To explain what is not explained in Lydia Polgreen’s article “ Justifying a Costly War in Sri Lanka “
Posted on July 22nd, 2009

By Charles.S.Perera

Lydia Polgreen writing to the New York Times of the 18 July, 2009, leads her article with the caption ” Justifying a Costly War in Sri Lanka.”, which by itself seems an innuendo with an intention to condemn an ” unnecessary war” according to her, for which an unconcerned government has spent money which could have been spent better otherwise.

 The West and its media promoting political solutions to terrorism in developing countries while they resort to the military solution, are shocked that Sri Lanka ventured on a successful military solution and eliminated terrorism from its soil, while the West is bogged down with their terrorist wars. Therefore they seem to be all out to discredit the President of Sri Lanka and his government to cover up their lamentable failure to get any where with their wars against terrorism.

 A Government does not adventure into a “costly war” unless it is necessary for the defence of its territory and the protection of its people. Sri Lanka had been suffering under a ruthless terrorism for nearly thirty long years. Parts of its territory had been occupied by the terrorists who carried out terrorist activities through out the country, detonating Claymore bombs, using human suicide bombs, lobbing grenades, using snipers and pistol gangs.

 The terrorists were financially supported by a rich Tamil expatriate community living in different capitals of the West. They were provided with material, and technical know how for construction of air strips, setting up factories for production of bombs, personal mines, and suicide boats by some of the NGOs who infiltrated into Sri Lanka as aid workers after a catastrophic tsunami.

 The terrorist were demanding a part of the territory of Sri Lanka to set up a separate Tamil Homeland. Though they were a ruthless group of terrorists in the real sense of the term they cultivated a close friendly relationship with the Western Countries through the intermediary of Norway who had a secret agenda of their own.

 The rich Tamil expatriate Community formed terrorist front organisations to collect funds for the terrorists. They carried out extensive propaganda and won over influential people of the media , governments, even American Senators, and Jurists through offer of gifts, financial inducements, and vacations in areas under their control..

 The relationship between the Sri Lankan terrorists and the West resulted in a sympathetic connivance of the West with the terrorism in Sri Lanka accepting them as rebels, rather than terrorists. Hence, Sri Lanka was left on its own to fight against a vicious, ruthless terrorism while the representatives of Western Governments, human rights activists sponsored by the Tamil expatriates, some members of the European Union and even of the UN System came forward to oppose military operations against the terrorist advising the government to resort to a political solution instead..

 The Sri Lanka government to satisfy the International Community with Norway as an intermediary invited the terrorists to negotiate with the government for a political settlement. There were several rounds of negotiations, but the terrorists broke away from negotiations refusing to compromise their demand for the setting up of a separate Tamil Eelam State. They confirmed their opposition to negotiations by closing sluice gates of tanks providing water to thousands of farmers.

 The government was left with no alternative, but to resort to military operations to stop terrorism. It was of course a costly war both in human terms and that of material. However, that was how a costly war became a necessity to save people and territory in Sri Lanka.

 The history Lydia Polgreen recounts about the war between King Dutugamunu and Elara is a flippant reference to the military victory of the Sri Lanka Government forces over the terrorists. King Elara who was defeated by King Dutugamunu was an Indian invader who had set up a Kingdom in Anuradhapura. He was not a terrorist and the reference is therefore inappropriate.

 The relevance if any is in the fact that King Dutugemunu defeated the Indian Chola King Elara and brought the whole of Sri Lanka under his rule, and the Armed Forces of the Government of the President Rajapakse, captured the territories that were occupied by the terrorists and defeated terrorism bringing peace for the first time after 30 years to all of the people in Sri Lanka.

 The President Mahinda Rajapakse has indeed achieved a great victory in eliminating a ruthless group of terrorists who had caused immense suffering to the people and damage to the country. Every one in Sri Lanka, grateful to the President for his accomplishment, acclaims him as a hero. There is no one except perhaps the likes of Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu and Rajavarothiam Sampanthan , Lydia Polgreen had interviewed , who considers that victory unseemly. There is no surprise that the journalist presumed the victory unseemly on seeing the posters of a smiling president on bill boards.

 The journalist, whose aim seems to be to discredit the President of Sri Lanka, rather than present a factual objective report has no “understanding” of what was going on in Sri Lanka for the last 30 years, and why the people acclaim the President as a hero. Just quoting two names, from a historic event does not show the journalist’s grasp of the real meaning of the situation that presented to the people after terrorism was brought to an end.

 Quoting history to support the voracity of the journalists report has no relevance if the journalist has misunderstood the historical background of the event. Lydya Polgreen should have left out her misunderstood history to make an objective report of the situation without casting aspersions at a President respected and loved by the people of a country which is not hers.

To say that the Tamil minority has suffered discrimination and violence at the hands of various Sinhalese-dominated governments through the decades, is again a wrong emphasis on a situation that had other reasons. As a community the Sinhala for generations had always shown a willingness to share, and make sacrifices, even if the politicians had now and then built barriers that seemed unacceptable. That is the way with at least some politicians all over the world. It may be inappropriate to cite the opposition of the American Senate and Congress to President Obama’s timely and just effort to get approval for his people friendly health plan.

The long British Colonial rule was one which was detrimental to the indigenous people, who among themselves had no problem at the time the British occupied the country. The British Colonial rulers to facilitate their administration of the colony and avoid rebellions by the majority community began by dividing the people as the majority and the minority. To further weaken the majority Sinhala the British rulers picked people from the Tamil minority to occupy the places of importance in their administrative set up.

