Narayanan gets the wrong end of the stick

Velupillai Prabhakaran's terror empire stands on a foundation of myths, the biggest being its so-called invincibility. The LTTE is also being described by some as the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world as if someone had carried out a global survey to measure ruthlessness of terrorist groups! A prerequisite for countering terrorism is to strike at the roots of such well entrenched myths surrounding terrorist organisations.

A lame man is a hero before a cripple. So is a terrorist organisation fighting a state led by an impotent government. Whenever states strike back with might and main, terrorists go on the defensive and if sufficient military pressure is kept on them, they buckle and then collapse.

Created by India, the LTTE emerged so powerful not so much because of Prabhakaran's leadership but because of the impotence and subservience of successive Sri Lankan government leaders who resorted to defensive warfare and fell for peace traps always giving the LTTE an opportunity to make the first draw. The war was fought according to the LTTE's timetable. It was the LTTE that decided when to have a truce or when to resume hostilities. There were some exceptions in 1993 under President D. B. Wijetunga, who cleared a part of the Eastern Province and in 1995 under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who recaptured Jaffna. On both occasions the LTTE found itself running for its dear life.

The war Sri Lanka is fighting against the LTTE at present is unprecedented in that for the first time the country's war effort has been carried out efficiently with the single-minded pursuit of winning it and sustained over a period of time for it to be effective. The results are there for everybody to see. The 'most ruthless' and 'invincible' terrorist group led by an 'elusive leader' is on the run!

Even India has granted that the Sri Lanka military is about to beat the LTTE at its own game at long last. India's National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan in an interview with the Strait Times has grudgingly conceded that Sri Lankan military has made a lot of progress in the last few weeks. He has said, "Even if they [Sri Lankan military] win the battle, I am not sure they will win the war. I think they haven't got the Tamil population on their side."

Narayanan has sought to take back with one hand the credit he has given the Sri Lankan military with the other. This kind of reaction from the Indian defence establishment is not surprising. India must be rather embarrassed to see the military of a small neighbour achieve what the mighty Indian army could not. India deployed over 150,000 troops in the North and the East of Sri Lanka in the late 1980s to battle the LTTE, which had fewer than 1,500 cadres and lacked firepower at that time. There was a well equipped jawan behind every bush with choppers hovering above in those parts of the country but the IPKF got a bad beating at the hands of the LTTE. By the time it left, it had lost about 1,400 men! True, the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa backed the LTTE by giving it arms, ammunition, cement, shelter and money to fight the IPKF. But, powerful India, which had created and propped up a terrorist outfit against the Sri Lankan military, should have been able to overcome such problems and make mincemeat of the Tigers in no time

Success of Sri Lanka's present war against terrorism is attributable, among other things, to India's assistance. India has, for once, taken a principled stand on Sri Lanka's conflict in spite of a great deal of pressure from Tamil Nadu, where the Tigers have some influential politicians in their pocket. Nevertheless, India's ego is too big for it to come to terms with the fact that Sri Lanka, which it thought could not even provide protection for the SAARC Summit, has succeeded where it has failed vis-à-vis LTTE.

What Narayanan has said cannot be dismissed lock stock and barrel, though. Military victories alone won't be sufficient to eliminate the factors, besides India's help, that led to the rise of the LTTE. The hearts and minds of the Tamil people must be won and they must be reassured that they will be able to live as equal citizens without fear of any more incidents like the 1983 pogrom. There are problems that Tamils are facing because of being Tamils due to the prevailing security situation, as Narayanan has rightly pointed out. They obviously need speedy solutions.

But, Narayanan errs when he says 'they [the state and the military] haven't got the Tamil population on their side'. He has turned a blind eye to the fact that only a fraction of the Tamil population remains in the LTTE controlled areas and those civilians, too, will flee given half a chance. Others are living in the southern parts of the country. In the East, there is a provincial council headed by a Tamil Chief Minister.

Narayanan has also stopped short of saying on whose side the Tamil people really are, thus leaving room for his observation to be misconstrued by the LTTE and its sympathizers to claim that they are with the LTTE. The State may have failed to win over Tamil civilians the way it should but it cannot be assumed by any stretch of imagination that they are with the LTTE. For, if so, there should be enough and more volunteers to fight for the LTTE. Today, the LTTE is totally dependent on forcible conscription of children, the young and even the old to offer resistance! Support for the LTTE is also fizzling out overseas, as could be seen from a sharp drop in the flow of funds into its war-chest. All this is proof that support for the LTTE is dwindling mainly due to crimes it has been committing against Tamils more than any other community.

Let those who mistakenly believe that the LTTE enjoys support among Tamil civilians pay heed to an observation by a group of independent human rights activists. As we pointed out last month, this is what the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) has said about the public mood in the LTTE-held terrain: Several LTTE leaders who deal with the people know the extent of resentment and the curses uttered out of their hearing. Instances of popular jubilation have also been reported when air force bombers hit an LTTE target. At a place 12 miles north of the frontline, a senior LTTE leader told some friends, `Should the Army advance this far, the people would rebel against us! –– UTHR (J) Special Report No: 28, Dec. 04, 2007.

What Narayanan has mistaken for a battle is the war in itself. If the LTTE loses Kilinochchi––which is very likely to happen sooner or later––it will certainly have a Humpty-Dumpty type fall. And the Tigers will have the same chances of survival as a cat in hell.

It is not possible that LTTEleaders will be able to operate from jungle hideouts and pose a serious to the territorial integrity of the country. There will be splits and internecine clashes within the LTTE.

The LTTE's intransigence knows no bounds and talking peace with it is a Sisyphean task. Not even the US, EU, Norway, Japan and India have been able to wean it away from its macabre cause and make it amenable to a political solution. After all, Prabhakaran at his international press conference in 2002 renewed his call for his cadres to shoot him dead if he ever gave up Eelam. Therefore, there is no way anyone can make him agree to give up Eelam and accept devolution. He needs Eelam and nothing else. It is high time those who seek a solution to Sri Lanka's conflict thought of an alternative to the LTTE.

One of the beneficiaries of the success of Sri Lanka's war against terrorism will be India, which is battling a number of separatist groups in different parts of its territory. The LTTE is said to have become a role model of sorts for other terrorist groups the world over and its fall will send them a clear signal that their violent struggles, too, are doomed to fail.

Thus, it may be seen that Sri Lanka's war against terrorism is not for her own sake alone. It will make a tremendous contribution to the on-going global war on terror and boost the morale of the democratic states troubled by the scourge of terrorism.

So, it is not catty remarks, snide comments and hostile action that Sri Lanka deserves at this juncture from the democratic world but encouragement and assistance to achieve its goal of defeating terrorism.

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