The siege is coming

by Dayan Jayatilleka

‘Rolling, rolling,
Rolling on the river’
- CCR: ‘Proud Mary’

It’s a set-up. A frame. Somebody is setting up the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. And the Sinhalese in the Eastern Province.

The incumbent administration at it highest levels, asserts that the war is unwinnable, hence its concession-heavy peace drive. "If we can’t win the war, then we have no choice. So let Prabhakaran have the North and East" chirp Colombo’s chattering classes cheerily. I’m afraid I’m not convinced: SLA Special Forces ‘deep penetration’ teams had ‘decommissioned’ around eight LTTE field commanders in eight months, including Shankar, the ax-aeronautics engineer from Canada who had planned the Katunayake attack. September 11th had tightened the global field-placing around the Tigers. The new administration loosened that circle of fielders and started bowling underarm, with a softball. Now the LTTE’s front organization the TRO is holding a US $ 500 a plate fund-raiser in New York, with a special dance recital (in addition to the usual song-and dance routine about genocide and self-determination) by MGR’s granddaughter.

However, even if one were to concede that the war cannot be won by the state, it is also the case that the war couldn’t be won by the LTTE. Thirty years of armed struggle (the Tamil New Tigers was set up in 1972, so watch out for the anniversary this year!) and Prabhakaran was unable to liberate the fairly small North-East, while Mao had liberated the world’s most populous country and Ho Chi Minh had beaten the Japanese, the French and the Americans (the mightiest power in world history) in an identical or shorter timespan. What the MoU has done is to break the stalemate, and make the war winnable by the Tigers.

Take this dangerously destabilizing Pongu Thamil thing. Why didn’t the police simply disallow it? It is one thing for a separatist movement, once disarmed, to come into the political process and propagandise for its chosen cause, however reprehensible or abhorrent. It is quite another when a powerful army like the LTTE is permitted, without having divested itself of a single bullet, to expand into areas it could not militarily win, areas held by the Lankan state forces, and conduct its militaristic, expansionist, annexationist (check the map) and blatantly fascist agitation and propaganda. This is conceding a walkover. It not only demoralises the state forces (‘the mind of the opposing commander is the object of all strategy’ — Sun Tzu), it permits large scale and rapid recruitment, and the vast collection of revenues which are then used to augment an already awesome armoury.

Colombo’s lifestyle driven illiterati have another favourite line. "If the JVP can come back into the mainstream, why can’t the LTTE - after all the JVP fellows were also terrorists, no? And if they can demonstrate against the MoU, what’s wrong with Pongu Tamil?" That’s plain silly. Today’s JVP, the one that was let back into the mainstream, is a JVP which had been decapitated, defeated and demilitarised. Its civil wartime Politburo and Central Committee were decimated, its historic leader Wijeweera sent up the spout in smoke. (In a somewhat premature form for my taste, after all he did devote more consecutive pages to me than to Prabhakaran in his 1986 magnum opus on the Tamil Question). Thus there is no comparison with today’s LTTE. Such a comparison can someday be made only in a post-Prabhakaran context. Secondly, while it is true that the JVP demonstrations are anti-MoU, the Pongu Thamil demonstrations are not pro-MoU. Unless, of course, Nazi salutes, the map of Tamil Eelam and video cassettes of Tigers putting SLA soldiers to the sword, have something to do with the MoU. (Perhaps those who drafted it can enlighten us.)

Starting with the assertion is that the war is unwinnable by the Lankan state, the administration has made those areas and encampments even less defensible than they were i.e. far more vulnerable to LTTE takeover. It is as if a doctor, having pronounced diagnosis of pneumonia, then proceeds to expose his patient to the coldest of showers. If any doctor were actually to do that, one could only conclude that he/she were trying to murder the patient.

Prabhakaran’s strategic aim is to evict the Sri Lankan state and the Sinhala and Muslim presence from the North and East, and set up the independent state of Tamil Eelam. The ramparts and moats that have always stood between him and that goal have been the armed forces, the Sinhala and Muslim populations of those areas, and the anti-LTTE Tamil organizations. The MoU takes care of all that.

The Govt’s reckoning seems to be that opening up the North- East will domesticate the Tiger or render Prabhakaran obsolescent-softened up or outstripped by market forces and normalisation. But the Tiger moves faster than the elephant. All the evidence today is that it is Prabhakaran who is exploiting the unilateral ‘glasnost’. The LTTE is moving fast to take over every single institution, public role and function in the North-East. It will fill every pore of the Tamil body-politic, soon establishing totalitarian control over those areas, which is an achievement that eluded it for decades. All of this will be without expending a single bullet or casting a single ballot. In short, all of this will be courtesy the MoU and the incumbent administration. Having saturated the North-East politically, propagandistically and psychologically, Prabhakaran will make the next move. He may, if he thinks its a good idea, ( right now he doesn’t), get some proxies to contest the local authority elections on a "Confederation or Tamil Eelam" ticket — and then claim a ‘peaceful, democratic, popular’ mandate which reinforces the TULF mandate of 1977 that Tiger propaganda still refers to plentifully (and with macabre irony). Any election will of course be a one horse race — actually a one Tiger prowl — because the anti-LTTE groups have been deprived of the physical capacity to function politically.

