Courtesy The Island 22-01-2007
In his Mahaveera Day speech last November, Velupillai Prabhakaran
signalled to the Tamil people and the world, the beginning of the
end by which he meant the beginning of his final war for the
establishment of an independent Tamil Eelam. He punctuated his speech
with the suicide bombing of the Defence Secretary, which luckily and
symbolically, proved abortive.
The Sri Lankan state replied with the victorious campaign in the
strategic ground of Vaharai.
The battle for Vaharai is noteworthy not only for its pivotal placement
in the East. The protracted battle also turned into a battle of attrition
waged against the Tigers. Usually it is the guerrilla who successfully
wages a war of attrition against the state forces, but in Vaharai,
the LTTEs Eastern cadre was bled out.
Vaharai is noteworthy also because it proved the value of new tactics:
the combination of regular army, tactical air power (both planes and
helicopter gun-ships), Special Forces and commandos, the STF, naval
patrols and Karunas irregulars.
The success in Vaharai is historic because it helps achieve on the
ground, that which the Supreme Court did in law: the liberation of
the arable East, with its rice fields, from the grip of the Tamil
Finally, the Vaharai win is important because the military offensive
went on until victory, in the face of an orchestrated international
and regional campaign of propaganda - amounting to psychological warfare
- to halt the operation on "humanitarian" grounds.
It demonstrated that which was deficient on the Sri Lankan side,
for many a decade: sheer political determination and purposiveness
on the part of the Sri Lankan state and its leadership.
The Armed Forces moved with determination, purpose and confidence,
as exemplified by army commander Gen Sarath Fonseka, while the President
created and guaranteed the political space for the military to do
The East: What Next?
One hopes that the victories in the East will be followed by civic
action and small scale development programmes which can bring people
jobs, commerce, industry, prosperity and some semblance of normalcy.
The most scholarly soldier in the US army, Maj Gen David Petraeus,
unlucky enough to be just appointed commander of all US ground forces
in Iraq, is the author of the new, and widely praised US army textbook
on counter-insurgency. In it he describes the essence of counter-insurgency
as "armed social work" (an unwitting echo of Che Guevara
who defined the guerrilla as an "armed social reformer"
a definition lost on Mr Prabhakaran). The Petraeus doctrine
calls for a ratio of 20 combat troops (not admin or logistical troops)
for every 1,000 local inhabitants, and the embedding of the military
with local allied forces and in local neighbourhoods. While the LTTE
has not been a classic insurgent movement for quite a long time and
therefore the war against it has to be a mix of conventional, mobile
and unconventional warfare, the Petraeus doctrine of counter-insurgency
is quite appropriate in those areas that we have cleared. I cannot
think of a better formation to implement it than the STF, in conjunction
with the Karuna forces.
An election should be held as soon as is feasible, in the Eastern
province. Once it is a legitimate provincial administration, the TMVP
will find it easier to recruit. Meanwhile recruitment to the STF should
be expanded. The sooner that some areas of the East can be handed
over to the STF and Karuna, the sooner the military can be rotated
out of the Eastern theatre to the North, for the final campaign against
the LTTE which will have to culminate in slaying the beast in its
The success in Vaharai is further proof that President Rajapakse
is a leader worthy of support - though that support need neither be
unqualified nor uncritical. The best evidence of that proposition
was the 10,000-man increase in recruitment to the armed forces, an
almost unprecedented increase in recent decades. President Rajapakse
did not commit the folly of his predecessor, who ran the Sudu Nelum
Movement, an anti-war campaign, at state expense, while we were locked
in a war re-started by Prabhakaran. The former Deputy Minister of
Defence, Gen Anuruddha Ratwatte, a man whose personal courage cannot
be doubted, felt himself utterly frustrated by the Sudu Nelums
devastating effect on military recruitment. The Sri Lankan army was
unable to capitalise on Army commander Gen Gerry de Silvas capture
of Jaffna in late 1995, and suffered dreadful losses in 1996 and 1999-2000,
precisely because it was overstretched in terms of manpower, and could
not hold that which it had cleared.
As the writings of the late DP Sivaram ( Taraki) amply
reveal, a most important consideration in the Tiger calculus was the
inability or decreasing ability of the Sri Lankan armed forces to
recruit, while the Tigers were able to do so unabated (thanks to forced
conscription though Taraki didnt admit that).
All that has stopped, thanks to two people: Karuna and Mahinda Rajapakse.
The Karuna factor alone would not have done the trick, because Ranil
and/or Chandrika would have sold him out.
Chandrika: The Contrast
In an incredibly irresponsible move, when the Karuna rebellion broke
out in April 2004 President Kumaratunga permitted Prabhakarans
forces to move through our naval cordon and land behind Karunas
lines. Not only has Karuna repeatedly denounced her for this act of
treachery and folly; in a newspaper interview she proudly proclaimed
that she had communicated to Prabhakaran that she could send in the
Sri Lankan forces to disarm Karuna, but that Prabhakaran had refused
Contrast this if you will, with the conduct of Ethiopian president
Meles Zenawi, when provided with a roughly similar opportunity. Zenawi
was the leader of a formerly Marxist (actually, self confessed Stalinist)
guerrilla movement which overthrew the Marxist junta of
Mengistu Haile Mariam (whose Marxism was of the JVPs brand).
President Zenawi quickly shifted to the ideological centre and Ethiopia
is described today as Christian rather than Marxist. When a militant
Islamic movement took power in neighbouring Somalia, Ethiopias
traditional foe, Zenawi spotted both the danger and the opportunity.
His armed forces worked with the US and UK militaries (especially
their Special Forces) and intervened in support of the deposed Somali
provisional government, smashing the Islamic militants and installing
his Somali ally back in Mogadishu.
