The military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which waged a war for a separate homeland for Tamils for well over a quarter of a century, is evidence of the fact that if the state - the government and the people - were determined to put down an insurgency it would ultimately prevail even though it was pitted against a well-organised, well-trained and well-equipped guerrilla organisation. At one time, the LTTE had become a formidable force controlling as much as one-third of the country and had continued to exercise, till almost the last, a complete authority over the Jaffna peninsula. However, military victory does not automatically translate itself into moral and emotional victory that wins the hearts and minds of the defeated. Tamils in Sri Lanka, who are a sizeable minority, have suffered a great deal during the course of the civil war and also through studied official moves at discrimination. They are better educated and commonly considered more energetic and forward looking and by virtue of that have higher expectations. But what they received was discrimination in employment opportunities, while at the job and in society in general. That in the first place became the root cause of the decision to revolt against the government. For this reason, the LTTE enjoyed the support of a vast community of Tamils outside the country and had the resources to procure modern war equipment, which it used ruthlessly. Its fighters became the pioneers in suicide bombing that has now turned into a common currency of militants and guerrillas anywhere in the world. They were so committed that they would routinely carry capsules of cyanide tied around their necks to avoid being caught alive. Its leaders, the chief Velupillai Prabakaran and his loyal lieutenants, turned out to be master strategists. Prabakaran's unalloyed commitment served as a magnetic pull for the Tamil community to rally to the cause; after all, it had an unfortunate history of discrimination suffered purely on ethnic grounds. Few among the Tamils disagreed with him on ideological grounds though there were those who for reasons of necessity distanced themselves from the movement or opposed the LTTE on account of its brutal tactics. Had Prabakaran been living today, no government at Colombo would have dared to stake the claim of victory over the LTTE; nor had the world given credence to it. He would have made the guerrilla force rise like a phoenix from the ashes. The Tamil Tigers, as they were known, fought an all-out war and tried to eliminate whomever they felt was working to thwart their struggle for a separate homeland in which alone they saw hope of deliverance. The list of prominent leaders who became their victims is pretty long. It includes India's Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and from Sri Lanka President Ranasinghe Premadasa, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a presidential candidate, a number of cabinet ministers and a still greater number of members of parliament and influential persons. Some were Tamils themselves. The government forces, especially in the recently concluded phase of the war that it pursued with single-minded focus, also showed little quarter and conducted a brutal wiping-out operation. While the fighting is over, the Sri Lankan political and social scenario reeks of resentment and rancour and a lurking urge for vengeance between both Tamils and Sinhalese. At the same time, with war weariness in the air, there are calls for forgiveness; such calls need to be louder and more strident. If Sri Lanka wants to bury the ghost of separatism once for all and usher in an era of understanding among its main communities, the present is an ideal opportunity. The government has to move fast to start a process of reconciliation. Lest the distrust and hatred that the recent fighting has tended to reinforce should sow the seeds of another uprising, President Mahinda Rajpaksa would need to examine the whole gamut of relations existing between these communities and devise measures to bridge the Sinhalese-Tamil divide. He should lose no time in initiating political dialogue between the two communities and introducing reform to discard discriminatory policies, treating everyone on merit. Sri Lanka is rich in natural resources and superb scenic beauty, has a near 100 percent literacy and a highly energetic work force. The pity is that the ethnic war has crippled the country's development and put it behind by decades, but in a climate of reconciliation and amity among the people it should not take long to rebuild the country. The civil war has rendered Sri Lanka unwelcome, bringing its tourist industry to a standstill. It used to be regarded as a tourists' paradise where holidaymakers would come in hordes and feel absolutely at peace, not only because of its scenic attractions, nature reserves and clean beaches but also because of a courteous and obliging population that had the additional advantage of conversing in the English language. The Sri Lankans as well as the entire world are looking to the leadership to channelise the prevailing hostility and resentment into productive ends and hope that the idyllic country once again becomes a peaceful and harmonious society. E-mail: mqkay@yahoo.co.uk