By Rajiva Wijesinha –
One of the more bizarre aspects of the post-conflict situation is the strange combination of forces trying to undermine the security forces in their work in the North. I believe their presence there is essential, and not only for security reasons, which we cannot ignore just because the LTTE in Sri Lanka has been destroyed. LTTE sympathizers are still active elsewhere, as we can see from the determination not to condemn any acts of the LTTE – except only for the occasional general admission that both sides violated international norms, followed by a catalogue of what the forces are supposed to have done, with no specifics with regard to the LTTE.
But it is not only fear that the enormous resources LTTE and separatist sympathizers command will be used again for violence that requires the continuing presence of the armed forces in the North. It is also that they still continue with massive services with regard to the restoration of basic infrastructure. Unfortunately they have not developed a system yet of recording the number of wells they have dug, the houses they have built, the roads they have repaired, the playgrounds they have constructed, so their contribution goes unsung. And trying to introduce coherence into the government narrative is of course impossible, given that it privileges style over substance, but really has no idea of the style that would carry conviction.
Meanwhile the vociferous opponents of reconciliation in Sri Lanka ignore all the work the military has done, and continue to talk of a military presence, which only they seem now to see. Most disinterested observers, on the contrary, are now struck by the absence of soldiers on the ground in most of the North. Interestingly, the assistance provided still by the military is appreciated not only by those who actually supply assistance and see how the military has facilitated resettlement, but also by the majority of the resettled. At Divisional Secretariat meetings, while they continue to draw attention to what they see as shortcomings – and also what is occasionally described, in the Vanni, as the unfair allocations decided on by politicians – there is no criticism of the military.
Ironically, I gather that it is some of those politicians, who are seen as parochial in their concerns, who are most opposed to the military. There have been regular attempts to remove the commanders who are thought the most highly of by the civilians in those areas, and there is no doubt that, if they went, we would have the type of exclusively political decision making that now happens so often in the South. And while in the South at least – though I do not think that is a good enough reason – it could be claimed that the politicians exercising authority represent a majority of the people, that is obviously not true in the North.
I should add that allowing politicians a free hand in the North would be as disastrous for those politicians as for the country. Since they necessarily represent a minority of the population, the decisions they make will naturally increase the unpopularity of the government, and lead to disaster in any election. But unfortunately they do not recognize this, or perhaps they feel that their obligation is to satisfy their supporters, and the long term consequences are not important.
So we find both opposition politicians and some government politicians united in their efforts to reduce the role of the military. Added to this however is another element that is perhaps even more dangerous. Recently we have had a spate of attacks on opposition politicians and media outlets, which unfortunately the police have not dealt with firmly. Some government politicians claim that their supporters are condemned for what elements in the military have perpetrated, whereas the military claims the opposite.
In both cases I would assume that the leadership had made it clear, unless they are particularly stupid and want the government to become unpopular, that violence must be avoided. Indeed I had what seemed evidence of this in that I was told by a TNA supporter with regard to one incident that nothing happened until after he had left, even though it was apparent to him that there were members of the forces present in mufti during the event that was later subject to violence.
This would suggest that orders were simply to observe. Though that in itself might seem an unnecessary imposition, given the state of mutual distrust that has been built up, it is understandable. What is not understandable is how later violence was deployed.
It is possible that there was excessive provocation, and even servicemen present, if they did get involved, forgot the training they had received. Representatives of other politicians could also have failed to exercise self-control. But it seems to me also possible that there are elements purporting to be supporters of the government who are in a win-win situation if they employ violence. Some elements may be racist, others may be implacably opposed to the TNA and therefore determined to remove any possibility of them working together with government – a position that obviously the extremists in the TNA reciprocate. And those in theory with the government who do not want reconciliation can work to this end while knowing that government will suffer, and that their actions can only strengthen opposition forces in the South in the long run.
Government unfortunately does not seem aware of the dangers, and by not taking firm action against rogue elements, by whomsoever they have been sanctioned, is contributing to its own downfall. Some elements opposed to Reconciliation might have thought they did not have to worry for a long time, since they could have the election to the Northern Provincial Council postponed. But given the commitment of the government to go ahead with this, it is vital that it get its act together and stops the various efforts to undermine its position.