Tigers leave unfinished business
Velupillai Prabhakaran, seated, fought for an independent Tamil state. He was killed Monday May 18, 2009 by Sri Lankan soldiers.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Velupillai Prabhakaran, seated, fought for an independent Tamil state. He was killed Monday May 18, 2009 by Sri Lankan soldiers.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - In a nationally televised address from parliament on Tuesday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa hailed "a day which is very, very significant - not only to us Sri Lankans but to the entire world", and declared the country "liberated" from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after a 26-year war.
The myth that the LTTE is militarily invincible has now been laid to rest, along with its chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the entire Tiger top brass.
In a cry for unity, Rajapaksa said, "We must find a homegrown solution to this conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all communities."
And therein lies the rub for a nation that has been torn apart by
the years of civil war, with more than 70,000 people killed and thousands displaced in a struggle that pitted the majority Sinhalese against the minority Tamils.
Prabhakaran was said to have been shot dead by the armed forces on Monday morning as he attempted to escape the war zone in a convoy that included an ambulance. On Tuesday Sri Lankan television showed grisly pictures of a body it claimed was Prabhakaran with a massive head wound, suggesting he was not fleeing as the government had said but either shot himself or was shot at point-blank range.
Prabhakaran's death is said to have come shortly after soldiers stumbled on the bodies of several key LTTE leaders, including his son and heir-apparent Charles Antony, LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman, naval chief Soosai, the head of the political wing Balasingham Nadesan, and the head of the defunct peace secretariat, Seevaratnam Puleedevan.
A day earlier, the LTTE's chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, conceded defeat in a statement on Tamilnet. The LTTE was silencing its guns, Pathmanathan said.
With the death of Prabhakaran and the defeat of the LTTE, a momentous chapter in Sri Lanka's history has come to an end. Fifty-four-year old Prabhakaran was no ordinary guerrilla leader. A military genius and a brilliant strategist, Prabhakaran transformed the LTTE from a ragtag band of boys into a formidable fighting force that was able to stand and confront armies far better equipped than his own.
Until two years ago, the LTTE controlled almost a third of Sri Lankan territory. It ran a parallel administration in parts of this territory, one that included legal courts, a police force, a tax system, even a bank. The LTTE had a powerful army, a navy and even a nascent air wing. It is the only insurgent organization in the world to have possessed and used aircraft of its own.
The LTTE survived over three decades. Skillful maneuvering out of tight corners, even reaching out to one enemy to get rid of another, was responsible in part for its survival. That skill, however, was finally exhausted.
From July 2007, the LTTE began losing territory, first in the east and then the north. Its political headquarters, Killinochchi, fell to the armed forces in January this year. Then it lost the strategic Elephant Pass, and following that Mullaitivu, its military stronghold. The Tigers were restricted to a shrinking sliver of territory on the east coast over the past month. They lost that over the weekend.
Throughout the past year, the LTTE appealed to the international community to intervene. It hoped that parties and politicians in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu would put pressure on the Indian government to bail it out and that the plight of civilians would prompt India, the West and aid agencies to push for a ceasefire. But all these attempts to pull itself out of a corner came to nothing.
The Tiger chief has often been described as a cat with nine lives, having escaped capture and assassination attempts several times. Even a month ago, the Sri Lankan army chief admitted his troops had missed capturing him "by a whisker". On Monday, Prabhakaran's luck finally ran out.
But it isn't luck, or rather the lack of it, that is responsible for the defeat of the LTTE. Several factors contributed to bringing about its decline in recent years.
One is the hostile international environment that all non-state actors engaging in armed struggle encountered after the terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.
Already tagged with the terrorist label by several countries, the LTTE's global fundraising, its front organizations and the logistical network came under immense pressure. The impact of a split in the LTTE in 2004 was even more devastating, with the breakaway faction under its former eastern commander, "Colonel Karuna", joining hands with the government in the military operations against the LTTE.
And then in 2005 Rajapaksa became president. A hardliner, his orders to the armed forces were unambiguous: they were to fight the LTTE not to merely weaken it but to defeat it, to "finish it off" once and for all. And that was what the military, better equipped than ever before, set out to do.
However, the seeds of the LTTE's destruction lay in the organization itself, in decisions that would come back to bite it in subsequent years.
Its decision to assassinate former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu 1991 was perhaps its biggest blunder. That killing not only earned the LTTE the terrorist label from India, but also made India a permanent enemy. Its support base in Tamil Nadu was eroded and its logistical network dismantled. And worse, it had to contend thereafter with a robust military cooperation and other links between Delhi and Colombo.