Further, the British Colonial rulers, crippled the influence of the Buddhist clergy over the people by introducing Missionaries, and converting the Sinhala and Tamils to Christianity.

Finally, when Sri Lanka won its independence the country was no more what it was before the British occupation. The Majority Sinhala community had suffered the most. Hence the political leaders of the subsequent “native” Governments , began to give back to the majority community , who represented 75 percent of the population, what they were deprived of by the British Colonial rulers during the 133 years of their colonial rule..

Thus Mr. SWRD Bandaranaike one of the political leaders who was elected the Prime Muinister of Sri Lanka in 1956 was determined to make the independence from the colonial rule more meaningful. In his move to make an Independent Nation of Sri Lankans, he made Sinhala the official languae going on the universal principal of ” one Nation one language “.

The upper class Jaffna Tamil politicians to further their influence over the poor Tamil people, made this an opportunity to claim the declaration of Sinhala as the official language, a discrimination against the Tamils, and demanded equal rights for the Tamil minority.

The sense of Tamils being a minority is a divisive political strategy which had been set in place by the British colonial rulers, and used by the upper class Jaffna Tamil politicians to step into being leaders one day of a break away Tamil Eelam State. But it was the minority Tamils who had preferential treatment through out the British colonial rule, and it was the Sinhala majority who had been deprived of all their rights, and relegated to a position of second class citizens in their own country.

The successive socialist governments of Sri Lanka after Independence, beginning from that of SWRD Bandaranaike, tried to give back to the Sinhala people their rightful place in the society, restore to their religion the respect it deserves, and revitalise their mutilated culture, all of which had been wilfully neglected during the British colonial rule of 133 years.

But at no time did these Socialist Governments of Sri Lanka wanted to make the Tamil people suffer for the damage done to the Sinhala people by the British Colonial Rulers. In the desire to put right the wrongs committed against the Sinhala by the British, these governments may have unwittingly given to the Tamil people the feeling, that they are being discriminated against in favour of the Sinhala, which had been capitalised by their mentors the upper class Jaffna Tamils. That was the beginning of the “ethnic” problem.

Lydia Polgreen has as a foreign journalist reported from what she had seen or gathered from interviews with others, frilled with her own impressions, thoughts and feelings. But the political implications, thoughts and ways of a people of another culture and how they react to events and people who are the centre of those events, cannot be understood and written about without making the report subjective, cynical, ironic and even contemptuous to a people and a culture.

When Lydia Polgreen says that while publicly pledging to seek a political solution Mr. Rajapaksa has been putting off for the moment how to share power with the Tamil minority, she has not been able to gather the real reason, which requires “reading into the mind” of a Head of State different from a Western Head of State that she could understand better. To understand the implication the journalist should know the way of thinking of a person of a different culture- a Head of State of a multi ethnic society.

The President Mahinda Rajapakse is a Head of State who would not precipitate into action . He takes time to meditate over a matter looking at all pros and cons before taking a decision. He is not a person easily ruffled by opinions, criticism or even insults showered on him . He does not react adversely to persons who seek to judge him. That is how he won a war against a ruthless group of terrorists, which no one else was able to do before him.

Lydia Polgreen speaks of the minority community as seeking devolution of power. In reality it means only the politicians of the minority community. But besides the politicians there are the real people who are not seeking political power. The greater need of these real people, the ordinary men and women is to be heard and understood by those who “decide” for him in the language he speaks. He also wants his children to be educated in any school of his choice, and let them enter government or private employment without being discriminated for his what ever communal origin.

He wants to live in peace without being interfered into his belief system, or his political appurtenance, apart from having a satisfactory standard of living provided with the primary needs of life such as shelter, food, clothing and medical facilities.

Those are in fact what all the people want without any distinction of the community to which they belong. After 30 years of suffering under a cruel terrorism, there should be a different type of awakening without being labelled the minority Tamils or majority Sinhala. There lies the reason for the hesitation on the part of the President, to act quickly for devolution of power to satisfy the politicians, which if granted would only be a superficial solution.

Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu or Rajavarothiam Sampanathan are looking for superficial solutions to perpetrate the Sinhala Tamil difference. But what the President Rajapakse seeks is a permanent solution without allowing the continuation of the majority and minority difference that had been introduced by a Colonial ruler to keep the people divided, and permanently apart.

That solution, bereft of a communal separation, does not come by devolving political power to the upper strata of the Tamil Community. The devolution of power should not be restricted to politics, language, religion, food , and shelter, because it has to be the elimination of the more deep seated exclusivity as communities, and build into the minds of the people a feeling of inclusivity as one people of one Nation.

That is what Mahinnda Rajapakse is after, and that cannot be understood by a journalists who seeks to make a report for the readers of the New York Times, making them see how the poor people of a developing country are being manipulated by a hawkish President ( or a hardliner as another foreign journalist calls him), belonging to the majority Sinhala community to make the poor people of the Tamil minority community suffer in favour of his Sinhala community.

I hope what is said above will add to what had not been said in Lydia Polgreen’s article, and the readers of the New York Times would understand a little better the real situation of Sri Lanka, and why a remarkable President who is not biased towards the Tamils or Sinhala in trying to make Sri Lanka a happy, peaceful place for all people to live together as children of just one motherland ” Sri Lanka” , is taking a little more time to take a decision, as to what exactly to do after a costly war.

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