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Human rights are basic to good governance - Col. R. Hariharan

By Nilantha Ilangamuwa

(February 07, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) I don’t think even the TNA takes all these rhetoric seriously. My suggestion to them is to cut off their umbilical chord with LTTE quickly and work out a political package that is realistic in the present context and sell it to the APRC, President Rajapaksa and if need be India (I don’t know whether India would bet on them; they did that in 1987 and got burnt.) Otherwise they will be sidelined by Tamil people, said Col. R. Hariharan, retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies.

Here is the full text of Col. R. Hariharan's (retd) interview with Sri Lanka Guardian.

Are you optimistic about progress of the Sri Lankan Security Forces approach to wiping out the Tamil Tigers?

Yes; as of now the Sri Lanka security forces are poised to finish off the military capability of the LTTE. They will do it in the coming days it seems. When we are dealing with non state actors - insurgents and terrorists - the terms "wiping out" has little meaning because a single suicide bomber in the wrong place at the right time can wipe out a leader as happened to President Premadasa or Rajiv Gandhi and that can cause immense changes. So I would not call LTTE's defeat as "wiping out" but military defeat.

There are many reasons for the present success against the LTTE but President Rajapaksa's single minded pursuit of the goal of "finishing off" the LTTE (regardless of the cost, national and international contrarian views, and other negative aspects of war) is the most important one.

The other important factor is Prabhakaran losing touch with the changed world attitude towards terrorist bodies. Now, after 8 years of 9/11, the world is making it more and more difficult for terrorist bodies to operate globally freely as they used to. Look at Pakistan and see the high price it is paying now for nurturing the Taliban. Prabhakaran did not factor this though Anton Balasingham probably understood this when he sold the idea of joining the Oslo peace process to the LTTE. After his death Prabhakaran probably lost even the little touch he had with the world as understood everywhere else.

The 3rd factor was Prabhakaran's fall out with Karuna. Karuna's exit from the LTTE and its important contribution to Sri Lanka's success is not given the credit it deserves. Strategically it freed the army from the burden of the east after the LTTE was swept out, while closing the recruiting base of the LTTE. It also split the Tamil ranks.

Lastly, the armed forces deserve full credit for fighting a well planned operation with effective military leadership and the coordination of the navy and air force which also rose to the occasion. It was a professional job. However, as we have limited information at this stage I don't know how much the victory cost the armed forces and the nation. But that does not diminish their successes.

What in your opinion are the root causes of this very complicated and chronic war? The conflict in Sri Lanka is now internationalised. What is your assessment on this horrible problem and its root causes and its future?

In all wars root causes are of non-military in origin. Sri Lanka is no exception. In Sri Lanka you are not fighting with an external enemy but a segment of your own population. It became internationalised because the national polity could not cope with it politically when the opportunity was there. And it got out of hand.


"But I am not so sure even now I was wrong. The LTTE has an elephantine memory. Is Karuna sure that a man with a loaded gun is not roaming around even now to wreak vengeance on him for his sins of parting with Prabhakaran? I am sure he is not; you can ask him. He will agree with me."
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In the closely, globally networked environment of the present days, no conflict - whether local or international - is going to go unreported. So in a way there are going to be no more national wars anymore because there is a huge international lobby for preserving the basic rights of every man - even if he is a murderer or a terrorist. Nations have to be prepared for this changing dynamics of war. On the plus side it has the advantage of drawing international support for a national war effort as President Rajapaksa has done.

But the turning point was the disenchantment of the Tamil population with Sri Lanka's leadership after the Black July riots. That ended their feeling of security and trust in the Sri Lankan state. Even now I wonder whether it is fully restored because too much blood has been shed on both sides.

The LTTE emerged as a powerful force because it cashed in on the failure of the TULF and the Sri Lankan State to resolve Tamil grievances politically. It provided use of force as the only alternative answer to achieve results. And for the next 30 years internal political differences in Sri Lanka hobbled the State from taking decisive political action to remove Tamil grievances. Similarly military action against the LTTE was in fits and starts. That was at the root of survival of LTTE.

Even now I am not too sure how speedily the Sri Lankn State is going to address the Tamil issue. Like most Sri Lankan Tamils (though I am not one) my level of optimism on this count is around 40 per cent only. I know this will offend many of your readers. But it can be turned to 60 per cent if the 13th Amendment is implemented in letter and spirit. It will go further to 75 percent if the APRC is allowed to present its unbiased recommendations and if they are implemented. Sounds unreasonable? No; that is because political solutions are not as neat as military ones. There are a lot of grey areas that cloud them. And both sides have to make sacrifices as much in a political solution as in a military solution. But politicians are generally reluctant to make sacrifices. But I live on hope.

