From Kilinochchi to victory

"Hasta la Victoria Siempre!" ("Ever Onward to Victory!")

- Che Guevara

"One thing is now required—to deal the death-blow to the fascist beast…The last storming of the Hitlerite lair is on…give them no respite until they cease resistance."

- Stalin, Order of the Day, May 1, 1945

With the liberation of Paranthan and Kilinochchi, the war has pivoted decisively in favor of the Sri Lankan armed forces and against the LTTE. We are winning a ground war, not against sporadic suicide bombers or home made rockets causing single digit casualties over long years, but against a ferocious insurgent foe fielding large formations, armed with heavy artillery, fast boats and light aircraft. We are doing so not with open ended foreign patronage, not while imposing collective punishment and inflicting civilian casualties which are almost a fifth of armed enemy casualties, but with minimum collateral damage despite the use of human shields by the enemy. If in the eyes of some, colossally disproportionate force is perfectly ok as a "defensive "measure to protect one’s citizens against the dangers and disruptions of sporadic rocket attacks, how much greater the existential danger to the Sri Lankan state and how much more justified Sri Lanka’s offensive against an enemy who has murdered many of our leaders, stultified our economic development for decades and secretly built six airstrips capable of deploying aircraft to bomb targets anywhere on this small island?

Victory is on the horizon, within sight, but there are pitfalls. The pitfalls are that there will be redoubled pressures to delay, dilute or divert the final offensive and its objectives. There will be calls for ceasefires, negotiations and non-military, political solutions. Some of these will come from the local commentariat, the well intentioned but feebleminded, the high-toned but near-hysterical. Others will emanate from sources less naïve or innocent. They will come from those external forces who do not wish to see strong states in the Third World, especially those led by nationalist leaders such as President Mahinda Rajapakse. In most parts of the world, these external forces and their successors have, over decades and even centuries, encouraged divisions and patronized this or that particularistic group, in order to prevent the consolidation of strong nation-states. This is, has been and will continue to be the strategy of global hegemony, at times operating through regional subsystems. There is almost no violent conflict today, from Palestine to Zimbabwe, from Afghanistan to Kashmir, which is not traceable in its origins to colonial policy, the divisive stratagems of de-colonization and the successor Cold war policy of imperial hegemony or a combination thereof.

The neocolonial forces do not wish to see the defeat of Tamil separatism in either its armed or unarmed forms. They wish Tamil separatist terrorism to survive even in residual form, so it can be reactivated and used as an instrument at any given time. We must understand that our fight against separatist terrorism is part of the larger struggle for the defense of our own path, our independence, political sovereignty, and right of self determination. The struggle against fragmentation through separatism is part of the struggle for the consolidation of what President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have conceptualized for their own country as "sovereign democracy". It is part of the struggle against the installation of an anti-national puppet administration, which would cede the sovereignty of the state to outside players and even partition the state for private profit.

Certainly there has to be a parallel political process which can reunify Sri Lanka while reforming it. However that is neither the main task nor the call of the moment. The chief challenge is neither political nor diplomatic, it is resolutely military. The war has to be won, without losing our current offensive momentum, without giving the LTTE a chance to retreat in good order, without giving them the time to regroup and dig in deeply in Mullaitivu their last stronghold.

We must remember though that Prabhakaran has been placed on the strategic defensive just as certain political "planetary changes" are taking place, which he has been eagerly awaiting. Anita Pratap, the Indian journalist closest to Prabhakaran pointed out in a speech some months ago that Prabhakaran was awaiting two international developments to take place this year, in 2009: new administration in the USA and elections (hopefully — from his point of view — leading to a new administration) in India. It is most likely that Prabhakaran has miscalculated the impact of these political developments. However, it is best to pre-empt these developments. It is the challenge before the Sri Lankan state to eliminate his military capacity before these political changes can begin to work in his favor.

The central task after the liberation of Kilinochchi has been correctly identified by Sri Lanka’s leader and Commander in Chief, President Rajapakse in his address to the nation on January 2nd: "I call upon you to continue with your commitment to the country until the final act of this false Eelam struggle is played to its finish in the small territory of jungle in Mullaitivu it is confined to today, and the LTTE is fully and finally defeated."

The Commander of the Army General Sarath Fonseka accurately developed this perspective when he said that 2009 would be the year of the eradication of the LTTE which should not exist in 2010. 2009 is the year in which, sooner rather than later, within a matter of months, the high–to-mid intensity Sri Lankan conflict must transition into a low-intensity one entailing residual terrorism if at all.