Another blunder was its misreading of the potential of the 2002 ceasefire and the talks that followed. Instead of seeing this as a chance to reach a settlement of the conflict, the LTTE saw it as an opportunity to rearm and regroup. It walked out of the talks and did everything possible to make the peace process fail. The war that followed was disastrous for the Tigers.
It gravely miscalculated when it called on Tamils to boycott the 2005 presidential poll. The impact of that boycott saw Rajapaksa win by a wafer-thin majority. Perhaps it thought that Rajapaksa as president would result in rallying Tamil support around the Tigers. It did not foresee that Rajapaksa would prove to be their nemesis.
The LTTE appears to have believed its own propaganda. It believed it was militarily invincible. Its closing of the sluice gates of Mavil Aru in July 2006, inviting the vastly stronger armed forces to launch an offensive and at a time when international sentiment was not in its favor, can only be described as suicidal.
The LTTE's use of suicide bombings, its intolerance of dissent, the recruitment of children and its utter disregard for human lives severely undermined support from foreign governments. It is proscribed in 32 counties. This contributed to international reluctance to call for a ceasefire as this would have let the Tigers off the hook. When the calls for a ceasefire came eventually, they were too weak, too half-hearted and too late to save the LTTE and its top brass.
The LTTE overestimated itself, even when its military capabilities were waning. It was losing territory and fighters over the past year and should have reverted to guerrilla warfare. In its desperation to hold onto territory and perceiving itself as a conventional army, it fought a defensive war when it lacked the numbers and the firepower for such a strategy. In the circumstances, defeat was inevitable. The LTTE defeated itself.
Prabhakaran was uncompromising in his commitment to the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam. Perhaps too uncompromising for the good of the LTTE or the Tamil people whose interests he claimed to protect.
There were political solutions, like the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 that provided the Tamils with a measure of autonomy. But such solutions Prabhakaran rejected as inadequate as they provided for "less than Tamil Eelam". Prabhakaran preferred returning to the battlefield time and again, uncaring of the large number of Tamils who were getting killed in the bloody wars. Over 70,000 people are said to have died in the 25-year-long insurgency. This might have been avoided had Prabhakaran been realistic and seriously explored a political solution.
The LTTE no longer exists as a military organization and its military assets and capabilities have been destroyed. But the LTTE is defeated, not dead. Several Tigers would have escaped the armed forces and they will be thirsting for revenge.
Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have declared the war over. But the ethnic conflict is not over yet. The grievances of the Tamils, and their alienation and anger that gave rise to militancy and organizations like the LTTE in the first place, remain unresolved. The issues that kept the insurgency alive for three decades are very much alive.
The irony of Prabhakaran and the LTTE is that even as they strengthened the bargaining position of Tamils, they were simultaneously the biggest obstacle in the path of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
With Prabhakaran's exit, Tamil obstruction to a negotiated settlement has been removed. But the obstacles to this among Sinhalese - Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinists, the military and Rajapaksa's hardline regime - continue to exist and have emerged stronger from the war.
If and when Rajapaksa opens negotiations with the Tamils, the latter will be in a weak position, weakened not only by the absence of the LTTE but also undermined by it. The LTTE systematically decimated a generation of Tamil moderate leaders and intellectuals. The input of people like Neelan Tiruchelvam and Ketesh Loganathan, intellectuals who were assassinated by the LTTE for daring to differ with its methods, will be sorely missed.
The LTTE, which waged a war ostensibly to protect Tamils, has left them more vulnerable than ever before.
The rise and fall of Prabhakaran
By M K Bhadrakumar
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran's death circa May 19, 2009, in circumstances we will never quite get to know, concludes a morality play.
As the curtain comes down and we leave the theater, the spectacle continues to haunt us. We feel a deep unease and can't quite figure out the reason. Something rankles somewhere. And then we realize we have blood on our hands.
Not only our hands, but our whole body and deeper down, our conscience - what remains of it after the mundane battles of our day-to-day life - are also dripping with blood.
Prabhakaran's blood. No, it is not only Prabhakaran's, but also of
70,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who have perished in the unspeakable violence through the past quarter century.
All the pujas we may perform to our favorite Hindu god, Lord Ganesh, for good luck each morning religiously so that we march ahead in our life from success to success cannot wash away the guilt we are bearing - the curse of the 70,000 dead souls.
Our children and grandchildren will surely inherit the great curse. What a bitter legacy!
