Asia Times Online, May 20 2009
By M K Bhadrakumar
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran's death
circa May 19, 2009, in cir*****stances we will never quite get to know, concludes
a morality play.
As the curtain comes down and we leave the theater, the spectacle continues to
haunt us. We feel a deep unease and can't quite figure out the reason.
Something rankles somewhere. And then we realize we have blood on our hands.
Not only our hands, but our whole body and deeper down, our conscience - what
remains of it after the mundane battles of our day-to-day life - are also
dripping with blood.
Prabhakaran's blood. No, it is not only Prabhakaran's, but also of 70,000 Sri Lankan Tamils who have perished in the unspeakable violence through
the past quarter century.
All the pujas we may perform to our favorite Hindu god, Lord Ganesh, for
good luck each morning religiously so that we march ahead in our life from
success to success cannot wash away the guilt we are bearing - the curse of the
70,000 dead souls.
Our children and grandchildren will surely inherit the great curse. What a
A long time ago, we created Prabhakaran. We picked him up as an urchin from
nowhere. What we found charming about him was that he was so thoroughly
apolitical - almost innocent about politics. He was a simpleton in many ways,
who had a passion for weapons and the military regimen. He suited our needs
Which was to humiliate the Junius Richard Jayewardene government in Sri Lanka
and teach it a hard lesson about the dangers of being disrespectful to India's
status as the pre-eminent power in the Indian Ocean. Jayewardene was too
Western-oriented and behaved as if he never read about the Monroe Doctrine when
he read history in Oxford. We didn't like at all his dalliance with the
Israelis and the Americans in our very backyard.
So, we fostered Prabhakaran and built him up as a prick on Jayewardene's
vanities - like Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale of the Deccans.
Then, as time passed, we decided that he had outlived his utility as we had
come to develop an entirely different outlook towards the pro-Western
orientation of the Colombo government by that time. Our egotistic leader in
Delhi who detested Jayewardene was no more in power and the new soft-spoken
leader didn't share his predecessor's strong political antipathies.
So, we arm-twisted Prabhakaran to tone down and fall in line with our changed
priorities. But we didn't realize that by then he had become a full-grown
He resisted our blackmail and pressure tactics. When we pressured him even more
and tried to collar him, he struck back. He dispatched assassins to India and
killed our beloved leader. And he became our eternal enemy.
Yet, we couldn't do anything to harm him. He had already become so strong - an
uncrowned king among his people. So we waited. We are a patient lot. Who can
match us in infinite patience, given our 5,000 years of history? Our cosmic
religion gives us a unique wisdom to be patient and stoic and to bide our time.
And then, the opportune time came. We promptly moved in for the kill by
aligning ourselves with Prabhakaran's enemies. We armed them and trained them
in better skills to kill. We guided them with good intelligence. We plugged all
escape routes for Prabhakaran. And then, we patiently waited as the noose
tightened around Prabhakaran's neck.
Today he is no more. Believe it or not, we had no role in his death. How and
when he died shall forever remain an enigma wrapped in a mystery. We will of
course never divulge what we know.
All that matters is that the world woke up to the death only after the May 13
polling in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Otherwise, the parliamentary
election results may have gone haywire against us. Strange are the ways of the
We have had our revenge. Nothing else matters for the present.
What lies ahead? We will continue to make noises about a "political solution"
to the Tamil problem that Prabhakaran championed through violent means.
Of course, let there be no doubt that we will periodically render humanitarian
assistance to the hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians who have been herded
into camps and may languish there till the dust settles down. We will
demonstrate that we are indeed capable of the milk of human kindness. After
all, the Sri Lankan Tamils are part of our historical consciousness.
But we must also be realistic. We know in our heart of hearts that the scope
for a political solution in the fashion in which our leaders seem to suggest
publicly is virtually nil.
The Sinhalese will never allow the world to dictate to them a political
solution. More so, they will promptly and conclusively rebuff any attempt by us
to seek a role in what they will now onward insist as strictly their internal
Always remember that Sri Lanka is one of the last bastions of Theravada
Buddhism and preserving that legacy is the Sinhalese people's precious tryst
with destiny. At least, that is how they feel. We have to accept the weight of
their cultural nationalism.
They see Sri Lanka as the land of the Sinhalese. How could they allow us
Indians who wiped out Buddhism with such ferocity from the sub-continent
interfere with their keen sense of destiny as the custodians of that very same
great religion? Never, never.
If we try to pressure the Sinhalese, they will approach the Chinese or the
Pakistanis to balance our pressure. They are capable of doing that.
The Sinhalese are a gifted people. We all know few can never match their
terrific skills in media management. They have always lived by their wits.
Equally, they are fantastic practitioners of diplomacy. We suspect that they
may in fact have an edge over us on this front, for, unlike us who are
dissimulating from day to day as if we're a responsible regional power, and
dissipating our energies in pastimes such as hunting down Somali pirates in
distant seas, they are a highly focused lot.
