A snarl not a purr

Velupillai Prabhakaran was plain unlucky last Thursday. Fellow-terrorists in Mumbai chose the very day the LTTE leader makes his annual Hero’s Day speech, which diplomats and analysts await to offer some clues of the current thinking of the man who has made the Tamil Tiger movement into one of the world’s most formidable terrorist outfits, to launch their attack on India’s commercial capital. This brazen attack stunned the whole world and pushed Prabhakaran into the inside pages, if at all, of Indian newspapers. The television stations did not bother about the speech at all. His last ditch effort to curry favour with India at a time that his fiefdom in the Wanni is shrinking was of little avail. Even as Prabhakaran was bleating that ``great changes are taking place in India, the voices of support for our struggle that were stifled are again being heard loudly,’’ the Deccan Mujahideens or whoever else they were had made nonsense of everything he said.

The straw that the LTTE is clutching at now is that Tamil Nadu, in the context of an upcoming election and India’s national politics, can push New Delhi to pressure Colombo to halt the costly but essential military putsch to at least deprive the LTTE of its capability to wage conventional warfare. This attempt came out loud and clear in Thursday’s speech as the beleaguered Tiger leader expressed his ``love and gratitude’’ to the leaders and people of Tamil Nadu who he said had ``perfect understanding of our plight.’’ Their ``timely intervention’’ had apparently given the unfortunate people the LTTE has coerced to remain in the war zone in furtherance of its tried and tested civilian shield strategy, as well as the Tigers themselves ``a sense of relief.’’ While a section of the Tamil Nadu polity, led by the ageing Chief Minister Muttuvel Karunanidhi, had been able to extract some token gesture from Delhi, the parippu this time was not air dropped with the cover of Mirage jetfighters. It was delivered by sea for distribution, in accordance with an agreement reached with the Sri Lanka government, by the International Committee of the Red Cross. That was far short of the ceasefire that the LTTE wants India to enforce here even as it faces what its leader himself called an ``intense war as never before now gathering momentum.’’

All these developments must not make Sri Lanka complacent. We must remember the basic truth that Buddhism has taught us, anicca vata sankara - that all things are impermanent - and merely because the LTTE and its leader were unlucky this time, that is always going to be the same. The Tigers are no doubt pushed into a tight corner right now, ejected from territory they held beginning with the Eastern Province last year, with much of their sea supply routes cut off and running short of ammunition for the heavy armour they captured from the Sri Lanka Army. Prabhakaran in his speech also admitted international isolation even taking potshots at countries that had in the past tilted heavily towards the Tigers. Yet the military advances that have been secured has not been without the heavy cost of lives and limbs of our brave soldiers whose morale, despite such losses, remains high. We must also never forget that tens of thousands of our people, civilians in the Wanni, continue to suffer as the war rages. It is incumbent on the Sri Lankan State and its entire people to do the best they can for the internally displaced. The government is now trying to do with the full knowledge that much of the supplies sent to the war zone are being seized by the Tigers for their own use.

The fact that Prabhakaran, irrevocably pledged not to abandon his struggle for a separate State in Sri Lanka’s North East even asking his supporters to kill him if he abandons that goal, bent over backwards last week to plead that ``we wish to stop this war and seek a peaceful resolution to the national question of our people,’’ is a clear indication that his back is against the wall. The Tigers, of course, are not opposed to a peaceful resolution we know, but on their terms of a separate state encompassing a third of the territory and two thirds the coastline of this small island. But friends and foes of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, with its appalling record of bad governance, fiscal profligacy, rampant corruption and much else must concede that this government like no other, once it took the decision at Mavil Aru that there is no halfway house in dealing with the LTTE, has single mindedly pursued that objective. While it can be credibly claimed that the government is covering its economic and other failures with the war, it must be conceded that today there is nothing half hearted about the relentless military putsch. The war can end tomorrow if the LTTE will lay down its arms but that is not something that is going to happen and Sri Lanka must brace itself to face the veiled threat of a return to terrorism against civilians evident in the speech.

Published analyses of the Hero’s Day speech included a comment from a retired army brigadier who went on record telling the Agence France Presse news agency that Prabhakaran ``acknowledges that there is fighting all around him and that he’s under siege. When he says he will fight on, he means he will return to his classic guerilla tactics.’’ That means attacks against civilian targets and the euphoria that the war will end sooner rather than later must not lull the people to drop their guard. In fact, former rebel turned politician, Dharmalingam Sidharthan warned in the AFP analysis that Prabhakaran’s finger-pointing at the wide mass of the Sinhalese supporting the government’s war effort ``suggests he is preparing the ground for indiscriminate attacks against civilians.’’ Sidharthan made a point he well understands: ``when the LTTE is militarily weakened, they will resort to high-profile guerilla attacks.’’

That is the bottom line that the people of this country must get into their heads. The war is by no means over. The wounded Tiger will become more ferocious in his current predicament. Despite the universal horror about terrorists and terrorism in the context of what happened in Mumbai on Thursday, there is every likelihood that the LTTE will return to the road it has trod before.

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