In defeating the LTTE, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, then Army Commander and the then military leaders did a wonderful job by way of strategic military plans and implementing the same.
Sun Tzu, a military commander who lived in China in 5th century BC wrote a book called ‘The Art of War,’ where he discussed military strategies at length. This book is used today as well not only in war but also in marketing, management, sports and statesmanship.
Sun Tzu was of the view that the greatest victory was that which required no battle. “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
He said that the person who knew when to fight and when not to fight and the person who knew how to handle both superior and inferior forces would be the winner. Sun Tzu was not a warmonger. Warmongers like to engage in war. Sun Tzu’s intention was to conquer the enemy. He would be happier if the intention could have been achieved without a war.
The behaviour of the Sri Lankan Government after the end of the war was aggressive and arrogant. The military has adopted an offensive approach instead of a defensive approach in dealing with war.
The approach in relation to the foreign policy of a country like ours should not be equal to the approach the military has taken against the LTTE. India used an aggressive foreign policy against Sri Lanka during the time of President Jayewardene based on the geopolitical situation prevailed at that time which was a creation of the Government of Jayewardene.
Sri Lanka cannot afford to have a hostile foreign policy against any powerful nation. As Sun Tzu said, the person who knew how to handle both superior and inferior forces would be the winner. If a person handles superior forces in the same way he handles inferior forces, eventually he would lose.
Although the Government boasted that India was handled effectively during the latter part of the war, there was nothing there to handle in the Indian relationship since India also wanted to destroy the LTTE.
In the early stages of war, since India has taken a hostile approach towards Sri Lanka, India needed to be handled where the Government of Sri Lanka failed and the situation deteriorated to the extent that India invaded the air space of Sri Lanka, mainly because of the aggressive stand taken by the then Prime Minister R. Premadasa.
However, Sri Lanka needs strategic handling of Western nations which are more powerful than Sri Lanka and very critical in relation to the economy of Sri Lanka.
Street fighter mentality
From the final part of the war, Sri Lankan foreign policy was handled with a mentality of a street fighter and not even that of a general considering the viewpoints of Sun Tzu, let alone the des
ired mentality of a statesman. This has come to the zenith now where an ambassador of the country has supposedly been physically assaulted by the de-facto Foreign Minister of the country. This situation is quite in contrast to the way the foreign policy was handled during the time of Sirima Bandaranaike.
Dutugemunu, who is a hero of the Sinhalese, was not a warmonger. He was a finest statesmen produced by Sri Lanka and a strategic military leader. He had taken bhikkus to the battlefield and stationed them in geographical areas captured from the enemy. The act of keeping bhikkus rather than soldiers in those captured areas positively influenced the mentality of the people lived in those areas and also supported the requirement of the military commanders to have more soldiers at the battle front.
Dutugemunu was well aware that he was engaged in a civil war since there was lot of Sinhalese in Elara’s army. At one point the Mahavamsa says, “Not knowing their own army, they slay their own people.”
Dutugemunu’s intention was to unite the nation after winning the war. Dutugemunu at the end of the war with Elara erected a tomb for the slain leader. The Mahavamsa states as follows: “In the city he caused the drum to be beaten, and when he had summoned the people from a yojana around, he celebrated the funeral rites for King Elara. On the spot where his body has fallen, he burned it with the catafalque, and there did he build a monument and ordain worship. And even to this day the princes of Lanka, when they draw near to this place, are wont to silence their music because of this worship.”
This symbolic act of Dutugemunu paved the way for the much-needed reconciliation at that time.
Vijayabahu I who had defeated the Cholas decisively a millennium back which was a crucial point of the history of Sri Lanka was another fine statesman produced by Sri Lanka. After uniting the nation he had erected rock scripts written in Tamil in the places where Tamils, especially his hired army of Tamil origin, were inhabited. He had extended State patronage to Hinduism, the religion of Tamils.
Sinhala Only Act
Neville Jayaweera, a retired prominent public servant who was the Government Agent in Jaffna from 1963 to 1966, has written an autobiographical reflection on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. He was handpicked to be posted as GA Jaffna in order to implement the Sinhala Only Act in Jaffna by the then powerful Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Foreign Affairs, N.Q. Dias, and the then Prime Minister, Sirima Bandaranaike.
According to Jayaweera, Dias at that time prophetically expected that the Tamil professionals would lose control and there would be a Tamil armed uprising with the help of India and established a chain of military camps encircling the Northern Province to counter such an uprising. Ironically Dias wanted to implement the Sinhala Only act forcibly in Jaffna, which process in fact was supportive of such anticipated uprising.
Is not history repeating itself now?
President Rajapaksa was strong enough to defeat separatism decisively but he was not strong enough to defeat the anti-Tamil collective consciousness of the Sinhalese. Moreover, he has been adopting an approach which has facilitated further marginalisation of the minorities, ethnic or religious, of the country.
In the north, a Provincial Council election was delayed unduly and was held under Indian pressure. Even after the election, the state of affairs in the north by and large has been handled by the Central Government using the Governor, which is the situation in the Eastern Province as well. This situation prevailed despite the clear signal of conciliation given by the Chief Minister elected when he decided to take oaths in front of the President in Colombo.
This situation has to be viewed in relation to the conciliatory approach adapted by Jayaweera in the capacity of GA Jaffna, where he abstained from implementing the Sinhala Only Act in Jaffna District and refrained from using force against democratic processions with the approval of the Centre arrived after much deliberation on his part.
Jayaweera was critical of the approach of the Sirima Bandaranaike Government (1960-1965) to the ethnic conflict and was of the view that his actions in Jaffna paved the way for the Dudley- Chelvanayakam pact.
Northern travel ban
It was reported a few days back that the Government had imposed a travel ban on visits by foreign passport holders, including tourists to the north. It was also reported that the restrictions had been imposed in view of threats posed by some foreign passport holders to national security. By hitting the tourist industry indirectly, this act was directed at Tamil diaspora members who visit their kith and kin in Jaffna.
The current situation has deteriorated to the level that the TNA is asking for a foreign mediator for negotiations and they virtually boycott all Government functions including the planned visit by the President. Are the actions of the Government an extension of a paradoxical policy towards the ethnic conflict advocated by N.Q. Dias and the Sirima Bandaranaike Government in 1960s?
President Rajapaksa received a similar opportunity as President Mandela did. Just as Rajapaksa defeated separatism in Sri Lanka, Nelson Mandela defeated apartheid in South Africa. Rajapaksa was unable to defeat the anti-Tamil collective consciousness of Sinhalese; Mandela once he became the President of liberated South Africa defeated the anti-White collective consciousness of the black Africans. Rajapaksa was unable to unite the nation; Mandela united the nation, which was the need of the hour.
That is the difference between political myopia and political farsightedness and the difference between political opportunism and political vision. As a nation that was the difference between regressive tribalism and progressive nationalism.
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)