The re-establishment of the government`s writ in the entire Eastern Province has not only demolished many a myth about the LTTE?its invincibility etc.?but also ripped the international community`s mask of humanitarian concerns. A few moons ago, some foreign envoys in Colombo let rip, so to speak, about the humanitarian situation in the East. They were so concerned about the civilian plight that they even went there in defiance of government warnings to see for themselves how humanitarian work was being done. They had a close shave when the LTTE shelled the chopper carrying them and some of them suffered minor injuries.
But, today, we learn that international help for rebuilding the East is not forthcoming as some members of the international community remain noncommittal on assistance. Only a few of them have reportedly expressed their willingness to make a contribution to that worthy cause, but they, too, don`t seem to be so enthusiastic.
Neither the President nor anyone else can ask for foreign assistance as of right. As regards aid, prerogative of foreign governments cannot be questioned. But, their lukewarm response to the government`s call for help to rebuild the East is rather intriguing, given their readiness to go hell for leather earlier on.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa may not be the darling of the international community and the grand celebrations last week may have irked them, but rebuilding the East has very little to do with him or his political project, though it is inevitable that he will gain some political mileage from that exercise. (Politicians will gain mileage from anything?even a funeral.) Development of the East has everything to do with the people who have suffered for nearly two decades and their devastated lives must be rebuilt, irrespective of who is at the levers of power.
It is being argued in some quarters that the reluctance of the western countries to make a commitment on the Rising East programme stems from their perception of the President as a `hawk`. They are entitled to their opinion and it is up to the President and his spin doctors to repair his image. (Ironically the `hawk` is being hauled over the coals by the `doves`, who want him ousted because of his war effort, for having allegedly let 800 LTTE combatants escape to the Wanni without massacring them at Thoppigala! How can doves be so cruel?)
But, that argument doesn`t hold water as the not-so-distant history of the world is replete with many instances of the international community creating and nurturing not just `hawks` but savage monsters that preyed on innocent men, women and children. The US, for example, had no qualms about showering aid on Saddam Hussein in spite of his crimes against humanity including the barbaric Anfal campaign, which resulted in thousands of Kurds being massacred in chemical attacks. France helped Bokassa, the mass murderer?who, besides committing a large number of crimes, had school children beaten to death for being in rags due to poverty?obtain a fleet of Mercedes limousines for his coronation as `emperor`! Britain looked after Pinochet, the killer, to the last. Papa Doc of Haiti, which the US is now trying to democratise, was in the good books of Uncle Sam in spite of his dastardly crimes against civilians, until he became too embarrassing. India created Prabhakran, who is committing heinous crimes against humanity, especially children. But, she is doing precious little to help stop him in his tracks despite the fact that, according to a Reuter dispatch quoting UNICEF records, among the LTTE child recruits there is a nine-year-old! So, how can one argue that it is the Rajapaksa government`s `belligerence` that has made the international community fight shy of providing assistance for rebuilding the East.
Never mind foreign governments that stand accused of pursuing their hidden agendas: What about the International Non Governmental Organisations or INGOs as they are popularly known? While battles were raging for Vakarai and Muttur, they were champing at the bit to gain access to those areas to do humanitarian work. The government drew a lot of flak over its refusal to comply with their requests in view of the security situation at that time. But, today, we don`t see INGOs rushing to the East posthaste to help the hapless civilians. However, they are operating in the areas under the LTTE control under trying conditions. The aforesaid Reuter report also revealed that some of the INGOs in the Wanni had been keeping their local staff indoors for months for fear of abductions by the LTTE, which is desperate for recruitment.
Some INGOs had been engaged in providing humanitarian assistance in the LTTE held areas in the East earlier, knowing very well that the outfit was taking the lion`s share of the relief, as evident from, inter alia, a stock of lifejackets in the possession of the Sea Tigers and a large number of sacks of rice and dhal that had been used to build LTTE bunkers.
One is simply intrigued by the tardiness on the part of the INGOs in going to the East to improve the living conditions of the people there at present. Their heel-dragging only strengthens the position of their critics that they are wary of operating in the cleared areas where they have to account for funds unlike in the conflict zone, where no monitoring of their activities is possible and they can indulge in embezzlement to their heart`s content.
Meanwhile, the government must be reminded of its recent claim that it was prepared to manage reconstruction and rehabilitation on its own if push came to a shove. Now that push has manifestly come to a shove, the question is whether the government is in a position to translate its rhetoric into action.
However, it is not the government that really needs help but the people of the East and the international community and the INGOs will have to come forward and provide assistance urgently, if their much flaunted talk of ameliorating human suffering is not to be dismissed as humbug.