War: Not just a question of pancreas and limbs

Suddenly everybody has become so concerned about Prabhakaran’s health. When killer waves pummelled Sri Lanka’s littoral in 2004, everyone wanted to know what had happened to him. Some claimed he had perished in the tsunami but he made a comeback after weeks. Then the talk was that the person whom we saw was not Prabhakaran proper but his doppelganger. The sudden rise of Sea Tiger chief Soosai in the LTTE in the aftermath of the tsunami catastrophe was construed as an indication that he had succeeded Prabhakaran. But, Soosai disappeared from the scene equally fast.

Air Force Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke is confident that his boys successfully targeted Prabhakaran on Nov. 26 last year injuring him critically. He goes by intelligence reports and the intensity of anti-aircraft fire that the fighter jets conducting the air raid came under. That kind of fire, he says, is possible only from Prabhakaran’s personal anti-aircraft unit, which accompanies him wherever he goes. When the Air Force pounded the so-called X-ray base last month rumours took wing that Prabhakaran had been there inside an underground bunker, which was destroyed.

Now, we are being told that Prabhakaran has lost a leg due to that raid. The military intelligence is said to claim he is a diabetic and injury has caused one of his legs to be amputated. We are simply puzzled! How could they who don’t at least know the exact location of the LTTE leader’s bunker be au fait with his blood sugar level or seriousness of whatever injury he may have received, if at all? However, we are in no position to either confirm or reject those stories as Prabhakaran remains as elusive as ever.

Never mind Prabhakaran and Sri Lanka: Even the mighty US is clueless about the movements of the leader of ‘its terrorists’. Before President Bush’s second election, the Washington grapevine had it that Osama had been captured but his capture would be kept a secret until the eve of that crucial election to enable President Bush to win the polls. But, we never saw Osama in Washington, did we? Bush won without him. Osama’s whereabouts are still not known. President Bush is on his way out but Osama is going great guns!

Although it is doubtful whether Prabhakaran has lost a limb, he has surely lost many other things. He obviously lost his marbles at a tender age. Else, he would not have shot dead a person like Durraiappa, a much respected fatherly politician. Thereafter, he lost his senses and became a hit man for sinister elements in Sri Lankan as well as Indian politics. Upon realising they were using him, he lost his rag and eliminated them all. Then, he lost sight of reality and went hell for leather to achieve his goal militarily. After two decades of fighting, now he is losing ground fast, if the string of defeats he has suffered and the severe manpower crisis he is facing are anything to go by. And his organisation which his propagandists once claimed to be invincible is on its last legs. Unless there is some deus ex machina, Prabhakaran will have to do a Saddam or a Hitler sooner or later.

Why is everybody agog for news about Prabhakaran’s pancreas and limbs? That is because Prabhakaran is the LTTE and the LTTE Prabhakaran. It is being claimed in some circles that the LTTE will go on with or without him and therefore bagging him won’t solve the problem. But, a close look at the LTTE will reveal that it is structured in such a way that it looks a pyramid standing on its apex and not the base. All guerrilla movements are characterised by highly centralised command structures. The LTTE’s difference is that it is without a second level leadership. Over the years, Prabhakaran has carefully seen to it that the up and coming military leaders with the potential to pose a challenge to him get physically eliminated. Karuna is perhaps the only leader who managed to escape. Thus, he has turned the LTTE into a one man show. The Air Force chief hit the nail on the head when he refused to subscribe to the popularly held view that Prabhakaran had fled to India, as a man like him would never create a leadership vacuum or leave room for any other leader to prove himself, lest he should attempt a takeover.

The rise of a leader to the level of a cult figure has both advantages and disadvantages for a guerrilla movement. Such outfits emerge strong because that kind of leadership commands blind following to the point of their members laying down their lives for their deified leaders, the way the LTTE’s Children of Fire (read suicide bombers) are doing. They become ruthlessly efficient and invincible initially. But, their main disadvantage is that when the cult-figures are removed, they cave in. Some Colombo-based foreign diplomats tend to believe that the LTTE will survive the decimation of its leadership and the loss of Kilinochchi and resort to widespread acts of violence. They may claim the signs of what is in store for the country are already visible if the LTTE ambushes in the southern jungles and villages are any indication. Yes, that possibility is there but such violence will fizzle out with the passage of time for want of logistics. When a stag dies, as they say, ticks fall after a while!

The health of Prabhakaran’s pancreas or any other organ has a bearing on the LTTE’s future. The government’s desperation to account for him is, therefore, understandable. But, the question is how advisable it is for the government to take a count of its military chickens before they are hatched in the Wanni. A prerequisite for achieving its military objectives is the country’s political and economic health—as well as the safety of the political leaders the LTTE is zeroing in on.

The war is not just a question of Prabhakaran’s pancreas and limbs. There is much more to it.


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