There is no stopping the war machine in Sri Lanka. After taking Thoppigala, the last jungle stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam in the east only months ago, the government has dealt another crippling blow to the rebels by killing one of their seniormost leaders in an aerial raid on Killinochchi. To the Tigers, the loss of S.P. Thamilselvan, the head of the LTTE’s political wing, is an unmitigated disaster, coming as it does after a string of military reverses. But the effect of this death may not be any less far-reaching for the political situation in the island. As an opposition leader in Sri Lanka sought to remind the Mahinda Rajapakse government while congratulating it on its success, the weakening of the political wing of the LTTE would automatically mean a strengthening of its military unit. Thamilselvan — as the LTTE’s chief negotiator in the peace process and its chief spokesperson after Anton Balasingham — had represented a face of the organization that showed its willingness, however fickle, to enter into a dialogue. With that gone, there will be little to stop the militant unit from withdrawing once again into its reclusive shell. That would undo years of effort on the part of the international community to bring the Tigers to the negotiating table.
But perhaps that is what the current dispensation in Sri Lanka is aiming for. However, contrary to its belief, the promotion of a military offensive at the cost of dialogue has neither decimated the Tigers nor taken the country anywhere close to peace. In fact, it has torn asunder the ceasefire agreement between the government and the rebels that had given the island its brief moment of quiet. There can be no doubting the need to cut to size a terrorist organization like the LTTE. But that cannot be done by ignoring the larger problem of finding a political solution to the ethnic conflict or by overlooking the humanitarian concerns of the Tamil population. Or, even worse, by brushing the flagrant human rights violations, which are an unavoidable part of the ongoing war, under the carpet.