You were the head of intelligence on Sri Lanka, when the Indian Peace Keep Force was active in the Island nation, cracking down on the Tamil Tigers. The IPKF suffered around 1,255 killed in action and several thousand wounded; LTTE casualties are not known reliably. I know you have spoken and written so many times about that era and its strategies, and on countering, losing and winning against the Tigers. I would be happy if you can compare the past situation under the IPKF with the present situation under the Sri Lankan Forces.

I think the two situations should not be compared. Both are unique in their own way.

1. The IPKF was fighting with a half-baked mandate in a foreign nation - I am still not clear what its mandate was. So ours was not a national commitment but a political one reduced to a military responsibility; after all the country was not ours. We were operating in a Sri Lanka where both Sinhalese and Tamils were suspicious of us because their dreams and our reality were different. The change in national leadership in both countries created problems for the army both at home and abroad. We could not fulfil even our half-understood mandate because politicians in both countries did not want us to do it. All these things do not happen within your own country though politicians will always have their own agenda but we are accustomed to dealing with them.

2. The LTTE then was learning conventional operations then but probably it is so fit now that it can teach others. It now has had both air and naval wings though the air wing was rudimentary. This showed the way it was thinking ahead of waging war always. Its international supply and support structure was now fully in place, as it could not depend upon India even for reliable covert supplies after it murdered Rajiv Gandhi. It was the unfinished job of the IPKF that opened up the world for LTTE's dream of building a conventional army. It was indirectly underwritten because the Tamil diaspora was terribly disappointed with India. (Even now they send me more hate mails than Sri Lankans from Sri Lanka!)

3. Our warfare was more restrictive. We did not use artillery and airpower (except gunships which were mostly used in Vanni; we had very few of them). We did not get any support from Tamil Nadu where the ruling party ensured that the pro-LTTE elements got the maximum leeway from our action. This was bad for the morale of troops.

I can keep on adding. But in the 20 years since we went there, warfare has become more deadly on both sides. That is the bottom line. I am glad I retired. Otherwise I might not have been here.

If the LTTE hadn't assassinated your friendly and young Leader on your own soil, do you think India would never have turned against the Tamil Tigers?

In Tamil there is a proverb; "Aththaikku meesai mulaithaal sithappa". In English it would be "If the aunt grows a moustache she would be uncle." Your question is like that. In India and Sri Lanka so many things have changed in the last 20 years. Tami Nadu is more global than local after the IT revolution. India has no more a soft spot for Moscow as in the Cold War period. The US is its strategic ally now. Both India and Sri Lanka are closer in relations than ever before. So we should not attach too much importance to Rajiv's death in India's deciding its Sri Lanka policy. But it did affect India's perceptions of the LTTE that had gone sour after the 1987 war. It closed the official door for it. If it had not happened perhaps India would have joined the co-chairs when the Oslo peace process 2002 came into being. That's what I feel.

You have given six points in 2004 of Karuna Amman and his newly built movement against the Tamil Tigers. According to your assessment in 2004, "Politically Karuna appears to be in a no-win situation. With so many issues loaded against him, can Karuna emerge victorious? Politics is the art of the possible; so the story may not end here. In Karuna's case he has started with the end move; he has to leave the gun to take to the political rostrum. But he cannot do that as long as the LTTE's threat to his person exists." But today Karuna has become a Member of Parliament through the Government. Actually I think he has won. But what do you think of his political career and his future?

But I am not so sure even now that I was wrong. The LTTE has an elephantine memory. Is Karuna sure that a man with a loaded gun is not roaming around even now to wreak vengence on him for his sin of parting with Prabhakaran? I am sure he is not; you can ask him. He will agree with me. After all for lesser sins people like Amirthalingam and Neelan were done to death by the LTTE. Probably that is why Karuna hopes to join the SLFP; that would at least minimise the risk of meeting an infiltrator from the LTTE among the TMVP cadres.

About his politics, my answer is simple. I don't know. But as I said then, politics is the art of the possible. If he can do good as an MP I am sure he can establish himself politically. Let us give him some peaceful time before he does that. He is making the difficult journey into the political field which is no less dangerous than a military mine field. And in Sri Lanka in both fields people die.

Norway, Japan, USA and EU have asked the Tigers and the government of Sri Lanka to negotiate terms for the LTTE's capitulation. At the same time, the four countries are determined that the government in Colombo must demonstrate that it can respect its international human rights obligations and give international representatives unimpeded access to inspect camps where Tamils are held in custody or under supervision. But the GoSL rejected the truce with the Tigers and also at the same time the Tigers didn't give any comment on their laying down arms. In this context what is the responsibility of the International Community on the Lankan issue?

