No such thing as a war for peace
By: Qadri Ismail

President Kumaratunga,
I was relieved on the 18th night when the news disclosed only minor injuries to your person. I was happy in the early hours of the 22nd, when the news revealed your re-election. My joy evaporated when I heard your remarks upon being sworn in.

These words come from the conviction that you are still opposed to racism, but that you are [at least] misguided, because, if you execute the course outlined in your victory speech - war by another name - the consequence won't be the peace you ostensibly desire. Rather, this country will become a battle zone for the Tamils and a permanent checkpoint for the rest. 

The first thing you've got to understand is very, very difficult. I know this may sound crazy, but the assassination attempt wasn't personal. Velupillai Prabakaran has killed every consequential Lankan politician in the recent past. By targeting you, he merely followed established Tiger policy. So, you mustn't take it personally. You cannot seek revenge. War, whatever name you call it, would be revenge.

Point two: you surely know by now that the battle is unwinnable? Your soldiers don't have the will to fight and they can't hold territory. You could multiply the military budget, but this will only magnify Tamil misery and further damage the economy.

Three: the Tamil people voted against you. Overwhelmingly. In Batticaloa, Vavuniya, Colombo, Nuwara Eliya, Badulla - and Jaffna too, despite the official results. They believe you are against them: because of your deeds - as opposed to your words - over the past five years. You can make them forsake the LTTE. Indeed you must. But that won't happen by merely proclaiming your anti-racism. You must actually do things to prove it.

Four: Sri Lankan governments tried to militarily defeat the Tigers. We've seen the results. Three tried negotiations. We know the results. 

The pragmatists - those people without imagination or ability to read the evidence - will insist you talk again. Others will insist you fight. These are false choices. Both. The war cannot be won. And, really, the Tigers only want to talk about the transfer of power to an independent state.

The challenge before you is truly daunting: to produce a new, innovative and non-violent strategy, some things never tried before, to win back the Tamils and eventually solve the problem. It will take time, four to five years at least. Some aspects of such a policy may appear unrealistic, if not way-out; but when business-as-usual has demonstrably failed, then one must damn the pragmatists and attempt the unusual.

For a start, stop fighting. There is no point trying to gain ground if you can't keep it. Consolidate the defences around your major camps, close down the others and launch attacks solely against identified Tiger bases. You will lose territory, but not many troops; and ordinary Tamils will realise, slowly, that you are not attacking them. Especially if you never bomb or shell civilian areas.

The nationalist segments of the military will object. 

So, sack Srilal Weerasooriya. (He commanded Jaffna during the Chemmani murders and should have been court-martialled a long time ago.) Recommend the other racist brass to retire (and join the Veera Vidhana if they are so inclined). Many professional officers know this war cannot be won. Listen to them - not to those who advice you out of ideology or personal aspiration. 

Boot Anuruddha Ratwatte. Nobody takes him seriously - including the Kandy voter. (I presume you know the official count was somewhat exaggerated.) Promote him to Field-Marshal as compensation.

While you are about it, dump Lakshman Kadirgamar as well. He accepted the foreign ministry hoping it'll lead him to the U.N. secretary-generalship. He can start his campaign early. Replace him with someone credible, passionate and articulate who'll conceive his task not as justifying the Sinhalese to the world, but as explaining the Tamil cause to the Sinhalese. Your cabinet desperately needs a Tamil motivated by conviction rather than ambition. 

On this subject, stop backing Douglas Devananda. He represents only his bank account.

If you are genuinely committed to a multi-ethnic Sri Lanka, you would insist that the Sangha restrict its public pronouncements to matters of religion. If you truly want to stop hatred, you must make them stop meddling in politics.

These actions will send a message to the Tamil people, but they are not enough.

Stop the restrictions on essential items to the Wanni. Using food as a weapon is truly base.  

Stop requiring civilians to get permission to travel to and from the north. Requiring passes is reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. Yes, LTTE cadre will then find it easier to get to the south. (Though they don't seem to find it difficult now.) So, enhance security at checkpoints.

To prevent abuse of Tamil civilians, a human rights official should monitor every point; actually, one should be attached to every military encampment and police station in the country. If there aren't enough Sri Lankan volunteers, get them from Norway or the Quakers. 

Other initiatives are also necessary on this front. 

The Prevention of Terrorism Act must be repealed. It is a truly obnoxious piece of legislation - and nobody can claim it has prevented terrorism these past twenty years.

Release all Tamil political prisoners. Some Tigers will go free - but they don't have a problem with recruitment, anyway - and the bulk of the emancipated would be innocent. This is one gesture the Tamil people will certainly appreciate. In the short term these moves will strengthen the LTTE. But, in the same short term, you have lost the Tamils. It is the medium term one is fighting for.

All this would be useless, of course, without a new, federal constitution - one that conceives of Lanka as composed of equal social groups, not of a Sinhala majority and Tamil, Muslim and Burgher minorities. This means starting from your original proposals of 1995.

This means everything, including the so-called national anthem and flag, are up for negotiation.

But your victory speech, disturbingly enough, made no mention of devolution. If Gamini Lakshman Pieris has no stomach for this fight, put Mangala Samaraweera in charge.

Tell him, in addition, to actually pass legislation outlawing hate crimes and enabling equal opportunity and ethnic harmony. Then make sure these acts, and similar ones like on official language, are implemented.

If the Tamil people could forgive the UNP and vote for Ranil Wickremesinghe, they could come to forgive you, too. But you have to give them reason to believe. If you do, and if their feelings change, this will have an impact on the LTTE's fundamentalist commitment to Eelam, in the medium term. Right now, that remains only a slim possibility, a fantasy even. Right now, their vote is evidence that ordinary Tamils found your first term a disaster. If you want this to change, so must your policy.

Your victory speech only promised more of the same. It's about time you realised that there ain't no such thing as a war for peace.

Courtesy: The Sunday Leader, December 26, 1999