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Media bytes on Sri Lanka

By Col. R. Hariharan

(June 10, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian)  [Here are my answers to some of the recent questions relating to Sri Lanka from media representatives.]

1. Are you surprised at the decimation of the LTTE? Was it coming for them?

No; it comes as no surprise. In the last three years of operation, the LTTE never regained military initiative. They could not launch a sizeable counter offensive. The army was bent upon causing maximum casualties; and the liquidation and decimation of [LTTE] leadership in the end was the only surprise. It looked so pointless for the leadership to stay to die.

2. What caused the downfall of the LTTE- militarily and politically

This is too big an issue to answer in one or two sentences. Prabhakaran made many strategic blunders; I have summarised them here:

* Handling of Karuna: Karuna’s complaints were handled with disdain. No effort was made to patch up with him. Instead killer squads were sent. This resulted in his breakaway from the LTTE. East was the main source of recruits for the LTTE; this source dried up after Karuna’s departure with detrimental results on LTTE’s military capability during war

* Boycott of Presidential Poll 2005:LTTE imposed the boycott in areas under its control and prevented Tamils from voting. This resulted in the defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who sponsored the peace process 2002 and election of his rival Mahinda Rajapaksa as President with a wafer thin majority, mainly through Southern Sinhala votes. Prabhakaran did not take seriously Rajapaksa’s repeated avowal to eliminate the LTTE, made during the electoral campaign.

* Ignoring International Reaction: Prabhakaran failed to read the changing global attitude to terrorist methods after 9/11 terror attacks and measures taken to control transnational terrorism. His repeated violations of ceasefire terms, particularly the killing of Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, in utter disregard to international opinion on such acts, resulted in 32 countries banning the organisation. Similarly the attack on Army Commander damaged LTTE’s international credibility further and provided legitimacy for Sri Lanka to go to war that led to the defeat of LTTE.

* Mending Relations with India: After gaining the status of sole arbiter of the Tamil cause in the peace process, the LTTE failed to mend its relations with India. Thanks to Prabhakaran’s egoistic reasoning the fund of goodwill for the Tamil cause existing in India was never tapped to pressurise Sri Lanka to arrive at a political solution. Instead it was the successive Sri Lanka presidents who cultivated New Delhi to their advantage.

* Failure to Objectively Assess the Security Forces: Riding the crest of success in 2002, Prabhakaran was probably lulled into the self believe that the LTTE was invincible. Perhaps this was the reason that prevented him from objectively assessing the strategic impact of the emerging convergence of Sri Lanka’s political and military goals after President Rajapaksa took over. The international support and cooperation to Sri Lanka, particularly in improving the military’s capability were used as material for LTTE propaganda than assessing their impact on the fighting prowess of the security forces. This led to gross underestimation of the ability of the security forces to relentlessly pursue their offensive against the LTTE.

* Inability to provide a strategic military response: After the loss of its territory in the eastern province, the LTTE had no proactive strategy in the north. It was the security forces that held the military initiative all along. The LTTE failed to pick up the gauntlet and achieve a strategic surprise during the three-year long campaign, as it did in the Eelam War III when it captured the Elephant Pass, despite the overwhelming Sri Lankan superiority in fire power and strength there.

* Trapping civilians in the war zone: The LTTE moved all the civilians from captured areas to areas under its control as the security forces advanced. This was a reactive defence strategy and affected the mobility of cadres, pinning them down to static defences. This questionable strategy neither prevented the security forces from using their heavy weapons and air force nor vindicated the LTTE’s use of civilians as human shields. It generated only adverse publicity.

3. How much role does Prabhakaran has in this downfall?

No LTTE action is possible without Prabhakaran's clearance. So everything that happened to the LTTE was his own making.

4. How did the Sri Lanka government get sudden spurt in their military strength and political resolve as to end the crisis in two years?

It was not sudden spurt; in the presidential poll held in 2005 Rajapaksa had announced that if he was elected he would cancel the peace process and ceasefire agreement and eliminate LTTE. The war started in 2006. In the three years the armed forces were systematically improved and strengthened. The President provided the political leadership and Gen Fonseka did a professional job of leading army to victory. It was deliberate and not left to chance.

5. What role should India have played in this war? How should it now behave in Sri Lanka and handle Tamil problem?

India played a limited role in training naval and army personnel and supplying non-lethal weapons. Your question on India's future Lanka policy is yet to be answered by the new Govt of India itself. It has to decide on its strategic compulsions and act.

6. Can the Kashmir problem be compared with the Tamil issue of Lanka?

No; they are as different as chalk is from cheese.

7. What would be the future of the LTTE and the Tamil cause, in your opinion, post war?

Rajapaksa will dictate the terms of Tamil devolution. As the Tamils have no worthwhile leadership, either politically or militarily, as the LTTE may take years to get back into shape. It is going to be a tough time for Tamils unless Rajapaksa is benevolent and large hearted. This is what Prabhakaran's failed mission has achieved.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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