Monday, June 1, 2009

Sri Lanka After Prabhakaran

Someone has rightly said that all who scripted some of the most violent chapters of 20th century history such as Adolf Hitler, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Saddam Hussein, and Velupillai Prabhakaran. Megalomaniacs, their ends bearing an uncanny similarity — all incredibly powerful men with an equally incredible and loyal following, hounded to lonely and violent deaths when their fortune and time ran out. Yet, none of these men will ever be able to shake off the bare truth that theirs was an ideology of violence that clearly foretold their deaths.

Prabhakaran, head of one of the most sophisticated and ruthless terrorist groups in the world which had perfected the art of suicide bombings, who was wanted in India for the brutal 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, is dead. So is the dream of Eelam, the separate state for Tamils in northern Sri Lanka for which he fought a ferocious civil war for over a quarter century, killing a host of Sri Lankan politicians, Sinhala and Tamil, including former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, as well as thousands of other ordinary citizens.

The Big Tiger finally fell to soldiers’ bullets while fleeing the battle zone in an ambulance. Colombo’s confirmation came after long suspense over his fate even as the Sri Lankan Army spread out his slain lieutenants, including son Charles Antony, for the television cameras as trophies. Though the Sri Lankan government has said that Prabhakaran was killed when he was trying a dramatic breakout of the Army encirclement in the early hours of Monday, there are still many who insist they would not believe this story until the body is shown; such has been his aura of invincibility across the whole of the international Tamil diaspora.

Major Factors for LTTE’s Defeat
Keeping the whole long scenario of the island in mind, there are primarily two factors that led to face LTTE defeat. The first is the point that the conflict has gone beyond its original causes. If the Tamils opted for a separate State owing to certain discrimination and unaddressed grievances, the brutal war has brought in a whole set of new problems dwarfing the original ones. Many of the ills afflicting Tamils now are due mainly to the war. It is logical therefore to assume that many of these war-related issues would gradually cease or lose their potency in a non-war situation.

The second factor is the paradigm shift that has occurred in the nature of ethnic relations in the country after the Indo-Lanka accord of July 1987. The earlier tendency of denying or ignoring Tamil discontent or opposing devolution has decreased considerably. The advent of Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremasinghe was a positive symptom of this change.

Half Battle Won
Though die-hard supporters of the eelam (freedom) cause are bound to rue the fall of Prabhakaran whose commitment to it was unswerving, there is understandable jubilation in Sri Lanka which bore the brunt of a civil war that took 70,000 lives, including those of several top national leaders, and shattered the economy of the beleaguered country. Successive heads of state and government had been promising to defeat the LTTE but had failed. President Rajapakse has succeeded by resorting to unalloyed military solution.

There is no doubt that Rajapakse deserves accolades for militarily defeating the LTTE, which culminated in the death of one of 21st century’s most dreaded terrorists, Prabhakaran. While celebrations are in order in the streets of Colombo, the extermination of the LTTE is only half the battle won. In order to win the war and relegate the 25-year-old civil war to the past, Rajapakse has his most difficult challenges staring him in the face.

As far the LTTE is concerned, the Tigers may have become extinct but genuine grievances of the Tamil minority remain to be addressed by a political system that is seen to be loaded in favour of the Sinhala majority. And for that to happen, the Government must implement the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution in both letter and spirit. The 13th Amendment was a result of the Indo-Sri Lankan Treaty of 1987 that was inked between then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the then Sri Lankan President JR Jayewardene, which envisaged a devolved Constitution for Sri Lanka as opposed to the unitary one it presently follows. It sought a mechanism by which power could be shared between Colombo and its Provincial Councils. And since most of the minority Tamil population lives in the north and the east of the country, it was hoped that the creation of Provincial Councils and the devolution of sufficient legislative and administrative powers to them would solve the national crisis.

In India, there was an attempt to make the war in Sri Lanka and the saving of Prabhakaran an issueduring the recent the general elections in Tamil Nadu. The process never quite took off. To give the UPA Government credit, despite occasional vacillation, for the most part it backed Colombo’s offensive. It knew, as did the rest of India, that the departure of Prabhakaran would make the world a better place.