The several dozen unarmed Tiger cadres who have now been permitted to enter Jaffna are doubtless busy laying the foundations for LTTE control of the vital real estate that could not be captured by Prabhakaran in April/May 2000. They will do their reconnaissance, their map co-ordinates, their recruiting, their propaganda; they will be felicitated from one corner of the town to the other. Soon there may be a Pongu Thamil in Jaffna town. And if the Eluthumadduval checkpoint is dismantled, its not Prabhakaran’s armoured convoys that will initially roll into town, it will be a Pongu Thamil caravan, complete with those kooks who roiled four and a half kilometres in the Trinco heat (surely some kind of world record for fanaticism; even the nasty Nazis only goose-stepped when they rolled over Europe).

When — not if — Prabhakaran comes for the army this time around, he’ll have the camps surrounded by large numbers of newly ‘pongu-ised Tamils’ some of who will then proceed to fast unto death, doubtless clad as in an MGR extravaganza in " golden yellow silk vertis and sporting red kumkumams and holy ash on their foreheads" (‘Militarism, Personality Cult at Trinco Rally’ Sunday Times, March 24th 2002 p1 and 4 ). The Sri Lanka state’s armed presence will be transformed into indefensible, isolated islands in a sea of LTTE control. When Prabhakaran lays siege to them ( around his birthday-cum-Great Heroes Day this year?), the incumbent administration will ask the army whether it can hold out. When the army replies no-and believe you me, some officers will be conscripted and scripted to say just that — the soldiers will be evacuated. In a characteristically cold, ruthless, a-moral, manipulative move, perhaps a camp or two will be allowed to fall to the Tigers (preceded by ‘Pongu Tamil’ hordes) — just to soften up the armed forces for pullout. Once the armed forces umbrella starts to shrink, the Sinhalese and Muslims in the East will feel utterly vulnerable. Either they will pull up stakes and flee or will be helped along their way by ‘recently re-awakened Tamil civilians’ i.e. Tamils out of Tiger uniform and in civilian clothing, armed with machetes.

Mr. Prabhakaran would thus have been ceded Tamil Eelam. It does not matter that it will not gain diplomatic recognition. He’ll sit it out for a few years, dealing with his mid-life ennui by slicing away bits of arable Sinhala land (and Sinhalese) around his borders.

What of the dream of Colombo’s careerist/consumerist elite that the United States will save the day in the final reel? Had the Government made the case against the LTTE and secured US and Indian inputs (not manpower) it could have won the war, or at least negotiated from strength. But now it is too late. Prabhakaran is ‘people-ising’( to use a Premadasaism) his project. He has the ‘moderate’ ‘ respectable’ TNA as proxy. And on the chessboard, he not only has his knights, he has his Bishops too. A week or two ago, he moved one of them. The Bishops have opted for Barabbas.

To my mind, there is, after September 11th, a complete congruency between US policy on terrorism and Sri Lanka’s strategic and national security interests — but realistically what can the Americans do? Risk a Mogadishu market square (‘Black Hawk Down’) ten times over, fighting it out with the LTTE? While Asian-American Tamils in pin-striped suits flood Capitol Hill with hired lobbyists? I don’t think so. We are placing ourselves in a situation in which even our friends and allies will be unable to help us do anything but withdraw.

When the Sri Lankan armed forces camps are placed under siege by Pongu Tamil Intifada, (satyagrahas, fasting civilians), with heavy mortars being brought in under cover of darkness and hidden in houses and schools vacated by the army as per MoU, what will the government do? How can reinforcements be sent to those camps? By road? They’ll be blocked by a human wave of demonstrators. By air? Most camps have no landing strips, and in any case planes and choppers will be vulnerable to SAMs, Stingers and kovil mounted ZSU234s. They’ll even be vulnerable to .50 calibre heavy machine-guns positioned on the roofs of new structures built in the next six months under the reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes. By the way who will submit the architectural blueprints of those buildings, and who’ll approve them — basements and all? My guess is they may be designed for maximum utility in urban fighting (camouflaged firing platforms, thick walls, gun-ports, connecting passages) so shouldn’t they be Military Intelligence whetted?

No American or Indian military planner will jeopardise his men by putting them in this kind of messy situation. All they’ll do is give the (sold-out) Sinhala boys a ride home, when the Sun God in his infinite magnanimity, issues a deadline. Thus ‘Our God’ Theivan’) would have performed a miracle. A few human sacrifices (death-tasting civilians) and he would have succeeded in scooping out a separate state. But the entire credit for that miracle should not go to him alone, so perhaps his is not the only cardboard cut-out they should be rolling on the ground before.