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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne

On Waking Up

16 August 1993

The Editor
The Island COLOMBO
Sri Lanka

Dear Mr.Editor,

I have just had the opportunity of reading your exhortatory editorial entitled "Wake up !" in your issue of Sunday 1st August '93. What comes through very clearly is your sense of pained surprise at a debacle such as that at Janakapura "despite all the money, men and equipment committed to this ten-year effort to curb northern terrorism."

There seems to be a conceptual problem which lies at the root of the pained surprise. The problem is this. What is the nature of the enemy whom we fight ? Is the enemy "northern terrorists" i.e. a criminal conspiracy akin to gang robbers bent on plunder etc. for their own aggrandizement similar to the Mafia ? Or is the enemy a nationalist guerilla force bent on establishing a separate state for their nation ? If it is the former, then the money, men and equipment committed to their suppression can certainly be regarded as adequate and we must search for reasons as to why the results which could legitimately be expected have not materialized.

On the other hand if the enemy is a nationalist guerrilla force bent on establishing a separate state for their nation, then very serious doubts arise as to the adequacy of the money, men and equipment committed to fighting such a guerilla force.

Since you have mentioned "money" first let us look at the adequacy of the funds provided for the effort. Early this year, the late president declared that Rs.23 billion was being provided this year for it. The British government is engaged in a very similar effort against the IRA in Northern Ireland and spends �3 billion per annum on it. This is approximately Rs.230 billion or 10 times what the Sri Lanka government spends. The IRA is a very small force numerically - around 300 "hard men" - and Northern Ireland is about two-thirds of the land area of the north-east province of Sri Lanka. So you provide less than 1/10th of what is provided for a similar effort in Northern Ireland.

You refer next to "men". The comparison there raises serious doubts about adequacy. The British army and the Ulster Defence Forces together field about 110 troops to 1 IRA guerilla and yet after 25 years of relentless fighting the IRA is stronger today than at any time during the conflict. The Sri Lanka army fields 10 to 1 against the LTTE assuming that 80,000 men, or the bulk of the Sri Lanka army, are deployed against the 8,000 front-line fighters of the LTTE. (Indian assessments have put the LTTE's strength at around 30,000 but I am using the lower figure of 8,000 just for the purposes of argument ). The British troops in Northern Ireland are well-trained professional soldiers many of whom have been in action in the Falklands and Gulf wars. Even so a ratio 110 to 1 against the IRA has proved insufficient. The Sri Lanka army is of recent origin and has not been in action overseas and is less well-trained than the British army. To believe it can do better at 10 to 1 against the LTTE, a far more numerous and formidable force than the IRA, than the British army has been able to do so far against the IRA, one would have to take leave of one's senses altogether.

Next you refer to equipment. All the equipment required by the British forces in Northern Ireland - arms, ammunition, transport, communications equipment, medical supplies, fuel, food etc. is produced in this country. None of it has to be imported. Sri Lanka has to import all this using its limited foreign exchange for the purpose. It may be countered that the LTTE is in exactly the same position. The answer to that is "not quite" - for the LTTE devotes all its foreign exchange resources to the war whereas the Sri Lanka government has to provide foreign exchange first for the requirements of a civil government which has a high propensity for foreign exchange-swallowing imports. The enormous costs both in foreign exchange and local currency of a civil government amount to an albatross round the neck of the Sri Lanka forces. The LTTE is entirely free of such a burden.

To sum up, the Sri Lanka forces are grossly inadequately funded for such a conflict, have not the numbers on the ground even for bare survival and are hamstrung by the ballooning costs of a civil government which seems unable to comprehend the true nature of the conflict in which it is engaged and is obsessed with the politics of survival to the exclusion of all else.

Wars are very debilitating. Britain's 25 year ( and as yet unsuccessful ) war against the IRA has contributed in no small measure to its relative decline vis-a-vis its partners in the European Community all of whom, except Spain, are at peace. In Sri Lanka if anything remotely resembling an adequate effort is to be mounted - an army 5 times its present size for instance - civil government will disappear and even so the final outcome will be dubious. It is a sobering thought that no nationalist guerrilla war aimed at establishing a separate state has ever ended other than by the establishment of such a separate state - from the Irish Republic in 1922 to the state of Eritrea in 1993 and in all the years in between.

These, dear Mr.Editor, are the realities to which the Sinhala people and their government will have to wake up.

Yours wideawakedly,

Adrian Wijemanne




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