What the armchair critics of the Sri Lankan armed forces have been totally unable to discern is that in this campaign, the Sri Lanka army has not been bogged down in positional warfare but has fought a war of mobility and maneuver, brilliantly outmaneuvering the LTTE, deploying the Strategy of Indirect Approach, (best articulated by BH Liddell Hart). This is why our troops have long since opened fronts in Mullaitivu itself, operating on the flanks and in the rear of the enemy.

Those who daydream of the inevitability of a long drawn out guerrilla war, such as that waged by the Vietnamese or the Taliban simply do not know either their history or their geography. The Vietnamese waged a peoples’ war of national liberation against a conscript army from tens of thousands of miles away, possessing no understanding of the Asian continent, let alone the local terrain. The guerrilla resistance deployed broad united front tactics, mobilized the peasantry, were supported by a safe rear area (North Vietnam), had supplies coming in from socialist Russia and China, and was supported by solidarity movements all over the world including in the USA itself. If there is any Indo-Chinese parallel for the LTTE it is not Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnamese, but Pol Pot: the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist John F. Burns described Prabhakaran as the Pol Pot of South Asia. The Vietnamese won, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge eventually lost. The Taliban operate in the huge mountainous terrain which stretches from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Mullaitivu is one district out of a total of twenty four, in a small island, with no land border, only the sea. The Tigers have been consciously corralled, funneled into Mullaitivu by the multi-front strategy of the Sri Lankan armed forces, which has been waging an impressive combination of large unit and small unit ‘deep penetration’ warfare in that battle-space. Thus the durable base area and regroupment zone of Prabhakaran from which he staged his comebacks against the IPKF and the Sri Lankan army (with the Mullaitivu camp’s overrunning in mid-1996) is about to become a killing zone for the Tigers.

B Raman a former senior Indian official turned web pundit, had in a wildly absurd analogy, thrown Stalingrad and later El Alamein into the mill of his journalistic analyses of the Kilinochchi battle, omitting a few details like the Russian Winter which devastated Napoleon’s invading troops, over a century before it did the Nazis. Mr. Raman did not seem to know that in Sri Lanka, people do not generally die of the monsoon weather, though we did have some brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives fighting in swirling rapids. Nor did he seem to appreciate that the Sri Lankan armed forces, unlike the French and German armies were not foreign invaders stuck at the end of very long indefensible supply lines. He did not seem to understand that Stalin’s Russia had built up an industrial base and that Red Army tanks were driven to the battlefront by the factory workers who had just fished manufacturing them. Prabhakaran on the other hand spurned every opportunity, beginning with the Indo-Lanka Accord, to build up the economic base of the Tamil people and the Tamil majority areas. Raman certainly seemed to be ignorant of the comprehensive grassroots socio-political mobilization that Stalin had undertaken by the dual means of Communist party cadre and radical social revolution.

Mr. Raman continues with his ludicrous analogies in his piece "After Kilinochchi". Now it is George W Bush after the conventional victory in Iraq, and the allied victory claims over the Taliban in Afghanistan. If the writer had looked at the world map, he would have recognized that in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US and its allies are fighting across continents and seas, in foreign lands, in which they constitute foreign armies of occupation, possessing an utterly alien culture and civilization. It is not only a matter of geography. The geographic silliness is representative of a total confusion of the character of the respective wars and the actors involved in them. Drawing a parallel between the US army in Iraq and the Sri Lankan army in Kilinochchi-Mullaitivu, is as intelligent as equating the presence of the British colonial army in India with the Indian armed forces in the North-eastern or North-Western peripheries of the country.

Mr. Raman is not alone. The piece de resistance is provided by Professor Kumar David, Trotskyist, who wrote: "Well, 2009 has dawned and Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu are, albeit tenuously, still in LTTE hands. For the last five months (from the provincial council elections in August 2008 to the PC elections now approaching) government and military spokesmen have announced Kilinochchi’s "imminent" fall; clearly not military strategy but the government’s political and electoral agenda is driving the timetable...The war will continue into 2009 with unabated ferocity; finishing off the LTTE is still a far away possibility. Sure, sure the military may still take these two towns in the coming weeks or months, but that does not alter the reality that the war is interminable..."

That gem of professorial prescience and scientific Samasamajism appeared in the Sunday Lakbimanews of January 4th 2009, two days after Kilinochchi had fallen, briefly beating even the Gaza firestorm in the headlines of the BBC.

(These are the strictly personal views of the author).

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