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New War

There can be no doubt that 2007 will be one of full-scale war in Sri Lanka. Army commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was emphatic last week; his forces would clear the east within a month and then concentrate to destroy the LTTE in the north, he vowed. President Mahinda Rajapakse shares his confidence. The government is rolling out the political dimensions of the Sinhala hegemonic project - especially the de-merger of the Northeast Province - with a new urgency.
 
The administration's confidence is infectious, with even the splintering main opposition UNP also now loudly proclaiming the need to defeat terrorism - while also clinging to the notion that there must be a political solution. The ultranationalists of the JVP and JHU no longer stand out as the entire southern polity bays for a total military victory. Even the so-called Sinhala left is hurrying to the bandwagon. And even the international community, while still insisting that there can be no military solution to the ethnic question, has both backed off to give Sri Lanka the space to attempt one and is also providing the required support for it. This confidence in a military solution comes primarily from the past few months of battlefield retreats by the LTTE. We see nothing served by arguing the contrary; we will merely point out that this is not the first time the LTTE has been emphatically written off by the Sri Lankan state and the international community.
 
However, whatever the reality of LTTE strength, this moment ought to be an eye-opener for the Tamils. As confidence in the military solution has grown, so has enthusiasm waned - both in the south and in international capitals - for power-sharing with the Tamils. For years now we have been told that the LTTE was the Tamils' problem, that the Tigers' hard line was precluding a lasting solution.
 
But amid a conviction the LTTE can be destroyed, all insistence on a political solution has evaporated. The present situation highlights the Tamils' core dilemma: who can force a lasting solution out of the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan state? Who can guarantee our political rights or even our physical security? The international community (which so officiously appointed itself 'Co-Chairs' of the peace process years ago) has gone silent, rousing itself only when attacks blamed on the LTTE occur. There is (an unsurprising) collaborative silence as scores of Tamils perish in the state's violence. None of the passionate defenders of human rights that emerged during the peace are to be heard now - though some self-serving charlatans who profited from liberal laments (mixed with a little LTTE-bashing) during President Chandrika Kumaratunga's 'war for peace' continue with business as usual. In short, the Tamils find themselves, as ever, facing the Sinhala lion on their own. Except for India. Ironically history repeats itself as Delhi is again compelled by local pressures and familiar misgivings to confront a rampant Sinhala nationalism at Sri Lanka's helm.
 
But President Rajapakse is confident enough of his military project to openly disregard Delhi's demands. His vision of Sri Lanka is framed not by a one of devolution, but of radical demographic change. That is why the de-merger of the NorthEast Province (NEP) has been rushed through. The JVP filed the Supreme Court case, paving the way for President Rajapakse to realise the division of the Tamil homeland in practice. In short, President Rajapakse intends to clear the Tamils from the east. His military campaign began last April with a broad-front onslaught to drive the Tamils out of Trincomalee. He has continued this murderous campaign since, herding our people down the eastern coast, destroying village after village as he went. He has done so with the approval of the international community and to the enthusiastic applause of the Sinhalese. It remains to be seen what, if anything, India can do to dissuade President Rajapakse from his war, especially when he is convinced he is fulfilling the tenets of the Sinhala revolution his SLFP party inaugurated in 1956.
 
In the meantime the Tamils have to confront a new reality. Unwilling to accommodate our political aspirations, Sri Lanka and the international community have taken the Tamil struggle back to the battlefield. We are once again on familiar ground. The Tamils are again confronted with the same choice they faced in 1995 after President Kumaratunga hoisted the lion flag over occupied Jaffna and turned to the Vanni: unite or perish. Now, as then, our community, both in the homeland and amongst the Diaspora, must come together. Once again we have to alleviate, as best we can, the suffering in Vaharai and the rest of the Northeast. Once again we have to stand firm against Sinhala efforts to destroy us.