Victory has a thousand fathers – II

Foreign allies of the LTTE have shifted their anti-Sri Lanka operations to a different front. At the time of writing, a human rights battle was being fought in Geneva between the western governments and Sri Lanka backed by her true friends in the international community. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, who has shut her eyes tight to the Swat Valley, the Gaza Strip, Iraq and Afghanistan, is demanding that an international probe be conducted into the so-called allegations of war crimes against Sri Lanka. Pillay is now sounding just like Velupillai!

While Sri Lanka is trying to ward off evil forces of neo colonialism in Geneva and even before the dust has settled on the battlefront, a claim is being made in some quarters that all government leaders since 1977 contributed to the LTTEs defeat and therefore they should be given the credit for the country’s victory over terrorism.

UNP MP Lakshman Kiriella told the media on Tuesday that people of all walks of life including politicians and security forces and police personnel had contributed to defeating terrorism. What takes the cake is his contention that none could dispute the contribution Ranil Wickremesinghe's government made to the gradual demise of the LTTE. He says it was under the UNF regime that the LTTE was caught in a peace trap and Karuna broke away.

Victory, they say, has many fathers and defeat is an orphan. How true!

Today, we cannot find anyone who opposed the country's war on terror! Even Kirielle, who 'famously' said, ‘ona gonekuta yuddha karana puluwan’––'any fool can wage war'––is flaunting what he considers his party's contribution to winning the war! At this rate, the day may not be far off when even TNA MPs claim the credit for the LTTE's defeat!

However, the fact remains that the governments of President JRJ, President Premadasa, President Wijetunga and President Kumaratunga strengthened the national military and inflicted heavy damage on the LTTE. The UNP deserves the credit for transforming a military once confined to constabulary duties into a modern fighting outfit. The present UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, made a huge contribution to clearing the Eastern Province as Prime Minister under President Wijetunga. Similarly, the UNP must take the blame for giving arms, ammunition, cement and money to the LTTE during the latter's war with the IPKF.

It was President Kumaratunga who, in spite of all her bungling, captured Jaffna in 1995 thus preempting an LTTE move to resort to UDI and driving Prabhakaran into the jungles. She unfortunately lost the East in the process. She would also have abandoned Jaffna five years later but for her uncle and Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte's intervention in 2000, when the LTTE caused army camps in the North to fall like nine pins and reached the outskirts of Jaffna. Hadn't Ratwatte aborted the UPFA government's plan to withdraw the army from Jaffna, the LTTE would have taken back that town which it called the capital of Eelam and declared unilateral independence. If the overt support that certain countries have extended to the LTTE is any indication, Eelam so declared would have gained some international recognition.

The UNF government ushered in the worst period in the history of Sri Lanka's military. It destroyed the army's precious deep penetration unit responsible for eliminating top LTTE leaders including Shankar, by raiding its safe-house at Athurugiriya and exposing the long rangers and their intelligence operatives to the LTTE. It was not the LTTE which found itself in a peace trap from 2001 to 2004 but the Wickremesinghe government. The LTTE continued to prepare for war on the pretext of talking peace. It stockpiled weapons, recruited combatants including children, put in place infrastructure of a separate state and gained international legitimacy.

The over-internationalisation of the conflict by the UNF government helped the LTTE build an international safety net, as could be seen from the frantic effort by the Tokyo Co-Chairs, save Japan, to rescue Prabhakaran. In return for a temporary absence of war, the UNF made a mockery of national sovereignty grovelling as it did before the LTTE, which even brought in warlike material through the KIA and the Colombo Port without security checks or duty. In short, the UNF government played valet to the Tigers.

Yes, Karuna broke away while the UNF was in power but it is also true that the Wickremesinghe government, to propitiate Prabhakaran, smoked out its MP (Ali Zaheer Maoulana), who had removed Karuna to safety. Nor did it make the most of the LTTE's split. Peace process or no peace process, Karuna would have broken away anyway. For, the provincial differences between Karuna and Prabhakaran had come to a head and taken the form of a personality clash by that time. If the UNF government had remained in power two more years, the LTTE would have rendered Trincomalee harbour nonoperational with the help of heavy guns it had moved to Sampur etc., pounded the Palali airstrip in a similar manner, cut off the sea supply route and caused the army to vacate Jaffna. Prabhakaran would have declared independence thereafter, for he was already running what came to be dubbed a 'de facto state'.

It would be interesting to know from Kirielle what became of that secret pact, which, the UNP said, existed between Prabhakaran and President Rajapaksa. When the LTTE was banished from the Eastern Province, some UNP leaders said, the LTTE had only staged a tactical withdrawal in keeping with that pact. They challenged the government to attack Kilinochchi, if it dared.

After the military decimated the LTTE, everybody wants a piece of the cake of victory, but when the Army, the Navy and the Air Force suffered huge losses at Muhamalai, Digampathana and Anuradhapura respectively, there was nobody to share the blame! The UNP was out for the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa's scalp.

Finally, the question is not so much whether political leaders and governments since 1977 deserve the credit for the country's triumph over terrorism, but why they failed to achieve that goal themselves. They had the same military at their disposal. And the LTTE was less strong. But, they all pathetically failed in war and Prabhakaran went from strength to strength. Why? They sadly lacked the most important thing to win a war –– a single-minded will to win. The armed forces lacked proper leadership, both military and political, and the Heads of State buckled under international pressure. For the first time in 2006 after Prabhakaran plunged into Mavil Aru slap-bang, the government, the military, the police and the general public got their act together and determined themselves to defeat terrorism once and for all. And less than three years later Prabhakaran was found dead in a loincloth in a mangrove swamp.

So, some credit for defeating terrorism may be given to former leaders and governments proportionate to their contribution to the country's war effort. But, it is not fair for anyone to suggest that they had done all the hard work and the present government only muscled in on the act.

The Rajapaksa government may be faulted for many things such as abuse of power, profligacy and corruption but the fact remains that, if not for it, by now Prabhakaran would have been reigning supreme in his dream Eelam.

Let the devil be given his due!

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