Even during medieval times, rulers often deliberately adopted a policy of war since it was widely believed that citizens expected less of their monarch during so called “hard times”. Ironically, it was during times of relative peace that a King was most susceptible to rebellion by the malcontent masses. It seems poverty and economic paralysis is much more noticeable when your Queen is devouring cake rather than when your King is off to kill the Muslims. And thus peace was equated to apathy while a blood-soaked conquest was associated with valour and honour. The greatest respect in history is reserved for conquerors such as Alexander, Julius Caesar and Napoleon, who in any modern sense of decency would be no less than soulless war-mongers.
Unfortunately, this policy of war along with its motivations is ever prevalent in today’s politically correct world. The Bush Administration is a case in point. But we as Sri Lankans are also victims of the “excuse of war”. Even as the cost of living reaches unbearable heights and oil prices soar, all we can muster up against this regime are a few whimpers of dissatisfaction. (I intend no disrespect to groundviews). Well, at least they are winning the war for us. Few realize that in the present economic context, we are assured of losing money in a fixed deposit offering as much as 15% interest simply because the rate of inflation is significantly higher than that figure. Yes, it is more profitable to spend your money than to save it. Let us not complain, at least they are winning the war for us.
So let us talk about this war. For now, assume you are a reasonable individual that values economic stability and long-term peace within a tolerant and diverse society. If not, perhaps this would better suit your taste. Since we cannot predict the future, we can only weigh the probabilities. Thus I have taken the liberty to analyse the possible outcomes of the present military strategy of our Government:
1. The Government Forces capture Kilinochchi and Mulativu and try Prabhakaran for crimes against humanity and/or execute him
This is a great outcome at face value and is in fact plausible given the support offered by third parties with compatible agendas. Also, the lack of Indian censure of the present war effort plays a crucial part in its chances of success.
However, there remain several questions that go unanswered given the political realities faced by a victorious government. Firstly, the TMVP will require their well-earned pound of flesh. I assume everyone remembers the strategic disaster that ensued after President Premadasa allied himself to the LTTE with the objective of ousting the IPKF. A rabid dog often bites the hand that feeds it. So the present Government ought to have a nippy strategy to deal with Pillayan, who obviously would be entertaining thoughts of taking over the East once the threat of the LTTE is removed.
And of course we have to consider the Muslims in the East. Oppressed by multiple parties for decades, it is unlikely that they will be in the mood to negotiate for much longer. Already, there are murmurs of Muslim youth being armed and trained and viewing serious militancy as a viable option for the future. Yes, all we lack in this ethnic conflict is an extremist Islamic movement.
Even if we are to assume that these concerns would magically evaporate into thin air, we must consider our own mentality. The Southern polity has repeatedly demonstrated its aptitude for fickleness. So we can certainly expect (in this day and age of triumphalist exhibitions of counting chickens before they hatch) the Sinhala South to go hysterical when their Southern son returns victorious from his conquests in the North. This will certainly usher in a new era of nepotistic rule and confirm further economic catastrophe. If you think that some other, more tolerant and economically savvy regime may replace the present one at the next General Elections, please think again. We are not British and he is no Churchill.
2. The Government Forces fail to take over the North and a stalemate continues indefinitely.
This scenario is also plausible if one is to consider the aspect of war-profiteering and my previous argument in respect of motivations for continuing a state of war. Regimes that are accustomed to a warring culture seldom do well at maintaining their territories during peaceful times and converting them into stable, prosperous regions. Our present regime, like the marauding Mongols, falls squarely into this category. Such a regime is all too aware of its limitations during peaceful times, and therefore chooses to perpetuate its military campaign and sustain its war machine. Also, the fact that individual members of the regime make hideously large profits from arms transactions tends to help.
This scenario is incredibly disturbing since it will indefinitely prolong the campaign in the North and East and lead to an eventual breakdown in the economy. The lives lost during the most recent campaign would be in vain and the morale within the forces would steadily decline. Furthermore, the new generation of militant leaders would most likely be far more sophisticated and, I dare say, ruthless in comparison to their somewhat ideological predecessors. The transition of the Palestinian struggle bears witness to this inevitability. And so separatism would be looked upon as a clear and nonnegotiable objective rather than a bargaining chip.
3. A miracle.
This is where we venture out of the probable and into abstract possibilities. As demonstrated through the analysis above, the only acceptable outcome that would satisfy a “reasonable and peace-loving” supporter of this war effort is a faith-based notion that the present regime would effectively and efficiently carry out the following tasks:
a) Dismantle the LTTE leadership in the North;
b) Manage and dismantle remnants of the old LTTE as well as new mushrooming groups with various agendas including separatism;
c) Manage the TMVP faction and either appease their demands for some form of control in the Eastern Province or dismantle them also;
d) Provide safeguards for the Muslim population in the East and prevent the rise of a Islamist militancy; and
e) Provide a comprehensive devolution package for the Tamils and Muslims of this country and successfully market it to a disinterested and triumphalist Sinhala majority.
The above tasks relate only to a political solution to our crisis. I have not even begun to think of the monumental effort required to resurrect this economy. Yet these tasks are more likely to be completed by Sauron in Middle Earth than this present regime in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has long since held the infamous title of having the highest suicide rate in the world. It is therefore no coincidence that we as a nation now find ourselves in this hopeless predicament.
What horrifies me most is the fact that those who yearn for change are either systematically disenfranchised or forced to flee the country. Our only hope therefore is that the fortunes of this country will change dramatically and leaders who value freedom and inspire tolerance would eventually emerge.
Thank you for reading.