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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2612

Killinochchi… and Gaza

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

"Thousands of the Taliban went back to their homes. They began a normal life. The coalition forces began to employ thugs…..or warlords or whatever. They created militias of those people who had no limits to misbehaviour and who were sent to people's homes to search their homes, to arrest them and to intimidate them…… If they go to the Afghan homes and burst in and arrest or kill, does that leave the Afghan people with the feeling that they have a government? No". President Ahmed Karazi of Afghanistan (Los Angelis Times – 22.12.2008)

Killinochchi is an important milepost in the Fourth Eelam War, an outstanding victory for the Lankan Forces and a significant defeat for the LTTE. The Tigers’ response to the fall of Killinochchi was both characteristic and portentous - a suicide blast near the Air Force Headquarters in Colombo. According to the well informed Tamilweek, the LTTE has begun withdrawing from Elephant Pass and Mullativu and may withdraw from the Jaffna Peninsula altogether. If true, this development, together with the premeditated response to the loss of Killinochchi, would signify a shift from positional warfare to guerrilla attacks and in particular acts of terrorism in the South and in the East, partly as a morale booster and partly to create the ground conditions necessary for the birth of a new generation of Tigers and Black Tigers.

Much thus depends on the manner in which the government handles this historic victory and its aftermath. The initial signs are not encouraging. President Rajapakse, his government and his military officials deserve to be credited for this victory (just as they deserve to be blamed for the defeats and the setbacks; the attribution must work both ways). The Rajapakse administration’s desire to make political capital out of the fall of Killinochchi is comprehensible and indeed normal. However, in its blatant political exploitation of the Killinochchi victory, the regime overstepped the boundary of both good taste and good sense. This was as needless as it was unseemly; after all the Lankan electorate is hardly likely to reward Ranil Wickremesinghe for Killinochchi and therefore less self-aggrandisement would have helped rather than hurt the President’s image and the regime’s electoral prospects.

Reaching out to Tamils

A greater cause for concern is the regime’s inability/unwillingness to reach out to Tamils at a moment of considerable emotional significance. Sri Lanka is still a psychologically divided nation; especially where the war is concerned, Sinhala and Tamil reactions are, in general, diametrically opposed. In opinion polls a majority of Tamil respondents express a clear preference for an immediate ceasefire while most Sinhala respondents want the war to be continued. This is an understandable divergence since it is Tamils who have to bear the brunt of the war and it is Tamils who suffer most at the hands of both the LTTE and the Lankan state. Moreover the dominant section of the regime and the state regard the war as a Sinhala on Tamil conflict (as does the LTTE). Consequently many non/anti-Tiger Tamils would see the defeats and setbacks of the LTTE not as Sri Lankan victories but as Sinhala victories.

Given the non-existence of a Sri Lankan nation, it is unrealistic to expect a Lankan response from the Tamils (particularly since the state and the government habitually react in a majoritarian rather than in a Lankan manner). Therefore most Tamils are unlikely to feel elated about the Killinochchi victory. Given the regime’s Sinhala supremacist mindset and the absence of a political solution to the ethnic problem, most Tamils are likely to feel dismayed and worried rather than hopeful about the future. A majority of Sinhalese may welcome a Sinhala peace; but a majority of Tamils would not. This very real difference must not be glossed over; nor should it be condemned as unpatriotic. After all, the only kind of patriotism that exists in this country is of the ethnic or ethno-religious variety – an inevitable consequence of the non-existence of a Lankan nation. The problem must be acknowledged as a problem and dealt with; indeed, doing so is a necessary precondition for the creation of a Sri Lankan nation. If in moments of victory, the administration in particular and the Sinhalese in general, act with insensitivity and miserliness towards the minorities, it will impede the nation building process without which Sri Lanka will not know a lasting peace.

So long as Vellupillai Pirapaharan is alive the LTTE will neither give up Eelam nor give up arms. The LTTE’s New Year Message made this clear, yet again. A military response to the LTTE is thus unavoidable. But this unavoidable military response must go hand in hand with a political response to the Tamil people. Unfortunately such a dual approach is conspicuous by its absence. Mr. Pirapaharan depends on this critical absence to justify both the Eelam demand and the recourse to arms; to win fighters and sympathisers here and abroad. Given this seminal absence, all the LTTE has to do is to explode a few bombs in the South now and then. The regime will overreact as usual, with mass arrests, abductions, extra-judicial killings and attempted deportations – responses tailor made to suit the Tigers’ politico-propaganda needs.

The battle for Killinochchi was expected to be over in weeks; it took months. The battle for Vanni will be infinitely more difficult than Killinochchi. With its back to the wall the Tiger will fight more ferociously than ever before. The LTTE will also go out of its way to provoke the Lankan side into committing acts of violence and persecution against civilian Tamils, both in the war zone and in the rest of the country. Deaths and injuries from aerial bombing and shelling, mass arrests, attempts at deportation would be the responses the Tigers would try to elicit from the regime.

