By Gamini Weerakoon
(February 01, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A question which has not been much probed in the heated discussions now going on in political circles is how the 'terror supreme,' this macho, 'invincible,' 'indestructible,' 'tough as steel' character who ruled supreme his potty little kingdom for a quarter century came to crumble like a hot papadam (popadam as the British have it) within a couple of years.
Remember how his daredevil operatives made a lightning attack on the Katunayake Air Force Base and the Colombo International Airport on July 24, 2001 despite 50 manned security entry points and 500 personnel guarding it? His desperados armed with T-56 rifles and rocket propelled grenades destroyed a substantial segment of the Air Force - eight military aircraft (including two K-fir fighter jets), one MiG 27, three Chinese trainer aircraft and then crossed over to the adjacent International Airport and nonchalantly shot at and destroyed three of SriLankan Airlines' Airbus passenger jets. The damage was estimated at US$ 450 million but the repercussions were far greater for the economy.
Shipping and insurance rates were jacked up sky high along with many other levies and the net result was that year Sri Lanka, for the first time since independence, recorded negative economic growth.
However, two years after the Ceasefire Agreement was called off and 'Operation Watershed' commenced at Mavil Aru, Sri Lanka's security forces had quickly gone through the Eastern Province, held by the Warlord of the Wanni, like a knife going through butter, captured almost the whole of the Wanni jungles he held for many years and now has now been confined to a few hundred square kilometres. Even his great admirers in the West now say 'the end is nigh.'
How did it happen?
How did this happen? Of course you have heard it all these days over state owned radio and TV as well as from the cheer squads of Lake House: 'President Mahinda Rajapakse did it,' even though President Mahinda Rajapakse has been modest enough to give credit to the true heroes - the heroic soldiers on the battlefield and their commanders.
Even Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe could not forebear a cheer for the armed forces and the Rajapakse government. Down the ages kings and generals get credit for victories on the battlefield but the poor peasants and soldiers who sacrificed their lives are soon forgotten. It is good that the deserving are praised - and hopefully rewarded as well and remembered.
How much did the Karuna factor help Rajapakse to run through the east? Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka stressed quite strongly that the east was won without help of the forces of Karuna. That is possible because there were no reports of Karuna's ex-LTTE cadres fighting side by side with Sri Lankan soldiers.
But surely they who controlled the province for years and were sons of the soil of the province would have provided intelligence as well as information of the topography -matters essential for military operations?
Karuna also had support of most of the ex-LTTE cadres as well as at least part of the people. This is indeed manna from heaven for any party fighting any kind of war. To refuse help from the 'enemy's enemy' in any endeavour, is the height of folly.
Karuna's special relationship with the Rajapakse government can make a John Le Carre political thriller. He goes to London on a DPL passport of the Sri Lanka government passing through the VIP lounge in Colombo and is arrested by the British government for travelling on a false document. Our government denies any knowledge of the passport being issued!
But the embarrassed British government soon releases him and Karuna arrives back in Sri Lanka to become a MP with the backing of the government while forming a political party that is an ally of the ruling party!
The Karuna factor should not detract the bravery and heroism of the soldiers who swept through the east. It is they who braved the bullets, artillery and bombs, some making the supreme sacrifice. Their professionalism undoubtedly outclassed the so-called invincibility and commitment of the LTTE suicide cadres.
The LTTE had no answer to the fighting machine of the Sri Lankan forces. Even Indian commentators such as the former Intelligence Chief of the IPKF, Raman had noted the improvement of the Sri Lankan forces and the co-ordination between the air force and ground forces when 'Operation Watershed' commenced.
LTTE spokesmen to hide their embarrassment of defeat in the east spoke of 'defensive war' tactics. They were retreating to the Wanni with their arms to fight another day they claimed. But in the Wanni the story was the same again. The LTTE could not match these forces. All credit to Gen. Sarath Fonseka who rose from his death bed to fight this war and his officers for this performance.
The other contributing factor for victory is the Rajapakse factor. From the very beginning of his presidency he refused to be moved by Western, Japanese and Indian pressure to halt military operations and begin negotiations. He would negotiate only if the LTTE surrendered arms and that Rajapakse was certain, Warlord Pirapaharan would not do.
J.R. Jayewardene in 1984 decided to eliminate the LTTE militarily, but Indian intervention prevented him from doing so. Presidents Premadasa and Chandrika Kumaratunga too got entangled in foreign negotiation endeavours and military efforts had to be interrupted. Rajapakse's success was that he pressed on relentlessly, come what may.
However, has LTTE terrorism been eliminated? Terrorism through conventional warfare seems to have ended. But the question now is whether Pirapaharan will resort to guerrilla warfare as he did at the commencement in the mid '80s -attacking soldiers and policemen on patrol, raiding banks and over-running police stations.
He is 25 years older, obese, and unconfirmed reports say he is suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and has even suffered TIAs - temporary strokes.
A guerrilla fighter, Mao Tse Tung compared to a fish in water. If the water is removed the fish dies. People are like the water sustaining the guerrilla fighter. Will the Tamil people after a quarter century of suffering be willing to sustain this guerrilla fighter?-Sri Lanka Guardian