They have the grit because they are fighting for the preservation of their
country's future identity as a Buddhist nation.
Only last week, they showed their diplomatic skill by getting the Russians and
the Chinese to stall a move in the United Nations Security Council to pressure
The Europeans fancy they can try the Sinhalese for war crimes. What naivety!
We asked the Sinhalese in private many a time how they proposed to navigate
their way in the coming period. They wouldn't divulge.
But we know that it is not as if they have no solution of their own to the
Tamil problem, either. We know they already have a blueprint.
See, they have already solved the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces of
Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara. The Tamils are no more the majority
community in those provinces.
Similarly, from tomorrow, they will commence a concerted, steady colonization
program of the northern provinces where Prabhakaran reigned supreme for two
decades. They will ensure incrementally that the northern regions no more
remain as Tamil provinces.
The Tamils will be made into a minority community in their own northern
homelands. They will have to live among the newly created Sinhalese settlements
in those regions to the north of Elephant Pass.
All this will indeed be within Sri Lanka's "federal structure". Sri Lanka will
continue to adhere to parliamentary democracy.
Give them a decade at the most. The Tamil problem will become a relic of the
bloody history of the Indian sub-continent.
The Sinhalese are good friends of India. Our elite and their elite speak the
same idiom. We both speak English well, play golf and like chilled beer. We
should, therefore, wish them well.
As for the blood on our hands, true, it is a blessed nuisance. But this is not
the first time in our history that we're having blood on our hands.
Trust our words. No lasting harm will be done. Blood doesn't leave stains.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign
Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka,
Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
Tigers leave unfinished business
By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - In a nationally televised address from parliament on Tuesday, Sri
Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa hailed "a day which is very, very
significant - not only to us Sri Lankans but to the entire world", and declared
the country "liberated" from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after
a 26-year war.
The myth that the LTTE is militarily invincible has now been laid to rest,
along with its chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the entire Tiger top brass.
In a cry for unity, Rajapaksa said, "We must find a homegrown solution to this
conflict. That solution should be acceptable to all communities."
And therein lies the rub for a nation that has been torn apart by the years of civil war, with more than 70,000 people killed and thousands
displaced in a struggle that pitted the majority Sinhalese against the minority
Prabhakaran was said to have been shot dead by the armed forces on Monday
morning as he attempted to escape the war zone in a convoy that included an
ambulance. On Tuesday Sri Lankan television showed grisly pictures of a body it
claimed was Prabhakaran with a massive head wound, suggesting he was not
fleeing as the government had said but either shot himself or was shot at
Prabhakaran's death is said to have come shortly after soldiers stumbled on the
bodies of several key LTTE leaders, including his son and heir-apparent Charles
Antony, LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman, naval chief Soosai, the head of
the political wing Balasingham Nadesan, and the head of the defunct peace
secretariat, Seevaratnam Puleedevan.
A day earlier, the LTTE's chief of international relations, Selvarasa
Pathmanathan, conceded defeat in a statement on Tamilnet. The LTTE was
silencing its guns, Pathmanathan said.
With the death of Prabhakaran and the defeat of the LTTE, a momentous chapter
in Sri Lanka's history has come to an end. Fifty-four-year old Prabhakaran was
no ordinary guerrilla leader. A military genius and a brilliant strategist,
Prabhakaran transformed the LTTE from a ragtag band of boys into a formidable
fighting force that was able to stand and confront armies far better equipped
than his own.
Until two years ago, the LTTE controlled almost a third of Sri Lankan
territory. It ran a parallel administration in parts of this territory, one
that included legal courts, a police force, a tax system, even a bank. The LTTE
had a powerful army, a navy and even a nascent air wing. It is the only
insurgent organization in the world to have possessed and used aircraft of its
The LTTE survived over three decades. Skillful maneuvering out of tight
corners, even reaching out to one enemy to get rid of another, was responsible
in part for its survival. That skill, however, was finally exhausted.
From July 2007, the LTTE began losing territory, first in the east and then the
north. Its political headquarters, Killinochchi, fell to the armed forces in
January this year. Then it lost the strategic Elephant Pass, and following that
Mullaitivu, its military stronghold. The Tigers were restricted to a shrinking
sliver of territory on the east coast over the past month. They lost that over
Throughout the past year, the LTTE appealed to the international community to
intervene. It hoped that parties and politicians in the southern Indian state
of Tamil Nadu would put pressure on the Indian government to bail it out and
that the plight of civilians would prompt India, the West and aid agencies to
push for a ceasefire. But all these attempts to pull itself out of a corner
came to nothing.
The Tiger chief has often been described as a cat with nine lives, having
escaped capture and assassination attempts several times. Even a month ago, the
Sri Lankan army chief admitted his troops had missed capturing him "by a
whisker". On Monday, Prabhakaran's luck finally ran out.
