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Mullaithivu IDPs: Rajapakse Burden

World opinion has been centred for weeks on the tragic plight of thousands of civilians sandwiched between the sea, LTTE and government forces on a narrow sand strip near Mullaithivu. Each day international TV channels reveal the horrifying state of these people — wounded, sick, starving — sprawled on bare earth, quite often without a roof over their heads. Despite the grim scenes brought into sitting rooms the world over, neither the Sri Lankan government nor world leaders who voice their concern regularly including the United Nations Secretary General, have been able to do much for these people. In practical terms all these lamentations add up only to crocodile tears.  On Thursday the United Nations Security Council, the highest decision making body of the world organisation demanded that the government security forces and the LTTE take urgent action to protect these civilians.

The arguments bandied about by the government, the LTTE and the ‘international community’ on who should be held responsible for the plight of these people have been repeated ad nauseam and need not be repeated here. In the final analysis, the welfare of these people — Sri Lankan citizens — is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan government.

Despite journalists and human rights observers being debarred from the scene of carnage, international TV channels are showing these scenes, probably leaked out by LTTE organs such as Tamilnet. The government is clearly at the losing end of this propaganda war and Sri Lanka is getting the reputation of a failed state, being unable to protect its own citizens even though government spokesmen including President Mahinda Rajapakse claim that they have successfully debunked this charge.

President Rajapakse since the commencement of military operations after the Mavil Aru incident has taken pains to stress that this is a ‘war of liberation of the Tamil people against LTTE terrorism.’ Coalescing of military and political forces of Karuna, the  renegade LTTE leader of the east with government forces reduced much of the credibility of it being a ‘war of liberation’ of the Tamil people not only among the Tamils but even Sinhalese. In recent times Rajapakse threw out a new line of ‘humanitarian operations’ against the LTTE. This, even to the political gullible Sinhalese and Tamils appeared to be another euphemism for military operations.

Western powers involved in the Sri Lankan issue simply did not buy it, just as much the people of this country are laughing at the ‘humanitarian concerns’ expressed by Western powers about military operations in and around Mullaithivu when hundreds of innocent Afghan civilians and Pakistanis are being killed by NATO operations in Afghanistan and American operations in Pakistan. South Asians seem to be drowning in a sea of ‘humanitarian considerations.’

President Rajapakse’s credibility on his humanitarianism suffers from linking this so called war of liberation to his political agenda. He has won all the provincial council elections conducted so far on his boast of ‘military victories.’ His supporters beat the war drums saying that a defeat for his party at the elections would mean that the people do not endorse his ‘war against terrorism.’ He had proved to be an astute follower of Clausewitz, the German military strategist who held: War is a continuation of politics by other means. And he won the war and his elections convincingly. But where do all these proclamations about ‘humanitarianism’ and ‘humanitarian operations’ stand in this context?

The outside world, at least the Western powers — those who still matter in terms of political and financial power and military clout have no faith in him. These powers have their own problems caused by the current international financial crisis, but still they call the shots. Sri Lanka’s application to the IMF for a US$1.9 billion loan is a case in point. On Monday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband indicated that Britain does not support Sri Lanka’s request for an IMF loan when he spoke to the media. He is quoted: ‘I think you’ll find the issue not coming up at the IMF today (Monday),’ when asked whether Britain supports Lanka’s IMF loan application. Miliband had said that any government should demonstrate that it would handle the IMF money in a responsible way. He did not think that Sri Lanka was in a position to do that yet. Miliband and French Foreign Minister Kouchner who arrived in Sri Lanka the week before to plead for a ceasefire were rebuffed by the Sri Lanka government.

Certainly, the great majority of people stood by President Rajapakse when he stood up to Western powers and resisted attempts to interfere in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. No Sri Lankan worthy of his salt will permit the derogation of the sovereignty of Lanka. President Rajapakse’s success in war has been his stubborn resistance to foreign interference whereas his predecessors succumbed to it. But politics and diplomacy have their limits.  

The Rajapakse administration appears to have adopted a muscular form of diplomacy in tackling diplomats and foreign leaders of powerful nations. Will Rogers, the American legend is attributed with the remark: ‘Diplomats are essential to start a war as soldiers are for finishing it.’ In this instance we are not referring to our Foreign Service diplomats who still follow the old school polite diplomatic ways but the new coterie of tough talking, muscle flexing academics, relatives and political appointees who have aggregated around the President.

True there are Third World countries with leaders who tell mighty Western leaders where to get off. The Castros, Hugo Chavez, Ahamedinejad and even Omar al Bashir of Sudan do so. But they are all soaking in oil. What does Rajapakse have? Lingerie, tea, rubber, coconuts, medicinal oils and housemaids!

Nonetheless, we have to get our priorities right. The first is to save the poor people trapped between the security forces and the LTTE. Rajapakse can do it with a ‘humanitarian offensive’ even though it may cost thousands of lives and bring upon him and his government much international opprobrium as well as hatred of Tamils around the world. But that would ensure victory in forthcoming elections. The other is to make Britain and other Western powers that seem to be adopting an indulgent attitude towards the ruthless LTTE in their own capitals rather than treat them as a terrorist organisation, crack down on them as they did earlier. Today’s attitude has conveyed the impression that the LTTE can live to fight another day.

Last but not least is the political solution about which there seems to be much prevarication by President Rajapakse. If no such solution is forthcoming soon, we will be back to square one.









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