Diplomatic offensives over war against terror

Sri Lanka’s war against terror has not only gained international attention in recent months, it has attracted international interference as well.
Periodically Sri Lanka has had to deal with various calls for a ceasefire in the conflict from sources as diverse as the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), the Prime Minister of Britain, the Secretary of State of the United States and even the out-of-office Jayalalithaa Jeyaram in India.

Last week, it was the turn of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations to flex their influential muscles to try and tell Colombo what to do in its battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Taking the diplomatic offensive to a higher plane was UN Human Rights Chief Navanitham Pillay who was to accuse Sri Lanka of war crimes. Pillay claimed that 2800 civilians had been killed in recent fighting and cited a ‘range of credible sources’ for providing her with the statistics.

Colombo had to quickly douse the diplomatic fires with Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe questioning the credibility of the figures quoted, pointing out that the numbers provided by the ‘range of credible sources’ corresponded to those of the pro-Tiger Tamilnet website.

Stranger still is Pillay’s silence on the LTTE’s refusal to let civilians leave the conflict zone. For someone holding such high office in the global body, Pillay appears to suffer from a rather selective amnesia when dealing with Tiger atrocities.
The moral of this story is that Sri Lanka being a small developing country with no superpower status or market value, there will always be other nations and international agencies telling us what to do and what not to do.

As long as such countries and agencies exist, Colombo will also have to put up with the kind of strictures that came its way last week. And, it does not take a genius to realise that the LTTE and the so-called ‘Tamil Diaspora’ spread far and wide will have a field day manipulating these events to their maximum advantage.

There will also be double standards. We do not hear of Navi Pillay moaning about the deaths of civilians in United States led air strikes in Pakistan. We do not hear of Manmohan Singh calling upon the US to enter into a ceasefire with Al Qaeda. And of course, we did not hear Gordon Brown asking India to negotiate with the Mumbai terrorists. But for all these actors on the world stage, Sri Lanka is fair game.

To Colombo’s credit, it has not blinked - yet. That has been the singular strongpoint of this Government. This is, after all, not the first regime to pursue a military option against the LTTE. Presidents J.R. Jayewardene, R. Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunge and even D.B. Wijetunge attempted to do so but they all buckled in the face of pressure from the international community.

That, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has refused to do steadfastly in the past few months even as the battle against the LTTE gathered momentum, for this unwavering stance, the President has been rewarded with a string of electoral victories in the provincial polls in the South of the country - gains which he is likely to build on further with the possibility of a snap general election also looming.

Now, there is a sense of expectation in the country that it will finally be rid of the scourge of terrorism after more than a quarter century. Understandably, having coming thus far, Colombo and its leaders find themselves in a position where they cannot renege on that prospect for that would amount to political suicide.

Militarily speaking too, a ceasefire or a similar arrangement by any other name is largely irrelevant. The Tigers have been cornered as never before and the terrain they hold continues to shrink by the day. If that final thrust to wrest total control of territory were to be aborted at this stage that would amount to a huge waste of lives and military resources in the operations conducted until now.

Therefore, it is logical in every sense that the war against the LTTE would be prosecuted to a finish. Now, it is a question of when rather than how and it is evident that the war has reached a point of no return. But the big question for Sri Lanka is what it could do to minimise the sabre rattling that continues to be an irritant in its international relations.

A diplomatic offensive would certainly help and we saw that in response to the UN Human Rights Chief’s remarks. Perhaps also helpful would be a more concerted campaign to apprise the world at large of what is taking place on the borders of the conflict in terms of providing humanitarian assistance to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) fleeing the war zone.

A charge that could be made against the Government in this context is that not enough is being done to facilitate a resolution of the various ethnic issues that plague this country - as quite distinct from the issue of terrorism - and that devolution is being delayed rather than expedited.

The pro-nationalist fringe in the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) who sometimes dominate the state media certainly does not help. What is needed instead is a concerted effort to arrive at a political solution to the ethnic issues.

Gloating over political opponents with a slogan of ‘we won the war’ is useful for elections but a political solution is a must in the long run and that is a matter that merits more consideration from the powers that be. Besides, that could be the most potent of weapons against those international busybodies too.