But it isn't luck, or rather the lack of it, that is responsible for the defeat
of the LTTE. Several factors contributed to bringing about its decline in
One is the hostile international environment that all non-state actors engaging
in armed struggle encountered after the terror attacks on the United States on
September 11, 2001.
Already tagged with the terrorist label by several countries, the LTTE's global
fundraising, its front organizations and the logistical network came under
immense pressure. The impact of a split in the LTTE in 2004 was even more
devastating, with the breakaway faction under its former eastern commander,
"Colonel Karuna", joining hands with the government in the military operations
against the LTTE.
And then in 2005 Rajapaksa became president. A hardliner, his orders to the
armed forces were unambiguous: they were to fight the LTTE not to merely weaken
it but to defeat it, to "finish it off" once and for all. And that was what the
military, better equipped than ever before, set out to do.
However, the seeds of the LTTE's destruction lay in the organization itself, in
decisions that would come back to bite it in subsequent years.
Its decision to assassinate former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil
Nadu 1991 was perhaps its biggest blunder. That killing not only earned the
LTTE the terrorist label from India, but also made India a permanent enemy. Its
support base in Tamil Nadu was eroded and its logistical network dismantled.
And worse, it had to contend thereafter with a robust military cooperation and
other links between Delhi and Colombo.
Another blunder was its misreading of the potential of the 2002 ceasefire and
the talks that followed. Instead of seeing this as a chance to reach a
settlement of the conflict, the LTTE saw it as an opportunity to rearm and
regroup. It walked out of the talks and did everything possible to make the
peace process fail. The war that followed was disastrous for the Tigers.
It gravely miscalculated when it called on Tamils to boycott the 2005
presidential poll. The impact of that boycott saw Rajapaksa win by a wafer-thin
majority. Perhaps it thought that Rajapaksa as president would result in
rallying Tamil support around the Tigers. It did not foresee that Rajapaksa
would prove to be their nemesis.
The LTTE appears to have believed its own propaganda. It believed it was
militarily invincible. Its closing of the sluice gates of Mavil Aru in July
2006, inviting the vastly stronger armed forces to launch an offensive and at a
time when international sentiment was not in its favor, can only be described
The LTTE's use of suicide bombings, its intolerance of dissent, the recruitment
of children and its utter disregard for human lives severely undermined support
from foreign governments. It is proscribed in 32 counties. This contributed to
international reluctance to call for a ceasefire as this would have let the
Tigers off the hook. When the calls for a ceasefire came eventually, they were
too weak, too half-hearted and too late to save the LTTE and its top brass.
The LTTE overestimated itself, even when its military capabilities were waning.
It was losing territory and fighters over the past year and should have
reverted to guerrilla warfare. In its desperation to hold onto territory and
perceiving itself as a conventional army, it fought a defensive war when it
lacked the numbers and the firepower for such a strategy. In the cir*****stances,
defeat was inevitable. The LTTE defeated itself.
Prabhakaran was uncompromising in his commitment to the creation of an
independent Tamil Eelam. Perhaps too uncompromising for the good of the LTTE or
the Tamil people whose interests he claimed to protect.
There were political solutions, like the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 that
provided the Tamils with a measure of autonomy. But such solutions Prabhakaran
rejected as inadequate as they provided for "less than Tamil Eelam".
Prabhakaran preferred returning to the battlefield time and again, uncaring of
the large number of Tamils who were getting killed in the bloody wars. Over
70,000 people are said to have died in the 25-year-long insurgency. This might
have been avoided had Prabhakaran been realistic and seriously explored a
The LTTE no longer exists as a military organization and its military assets
and capabilities have been destroyed. But the LTTE is defeated, not dead.
Several Tigers would have escaped the armed forces and they will be thirsting
Both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have declared the war over. But the
ethnic conflict is not over yet. The grievances of the Tamils, and their
alienation and anger that gave rise to militancy and organizations like the
LTTE in the first place, remain unresolved. The issues that kept the insurgency
alive for three decades are very much alive.
The irony of Prabhakaran and the LTTE is that even as they strengthened the
bargaining position of Tamils, they were simultaneously the biggest obstacle in
the path of a negotiated settlement to the conflict.
With Prabhakaran's exit, Tamil obstruction to a negotiated settlement has been
removed. But the obstacles to this among Sinhalese - Sinhala-Buddhist
chauvinists, the military and Rajapaksa's hardline regime - continue to exist
and have emerged stronger from the war.
If and when Rajapaksa opens negotiations with the Tamils, the latter will be in
a weak position, weakened not only by the absence of the LTTE but also
undermined by it. The LTTE systematically decimated a generation of Tamil
moderate leaders and intellectuals. The input of people like Neelan Tiruchelvam
and Ketesh Loganathan, intellectuals who were assassinated by the LTTE for
daring to differ with its methods, will be sorely missed.
The LTTE, which waged a war ostensibly to protect Tamils, has left them more
vulnerable than ever before.