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Selected Writings - Dr. Adrian Wijemanne
Give War a Chance
1 February 1996
I am moved by your editorial of 21st January '96 under the above-mentioned caption, to this response.
2. Though not explicitly stated it is clear that you are convinced the war now in progress can be concluded victoriously, where after the pax Sinha1ica will prevail throughout the island, from "sea to shining sea". Twelve years of warfare have not produced this result and our adversary is stronger now than at the beginning, like our own forces. However, in the next few months, perhaps by the end of March, all that will be reversed and the LTTE will be exterminated for good and for all time. The first harbinger of that triumph is the recent success of the Sri Lanka army in capturing Jaffna. That was the turning point.
3. The object of this letter is to disabuse you of that facile but fallacious conviction. Throughout the 12-year period of the war, in every set-piece encounter, the Sri Lankan army has soundly trounced the LTTE; the capture of Jaffna is but the last of a long series of victories. The Vadamaradchchi campaign of '87, the relief of Elephant Pass via the landing at Vettilaikerni in 1991 and the repulse of the attack on Pooneryn in 1993 were all signal successes for the Sri Lankan army. In each of them the LTTE suffered heavy casualties. I have not the slightest doubt that this pattern will be repeated in the future.
4. However, the great systemic paradox of the nationalist, secessionist guerilla phenomenon is that the greater the military reverses they suffer, the stronger is their recovery. Despite all these severe reverses that the LTTE has suffered it is stronger today than it was at the beginning. After the loss of Jaffna it is now known that 10,000 young men and young women have flocked to their standard. Nationalist guerilla movements thrive on military reversals and rebound stronger than ever before.
5. In Northern Ireland, the IRA, which is one-fiftieth the size of the LTTE, is stronger at the end of 26 years of war ( '68 to '94 ) against the British army and the Protestant paramilitary forces than at the beginning.
In Myanmar (formerly Burma) which is now in the 47th year of its war against its tribal guerrilla adversaries, the latter are stronger now than ever before. So much so, that that unhappy country is actively contemplating increasing the size of its army from its present strength of 380,000 to 500,000.
Both these guerilla groups have suffered heavily at the hands of the conventional armies that fight them but they have bounded back stronger than ever before.
6. Wars waged by conventional armies against guerrillas fighting on their home ground for secession have ended in 4 cases -the U.K. in 1922; Pakistan in 1971; Cyprus in 1974 and Ethiopia in 1993. Each of these wars ended by separation i.e. the splitting of the mother state into two separate, independent, sovereign states.
7. There are 8 cases at present where such wars are in progress ( I am counting India as one case even though three wars of secession are simultaneously in progress there ) excluding Sri Lanka. At the end of your editorial you have referred to two of them Bosnia and Palestine. Let us consider each of them separately.
8. In Bosnia-Herzegovina the three-party agreement brokered by the USA at Dayton, Ohio is based on the principle of separation. Within the boundaries of Bosnia-Herzegovina there are to be two "entities" each possessing all the normal attributes of a state army, legislature, executive, currency, central bank etc - everything except international recognition. It is a two-state solution in all but name. It is the result of the recognition that the Bosnian Serbs' determination to be independent is a legitimate aspiration which cannot be dealt with by a military response. The hard-fought war in Bosnia has produced the longed-for Republica Srpska of the Bosnian Serbs. The war there is on the way to producing peace through separation - not a peace through the total military victory of one side.
9. Palestine is no different. Israel, which won repeated victories against the massed ranks of the armies of the Arab states in conventional warfare, was brought to its knees by the Palestinian guerilla movements - Hamas, Hezbullah, the suicide bombers and the rock-throwing i n t i f a d a of the streets. The military impasse produced a somersault in the entrenched security philosophies of both Israel and the PLO. The two-state solution, anathema to each side for 45 years, is the basis of the present settlement. War produced not an overwhelming military victory for one side and the extermination of the other but a two-state solution of co-existence in mutual security.
10. You refer finally, and surprisingly, to Hitler. He fought not a war of national secession but a war of invasion and conquest of Germany's neighbouring countries. He was defeated and driven to unconditional surrender by a coalition of nations acting in concert. 42 years later Saddam Hussein did the same and met with the same predictable response and came to the same inglorious end. There is no such phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Our situation is as different from these two cases as chalk is from cheese.
11. I write this letter to you, Sir, on the day after our television screens were filled at hourly intervals by the harrowing scenes from opposite the Central Bank in Colombo. Three years ago, on a Sunday morning in the heart of London, in Bishopsgate which is the hub of the banking district of The City, the IRA exploded a truck bomb of massive proportions which wrought over E 1 billion of damage in a thousandth of a second and permanently demoted London to the second rank among the world's financial centres. You must surely know that there is no defence against urban guerilla warfare. It is in that grim conviction that the British Government embarked upon the present course of negotiations with the IRA.
12. The cost of securing and guarding the vital lifelines of a modern state 24 hours of the day 365 days of the year could by itself cripple a state even without the damage done by a bomb. The threat and our necessary response to it are by themselves enough to pauperize us, the bomb is just the icing on the guerrillas' cake. We cannot retaliate in kind for there are no urban centres of any magnitude in the north-east province. Giving war a chance will mean more, not less, of yesterday's mayhem. It is reasonable to doubt whether that is what our good people desire for themselves; it is certainly not what they need.
13. I urge you in all seriousness to reconsider your basic assumptions as to the winnability of a war against secessionist, nationalist guerrillas fighting on their home ground for their independence. 15 million Sinhala people, with foot now set firmly on the ladder of industrialization and modernization, need peace. Without it they will unquestionably sink ever deeper into degradation and decay.
14. All the current waffle and cant about "devolution of power" will not bring us peace. We need peace NOW. It can come only by recognition of the separation into two states, each with an army of its own, that now exists on the island.
I am, dear Sir, Yours forthrightly,