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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

The Second Front

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"But hard be hardened, blind be blinded more,
That they may stumble on, and deeper fall…."

Milton (Paradise Lost)

It is a declaration of war. Ministers Anura Bandaranaike, Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathy Sooriarachchi were beginning to function as a group of dissidents within the government and Mr Rajapakse has responded with a pre-emptive strike of disproportionate force. The dismissed ministers will probably limit themselves to verbal barrages against the President (and his coterie) for now, reserving their counterattack for a more favourable time. The dismissals will not destroy dissent in the SLFP; the dissidents will go underground, waiting for better times to surface.

Initially the SLFP dissidents are likely to limit themselves to aiding (probably covertly) the Southern front against the government that is in formation. Political unrest in the South is likely to grow in the coming months as the UNP and the JVP marshal their forces against the government on two sides. The UNP has withdrawn from the APRC and has declared its intention of agitating against the regime on cost of living and human rights issues. The para-JVP Jathika Bikhu Peramuna is to launch a ‘continuous fast’ on the 12th (at the Vihara Maha Devi Park) demanding that the regime formally withdraw from the MoU with the LTTE. The JVP will also be active on the trade union front. Chandrika Bandaranaike and Mangala Samaraweera are formidable politicians when they are in the oppositional mode while Ranil Wickremesinghe is unparalleled at intrigues and conspiracies. Mr Samaraweera has excellent relations with the JVP. A broad alliance of all these personalities and parties can happen – when the bite of economic crisis becomes unbearable and there aren’t enough military victories to make up for it.

The Rajapakse administration has not done well on the development front. It derives its strength solely from battlefield successes against the LTTE. Unfortunately winning in the North will be far more difficult than winning in the East. Even in the East a state of low intensity conflict is coming into being as the Tigers shift to a classic guerrilla mode. Unavoidable military expenditure and the government’s fantastic financial indulgences (such as Mihin Air, Weerawila Airport, the array of ministers and deputy ministers with their gargantuan appetites) will exacerbate the economic crisis. Living standards of the people will be endangered by galloping inflation and reduction in development aid. Thus the conditions will be created for the transformation of political unrest in the South into an all our political war.


For some, lack of foresight is a virtue; ignoring warning signals is a duty; pre-emptive action is a waste of time. Recently 38 US lawmakers sent a letter to President Bush requesting the appointment of a Special Envoy to kick start the peace process and monitor human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Questioned by a media representative about this development, Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa memorably answered: “We are not unduly worried”. The minister went on to assure the journalists of continued American support for our war against terrorism.

President Bush may or may not appoint a Special Envoy this time around; what is far more significant is that the request was made and made by members on both sides of the US political divide.

Minister Yapa is somewhat misinformed when he airily states that such requests have been made before. One of the signatories of the letter, Rep. Rush Holt made a similar request from Condoleeza Rice in September last year, citing the execution type killing of 17 aid workers in Muttur. That was just one Democratic lawmaker; the latest request is a joint letter by 38 lawmakers representing the two major parties. It is a clear danger signal and should be seen as such. Even if the request for a Special Envoy is turned down this time, it may be heeded the next time. And unless we take some pre-emptive remedial measures, there will be a next time.

Minister Yapa may be sanguine about continued American support to Sri Lanka, but given the ascendance of Democrats in the Congress and the Senate this support is not something Sri Lanka should take for granted. Needless to say things will get infinitely worse if the Democrats take over the White House in 2008; even if the next incumbent is a Republican, he may not be a votary of the ‘war against terrorism’, and therefore not very sympathetic to Sri Lanka’s woes. The continuation of American support therefore is far from axiomatic. The dangers are foreseeable and effective countermeasures are needed - and by that I do not mean government spokesperson bravely rushing in where angels fear to, and accusing all 38 US lawmakers of being Tiger stooges.

News management can fool some people all the time and all the people some time; but it cannot change reality. Initially the regime did manage to present the outcome of the Sri Lanka Development Forum in Galle as a triumph. According to the official website of the Government of Sri Lanka “the Sri Lanka Development Forum has announced new development assistance for 2007-2009 in the region of US$ 4.5 billion”; in another piece titled ‘Aid sans conditions for the first time – CB Governor’ the official website stated: “Governor of the Central Bank Ajith Nivard Cabraal said yesterday that the Sri Lanka Government for the first time saw a departure from the traditional practice of bowing to the dictates of lending agencies, at the just concluded Donor Conference, and instead was able to convince the aid givers that conditions should not be attached to development assistance”. Both stories turned out to be figments of a fertile – or disordered – imagination. As the English languages papers of February 4th (including the Sunday Island) revealed (quoting the Deputy President of the World Bank), Galle was not a pledging conference and, contrary to the government’s claim, Sri Lanka did not receive a cent of new aid.

