Tiger bans and prosecuting the war

The prevailing mood in the country regarding the on-going war in the North, has been generally supportive. Everyone may not support all of the tactics that are being used, but popular sentiment is that terrorism should be eliminated. And that is the reason why President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s appeal has remained intact, despite the economic crunch felt by the average citizen.

Last week, the President fired another salvo on the war effort. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should ‘release’ all the civilians they are holding hostage in the uncleared areas the President declared, and threatened to ban the LTTE, if they did not comply.

Since this declaration by the President, there has been some speculation as to whether the LTTE would in fact be banned shortly, and if it was, how it would impact on the future of the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict.

There is a school of thought that believes proscribing the LTTE would be counter-productive. This argument proposes that if the LTTE were to be proscribed, it would shut the door on all future negotiations with the Tigers and this would therefore hinder an eventual resolution of the ethnic issue.

The counter argument to this would be that, as far as the government in Colombo is concerned, it would not negotiate with the Tigers if the Tigers do not lay down arms. So negotiations are not part of the equation at the present moment in time anyway. As such, there would be little, if at all any, practical impact on so-called ‘peace talks’ by banning the LTTE.

Let us also remind ourselves however that the Tigers are in fact banned in many countries including the United States, the United Kingdom and even in neighbouring India where the ban was extended recently. Let us also remind ourselves that these are the very countries which periodically urge Sri Lanka that Colombo should negotiate with the LTTE!

This government may have many faults. But it has got one issue right: the war. Previous regimes since the outbreak of terrorism in Sri Lanka, have prosecuted the war against the LTTE, only to buckle in the face of international pressure. They have been frog-marched to the negotiating table where a ceasefire has been negotiated for the LTTE to regroup, re-arm and then renege on their pledges and resume hostilities.

So far, this government has been able to resist that kind of pressure, and has been resolute and unwavering in its commitment to the war effort. The message is not garbled with decencies and diplomatic niceties: there will be no ceasefire until the LTTE lays down arms and renounces a separate state.

Therefore, we do not see reason to panic with the President’s latest announcement that the LTTE would be banned if they didn’t let civilians in ‘uncleared’ areas have freedom of movement. Rather, we see in this announcement a further commitment that the war would be prosecuted to a finish.

This is a stand that is refreshingly different from previous governments and the pulse of the people suggests that the government is vindicated in taking this stance. However, we do acknowledge that it is also a position which opens itself to criticism from international quarters.

The way to counter that would be to ensure that amidst the war, there is a serious political commitment to redress the grievances of the minority communities and this commitment should be as great as the will to eradicate terrorism.
That, we hope, would be the next item on President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s agenda in the New Year.

Cricket and mega bucks

It is not often that we comment on matters related to sport editorially, but this week we feel we must, witnessing as we are the antics at Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC), the body that is supposed to administer the game in this country.

Last week, the Interim Committee (IC) running SLC was dissolved by the Sports Minister who claimed that its Chairman and one time World Cup winning cricket captain Arjuna Ranatunga was acting dictatorially and arbitrarily.

We must point out that this is the umpteenth interim committee that is running the game and that this also probably the umpteenth interim committee that was dissolved. And we must also take into account the fact that SLC is an institution that deals with big money because cricket, commercialised as it is now, deals with mega bucks.

Cricket is also the one sport where Sri Lanka has consistently maintained international standards and remained competitive with the best. Moreover, it is also one of the few uniting factors in an otherwise fractured nation, where the entire country stands up and cheers as one when our cricketing heroes outperform others in the international arena.

Therefore, isn’t there an urgent need to safeguard and promote the sport in a proper and professional manner, instead of handing out positions of power and privilege in the sport for political considerations?

Arjuna Ranatunga was the first former test cricketer to head SLC. Much was expected of him, but it was well known - from his playing days - that diplomacy was not his forte. His critics argue that leading the World Cup winning team does not give him absolute license to do as he pleases. Ranatunge counters that he was only trying to clean up SLC which he claims is a den of thieves.

Surely, after all this, isn’t it time that an independent, respected individual with integrity, or a body comprising such individuals are appointed to sort out this mess? Or, are we just going for another interim committee, only to see that committee too is dissolved after some time?