Human rights are basic to good governance. It is essential for the State to demonstrate to its citizens that it gives them these rights that are denied by totalitarian organisations like the LTTE. Each state has to make its decision on this, not because others have a better or worse record, but because it has to make a difference to win the war against insurgents. And so Sri Lanka has no choice on this if it truly wants to win the war. It does not matter that the US has Guantanamo Bay, and Israel uses cluster bombs on Palestine refugees. Sri Lanka is not their country; Sri Lanka is yours.

International responsibility is a nebulous thing. It is elusive. Look at the Palestine problem. The least they can do is to ensure that the LTTE does not flourish on their soil while helping Sri Lanka's polity to ensure that the Tamil issue is resolved amicably and quickly. They should use non-military leverage that nations use in such situations. Otherwise again there will be the growth of a second generation insurgency that nobody including the international community wants.

In the meantime the Tamil National alliance has said to the Tokyo Co-chairs who called on the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and surrender to the Sri Lankan government, that ithas been the firm and consistent position of the Tamil people that the island of Sri Lanka is inhabited by the Tamil nation and the Sinhala nation. What do you think of the TNA's concept of two nations within one country? Do not forget that the TNA MPs are paid and maintained by the Sri Lankan Government, and when they take oath they promise to protect and uphold the constitution of the Sri Lanka.

I don't think even the TNA takes all this rhetoric seriously. My suggestion to them is to cut off their umbilical cord to the LTTE quickly and work out a political package that is realistic in the present context and sell it to the APRC, President Rajapaksa and if need be India (I don't know whether India would bet on them; they did that in 1987 and got burnt). Otherwise they will be sidelined by the Tamil people. I am not too sure that it has not happened already. Except for a few of them most TNA leaders are not to be seen in parliament so what is all this talk about the oath and so on.

At the end of the War, the post War situation in Sri Lanka will be as important a period as the present situation in the country. Nowhere in the World can we see an easy "mission totally accomplished" end in guerrilla warfare. A good example is eastern Sri Lanka which the Government declared liberated many months ago, but there are still some serious military incidents happening there. According to your reading, how does Sri Lanka totally accomplish mission over the civil war?

First don't promise too much to the public. I think patience is a Buddhist virtue. But that does not mean the government should take its own time. I think the most important thing is for Tamil people everywhere to feel secure. So if you have an army garrisons in every town in the North and the East for the next 5 years, your mission is going to be dismantled invisibly in the minds of people. People must be involved in development plans and restoration of normal life. That means local governments must become operational. Accessibility to government benefits must be without discrimination. Government should learn to talk Tamil. There is a Tamil description for Lord Murugan: "Thamizhil waidharyum Vazhthuvan," meaning the God is supposed to bless even those who abuse him in Tamil. That is the power of this language over its people. (Probably it is the same for the Sinhalese people; but I don't know Sinhalese; but I can imagine.)

If you carry out military operations while the visible results of peace gradually come up, people will help you to win the war against the insurgency. This is what we have seen in the Punjab and Mizoram. And this is what we have to do in Kashmir I have no doubt. So that is what Sri Lanka should do if it wants to prevent a resurgence of the LTTE; not by occupying HSZ forever (we are vacating our own version of HSZ in Kashmir now).

People should feel they are better off after the war than before. It is as simple and as complex as that depending upon how you want to go about it. In the East the more difficult option is being adopted. I hope they change it.


-Sri Lanka Guardian

1 comment

kaaniyalan said...

Yes! I agree with col.Hariharan.If the GoSL and Singalese people did not learn lessons from these deadly three decades civil war,then no body can help Srilanka.Genunine grievances of any minority community have to be redressed let alone Srilankan Tamils.Prabakaran and LTTE are merely symptoms.GoSL have to treat disease and not symptoms.Look at India and people are living peacefully though in every 600kms langugediffers.
Poverty,disease,illiteracy etc. are there. However, GoI is not discriminating anyone based on religion,race,language and ethinicity though there are some hotheads and fringe groups here and there.As Col. Hariharan has rightly said Tamil Nadu has trvelled a long way since 1980 and it is really global than local. Industries and service sectors are booming. Infrastructure like roads bridges,railwaylines are good though everybody have yet to be benefited.Majority are reaping the benefits of development. This should serve as a lesson to GoSL and singalalese people .They must take a lead to address the root cause and bear in mind the saying 'In unity we live'

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