The debacle at Pallai

The Follies of War - A Sinhala partisan but a sensible point of view

By K Godage

It is with much sadness that I write, on this day when we celebrate the birth of the Buddha, who preached unconditional love and compassion for all beings. Absolute Ahimsa or non-violence was his message. But on this day when we recall his preaching and when we should be committing our selves to live his message, I am compelled to write of war representing mans hatred for man.

Another disaster has occurred in the north, described as a mere setback. Who takes responsibility for the hundreds killed and the thousands maimed? In the words of the Jaffna Commander attacking forces always sustain more casualties (but do we have to take needless casualties? Was it another Charge of the Light Brigade?).

Whilst sparing a thought for all those who have died on both sides, I wish to more than spare a thought for the thousands of our brave soldiers who sacrificed their precious lives to safeguard the unity of this country. They were slaughtered at Pooneryn, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Paranthan, in the Vanni, Elephant Pass, thousands died trying to open the Kandy road through enemy territory (I recall that Commissions of Inquiry were established to find those responsible for the debacles but the findings are not known to us We doubt as to whether anyone was punished it is always CONVENIENT TO ACCEPT EXCUSES (so much for transparency in government) and now it is Pallai! I presume the military has analyzed the reasons for the first, the second and the third defeats (or, as they wish to call them, setbacks) and drawn lessons from them, or have they? Has anyone I repeat anyone, taken responsibility for the horrendous mistakes that have been made I only recall that some have received decorations and high sounding scary designations on our side I have yet to hear of Prabhakaran doing what we do!

The question, for which we the people are entitled to an answer, is why did a professional army have to suffer such ignominious defeats time and time again. Things do go wrong in war but surely it cannot happen time and time again because the price we pay is in human life. It appears that the young men from our villages are sacrificing their lives so that some others can live in obscene luxury. What a tragedy? The middle class has made almost no sacrifice for this war; incidentally I would wish those opposing any form of negotiations to tell us whether they have given any of their sons or daughters for the war. Have any sons or daughters of Parliamentarians enlisted or are they all in the US and UK?

When a country is at war and we are certainly at war with a ruthless enemy one would have expected the whole country to be united in their support of the fighting forces. (a UNPer stupidly and heartlessly, referring to the most recent debacle, quoted a moron and stated that the playing field was being leveled! Such is the closing of ranks. I damned them of course). Only an imbecile would be critical of the brave soldiers who are fighting on our behalf but at the same time it behoves on the public to question the competence of those conducting a war. What could be the morale of the soldiers in this situation? Is it any wonder that there are so many deserters or that recruitment has dried up? We must face the hard truth. People at the helm must not identify their own fortunes with that of the country. Too many have died for us to remain silent. It was callous that none of the political parties, who obscenely celebrated May Day, did not spare even one minute to remember those who sacrificed their lives just days ago for this country?

At the risk of seeming to repeat myself, may I ask as to who takes responsibility for this disaster in which at least 500 are said to have died with over thousand injured? Incidentally quite often many are described as missing in action; this is a cruel deception that is practiced on the mothers, fathers, wives, brothers sisters and children of our brave soldiers who have in fact died in action. When someone is said to be missing in action, the unfortunate relations live in false hope they cannot even give a Paanse-kula, they go from pillar to post for information and in sheer desperation to churches and Kovils for divine help. How would we feel if it happened to us?

I ask again, is there accountability in the military? If so, may we know as to where this responsibility or accountability lies in the military. As for this particular operation, to us ordinary citizens it appears that our soldiers had been sent on a suicide mission. On the basis of commonsense let me ask a few questions that would be on the minds of millions of thinking people of this country. Did we under-estimate the enemy? a cardinal fault in any situation. Did Military Intelligence advice that an offensive could be conducted with success? Though not a military man, I am certain that no offensive can be conducted without proper intelligence. Did we fail in that department once again? Would not the army have expected the enemy to rain mortars and use their heavy weapons was there a counter strategy? What about the Commandos and the Special Forces were they not used? Incidentally whatever did the Air Force do with its helicopter gun-ships and those million dollar MIGs? Are they dropping their bombs in the sea and returning to base? Why have they not attempted to take out the big guns that pummeled our troops? And what about our Navy? What is the distance between Pallai and the sea? Why were they not around to support our troops? I recall that when Elephant Pass was under siege sometime in the 1980s an amphibious was mounted by the Navy to ease the pressure on the base does the Navy not have such an operational capability now? Was this a tri-service operation? The Navy spent millions to buy some old sitting duck vessel with helicopter capability where is this ship? It has been said that the ship is patrolling our southern waters! I thought it was meant to ensure that the LTTE did not bring in fresh supplies are we being taken for a long ride? Two final questions. Is there a permanent think tank comprising not of friends as we are wont to do, but of the best military brains in the country? And how fit are our field commanders hope they do not sport pot-belies!

There are many lessons we can draw from all these debacles. I am inclined to believe that even if we provide weapons worth ten billon dollars, our military establishment cannot humble the LTTE because our military or those presently in command, have proved time and again that they are incapable of crushing the enemy. So why should we waste the lives of our village lads so that some others become millionaires as many have, because of this war? It is not a matter of Terrorism triumphing, but the privileged cannot continue this war at the expense of the poor, who join the military only because they have no other possibility of supporting their families. The majority of those joining the army are not joining to fight far a cause (as it is with the LTTE) it is only because they have no other choice. As for the LTTE they will negotiate only after they take back Jaffna.

I do not see any alternative to sharing power. This is what this government has tried to do from the time it came into office. Partisan politics has crippled its efforts to achieve a national consensus on the matter. The only solution to the problem lies in sharing power. The LTTE must also be convinced of this by the international community.

There is no doubt that we would encounter many difficulties, from sharing budgetary allocations and sharing resources, to deliberate attempts by vested interests to sabotage any peace process or agreement. We would need to create new institutions that would secure the peace yes, radical new thinking may be needed but the price is worth it. For instance, since a mono-ethnic region would only exacerbate the ethnic problem, we must consider carving out new regions. Perhaps the country can be divided into three or four regions. That would make sense, instead of the present nine provinces, with nine governors and nine chief ministers and cabinets. I do not need to think through this, my thoughts in this regard can be considered just a Hors d'oeuvre.

COURTESY: The Island [7 May 2001]