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Throwing a Lifeline to the Drowning Tiger

R. Chandrasoma

The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka have a global reputation as front-rank terrorists with the child-soldier and the female suicide bomber as emblems of their zealotry in the pursuit of the politico-military aims they cherish. Despite the outlandish cruelty of their ways, there is no question that they have friends and admirers both in our country and the world at large that rave over the astonishing success of a small band of Tamil 'boys' in worsting the might of the Sri Lankan Army in a two-decade long conflict that has accounted for over 60,000 lives. Hidden here is the assumption that the Clausewitzan strategies of the terrorist leader Pirapaharan and the indomitable courage of his fighting men (the 'boys') brought on the humiliating debacle that made it necessary for a defeated nation to redraw the map of Sri Lanka.

Without detracting from the tenacity of the terrorists and the fearsome loyalty they have displayed to their leader, it must be said that their phenomenal success has been helped along by a host of hitherto unacknowledged factors. While strategic blunders of the first magnitude and a weariness and want of fighting spirit of the forces on the Government side contributed mightily to the sorry impasse we currently face, there are other unsavory features in this story of defeat that must be highlighted if lessons are to be learnt and history not repeated. One of these great lessons is about the perfidious role of the Overlord (the political boss) at certain critical points in the evolution of the conflict - we can use the technical term 'bifurcation' to denote such defining moments in history.

Let us look at the first 'bifurcation' in the Sri Lanka- Pirapaharan conflict. This occurred during the trouble-filled regime of Mr R Premadasa. Ravaged and cornered in the jungles of the Vanni, the Indian forces were about to deliver the coupe de grace to the Warlord and his pestilential movement. It was not to be. The President of the time threw a lifeline to the dying tiger, resurrected his moribund fighting cadres and paved the way for the rejuvenation of this deadly movement. He supplied truckloads of arms to the Tigers and gave them safe haven in government-controlled areas. There is no need to say more on this disastrous intervention by a leader who confused tactics with long-term strategy. His colossal misjudgment was that that the exit of foreign troops (the Indians invited by JRJ) could be hastened by working synergistically with the Tigers. The dastardly killing of 700 captive policemen by the new-found 'friends' shattered this illusion. His spectacular death was 'produced and directed' by the Cinematic Maestro of the North.

Friends, let us look at the second bifurcation. The months following the 9/11 disaster (The Twin Tower bombing) saw the Tigers in a seemingly winning position. The Forces had lost Mullativu, Killinochchi, Elephant Pass and the strategic land route to Jaffna that traverses the arid northern territories that provides safe-haven for the terrorists. The Jaffna Peninsula was poised to fall like a ripe plum to the encircling forces of the enemy. This did not happen for three reasons -

1. New Field Commanders replaced the traitorous and the inefficient. These men had a will to fight and said so openly.

2. A badly frightened leadership spent massively on weapons such as multi-barrelled rocket launchers that decimated the advancing forces of the Terrorists.

3. Despite their bluster - calls to surrender that the then Leader of the Opposition endorsed - the Terrorists had suffered huge losses and were in no position to capture Jaffna. They were at the end of their tether.

The events of 9/11 made the world a different place - a place very unsafe for terrorists such as the Tamil Tigers. Coupled with their huge losses in the attempt to capture Jaffna, this emerging scenario prompted the Tigers to 'do a Premadasa'. They unilaterally declared a cease-fire and used their powerful friends both here and abroad to pressurize the Sri Lankan state to 'enter' into peace-negotiations with a seemingly contrite enemy. It was a ploy which succeeded beautifully - a terrorist band won recognition when terrorists everywhere were being relentlessly hunted. A lifeline was thrown by the newly-elected Prime Minister, long known for his pro-Tiger sentiments. Not only was the terrorist movement rehabilitated - thereby escaping sanctions from the West - it was transformed into a legitimate movement for the establishment of a separate state. This sharp turn in fortunes owes everything to the whim of the Boss who surrogates for the enemy on the pretext that he is advancing the cause of peace. There is no need to retail here the huge build up of the Tigers in the North and East following this covert surrender by man known for his indifferent intelligence and his overweening obedience to the dictates of the West.

History does not stand still. The peace agreement turned out to be a disgraceful exercise in emasculation of state power in the North and East while the fighting cadres of the Tigers were sitting pretty in a Proto-Eelam . They were being beefed up for the next round of fighting - the final round before the Real Eelam. At this high point in the fortunes of the Tigers there occurred an unbelievable reverse - the Great Forces of Nature turned the headquarters of Pirapaharan into a water-filled hell-hole and the big man and his minions drowned like common rats in a sewer scoured by flood waters. Overnight the high-flying Tiger toboganned into the slush and mud of a bleak post-tsunami landscape. At this abysmally low point in their fortunes the Liberation Tigers are calling for liberation - a gift of Statehood to ease their woes after Nature's great strike.

Who throws the lifeline this time? It is none other than the current President - known for her fondness of Tamils generally and her pathological antipathy to anything that savors even faintly of Sinhala nationalism. The ISGA is the lifebelt that will re-float a drowning movement and both the President and the Leader of the Opposition are ardently in favor of it. Indeed, the President's previous 'throw' in favor of the LTTE was in connection with the 'Karuna Affair' where the bandit was protected while the potential ally was spurned.

Will the latest attempt to succor the enemy succeed? Will the LTTE re-emerge phoenix-like to torment us for the decades to come? Note that the creation of Eelam will not be the end but a fresh beginning of hostilities that may dwarf those horrors to which we are hitherto accustomed. While the portents are not good and we drift helplessly in disillusionment, there appears to be a guardian deity that keeps us away from the abyss. Perhaps the JVP is the current instrument of this protective power.


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