Lessons for Neighbouring Countries
Undoubtedly the defeat and final annihilation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is a victory for Sri Lanka and a salutary lesson for all of South Asia. President Rajapakse’s determined resolve to efface and destroy the Tamil Tigers, to win back, inch by inch, the territory they had made their own, represents rare political courage in a region where politicians have been too quick to compromise with extremism.

The LTTE ran one of the world’s most virulent insurgencies — operating in a geographically contiguous area, with logistical support from a naval wing and international pirates and funds from a narco-terrorist network stretching to Europe. If it can be defeated, even Bangladesh and Pakistan have no excuse when it comes to taking on violent Islamists. India too can no longer turn away from the battle against Maoism and call it unconquerable.

Role of International Community
No country in the world can criticise the successful action against the LTTE, a terrorist organisation, and its leadership. At the same time, there has been considerable disquiet in the West over reports of large-scale civilian casualties due to the use of air strikes and heavy artillery by the Sri Lankan Army. The West considerably assisted the Lankan Army by banning the LTTE and dismantling its arms procurement and fund collection network. It has been greatly upset that the Sri Lankan Government showed total indifference to the concerns and entreaties of the West on the human rights situation and carried on a vilification campaign against Western NGOs and media.

The role of the international community, India in particular, is very crucial. The counties that assisted Colombo in the fight against the LTTE must now begin assisting and encouraging the government to deliver politically to the long-suffering Tamils. While helping to evolve a political settlement, they must also ensure that the economy receives a boost. The war-ravaged infrastructure of the Northeast can be rebuilt through external aid and input. There is a need for the international community and India to demonstrate to the Tamil people that they objected to the LTTE and not the Tamils.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid a two-day (May 23-24) visit to Colombo and the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in the north where the war-displaced people are housed in thousands. The trip was a follow-up to the Lankan Government claiming that the Tamil militancy has been wiped out and that the process of reconstruction would now begin. His Lanka visit attemptted to heal the wounds of war that had alienated the communities for almost three decades.

For the first time, the UN has come out with an estimate of people killed in the Eelam war over the years: 80,000 to 100,000. Besides, thousands have been displaced from homes and are living as refugees and settlers in several countries. There is pressure building up on Colombo from the UN and several aid agencies, besides the US and EU, to allow humanitarian access to the IDP camps.

In the case of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Armed forces have not only neutralised a large number of its cadre but they have also decimated the entire leadership. The LTTE benefited in the 1980s from the sanctuaries in India and from political and moral support provided by the Indian state. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 has ensured that it will not get these benefits again. With its entire leadership gone and denied these benefits of sanctuaries and support from the Indian state, it will be very difficult to revive the LTTE as an insurgent-cum-terrorist organisation.

Future Ahead
Now that Prabhakaran has been killed along with his top commanders and the era of LTTE terror is over, Sri Lanka should immediately adopt a resolution in its Parliament to implement a devolved Constitution which will ensure equal political, economic and civil rights for that country’s Tamil minority. This way lays the path to peace and a permanent end to the ethnic conflict that has claimed many lives.

Efforts must be made on an emergency basis to resettle the civilians in their original hometowns and villages after the Sri Lankan forces complete the de-mining process. There is also the need to assure the Tamils in the Sinhala-dominated southern areas that they can continue to live there safely. The Tamils strongly believe that after the 1983 pogrom in and around Colombo, the only reason they did not face any Sinhala backlash was because the Tigers were around as protectors.

In all these post-war measures, the vital role of the international community, particularly that of India, to get President Rajapakse to keep his promises cannot be underestimated. Colombo has, after all, repeatedly acknowledged India’s assistance in its war against the Tamil Tigers; so the Indian government is fully justified in demanding that Sri Lanka keep its part of the bargain.

A word of praise for the resoluteness of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse would not be out of place. India must formally honour him for putting an end to the organisation that assassinated Rajiv Gandhi and so many democratic-minded leaders.

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