Chandrika Kumaratunga should have covertly thrown her weight, so
to speak, behind Karuna, or at the least, remained benignly neutral,
but she had forgotten the main, strategic enemy. Despite a decent
record in relation to the LTTE threat for most of her presidency
and her real achievements were nothing less than historic, namely
the liberation of Jaffna in 95 and its defence in 2000 - she
ended her stay in office in much the same way as she began. In 1994,
she not only initiated the Sudu Nelum, but appointed Wasantharajah
(later a pro-Tiger ideologue and spokesman) as Rupavahini chairman!
When the war broke out, she could not mobilise patriotic mass sentiment
in the way that her successor has, not only because of the Sudu Nelum
exercise but because she pushed an excessively liberal "union
of regions package" in 1995 and 1997, instead of exercising the
option readily at hand: the implementation of the Mangala Moonesinghe
Parliamentary Select Committee proposals which her mother, Sirima
Bandaranaike had signed.
Chandrika concluded her presidency almost a decade later, in much
the same disappointing way. A recent internet report quoting PLOTE
sources said that the LTTE has short-listed four persons as possible
replacements for Anton Balasingham: Visuvanathan Rudrakumar, M Sornarajah,
V Veerasamy, and Shiva Pasupathy.
The second individual on the short list, Singapore based Sornarajah,
architect of the infamous ISGA, is the brother in law of President
Kumaratungas Senior Advisor on the peace process and ethnic
affairs at the tail-end of her reign when she agreed to the PTOMS!
So the political and military space afforded to the Karunas
Tamil resistance fighters, who played such a significant role in the
Vahari campaign and ongoing liberation of the East, is not to be taken
for granted. It is the direct result of the incumbency of President
Assassins and Character Assassins
When Chandrika was targeted by a suicide bomber she responded by
going on the BBCs Hard Talk and calling for negotiations. After
9/11, she addressed audiences at the LSE and the JNU (Delhi) saying
that terrorism cannot be defeated militarily; its root causes have
to be solved politically. Ranil Wickremesinghe followed suit at the
Woodrow Wilson Centre and the Washington Press Club, asserting that
the LTTE was different from international terrorism. (At an international
conference on the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombing, Chandrikas
peace and ethnic affairs advisor opined that one simply had to talk
to terrorists). By contrast, when Gen. Sarath Fonseka and later Def
Secy Brig Gotabhaya Rajapakse were targeted by Tiger suicide bombers,
the Sri Lankan state responded firmly, with resolve and self-respect.
We can therefore understand why Mahinda Rajapakse, his brothers, and
the Army commander, are targeted by Tiger suicide assassins. What
is less understandable is why they are targeted by Southern character
assassins. It is grossly unethical for those who are not likely to
be targeted by the Tigers, to engage in vilification (rather than
constructive criticism) of those who are not only Tiger targets, but
have narrowly escaped Tiger suicide bomb attacks!
Crossovers: The Strategic Imperative
In the meanwhile there is good news on the Southern front. Dr Palitha
Kohona, who served the Sri Lankan people better as SCOPP head than
his distinguished predecessor was allowed to, has been appointed Foreign
Secretary, while his boss, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera has
put in an excellent performance on his visit to India, both in his
Lal Bahadur Shastri Lecture and his meeting with the editorial board
of the Hindustan Times. Having made a trenchant critique of the LTTEs
terrorism, he has (echoing a recent description of newly re-elected
Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega) called for a "radical centre",
an ingathering of moderates which would isolate both extremes. Samaraweera
and Kohona could make a great team.
With the liberal-progressive wave about to sweep the First World
in 2007-8 (France, Australia, US, UK), a prospect that for the most
part I am delighted at, Sri Lanka will paradoxically face an uncomfortable
situation. The Rajapakse administration being left of centre, such
a wave should result in a global political atmosphere quite propitious
to Sri Lanka. However, given that progressive Sinhala nationalism
is quite unlike any other, and is curiously hostile to regional autonomy,
minority rights, multiculturalism and secular republicanism, it is
not Sri Lanka but rather the Tigers who will stand to gain from the
international trends. Indeed what we win on the battlefields we may
lose, and what the Tigers lose on the battlefields they may gain,
because of irresistible global changes. If it actually comes about,
the UNP crossovers may bring in the human resources, generate the
synergies, shift the ideological centre of gravity, and recompose
and re-profile administration in such a manner as to avoid this outcome.
Whats in it for the UNP defectors? Even the victorious British
Labour party has changed its leadership, so as to position itself
better for the next election. The Conservatives have changed theirs
several times in defeat until they came up with the young, appealing
David Cameron. The US Democrats made their comeback while dumping
the unsuccessful John Kerry and with new faces spearheading the campaign,
from Nancy Pelosi to Barak Obama. Next year the Democrats and Republicans
will face off with new candidates and slates (Hillary Clinton, Barak
Obama, John Edwards, John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani). Sri Lankas
United National Party is the only one that (for unfathomable reasons)
has not and never will dump its disastrous leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
In a presidential system, where personality counts, he can never win.
Nor can he ever secure the votes of the majority of the majority (which
will always be Sinhala, more accurately Sinhala Buddhist).Therefore
it is entirely logical to leave that party and join the popular Rajapakse
The Foreign Ministers call for a new centrism and a Giddensian
Third Way will be amply served if Karu Jayasuriya and the constructive
elements of the UNP are actually incorporated in the Cabinet. The
countrys moderate centre was shattered by two events: DS Senanayake
breaking away from the Ceylon National Congress and SWRD Bandaranaike
splitting from the UNP. No development in Sri Lankas contemporary
politics would better facilitate the emergence of a strong new centre
marked by a progressive patriotism, than the fusion of the SLFP and
the UNP reformists.