The West and its double standards for terrorism

As Sri Lanka celebrated its 61st anniversary of independence this week, the Armed Forces were poised to recapture all of the territory which had previously been under the writ of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In that sense there is likely to be history in the making in the days to come but the government will have to overcome a final, tough hurdle: pressure from the international community that is issuing periodic calls for a truce in the North.

This appeal has been percolating among the western superpowers for some time now but last week both the United States and the United Kingdom in a joint statement called for an end to the fighting saying it endangered the lives of civilians trapped in the North.

There is no dispute about this but for these two nations to call for a halt for military offensives, turning a convenient blind eye to the fact that it is the LTTE that is preventing the free movement of these civilians is to say the least, ridiculous.

This country, after twenty five years of a bloody and brutal war for which it paid dearly with lives of many men, women and children is now on the threshold of eliminating terrorism. Its fight against terror has been hailed as one of the most efficient military operations in recent history.

On a global perspective, the world has more or less - barring a few countries - adopted a policy of zero tolerance against terrorism, battered as it is by a spate of horrendous terror attacks that have spanned from New York to Mumbai.

Against such a backdrop the only reasonable response of the international community to the on-going conflict in the North should be to encourage the Tigers to surrender. Any other means of coercion aimed at arm-twisting Colombo into halting its military operations is to provide the LTTE with another lifeline.

That is the road the Tigers have travelled many times before. When the military was on the ascendancy, they have always made noises about negotiations and ceasefires, the international community was at hand to apply pressure on Colombo and yet another round of ‘peace talks’ would begin, only to be abandoned at the whims and fancies of the LTTE.

What is intriguing is that the present call for a truce in the North comes from many quarters. While the United States and the United Kingdom have led the chorus, there have been appeals from the European Union, the United Nations and even from India.
While we can understand why India is calling for a halt to military action in the North in the light of its domestic political implications, we must appreciate the restraint with which our giant neighbour has acted so far. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is walking a political tightrope and doing it well.

His emissaries to Colombo have indicated that while New Delhi will continue to publicly express their concerns about the crisis in the North, their actions will be such that they will not precipitate any adverse outcomes for the onward march of the Sri Lankan security forces.

Also, India was quick to condemn the LTTE for not responding to the 48 hour ‘window’ offered by the Colombo Government to release civilians. They also pointedly called upon the Tigers to lay down arms, an appeal that has hitherto fallen on deaf ears.

The same however cannot be said of the other nations and organisations that are desirous of seeing an end to the conflict in the North. What is galling is not their lamentations about the civilians trapped there - which is justified - but their apathy in not condemning the LTTE for using these innocent people as human shields.

It is time then to call the bluff of the international community. It cannot have double standards: one set of policies and priorities when it is dealing with terrorism in its own territories and another set of proclamations when it is dealing with a small nation such as Sri Lanka. And this is indeed what we have been witnessing over the past few days.

No doubt, loftier pronouncements will emanate from the global powers that be in the coming weeks over the Sri Lankan conflict. But the onus will be on the government and President Mahinda Rajapaksa to tackle such sabre-rattling head on.
So far, what has been this government’s strong point which has endeared it to the masses despite its many shortcomings is that it has not buckled under international pressure in it prosecution of the war against the LTTE.

But, as the Eelam war draw to a predictable closure, there will be testing times ahead. The Tiger diaspora and its well-oiled propaganda machine will ensure that misinformation will be fed to the international media to paint a grim picture of what is transpiring in the North. And, it will do its utmost to depict the government in Colombo as the villain of the piece.

The President and his Government will have to be unflinching in the face of this last ditch attempt to salvage the Tigers so that they could live to fight another day. This requires much more than military superiority: excellent diplomatic networking, saying the right words at the right time and anticipating what lies ahead.

It is more than likely therefore that the end game of the Eelam war will be as much a diplomatic battle as much as it is a quest to regain territory and it is a battle Sri Lanka can ill afford to lose.