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What’s wrong with this picture?

Dayan Jayatilleka

 

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Lakshman Kadirgamar made the case globally

What is most tragic is that we had an alternative — it just didn’t have to be this way. JR had to call off operation Liberation, sign the Indo-Lanka Accord and put the Army in barracks because of India’s, Mirage 2000s. Premadasa had to strike a deal with the Tigers and get the IPKF out in order to tamp down the raging Southern fires. Today there are no comparable compulsions, and therefore the current retreat by (and of) the State is needless. It is particularly inexcusable because new opportunities had opened up for us globally, and new capacities, unimagined new strengths, had been demonstrated locally, in the battlefield. We didn’t have to capitulate after September 11th and certainly not with the long-range: ‘hunter-killer’ teams going into the jungles, taking the war surgically to the Tigers.

"I’ve been on this roller coaster
just too many times
and always it seems like the blind keep
on leading the blind"
- Van Morrison: ‘Ball & Chain’

The fact that President Junius Richard Jayewardene died of natural causes, outliving a great many Sri Lankan politicians who were much younger, and the fact that he had the fewest illusions about the Tigers, are intimately related. JR was wrong (and late) on Tamil autonomy, but right about Prabhakaran. He was also the wittiest political personality we ever had. When asked by Michael Hamlyn of the Times, I think it was, " why don’t you simply talk to Prabhakaran?" JR replied " I don’t have his telephone number and in any case he doesn’t speak English". Currently more pertinent is his answer to another Western journalist who queried " why don’t you summon a Roundtable conference and invite the Tigers?" "But they’ll want a separate table" was Junius Rex’s riposte.

On Feb. 22nd, Mr. Prabhakaran treated himself to a separate table, a separate office, a separate signing ceremony, and as conspicuous wall decor, a separate map showing his projected separate state on it in a shade of colour separate from that of the shrunken Sri Lanka depicted there . Every picture tells a story. This was a picture of the leader of a separate country, actually a separate kingdom, signing a treaty — and not even physically together with the other side. We’ve all seen photos of ceasefire/peace agreements, and they are all choreographed the same: both sides sit at the same table under the auspices of the mediatory third party, sign the papers, shake hands — and then perhaps blow up a bridge or two a year later. Whatever. But the symbolism is important — the coming together of the leaders, even episodically. My memory may be a little flaky but in three decades of studying armed conflicts this is the first time I’ve seen, read or heard of anything like that which Mr. Prabhakaran was permitted to perform.

With the MoU, the democratic and legitimate Sri Lankan state has conceded parity of status (50:50?) to Prabhakaran and his Tigers. It has also divested itself of any future ‘Northern Alliance option’ by agreeing to the disarming of the anti-LTTE Tamil organizations while the Tigers remain armed to the teeth, so to speak. Those groups that entered the democratic process over two decades ago are being victimized in favour of those who have yet to enter it and have caused it so much irreparable damage. This is not sober, strategically responsible statecraft.

What is most tragic is that we had an alternative — it just didn’t have to be this way. JR had to call off operation Liberation, sign the Indo-Lanka Accord and put the Army in barracks because of India’s, Mirage 2000s. Premadasa had to strike a deal with the Tigers and get the IPKF out in order to tamp down the raging Southern fires. Today there are no comparable compulsions, and therefore the current retreat by (and of) the State is needless. It is particularly inexcusable because new opportunities had opened up for us globally, and new capacities, unimagined new strengths, had been demonstrated locally, in the battlefield. We didn’t have to capitulate after September 11th and certainly not with the long-range: ‘hunter-killer’ teams going into the jungles, taking the war surgically to the Tigers.

The Tigers being indubitably one of the fiercest fighting forces in the world, any units that go into their jungle lair, track and ambush them and exfiltrate back to base (something that the legendary Gurkhas failed to do in Mullaitivu in 1988) are logically among the best strike forces anywhere on the planet. That is how I’d characterise these multi-ethnic. (ex-Tigers, probably Mahattaya faction, ex-PLOT, Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese) wolf-packs, what the Americans used to call ‘Lurps’ (long-range recce patrollers, who would stay weeks ‘in-country’). I think of dead warrior-heroes like the RDF’s Colonel Fazly Lafir, who blazed a Special Ops trail: he would have felt utterly proud, of these boys, his successors and younger brothers-in-arms, but would have been sickened to the soul by the betrayal. For we have put this elite strike force ‘beyond use’, damaged it beyond repair, done Prabhakaran the enormous favour of getting them off his back, by stabbing them in the back ourselves.