The duration and the final outcome of the war would depend to a great extent on the way in which the regime treats its Tamil citizens. Will the government come up with a political solution to the ethnic problem even as it pursues the next phase of the war and act with responsibility and consideration towards civilian Tamils in the pursuit of the next phase of war? Or will the government’s actions and reactions become even more majortarian supremacist than they have been so far? These are key questions, particularly because of the economic factors. It is not possible to keep defence expenditure at the current levels, given the worsening of the economic situation. The Golden Key debacle is just the tip of the iceberg. A financial crisis is unavoidable as is a debt crisis. Significant as the Killinochchi victory is, the harder part of the war lies ahead and some of the necessary preconditions to sustain the war are fast disappearing.

Sometimes winning the battle or even the war is the easy part. In Afghanistan the coalition forces were able to defeat Taliban with surprising ease. This victory became a pyrrhic one absence of a concerted programme to win the peace by winning over the populace. Today Taliban has made a comeback and is threatening the very survival of the Karazi government. This is a lesson the government should do well to heed, before it succumbs completely to hubris and makes the kind of avoidable mistake which will only help the Tigers.

The Tragedy of Gaza

The Israeli ground offensive in Gaza has begun. Hamas’ options were limited so long as the invasion was limited to air attacks; it had no capacity to bring down Israeli air crafts and all it could do was to fire some rockets into Israel which did very little real damage. With the commencement of the ground offensive, Hamas can finally fight back. As Israeli ground troops enter Gaza, the battle will become more even, and the casualties will begin to include more and more Israeli soldiers. Many ordinary Palestinians will join in this fight back, not because they are pro-Hamas but because Israel’s extremist policies and practices have left them with no choice other than resistance or capitulation.

With the new Obama administration there was a real possibility of isolating the extremists and strengthening the moderates in the Middle East – a precondition for any lasting peace. Israel has put paid to that very real potential with its brutal offensive. At the end of this criminal misadventure Hamas is likely to emerge politically strengthened rather than weakened, not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank. In fact the main political casualty of this monumental blunder is likely to be the moderate Fatah in general and the Abbas faction within it in particular. Other big losers may include the pro-Western rulers in the Islamic world. All over the Middle East, from Israel to Turkey, from the Palestinian territories to Egypt, political extremists and religious fundamentalists will gain from the tragedy of Gaza.

Israel of all countries should know that a people cannot be destroyed by the force of arms; that violence cannot kill the spirit of a nation. If wars and massacres, persecution and injustice can destroy a people, Jews would have become extinct centuries ago. With such a historic memory, it is ironic that Israel has not been able to comprehend and appreciate the Palestinians’ desire for liberation, their determination to survive and their will to resist. If Israel applied its own experiences to the Palestinian situation, it would not have blockaded, bombed, shelled and invaded Gaza. If Israel remembered how suffering gives rise to resistance and injustice engenders hatred and revenge, it would not have tried to starve and destroy the Gazans into submission.

Israel forgot and will be called to pay for her avoidable errors. She has already paid a heavy price for her refusal to be rational, for her inability to understand that real security is impossible so long as one’s policies give rise to generation after generation of angry Palestinian men and women willing to kill and die battling Israel. Perhaps the most telling indicator of the failure of Israel’s hard-line policy is that young Israeli Jews show an increasing tendency to migrate to the West, including to Germany, because they have lost faith in Israel’s future.

Israel facilitated the rise of Hamas because it wanted to fragment Palestinian resistance on religious lines, because it needed an enemy who could be demonised with ease. Israel and Hamas always had a mutually sustaining relationship and this will become intensified as the Gaza invasion progresses. President Abbas has discredited himself with his servility towards Israel and the West; the only moderately radical leader who could have made a positive difference, Marwan Barghouti, is serving six life sentences in an Israeli jail. The current vicious impasse can still be broken if Israel is willing to halt the offensive, lift the blockade and release Mr. Barghouti in time for the next Palestinian election. With President Obama in the White House, if Ms. Livni is elected the Prime Minister of Israel and Mr. Barghouti becomes the Palestinian authority President, there will be a real possibility of marginalising the Hamas and Israeli right-wingers and working towards a two state solution.

But as the Gaza invasion wends its destructive way, as opinions harden on both sides of the divide, such positive possibilities will rapidly evaporate. Instead Binyamin Netanhayu will win Israeli elections and Hamas the Palestinian Presidency. With extremists dominating both sides, peace will become more impossible than ever, whatever the efforts of Mr. Obama. And all over the world, fundamentalists of all faiths, terrorists of all types will become stronger and more numerous. If George W Bush killed the War against Terrorism with his Iraqi invasion, Israel has buried it with her Gaza offensive. As Eduardo Galeano asked, “And isn’t it clear that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the invasion of Gaza and Lebanon are the incubators of hatred, producing fanatic after fanatic after fanatic?” (How Much Longer?)

- Asian Tribune -

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