flush’ the rebels out of the
region. We have heard the stories, we have offered up silent
prayers of thanks and we have mourned their fall.
That this clearing of the east is a strategic manoeuvre to
regain the upper hand should we decide at some point to resume
negotiations is fully comprehended by even the most inflexible
of all peaceniks. Shame on the UNP for undermining this victory
of the forces. As a responsible opposition, it must be capable
of criticism and blame in equal measure.
An opposition that criticises lapses in security on the part of
the government cannot in the same vein scoff at the military
victories when they come about. The tragedy of this country has,
is and always will be the inability to unite, even at the most
crucial junctures and it is a failure for which we have paid
dearly for 20 years.
But that is not to say we are not sceptical.
rrogance, as we have seen from certain government quarters
following the fall of Thoppigala, is highly misplaced. There
have been wild claims about marching onwards to the Wanni and
about this being the victory of victories. They have called
Thoppigala ‘impregnable’ and ‘impossible to capture,’ quite
forgetting that it was well and truly captured in 1992, only to
be lost again in 1994. Is this to be a 15-year cycle then?
The point is that ‘land’ and ‘territory’ cannot define
‘victories’ in Sri Lanka’s civil war. This is too complex a
conflict to simplify it thus. And as for the Wanni, as discussed
in depth elsewhere in this issue, let’s not get ahead of
ourselves. The LTTE, which has retreated in the east in the face
of an army marching forward in the Eastern Province, has an
elite fighting force that has stayed intact and untouched during
the flushing of the east.
No doubt, the intention of the Tigers was to retain all of its
best cadres for what they knew would be a push towards Wanni. To
safeguard its de facto capital and prove that it is not a spent
force yet, the LTTE will fight tooth and nail to save
Kilinochchi, a consideration that should make the defence
establishment cautious if they have learnt anything from
To assume that the battle for Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu will be
the same as those fought to recapture Sampur, Vakarai and even
Thoppigala would be a grave mistake. Humility and perseverance
must and should replace the arrogance and ‘cowboys with guns’
attitude in certain quarters, if one is to believe in the
dictum, hubris before nemesis.
The military equation is hardly the only reason to caution
against celebrating too much over the Thoppigala victory. There
are innumerable lessons from the past to prove that no amount of
progress on either war or peace front will come to anything as
long as the southern polity remains divided. And the
divisiveness the south has seen in recent times has been
If anyone thinks this is a fight that can be fought to the
finish on the military front alone, they are sadly mistaken.
This is not that type of conflict. Any military victory must be
followed up by tangible and genuine attempts to bring about a
much talked of final solution politically.
If steps are being taken to eradicate the LTTE, there must also
be extreme care taken to reassure the Tamil people of the north
east, peace with dignity, peace that comes with acknowledgement
that they have been wronged and the government is willing to
right those wrongs.
In order to ensure seeds of terrorism are never again sowed, it
would behove the state to act in a manner that would prove to
the Tamil community that they do not need armed representation
that was strangling democracy in their own areas because their
government was representation enough. Inclusiveness, equality
and meaningful devolution of power, these are key to permanent
peace in Sri Lanka and this is simply not an option with divided
It is time that politicians in this country grow up. It is time
that they act like our true representatives and quit failing us
at every crucial juncture. We, the people, will not revel in
military victories alone unless there is an assurance from the
state that one faction of us shall not be rendered voiceless and