War radicalized Jaffna and it was inevitable that we could never again return to the good old Jaffna we knew. There were signs of a new Jaffna emerging imperceptibly even during the war years. I have visited Jaffna 13 times in the last five years. But nothing signified the change better than the international symbol I saw in Jaffna when I visited the place last in January 2014. For the first time ever I saw one of the best international symbols in the heart of Jaffna. It was the face of the bearded Colonel of Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was a giant leap for Jaffna to abandon the traditional “porichci koli”(fried chicken) and go for KFC. To me it was like our people abandoning betel and opting for chewing gum. This to me is the ultimate symbol of Jaffna breaking away from the feudal past and arriving at last in the 21st century.
Talking of the winds of change one cannot feel it better than in Sri Lanka. We travelled from North to South and East to West. There is a palpable change that you can feel and see. Just not the roads but the attitude and the new spirit that is visible in the faces.
One bright evening, as I was walking with my wife on a narrow street in Wellawatta, Colombo, — a predominantly Tamil suburb — I received a mobile call from a young widow in Kilinochchi. I have sponsored her for last three years. I was to meet her on the way to Jaffna. She rang to regret that she would not able to meet us at Kilinochchi as she had begun teaching voluntarily at a local school. She thanked me profusely for the financial help given to raise her family. She informed me that her children were doing well at school. I was happy to learn of her progress which I took as a general indicator of the progress made by the twelve other widows who had lost their husbands during the war. I have been helping them for the last three years.
Rehabilitation of post-war situation
The widow who spoke to me was Lakshmi. She has two children below the age of ten. Just a year after the war I saw her in a rebuilt house, which was built with government assistance, but did not have any door. She did not have any money to install a door. Nor was any financial support forthcoming. With the backing of a local friend I was able to organize some help to her family and I was happy to learn that the domestic situation had improved.
In March 2009, I went to Colombo with likeminded 25 expatriate Tamils from Europe and North America on the invitation of the government. It was a critical time when the war had reached a climactic moment. The goal was to engage the Lankan government to help the Tamil people who were taken by LTTE as human shields for the protection of LTTE leaders. We were in discussions for two days with some of the key government officials, though our mission was a failure due to LTTE obstructions and obstinacy. We were not involved in the politics of the time. We were continuously engaged with the government in the rehabilitation of post-war situation such us regularly visiting refugee camps and submitting our observations to the government for improvement.
There are many important facts that need to be put on record. It is not possible to put all of it in writing in this short space. But some significant factors need to be emphasized.
Thirty years of terror and violence perpetrated by LTTE were brought to an end by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Whether we like him or not we have to concede this hard fact. The ending of a war is a defining moment which opened up new possibilities. This is not a small achievement. However, ending a war proved to be as difficult as waging a war. The frustrated Tamil Diaspora who financed Prabhakaran’s futile war decided to pursue the war through other means. They went on the war path from abroad. They decided to fight from the safe shore outside Sri Lanka.
International humanitarian law
After financing all the violations of international humanitarian law committed by LTTE, they became human rights champions overnight. It was the war in which more Tamils were killed by our “liberators” than all others put together. as revealed by Tamil leaders..
Considering the suffering, the deaths and destruction caused by the futile war of Prabhakaran and his “liberators” the attempt of Diaspora to carry on as if nothing has changed is as futile as the war. We have to recognise the gains of peace if we are to move forward. Politics can cloud the issues and make us easily forget the bloody past.
LTTE was not a small outfit. It claimed that it had defeated the world’s fourth largest army when it forced the IPKF out of Sri Lanka. LTTE claimed that it had a state with an army, navy and air force not only to threaten the Government of Sri Lanka but even to kill Indian prime minister as well. But in the end they lost everything. During the last days of war, knowing the inevitable military defeat, the LTTE took cover behind 300, 000 Tamil civilians hoping to profit by their agony, blood, sweat and tears in the international market.
Taking cover behind unarmed civilians is a shameful act not worthy of our so-called heroes. It was a cowardly act. The “liberators” gave cyanide pills to the brain-washed youth and at the critical moment they took cover behind the civilians. They shot the Tamil civilians running away from them. In addition, they killed all the captured army personnel. The Sri Lankan army not only defeated LTTE but also rescued all these captured people. Of the displaced people 95 per cent were able to resettle within three years and infrastructures were rebuilt in the Northern Province. Almost 95 per cent of active LTTE cadres were rehabilitated and released in the society.
I agree there are a few areas that still need remedial measures that could speed up the process of reconciliation among the communities. But our political Tamil leadership is bankrupt. For this the entire blame should be placed on the destructive politics of the LTTE for eliminating not only the Tamil political leaders in the democratic stream but also potential social leaders in last thirty years.
What we need is a new leadership that can read the sign of KFC in Jaffna and move with the times. Going back to confrontational politics can only lead us tortuously to political turmoil again. What we need is a pragmatic leadership that brings relief to the war-weary people of the north and east. Our people cannot live on a diet of politics forever. We need economics to raise our heads from the depths of misery. We have to postpone politics for the time being. With politics we will be forced to spill only blood. With economics we can move forward to regain what we lost during the past 30 years in useless politics.
The choice before us is simple: it’s either politics or economics. If we opt for politics we are going back to Eelam which we lost. If we opt for economics we have a chance of regaining the future we lost in May 2009 Historical examples justify this. Take, for instance, the case of the Germans. If after losing the war, had they returned Hitler’s fascist politics where would Germany be today? It was because the pragmatic Germans opted for economics and buried their politics for good they were able to rise from the ashes of defeat.
The Germans and the Japanese won all what they lost in their futile wars. We can do better if we can get our politics right. Our politics should be in economics. And we can do it. If we could have collected $300 million dollars every year, according to Jane’s Weekly, to finance a futile war why can’t we collect half of that to restores peace and stability to our war-weary people?
Edited from the speech at Sri Lankan reconciliation meeting held at Sydney on March 15, 2014 (courtesy Daily News 21/03/2014)