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Monday, June 17, 2024

Recording war history : a challenging task Or just an opening of a can of worms? – M.S.M. Ayub

It is not clear as to what exactly prompted President Maithripala Sirisena at this juncture to think about compiling the history of the three-decade war between the Armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

According to the political column of our sister paper, The Sunday Times, he had convened a meeting of retired and serving military leaders on August 6 apparently to plan and execute the recording of the history of the war.

The President, according to the newspaper report, has attributed the twisted versions of war history by many people including retired military officials, to his move to record the ‘true’ history of the victory of the armed forces over the LTTE, the outfit that had been described by many analysts as the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization.

It would be an interesting and politically, militarily and historically important document if one can compile the history of the war impartially and giving it the due political and historical weight, as the conflict did not break out in a vacuum.

Some have written books on the war, but they have been accused of being influenced by party politics, ethnic prejudice and personal agendas. Besides, the concerns raised by the Sunday Times over the lopsided composition of attendees of the very meeting the move raises many other questions.

One might question the timing of the President’s move as the meeting had been convened at a time critically important for the Government, and especially for the President.

Following the humiliating defeat at the February 10 Local Government elections, the Government is obsessed with the forthcoming national elections. Hence, one can infer that this move is also a part of the preparation for the election.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been exploiting the military victory over the LTTE at every election after 2009 – the year in which the war came to an end, as if it was he, who had taken all the strategic decisions during every battle while being in the battlefront.

His claim for the war victory has been so successful that even the war-winning Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka was humiliated at elections by the people, who once, during the last phase of the war venerated him.

It was the war-victory that was mainly marketed by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna during the last LG Elections as well and it is definitely going to be so at the forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections also.

President Sirisena seems to be attempting to counter this situation. Earlier, pushing Rajapaksa to an awkward and envious position, President Sirisena annulled two 19th Century Gazette notifications issued by the British Empire, which declared as traitors a large number of local chieftains, who rose against the empire during the 1818 Uva-Wellassa rebellion.

And now he seems to have opted to find the real heroes of the three-decade-long war.

The President’s meeting had not been attended by former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and former Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, two veterans without whose contribution the war victory would not have been a reality.

It is not clear as to why these two very important persons did not participate in this meeting. In spite of the experience and the knowledge of the commanders of the three Armed Forces, who served before Fonseka being vital in compiling the war history, nobody would contest the fact that it was the last phase of the war that was most important.

Hence, to think about recording the war history without the contribution of Fonseka and Gotabaya Rajapaksa is ludicrous and clearly a political project of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
History is always written by the victor, they say. The dedication, commitment, bravery etc. of the loser or his side of the story would largely be left unnoticed or intentionally suppressed.

EPDP Parliamentarian Ramesh Nadaraja, who was shot dead in the mid-1990s in Wellawatte had been writing the history of the Eelam War in the Dinamurasu Newspaper, he was editing at the time of his death.

A reader had written to him protesting that he was giving too many credits to the LTTE and Nadaraja replied that he was writing the history and not party propaganda. He argued if the LTTE had excelled the other Tamil groups there must be reasons which cannot be blacked out when it comes to recording the history.

And also the armed conflict between the Armed Forces and the Tamil Armed Groups did not break out in isolation in the late 1970s.

It was not totally devoid of politics.

As VI Lenin described it was a “continuation of politics” pursued by both Sinhalese and Tamil leaders of the previous several decades.

Also, the misery of the people especially those living in the war theatre is also an important aspect that has to be recorded.

Therefore a war history recorded only from a military perspective would not tell the future generations what really happened.

In a country where everything including religion is politicized, one cannot expect the intentional as well as unintentional contributions of the political parties that are not involved in recording the history to be included in that version.

“Some have written books on the war, but they have been accused of being influenced by party politics, ethnic prejudice and personal agendas”
Therefore the contribution of the 2002 Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) in the war victory, irrespective of its highly dangerous flaws is likely to be unnoticed if the history is to be compiled.

For instance, the CFA showed the outside world to Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman which ultimately resulted in the breaking of the LTTE.

The CFA exposed the unreliability of the LTTE to the world as the rebels had shot at even the international ceasefire monitors and thus 25 European countries designated it as an international terrorist organization.

CFA did not cover the sea and it was during that period that majority of the LTTE ships with military cargo were destroyed by the Sri Lanka Navy, with foreign intelligence support.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj, the Senior journalist once wrote how a large number of LTTE cadres had entered into the wedlock during the CFA and how it had, in turn, affected their commitment towards the separatist war.

In fact, the LTTE itself had largely contributed toward its decimation. The very notion of a Separate Tamil State close to Tamil Nadu, the southernmost State of India that houses 60 million Tamils is against the geopolitical realities.

Besides, the organization antagonized India by killing its celebrated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

They lost their friends among the Sinhalese Leftists by killing Sinhalese civilians.

Killing Muslims and expelling them from their original habitats in the North and the East dissociated them from the Muslims.

Also, the Tamil intellectuals left the area either to the south of the country or to the Western world, leaving the organization to rely only on themselves and their weapons.

There is no agreement between senior-most military Officers, who actively participated in the last battles of the war on many issues that contributed to their victory.

One says that it was the Army that provided intelligence to the Navy to destroy LTTE ships, while another says that Navy obtained the necessary intelligence from the Foreign Sources.

In the light of such disagreements it is doubtful that in the process of the recording of history, due recognition would be given to the contribution of some of the past battlefield victories, towards the final victory.

If the President can persuade the compilers to cover all these and such other aspects it would really be a comprehensive history.

Otherwise, it would just be an opening of a can of worms.

Courtesy Daily Mirror.


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