In the 1920’s French psychologist Emil Coue became a European sensation with his theory of auto-suggestion; one of his main techniques was repeating daily the following phrase: ‘every day in every way I am getting better’. Perhaps one of the operating principles of the Rajapakse regime is a version of this mantra: ‘every day in every way things are getting better’. How else can one explain the chasm between the reality of the Galle meeting and the government’s interpretation of it? This incident is symbolic not only of the modus operandi of the regime but also of its underlying ‘thinking’. Did the regime believe in its own claims about billions of dollars in new aid – ‘sans conditions’ – or was it merely an attempt to reassure the public? Does the government assume that the public is devoid of intelligence or is the government operating on the basis of an imagined reality?

There are indications that the government may deal with the economic crisis the same way it dealt with the unfavourable outcome at the Development Forum. According to the official website “the representatives from the Census and Statistics Department suggested possible amendments to the Colombo Consumer Index after explaining the main problems pertaining to it”. The CCI is indeed outdated. The question is will the government, under the guise of amending the index, engage in statistical jugglery to ‘reduce the cost of living’ (just as President Chandrika once drastically reduced unemployment levels by adding domestic labour to the employment category)? Another one of Emil Coue’s basic postulates was ‘when the imagination and will are in conflict imagination always wins’. Does our government believe that when the imagination and reality are in conflict reality always looses? How else can one account for the (probably sincerely believed) claim made by the President in his Independence Day Speech that Vaharai was liberated without ‘inflicting any casualties on civilians’?

The ‘Chandi Malli Doctrine’

In our dealings with the outside world our favoured modus operandi is that of the proverbial bull in the china shop. This ‘Chandi Malli’ approach has exacerbated rather than alleviated our international woes. It prevents us from making the necessary distinctions between battles that must be fought and battles that must not be fought; and how to and how not to fight the necessary battles. According to media reports the government has expressed its readiness to investigate the charge of child conscription against the TMVP. This doubtless is a somewhat belated response to the growing international interest in this issue. Child conscription is an abhorrent practice. It is a crime when the Tigers engage in it, a crime when the TMVP engages in it and a crime when Sri Lanka facilitates or even permits it in areas under her control. If instead of screaming hysterically at Alan Rock and Radhika Coomaraswamy, the government took urgent steps to investigate the charge when it was first made (plus moving decisively to put a stop to this practice in the cleared areas) we could have prevented the negative publicity we have been receiving in the recent past. Such timely action would have helped both Sri Lanka and the TMVP and harmed the Tigers.

One of the issues raised in the letter to Mr. Bush by 38 US lawmakers is that of abductions. This problem has worsened in the recent weeks; some people are being abducted for ransom while others simply vanish. Remarkable is the manner in which the abductors ply their nefarious trade in the city of Colombo itself despite the immensely beefed up security; the Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University disappeared from a high security area in Colombo. These facts point to one of two conclusions – either our security measures are unbelievably inadequate and our security forces are unimaginably inefficient or there is government collusion in the abductions. Since the former possibility seems hardly credible, one cannot but incline towards accepting the latter, as the international community is doing.

Whether it is about child soldiers or disappearances and extra-judicial killings, it makes sense for the government of Sri Lanka and its Tamil allies to put their own houses in order, voluntarily, before being compelled to do so by the world. After all, Tigers benefit from our crimes and mistakes just as we benefit from the LTTE’s crimes and mistakes. Given that the Tigers are supposed to engage in a massive conscription drive in the North, it makes even more sense for us to clean up our act. Thanks to the issue of child soldiers we have a real chance of turning the LTTE into an international pariah; this is an opportunity we must not miss if we are serious about defeating the Tigers.

The disadvantages of mishandling political contradictions and relationships are far more lasting than the advantages stemming from military victories and far too solid to be imagined out of existence by wishful thinking and ingenious propaganda. Nationally and internationally there are problems looming which can destabilise the South and hurt the anti-Tiger struggle. Ironically quite a few of these problems are self-made ones – caused by the extremist and puerile worldview of the ruling Rajapakse clan. 2007 will be a difficult year and ignoring this reality will be as inane and as dangerous as exhibiting captured Tiger bombs to the public, without disabling them. The explosion at the Deyata Kirula exhibition portends the fate that awaits the Rajapakse administration – and by extension, the country - if it persists in its current ‘state of denial’.

- Asian Tribune -

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