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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 by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

The year ahead, a tough story all over again

27th December 1998

The government may have to wistfully hark back to 1997 in recounting its achievements in war and in peacemaking at the beginning of the millennium's last year, because 1998 was not a particularly great year for the government.

Everything looked fine the year before. Everyone was seriously discussing the package (I said it will never work, a voice in the wilderness it was). The UNP was about to be sidelined by the holding of a proposed non-binding referendum on a solution, both among the minorities and the Sinhala people. Op. Jaya Sikurui was marching full steam ahead. The Main Supply Route to Mannar was opened. The LTTE's success at Mullaitivu in 1996 looked a flash in the pan as it were in comparison with the hope generated by the solemn pronouncements of Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte and the quantum of the real estate that was steadily coming under the government's control.

Things were so OK in Jaffna that the government was able to go ahead with elections in the peninsula.

But 1998 has not been so rosy. It might be too hasty a judgment as yet to say that the year actually turned the tide on which the PA was hopeful of riding towards another successful term in office.

There were many events during the year that could be seen from a certain perspective as turning points in the course of the political and military affairs of the country.

Let me list them lest they be overlooked in the density of information that emanates relentlessly from the northeast.

1.The political and military gains in Jaffna turn precarious following the assassination of two mayors and two area commanders of the army who had been playing a key role in the government's hearts and minds project in the peninsula. Then the Tigers begin a psy-ops campaign with posters, warnings, selective attacks etc.,

The air and sea supply routes to Jaffna are also choked following the Lion Air flight incident and unprecedented Sea Tiger attacks on large navy convoys in the Mullaitivu sea.

2. It finally became obvious that all the enthusiastic talk on the part of the government about lacing the package before Parliament, securing a bipartisan consensus through the much-bandied about Parliamentary Select Committee ultimately signified nothing. The Tamil political parties in Parliament lost their former confidence and bluster, as this scenario became increasingly apparent this year.

3. Op. Jaya Sikurui passed the one-year mark in May. The LTTE observed the occasion with celebrations here and abroad. As the year drew to a close it was called off.

4. The LTTE overran the large Kilinochchi base complex, giving the lie to Gen. Ratwatte's claim that the Jaya Sikurui was achieving one of its main aims by drawing out large numbers of Tiger cadres and killing them en masse with superior fire power.

The army now claims that the LTTE still has enough reserves to attack major camps.

6. The gains of Operation Edibala, could not be realised fully as the Tigers made use of the MSR to Mannar to smuggle large quantities of supplies into the northern parts of the Wanni dominated by them. Currently the Main Supply Route to Mannar is a major headache to the army, both in terms of holding it as well as preventing the LTTE and civilians out to make vast profits from smuggling banned goods to the Wanni.

5. The Tigers unveiled their air wing, prompting government to strengthen its anti-aircraft defence, with radar, surface to air missiles etc., according to the latest report in Janes Defence weekly.

6. The Batticaloa district continues to be in the dark because the Tigers want it that way in this key district of the east. The army, the STF and the Police are unable to get things back to normal as the power cut imposed on the district by the LTTE continues. The army was unable to regain any of the territory, almost 2000 square kilometres, it lost to the Tigers when it pulled out troops in 1995 to capture and hold Jaffna, except the minor, unopposed operation to take Vakarai.

The government insists that the military situation very much improved in its favour now. This can be justified only in the amount of real estate it has captured in three years. There is no questioning the fact that the territorial gains made by the army under the the present government's direction are impressive.

By repeating this so often, the government is lulling itself into the firm conviction that it is winning the war. And thereby it stubbornly refuses to look at the military reality - that any victory is judged by the amount of damage one had inflicted on the enemy's assets and his ability to make war. The LTTE's military assets have not only increased but the destruction it can cause in battle has increased.

But the PA is thinking mainly of elections now.

The problem is that 1998 was firmly on the agenda as the year was going to clinch successes in the war, the devolution package and the economy; the desire was to bask in the glory of the achievements scheduled for the year. But life does not work according to the politician's fond schedules. That's his or her Achilles Heel.

The PA has to worry about elections during 1999 and early 2000. That will be priority number one. As most analysts are agreed, the polls to the North Western provincial council will decide the course of action for the PA.

Winning the war and finding the political solution have eluded it for four years. Can we expect the government at this juncture to do what it could not do when it had all the time and resources? It has just one year to recoup its fortunes, take a second look at the mood of the people, the state of the economy and device strategy for the general elections and the presidential elections.

The signs are all appearing on the horizon, sending the Commissioner General of Essential Service to the Wanni, getting the new governor of the northeast province to hold a mobile service in all the districts to meet the people directly, the appointment of 2000 teachers to the province and so on.

It is a tough story all over again.