A long time ago, we created Prabhakaran. We picked him up as an urchin from nowhere. What we found charming about him was that he was so thoroughly apolitical - almost innocent about politics. He was a simpleton in many ways, who had a passion for weapons and the military regimen. He suited our needs perfectly.
Which was to humiliate the Junius Richard Jayewardene government in Sri Lanka and teach it a hard lesson about the dangers of being disrespectful to India's status as the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean. Jayewardene was too Western-oriented and behaved as if he never read about the Monroe Doctrine when he read history in Oxford. We didn't like at all his dalliance with the Israelis and the Americans in our very backyard.
So, we fostered Prabhakaran and built him up as a prick on Jayewardene's vanities - like Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale of the Deccans.
Then, as time passed, we decided that he had outlived his utility as we had come to develop an entirely different outlook towards the pro-Western orientation of the Colombo government by that time. Our egotistic leader in Delhi who detested Jayewardene was no more in power and the new soft-spoken leader didn't share his predecessor's strong political antipathies.
So, we arm-twisted Prabhakaran to tone down and fall in line with our changed priorities. But we didn't realize that by then he had become a full-grown adult.
He resisted our blackmail and pressure tactics. When we pressured him even more and tried to collar him, he struck back. He dispatched assassins to India and killed our beloved leader. And he became our eternal enemy.
Yet, we couldn't do anything to harm him. He had already become so strong - an uncrowned king among his people. So we waited. We are a patient lot. Who can match us in infinite patience, given our 5,000 years of history? Our cosmic religion gives us a unique wisdom to be patient and stoic and to bide our time.
And then, the opportune time came. We promptly moved in for the kill by aligning ourselves with Prabhakaran's enemies. We armed them and trained them in better skills to kill. We guided them with good intelligence. We plugged all escape routes for Prabhakaran. And then, we patiently waited as the noose tightened around Prabhakaran's neck.
Today he is no more. Believe it or not, we had no role in his death. How and when he died shall forever remain an enigma wrapped in a mystery. We will of course never divulge what we know.
All that matters is that the world woke up to the death only after the May 13 polling in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Otherwise, the parliamentary election results may have gone haywire against us. Strange are the ways of the Indian democracy.
We have had our revenge. Nothing else matters for the present.
What lies ahead? We will continue to make noises about a "political solution" to the Tamil problem that Prabhakaran championed through violent means.
Of course, let there be no doubt that we will periodically render humanitarian assistance to the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians who have been herded into camps and may languish there till the dust settles down. We will demonstrate that we are indeed capable of the milk of human kindness. After all, the Sri Lankan Tamils are part of our historical consciousness.
But we must also be realistic. We know in our heart of hearts that the scope for a political solution in the fashion in which our leaders seem to suggest publicly is virtually nil.
The Sinhalese will never allow the world to dictate to them a political solution. More so, they will promptly and conclusively rebuff any attempt by us to seek a role in what they will now onward insist as strictly their internal affair.
Always remember that Sri Lanka is one of the last bastions of Theravada Buddhism and preserving that legacy is the Sinhalese people's precious tryst with destiny. At least, that is how they feel. We have to accept the weight of their cultural nationalism.
They see Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhalese. How could they allow us Indians who wiped out Buddhism with such ferocity from the sub-continent interfere with their keen sense of destiny as the custodians of that very same great religion? Never, never.
If we try to pressure the Sinhalese, they will approach the Chinese or the Pakistanis to balance our pressure. They are capable of doing that.
The Sinhalese are a gifted people. We all know few can never match their terrific skills in media management. They have always lived by their wits.
Equally, they are fantastic practitioners of diplomacy. We suspect that they may in fact have an edge over us on this front, for, unlike us who are dissimulating from day to day as if we're a responsible regional power, and dissipating our energies in pastimes such as hunting down Somali pirates in distant seas, they are a highly focused lot.
They have the grit because they are fighting for the preservation of their country's future identity as a Buddhist nation.
Only last week, they showed their diplomatic skill by getting the Russians and the Chinese to stall a move in the United Nations Security Council to pressure them.
The Europeans fancy they can try the Sinhalese for war crimes. What naivety!
We asked the Sinhalese in private many a time how they proposed to navigate their way in the coming period. They wouldn't divulge.
But we know that it is not as if they have no solution of their own to the Tamil problem, either. We know they already have a blueprint.
See, they have already solved the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. The Tamils are no more the majority community in those provinces.
Similarly, from tomorrow, they will commence a concerted, steady colonization program of the northern provinces where Prabhakaran reigned supreme for two decades. They will ensure incrementally that the northern regions no more remain as Tamil provinces.
