Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gracious In Victory?

After more than a quarter of a century of civil war, the Tamil Tigers have finally been defeated. All territory lost, the body of their dead leader paraded on Sri Lankan television, their hopes of establishing a Tamil homeland in the north of the island apparently over. Or at least that's how it looks today, following the decisive military victory won by Sri Lankan government forces. But it's not quite as simple as that.

Leaving aside the allegations of human rights abuses on both sides, and the reported quarter of a million people displaced in recent weeks by the government's final offensive, what happens next politically is hugely important for the future of Sri Lanka. If the conflict is not to flare up again in future, the government must be gracious in victory, and begin work immediately towards doing a better job of involving the Tamil people in the government and general society of the whole island. But if the Sri Lankan government and the majority Sinhalese population insist on humiliating the Tamils (and after such a bitter, long-running war, that wouldn't be too surprising), then they'll only be storing up trouble.

The Tamil Tigers may no longer have the ability to take and hold territory, and the days when they had their own navy and air force seem like a long time ago now, but you can bet that some of the surviving Tigers will be intent on revenge. Some form of guerrilla campaign, featuring the suicide bombings the Tigers became infamous for, will be inevitable unless the Sri Lankan government takes care to give the Tamil people at least some of what they've been fighting for. Perhaps greater autonomy might be a start. Otherwise, with a Tamil population around the world now radicalised by the bloody defeat suffered by the Tigers, another war could soon be in the offing.

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