Do not leave Tamil
issue to another Prabhakaran
Many events with a lasting significance have come to pass in
recent weeks, not least among them, the capture of Kilinochchi
and Elephant Pass and the assassination of Lasantha
Wickrematunge, the editor of the Sunday Leader.
If the military victories in the north were cause for jubilation
in the south of the country, Wickrematunge’s killing led to some
grave concerns being raised amidst a lot of introspection as to
where Sri Lanka was heading as a nation.
Now, as the security forces report regaining control of village
after village of northern territory, the country awaits with
baited breath for the day when the entire north can be declared
to be under government writ.
There is even speculation on the capture of Velupillai
Prabhakaran, the elusive leader of the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It is a hope that can be justified in that
many believe it was Prabhakaran’s intransigence that has led to
the ethnic conflict escalating thus far.
Amidst the advances of the military, we must however caution
against the euphoria going into overdrive, relegating that other
important aspect of the ethnic crisis - a political solution
that provides minorities with adequate devolution of power -
Since the ethnic crisis erupted on a major scale twenty five
years ago, numerous attempts have been made to negotiate with
the LTTE. With the exception of the late President D.B.
Wijetunge-who ruled but for a short period - all other
Presidents including current President Mahinda Rajapaksa tried
their hand at talking to the Tigers. Even Prime Minister Ranil
Wickremasinghe’s short-lived government did so.
None of them succeeded. J.R.Jayewardene had to finally enlist
the help of the Indians, R. Premadasa paid with his life for
trusting the Tigers and Chandrika Kumaratunge almost did so too.
Ranil Wickremasinghe is still paying for the sin of entering
into a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with loss after loss at the
elections. What then, went wrong?
In hindsight, it would appear that all these leaders negotiated
with a strategy of appeasing the Tigers instead of cornering
them. Whenever a government launched a thrust against the LTTE,
it was not prosecuted to a finish as political considerations
superseded military objectives.
The difference between this approach and that of the Mahinda
Rajapaksa regime is now manifesting. It has allowed the armed
forces a free hand and has not reined in the troops. The
underlying rationale is simple: The LTTE understands only one
language and that is one which is spoken through the barrel of a
How far the Rajapaksa government will be allowed to adopt this
tactic by the international community has been an eternal worry.
So far, Colombo has succeeded in doing what it wants on the
battlefront, even if it may have affected its credibility in the
This week, as discussed elsewhere in this page, there were
renewed calls for a ceasefire from none other than the Prime
Minister of Britain who wished to raise the issue with France
and Germany as well.
What we can say is that such distractions can gain undue
credibility if the government does not match its military thrust
with a credible and sincere political solution for the
grievances of the minority communities.
Historically, Sinhalese leaders of the south have been loath to
offer concessions to the minorities, not because they were
inherently racist but because they feared that the opposition
would capitalise on such leniencies, resulting in them being
voted out of office.
Indeed, other Sinhalese leaders have been opportunistic enough
to play the nationalistic card to come to power, the most
notable of them being S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in 1956.
In retrospect, Dudley Senanayake, Sirima Bandaranaike and
J.R.Jayewardene all missed opportunities that came their way
when they were in power to redress the grievances of the
minorities and we are still paying the price for these lapses
That is where the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime has been presented
with a unique opportunity. Because it has prosecuted the war
with the LTTE to a near finish, it enjoys the confidence of the
south like no other government ever did which is why it is
winning election after election even with a plethora of
allegations of economic mismanagement and corruption.
From that vantage point, the present government is in a strong
position to sell a meaningful package of devolution to
minorities and agreeable to the southern electorate and it is
more likely than not that it will be accepted by the majority
community without a whimper of protest, simply because it is
coming from the government that liberated them from the clutches
of the Tiger.
It is a challenge that this government has to rise to. So far,
steps in that direction have been few and far between. An
All-Party Representative Conference (APRC) summoned for the
purpose of evolving a political package is still doodling on the
details of devolution. Little has happened while some hardliners
who are part and parcel of the government make chauvinist
remarks that could be interpreted to reflect the insincerity of
While this makes the Rajapaksa government more vulnerable to
those who upbraid it for alleged human rights offences, the
government may also be missing a once in a generation the chance
of redressing Sri Lanka’s vexed ethnic question. That is why a
political solution must follow hot on the heels of any military
victory in the North.
If not, it is a safe bet that another Prabhakaran - perhaps even
more vengeful - will emerge twenty years from now, even if
Velupillai Prabhakaran is captured, tried and executed!