The Tamils will be made into a minority community in their own northern homelands. They will have to live among the newly created Sinhalese settlements in those regions to the north of Elephant Pass.
All this will indeed be within Sri Lanka's "federal structure". Sri Lanka will continue to adhere to parliamentary democracy.
Give them a decade at the most. The Tamil problem will become a relic of the bloody history of the Indian sub-continent.
The Sinhalese are good friends of India. Our elite and their elite speak the same idiom. We both speak English well, play golf and like chilled beer. We should, therefore, wish them well.
As for the blood on our hands, true, it is a blessed nuisance. But this is not the first time in our history that we're having blood on our hands.
Trust our words. No lasting harm will be done. Blood doesn't leave stains.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
A Notorious Fighter Who Refused to Compromise to the End
By PETER WONACOTT
Wall Street Journal
NEW DELHI -- Velupillai Prabhakaran was rarely photographed without jungle fatigues that, to his supporters, symbolized the ferocity and dedication with which he pursued the war for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka.
His arch-foes in the Sri Lanka military, meanwhile, portrayed the Tamil Tiger chief as a well-fed armchair commander who lived in luxury as he sent others to fight and die.
But for the past year, as Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war wound down to a bloody end, Mr. Prabhakaran fit neither of those images. Instead, he beat a desperate retreat, trying to stay one step ahead of the brutal offensive the Sri Lankan army launched to capture him and his senior leadership.
His reported death capped a life dedicated to the goal of a separate state for ethnic Tamils, even though his militancy resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of his own people.
Mr. Prabhakaran, 54 years old, was born in Sri Lanka's north and schooled in the east, areas with heavy Tamil populations. Like other young radical Tamils in the 1970s, a separate state was seen as the only way to protect the Tamil language, culture and people from the dominion of the majority Sinhalese, who controlled the government and adopted policies -- such as Sinhala as a national language -- that favored them.
In 1976, Mr. Prabhakaran launched an armed movement that was later called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE. After the Tamil Tigers killed a number of Sinhalese soldiers in 1983, Asia's longest-running civil war commenced, with Mr. Prabhakaran at the helm.
Those who know the Tamil Tiger chief, and those who have fought against him, say he inspired fierce loyalty. Part of that allegiance stemmed from his firm faith in the separatist cause. Yet there was also a great deal of fear mixed in. Mr. Prabhakaran was known to have those who wavered on the battlefield shot, according to a former rebel commander in the east of Sri Lanka with the nom de guerre Col. Karuna Amman. "He killed a lot of people," said Col. Karuna, who in 2004 split with Mr. Prabhakaran.
Retired Lt. Gen. A.S. Kalkat, who led India's peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka during the late 1980s, said Mr. Prabhakaran was a formidable adversary "hypersensitive about security." He recalls launching a commando raid on Mr. Prabhakaran's headquarters in 1988 in which the rebel leader escaped through a series of tunnels connected to underground bunkers. "He was a very wily fighter," said Mr. Kalkat.
In 1991, the Tamil Tigers assassinated former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The U.S. and other countries later described the Tigers as a terrorist organization. Tamil Tiger guerrillas eventually went on to capture much of the north and east of the country.
Efforts to broker ceasefires and rounds of peace talks always floundered since Mr. Prabhakaran never intended to live with the Sinhalese but was buying time to fight them, according to Col. Karuna. "He had a racist mentality," said Col. Karuna.
Sri Lanka's military eventually went on the offensive, and in last year's heavy fighting, pushed Mr. Prabhakaran into a corner in the northeast. As Sri Lankan troops closed in, the Tamil Tiger chief staged a humiliating retreat. Although he managed to escape that time, government troops claimed to have captured personal possessions of Mr. Prabhakaran that made for good anti-Tiger propaganda.
In February, the Sri Lankan military reported it had found his air-conditioned residence, replete with a firing range. Inside they said they discovered a shirt the Tamil Tiger chief was said to have purchased from British clothier Marks & Spencer. Earlier this month, the Sri Lankan military released more evidence of what it said was the Tamil Tiger's "cushy life," including a photograph of Mr. Prabhakaran in an inflatable swimming pool.
Mr. Prabhakaran appeared to have no way off the island. His submarines and explosive-packed fishing trawlers were captured. His light planes were brought down. In recent days, he was rumored to have committed suicide, possibly with a cyanide tablet he was said to have kept around his neck. But earlier Monday, a military spokesman said that several top rebel leaders had been killed Sunday. A day later, the Tamil Tiger chief was dead.
Write to Peter Wonacott at email@example.com
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A8