Shiral Laktilleke, an ideologue of the UNP at a recent seminar berated Victor Ivan with extensive data on why the war could not be won. We assumed then that his party opposed the war. But those of us who were watching the debate on the Defence Ministry Budget were taken by surprise when the UNP announced that it would vote for the Defence Ministry Budget to protect the unitary status and the sovereignty of the country. The announcement was made by the Gampaha District MP John Amaratunga who opened the committee stage of the budget debate. He said `We are opposed to terrorism and would like to wish a quick recovery to the members of the armed forces who were injured in the war against terrorism.`
Lakshman Seneviratna (UNP) from the Badulla District said the UNP had decided to vote for the Defence Ministry Budget and the extension of the State of Emergency to strengthen the hand of the armed forces in the war against the LTTE. The LTTE leader Prabhakaran should be militarily defeated and destroyed. Rajiv Gandhi who presented his bullet proof jacket to Prabhakaran was killed by Prabhakaran himself. `Should we pardon this terrorist who had also killed Tamil political leaders like A. Amirthalingam and so many others and our leaders like R. Premadasa`? he asked.
The UNP has been living in a state of schizophrenia for many years in deciding on its attitude towards the war. As the architect of the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 , the UNP, then in government sought to argue that negotiations were the only way to bring about a solution to the Tamil National Question. When the CFA was presented in Parliament many of the Ministers, such as Milinda Moragoda and G.L. Pieris argued that it was absolutely necessary to observe a ceasefire and provided the following reasons for doing so. They argued that the war had cost the country enormous sums of money and that it was necessary to negotiate with the LTTE. Milinda Moragoda even argued at that time the concept of parity between the two forces in the negotiations process. It was then their argument that the LTTE had controlled territory, had an independent armed force and an administration as reasons for the negotiations. The CFA was then seen as the pinnacle of the UNP strategy for it would bring untold economic benefits to the country. Moragoda even argued that the CFA was a means of taming the LTTE, for in a situation of normalcy, its cadres would abandon the LTTE in large numbers. He also argued for a safety net strategy, arguing that drawing a safety net or a security net around the LTTE would be one way of destabilizing the LTTE.
The President at that time, Chandrika Kumaratunga however did not agree and did her best to undermine the CFA. The principle architect in undermining the CFA at that time was the Minister for Media, Mangala Samaraweera, who argued for an alliance with the JVP, to bring down the government of the UNP and submitted a paper as to how to destabilise the CFA.
Why the somersault?
I am not at all surprised by the current UNP somersault. The UNP in internal debates had been confronted with the fact that war against the LTTE had struck a chord amongst the psyche of the Sinhalese people and the war to end terrorism led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa was popular amongst the people. Ranil Wickremesinghe has over the years been caught in a dilemma as to how to deal with Sinhalese nationalism represented by the SLFP. In 1956, the UNP was outmaneuvered when SWRD Bandaranaike, opportunistically called for the implementation of the Sinhala Only Act within 24 hours. The UNP quickly tried to follow suit but was outmaneuvered.
Ranil Wickremesinghe had during the last Presidential elections tried to use as his campaign strategy, a more Sinhala Buddhist posture. He was often seen in Buddhist temples paying respects to the monks. But he was no match for Mahinda Rajapaksa. In analysing the recent Provincial Council elections, it was also clear to them that the government used the war against terrorism as the principle platform for the election campaign. The Prime Minister and the President vowed that they would reach Kilinochchi before the election was over. It is in the light of these circumstances that the recent volte face of the UNP can be explained. More elections are now around the corner and the UNP does not wish to be outmaneuvered by the government this time. So why not outdo the government by calling for the war against terrorism. At the same time, the UNP will criticise the government for not doing enough to win the war, draw attention to the casualties and expenditure so as to appeal to a war weary public.
Somersaults in the political arena are nothing new to Sri Lankans. For example, when Chandrika Kumaratunga brought forward a constitutional amendment to resolve the conflict and offered a political solution in August 2000, the UNP burnt the proposal in Parliament and opposed it being passed in Parliament. Similarly, when SWRD Bandaranaike signed the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact in 1958, it was J.R.Jayawardene who organised a mass demonstration against the Pact and mobilised Buddhist opinion, which led to the abrogation of the agreement. Another somersault is the support accorded to by the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the 13th Amendment for when this was introduced he was one of those who vociferously opposed it and took to the streets.
Today, the entire political class except for a few fringe parties is united in the war against terror. Except for members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), all other Parliamentarians from both sides of the House were falling over one another to heap praise on the armed forces. Be they be members of the JVP or the National Freedom Front of Wimal Weerawansa , the JHU or SLFP, all are eager to take credit for being the ones who set the armed forces on the path of victory
The war we are told is popular and it is a question of time before it will all end and the people will once again live in Paradise. This writer has consistently stated that `wars` do not end like that in modern warfare and in the age of 5th generation warfare, terrorism and guerrilla warfare will continue to haunt the country unless a political solution acceptable to the Tamils is provided and their dignity restored. I have also argued that the war is not only about the control of territory but also about the psychological war i.e. winning the hearts of the people. Unless the battle for minds, as it were, is won, the seeds of terrorism will prevail. We have only to observe events unfolding in the liberated East to understand this point. The Provincial Council elections were held and the people were promised milk and honey in place of the blood and tears that they had experienced for the last twenty years. The people of the East had experienced blood and tears from over 10 marauding armies during the last thirty years. Each one of these armies had come to liberate the people but had only pillaged the land and created untold misery. Many armed groups are now haunting the East again. Despite an impressive development thrust by the government, the people remain fearful and insecure. Therefore wars are not terminated until the people are provided a sense of security and dignity and a chance to govern their own affairs are firmly accepted and established in the East.