On his three day trip to the North Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, promised a political solution to the ethnic question, without which he said, there would be no stability.
Meanwhile, according to an interview given to Ceylon Today, “Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan expressed confidence in the ability of the Special Presidential Commission headed by Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge (CBK) to find a suitable solution by the end of this year, to the issues confronting the Tamil people. ‘…When Kumaratunge became the President in 1994, she was very keen about settling the grievances of the Tamil people and she also mooted a suitable political solution to those issues. We were however, unable to see anything come out of it’ he said.” (‘TNA Confident in CBK Headed Commission’, Mirudhula Thambiah, Ceylon Today, 31 March 2015)
To this expression of confidence by the TNA in CBK, all I can say is: “I’ll bet”.
How can Ranil and Chandrika politically reconcile the Sinhalese and the Tamils when they cannot themselves reconcile with the majority of Sinhalese? These are not personalities the majority of Sinhalese trust politically, to safeguard their interests and natural, demographically derived leading share of political and State power on the island. In that sense they are the very worst personalities to be entrusted with the task of ethno-political reconciliation.
CBK’s track record
The moderate, westernized wing of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga had its chance to win the war and re-mould Sri Lanka in accordance with its more reformist pluralist ideology but it threw the chance away.
The re-taking of Jaffna in 1996 was vitiated by the failure to cut off the LTTE’s retreat thereby permitting the Tigers to escape together with large number of civilians, base themselves in Mullaitivu, regroup and make a dramatic comeback. The strategy was one of taking territory rather than annihilating the enemy; recruitment was negatively affected by campaigns such as Sudu Nelum, Thavalama and the efforts of the National Integration Policy Unit (NIPU) etc; corruption was rampant in the sphere of defence procurement. Above all, there was no commitment to a strategic goal of destroying the enemy, but rather to one of driving the Tigers to the negotiating table.
Worse still, the Karuna’s rebellion was double-crossed and Prabhakaran’s Sea Tigers allowed to violate the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) and land in his rear area; General Sarath Fonseka was transferred from Jaffna and placed on the shelf in charge of the Volunteers; and the tsunami weakened Tigers were sought to be given an administrative-financial authority in the form of the Post-Tsunami Operational Management Structure (Sri Lanka) (P-TOMS), probably as part of a projected deal with the TNA which would permit CBK’s ‘Constitutional Revolution’ which would have enabled her to waddle into Parliament as PM, foreclosing Mahinda Rajapaksa’s chance of being elected President.
Ranil’s record of reconciliation
On 22 February 2002, Prabhakaran signed the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) negotiated by Norway’s Erich Solheim with the then Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. The CFA enabled the Tigers to come into territory controlled by the State, but disallowed the State from going into theirs. With the signing of the MoU, the democratic and legitimate Sri Lankan State conceded parity of status to Prabhakaran and his Tigers. It also agreed to the disarming of the anti-LTTE Tamil organizations, while the Tigers remained armed to the teeth.
The Wickremesinghe administration at the highest levels, asserted that the war was unwinnable, hence its concession-heavy peace drive. This assertion was a lie. The service-level agreement (SLA) Special Forces ‘deep penetration’ teams had ‘decommissioned’ around eight LTTE field commanders in eight months, including Shankar, the ex-aeronautics engineer from Canada who had planned the Katunayake Airport attack.
The government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had put this elite strike force ‘beyond use’, done Prabhakaran the enormous favour of getting them off his back, by stabbing them in the back. The entire covert operation and its support network were blown.
Months before the incident commonly known as the ‘Athurugiriya’ affair, a leading Sunday newspaper blew the whistle on the thermo baric SHMEL ordnance, which by the subsequent reports in that paper itself, had devastated Tigers in their dens. It was the Tiger-zapping ‘weapon of choice’ of the deep penetration teams.
Immediately after that expose, a group of 14 Tamil MPs (who were soon to become the fellow- travelling TNA) protested to the President and the diplomatic community about the use of the weapon as a ‘war crime’, an ‘atrocity’.
Then came the kicker. During the election campaign, none other and none less than the United National Party (UNP) Chairman put the spotlight on the project, complaining to the Elections Commissioner about the Directorate of Military Intelligence, the thermo baric weapons, the teams’ ethnic composition, their training bases etc. Who gave the information, on whose behalf was the finger pointed and as part of what deal?
Virtually the morning after the election, came the Athurugiriya Millennium City raid, the TV coverage, the Interior Minister’s action. The existence of such teams was exposed, deniability over, cover blown. Our own government, our own authorities, fingered our own Directorate of Military Intelligence and compromised the deterrent capacity of our own State. Where else in the world would this happen?
The P-TOMS agreement was negotiated on behalf of President Kumaratunga by veteran Sri Lankan diplomat Jayantha Dhanapala and her Ethnic Affairs Adviser. (Both ‘negotiators’ are back in the post 8 January Government-State apparatus).
It was a sell-out, and one that was not in the least warranted, given the advantageous position the Lankan State was in and the weakened situation of the Tigers, in the aftermath of the Tsunami.
The State acceded to an outcome in which the murderously aggressive ‘negotiating partner’ was accorded preponderance: the largest single share, plus the Chairmanship and the casting vote in the regional committee, while the government was relegated to the deputy chair. The P-TOMS contained a hegemonic structural preponderance for the LTTE.
A Supreme Court ruling spearheaded by Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva aborted Chandrika’s P-TOMS. Today her disastrous, anti-national Sudu Nelum/P-TOMS crew is back, working on the 19th Amendment and the Ethnic Reconciliation Task Force. Not for long one hopes, what with elections likely in the latter half of this year.
A Maithri-Mahinda-Sajith equation
US Army Major Paul Marks was right, when in an essay in the Joint Forces Quarterly of Spring 2000, he identified Sri Lanka’s central weakness: “strategic direction from open bold Italics the political authorities close bold Italics has never been adequate…This absence of strategy is matched by a lack of success…”
Thus what was most crucial was the role and responsibility of ‘the political authorities’. That’s where the real failure resided. That’s where it had to be rectified. Nothing else would suffice. When at long last, Sri Lanka produced the ‘political authorities’ that got it right; when Mahinda Rajapaksa became the highest ‘political authority’, the three decades long conflict was brought to a close.
The manifestly unsuccessful ‘political authorities’ of yesteryear, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe are two of the three personalities who constitute the political authority today! Those who failed the country in its hour of greatest need direct the destinies of the country! By contrast the one person who when he was the “political authority” provided the vital direction for victory is at home and is sought to be politically marginalized. What’s wrong with this picture? The upcoming general election gives us a chance to rectify this massive anomaly; nay, utter travesty.
My bottom line is this: Let President Maithripala Sirisena handle post-war politico-ethnic reconciliation, while a new Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, guarantees State sovereignty, security and the national interest, and Sajith Premadasa provide patriotic leadership to the UNP and the Opposition. Such a triangle can give us peace and reconciliation with security and stability. Let’s get Ranil and Chandrika out of our hair.