Never mind the nonsense about Minister Tilak Marapone ably handling the crisis. That’s so much ‘spin’. The intended damage had been done, the entire covert operation blown. This masterpiece of LTTE counter-espionage was built up over time, orchestrated from overseas, manipulating the venality and power-hunger of Sinhala elite factions via the networks, the interlocking directorates, the cartels that are laundromats for the LTTE’s dirty money and thus grow exponentially in terms of domestic market-share and external holdings.

Months before ‘Aturugiriya’ a leading Sunday newspaper blew the whistle on the thermobaric SHMEL ordnance, which by the subsequent reports in that paper itself, had devastated Tigers in their dens. It was the Tiger-zapping ‘weapon of choice’ of the deep penetration teams. Immediately after that expose, a group of 14 Tamil MPs (who were soon to become the fellow- travelling TNA) protested to the President and the diplomatic community about the use of the weapon as a ‘war crime’, an ‘atrocity’. Then came the kicker. During the election campaign, none other and none less than the UNP Chairman put the spotlight on the project, complaining to the Elections Commissioner about the Directorate of Military Intelligence, the thermobaric weapons, the teams’ ethnic composition, their training bases etc. Who gave the information, on whose behalf was the finger pointed and as part of what deal? Virtually the morning after the election, came the raid, the TV coverage, the Interior Minister’s action. Now the existence of such teams is known, deniability over, cover blown. Our own government, our own authorities, fingered our own Directorate of Military Intelligence and compromised the deterrent capacity of our own state. Where else in the world would this happen? Certainly one for the Guinness Book, in the First Hundred Days.

Post-September 11th we had a credible option, a clear shot at the Tigers. The UNF leadership chose not to take that shot. If the new government, perhaps in tandem with India (using the Rajiv Gandhi killing) made the case globally — as Lakshman Kadirgamar had been doing, but more decisively and at a more accelerated pace than he could with the capricious Chandrika — we could have ratcheted up the pressure on the LTTE. All we really had to do was to make the wholly truthful point that if the world’s peoples were to believe that the USA (and India) were not on the warpath against Islam but only against terrorism, those states need to be seen to do something against a manifestly terrorist but equally manifestly non-Islamic movement . And guess what, it’s their lucky day, we have just the guy. If he didn’t exist he’d have to be invented, but he does, so help us out. This is not to argue for the possibility of a military solution but rather for the eminent feasibility, given the changed correlation of global forces, of a politico-military-diplomatic one (which would have entailed regional autonomy).

Negotiations are about carrots and sticks, about inducement and deterrence. We have given away the carrots before the LTTE even agrees to allow the vital matter of de-commissioning of weapons to be broached. We have broken our own sticks — the ‘deep penetration teams’, the paramilitaries of our Tamil allies — and thrown them conspicuously away. All this as part of ‘confidence-building’, when it is morally incumbent upon Mr. Prabhakaran, who unilaterally re-ignited war against two Sri Lankan and one Indian administration, to build confidence among us! Then again perhaps he has already won the confidence of those of us who really count, those who constitute the ‘new circles of power’ in civil society (to borrow Dr. Nira Wickramasinghe’s Hegelianism from the title of her latest book).

The very worst thing about it all is the symbolism, the semiotics: the message and signal being sent throughout the world. Prabhakaran, the manufacturer and wholesaler of the world’s deadliest suicide bombers, the man who has assassinated more democratic politicians than any other in the world, the only man who has murdered political leaders of more than one country, the man who slew the grandson of Jawarhalal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, and attempted to murder (and half-blinded) the daughter of the world’s first woman Prime Minister, is now a legitimate player — while not having apologised, let alone atoned for, a single one of his crimes and atrocities! What sentiment will the picture of Prabhakaran signing the MoU with the Tamil Eelam map at his back, trigger among terrorists the world over, from Kashmir and Katmandu to Mindanao and Columbia? The lesson the nihilists and neo-barbarians will derive is that you can suicide-bomb and assassinate your way to legitimacy, and that the more bangs you set off for your bucks, the more likely you are to be invited to the negotiating table. Nothing succeeds like success. Nothing inspires like it either.

Prabhakaran didn’t win the war: he couldn’t in Year 2000, though (as I have argued in the Feb. 17th issue of this paper) he might next time around, so vulnerable to blind-siding by flanking manoeuvre, are we rendering ourselves. But he has won half the peace. In the years to come, the whole democratic world will be paying in blood, including in the blood of leaders slain by freshly emboldened suicide-terrorists, for the Sri Lankan administration’s myopia. But will it at least work for us, here on our little island? The struggle against terrorism is indivisible. We have violated this unwritten yet undergirding rule of the international system at our peril. We shall have but a short season of peace.


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