Post-independence Sri Lanka has witnessed two internecine insurrections and a protracted armed conflict, which is nearing its end. Bloodletting is nothing new to this country its chequered history is replete with ravages of war as well as rebellions since time immemorial.
Today, Sri Lanka stands bloodied yet victorious and resilient as ever. It has at long last, successfully vanquished, in all but name, a formidable enemy. Whatever its failings may be, it has cause to rejoice after accomplishing a daunting task it was not thought to be equal to. Lying spread-eagled on the battlefront is an outfit described as the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world.
It is not too cynical a view that Sri Lanka has to wean itself from its chronic dependence on foreign aid and build its economy first if it is to be truly independent. What has really prevented Sri Lanka from unleashing its development potential is terrorism, which has bled the economy white for over two decades. Economic dependence has taken a heavy toll on Sri Lanka`s political independence and therefore it has become a playground of sorts for neocolonial forces seeking to dominate the developing world. Unless it manages to put the conflict behind it soon and forge ahead on the economic front, development will be a distant dream and its sovereignty in peril.
The most vital ingredient in national development is unity, which we sadly lack. Disunity, treachery and betrayal have cost this country dearly since King Ravana. Sri Lanka`s last king was also betrayed by the nobility of the day. The tradition continues. If political leaders had joined forces against the enemies of the state, the present conflict would have been over a long time ago. They let expedience take precedence over the national interest and even had no qualms about sleeping with the enemy. Many are the lost opportunities.
In 1987, an opportunity presented itself in the form of the 13th Amendment. It was not the ideal solution but we were without a better alternative. The SLFP blundered by throwing in its lot with the JVP and helping let loose anarchical forces. The country was plunged into a bloodbath.
India was hoist with its own petard with the LTTE battling the IPKF but political leaders failed to seize time by the forelock to make most of the situation. Had the main Opposition desisted from fuelling the seditious flames in a bid to settle political scores and find a shortcut to power, the country would have stood a chance of getting rid of terrorism.
Instead, political battles continued and the LTTE got a new lease of life courtesy of the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who in his wisdom opted to protect the outfit.
The UNP remained a hawk until the end of the late President D. B. Wijetunga`s government, under which the LTTE got a thorough beating in the East. At that time, the SLFP held on to the belief that war was `unwinnable`.
The two parties switched positions after President Chandrika Kumaratunga took over and went to war with LTTE. The SLFP began to roar and the UNP chose to coo. But, when President Kumaratunga tried her hand at a political solution in the form of Regional Councils, the UNP, ably assisted by the JVP, shot it down in Parliament in 2000.
Ironically, the UNP-led UNF government (2001-2004) offered devolution that went way beyond Regional Councils, having signed a CFA, which was a total sellout. The SLFP-led Opposition opposed the peace process and President Kumaratunga sacked the UNF government in 2004.
If the UNF had, instead of capitulating to the LTTE, made use of the mammoth wave of anti terror sentiment sweeping across the globe in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks to neutralise the LTTE threat militarily, Prabhakaran`s battlefield gains during the previous years could have been reversed and his terror crushed. For, in such an eventuality, the LTTE would not have had an opportunity to replenish its depleted stocks under the cover of a truce, acquire new capabilities and raise more funds for the war.
In trying to make peace with the LTTE, the UNF was only hoping against hope. The LTTE, it may be recalled, unilaterally suspended peace talks in 2003 and not even the all powerful Co-Chairs could bring it back to the negotiating table.
The UNP strove for peace but had to settle for a fragile absence of war, that, too, in return for unprecedented concessions to the terrorists. The LTTE used the truce to consolidate its power, rearm, expand its operations and ready for the final war for nearly four years.
The UNF`s servility did not stem from a desire to betray the country but from its animosity towards the then President Kumaratunga and her party and a desperate need to grab the presidency. Its expedience came at a huge cost to the country, as is seen today.
Even at this stage where the LTTE is about to be decapitated, unity is conspicuous by its absence. The Opposition, having failed to derail the war effort, is now trying to jump the bandwagon. But, it is still acting in a manner suggestive of a perverse wish to see the military campaign boomeranging on the government. Perhaps, the SLFP would have done likewise, if the UNF had waged a successful war against terrorism.
We only hope that the political leaders will unclench their fists and join hands at least at this crucial juncture so that terrorism will be given a grand burial and peace restored. It is now or never!