Victory in Sri Lanka has to be for all
The Sri Lankan army's capture last week of the rebel Tamil Tigers' administrative capital, Kilinochchi, could be a turning point in the civil war that has brought the nation to a standstill. Government forces pressing home the advantage are within an ace of taking Mullaithivu on the north-eastern coast, the Tigers' last redoubt, and are advancing on Elephant Pass on the southern Jaffna Peninsula.
Once these fall, an eventuality which seems likely, the army will have effective control of the rebel region in the north and east of the island. It had had only sporadic control since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) began its campaign for a Tamil homeland in 1983. President Mahinda Rajapakse proclaimed the fall of Kilinochchi as a 'victory over venomous separatism that sought to divide the people on grounds of race and religion'. Even India, which sent peacekeepers in the 1980s in a vain bid to separate the antagonists, is sensing that a conclusion is near. It has asked for the extradition of Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran to stand trial for his alleged role in the 1991 murder of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
A military solution plainly is what the government has been aiming for since the 'permanent' ceasefire arranged with international help in 2002 fell apart four years later. Who cheated and ruined the deal hardly matters; this conflict has seen vicious conduct on both sides throughout its long run. What matters now is the ultimate existential question: Assuming the rebels are defeated militarily and a formal laying-down of arms is agreed to, can Sri Lanka endure as a nation where minority rights are respected and the security climate improves well enough for the economy to be rebuilt?
The business community and international investors will like nothing better than order, in any way it is imposed. If the government is far-sighted and magnanimous in providing constitutional guarantees to satisfy Tamil aspirations for representation and local autonomy, a military victory will have been an enabler in the nation's healing. Then this could be framed as a political solution, designed with the participation of the Tamil minority.
The Sinhalese majority has to be prepared to give up some of its privileges for that to happen. Sri Lanka came close to a political settlement to the conflict when Ranil Wickremasinghe was prime minister at the time of the 2002 ceasefire. Disagreements with President Chandrika Kumaratunga doomed his efforts. Thousands more lives were lost in the intervening period. The present government must make use of its military mastery, if it comes, to give all Sri Lankans the peace they have waited for.
The Straits Times.
This article was first published in The Strait's Times.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009