Monday, 13 August 2012

An irrevocable miscalculation

War on terror revisited: Part 13


By Shamindra Ferdinando

UNP Chairman, Malik Samarawickrema lambasted the LTTE for engineering the defeat of UNP presidential election candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2005. The staunch Wickremesinghe loyalist alleged that the LTTE had deprived the UNP leader of a certain victory by preventing Tamil speaking people living in areas under LTTE control from exercising their franchise. Had there been an ali-koti givisuma (an agreement between Elephants (UNP)and Tigers) as alleged by the UPFA, the LTTE would never have caused Wickremesinghe’s downfall (LTTE action belies ali-koti pact––The Island of Nov 21, 2005).

Mahinda Rajapaksha polled 4,887,152 (50.29%), whereas Ranil Wickramasinghe obtained 4,706,366 (48.43%).

Wickremesinghe never commented publicly on the LTTE move, which helped the then PM to defeat him by 180,786 votes.

Responding to queries raised by The Island, Samarawickrema asserted that Wickremesinghe expected approximately 450,000 votes from the Northern and Eastern Provinces. According to him, the UNP anticipated about 70 per cent of the total number of votes polled by LTTE proxy, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) at the April 2, 2004 parliamentary polls.

Samarawickrema said that he couldn’t understand why the LTTE and the TNA had undermined Wickremesinghe’s presidential bid.

Milinda under fire

At the first meeting of the decision making Working Committee (WC) following the Nov 17, 2005 poll, Milinda Moragoda was accused of prompting the LTTE decision. Moragoda, who had been a key member of Wickremesinghe’s negotiating team for talks with the LTTE consequent to the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) reached on Feb 23, 2002 (Hot air at Sirikotha over LTTE polls boycott order––The Island of Dec 1, 2005). A section of the WC alleged that Moragoda’s interpretation of the split caused by Karuna in March 2004, as a UNP achievement had irked Prabhakaran.

Moragoda also declared that the Navy had been able to sink two LTTE ships carrying arms, ammunition and equipment in March and June 2003 with the support of international intelligence agencies. He dismissed UPFA allegation that Wickremesinghe was planning to downsize the military.

(Dr. John Gooneratne, who served in the Peace Secretariat from Jan 2002 to May 2006 told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission[(LLRC]in Sept 2010 in that the CFA had come into operation on Feb 23, 2002, though many believed it happened Feb 21, 2002).

Wickremesinghe prevented the WC continuing the discussion as Moragoda was being crucified for destroying his political career.

TNA leader, R. Sampanthan told The Island on the night of Nov 15, 2005 that the decision taken on Nov 9, 2005 at Kilinochchi to boycott the election would remain. Speaking from Trincomalee, the veteran politician claimed that nothing worthwhile could be achieved by supporting either of the two leading candidates. Both Sampanthan and Batticaloa District MP Joseph Pararajasingham said that Tamil speaking people weren’t at all interested in the Nov 17 poll. (TNA refuses to change polls boycott stance––The Island of Nov 16, 2005).

A few days before the polls, TNA MP Sivajilingham told the state-owned ITN that persistent Opposition claims that a victory for then PM Rajapaksa would lead to an imminent outbreak of large scale hostilities was baseless.

Why did the LTTE undermine Wickremesinghe’s presidential bid?

On the day of the polls, CWC heavyweight R. Yogarajan said that Wickremesinghe could still beat Rajapaksa comfortably in spite of the LTTE move (LTTE boycott will not deny Ranil victory––The Island Nov 18, 2005 issue)

Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) publicly condemned the LTTE move. He regretted that those living in the Northern and Eastern Provinces had been deprived of their right to exercise universal franchise. Speaking on behalf of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), he alleged that the CMEV had received information that the LTTE had prevented people from crossing the Muhamalai and Omanthai entry/exit points to cast their votes at cluster polling booths. (LTTE move gives PM edge over Ranil – The Island Nov 18, 2005).

Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council (NPC) asserted that the LTTE may have backed Premier Rajapaksa as it would have been easier to negotiate with him once he was elected President. Perera said that the LTTE may have feared that Wickremesinghe would be able to bring international pressure on the group or may be the LTTE didn’t want the two provinces to vote for a Sinhala candidate (LTTE move gives PM edge over Ranil––The Island of Nov 18, 2005).

LTTE prefers MR

It would be pertinent to study the circumstances under which the LTTE had ordered the TNA to abandon Wickremesinghe. Although the TNA felt that the decision was wrong and could help Rajapaksa win the poll, it realized the LTTE strategy. Prabhakaran probably felt that he could deal relatively easily with an inexperienced Rajapaksa troubled by an internal strife of the SLFP. The LTTE also believed that the new President wouldn’t receive the much needed international assistance needed It felt supremely confident of a swift and decisive military campaign, which could immobilize the military in two years. One-time chief of LTTE procurement, Kumaran Pathmanathan alias ‘KP’ in his first interview with The Island, after his extradition from Malaysia, had entertained such an idea. The LTTE believed that it had the wherewithal to achieve its military objectives.

Prabhakaran had been ready to launch eelam war IV in early August, 2005. The LTTE would never have ordered the assassination of then Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar on August 12, 2005 without being fully prepared to initiate a large scale offensive of its own. The group obviously believed that it had the conventional fighting capability regardless of the Karuna split.

The GoSL pushed the EU to proscribe the LTTE in the wake of the Kadirgamar assassination. Instead of listing the group as a terrorist organization, the EU imposed a travel ban on LTTE representatives visiting member states. The announcement was made on Sept 26, 2005. But the group was allowed to visit any other country (EU travel ban falls far short of Lanka’s plea––The Island of Sept 30, 2005). The LTTE insisted that the EU action wasn’t acceptable. It warned the GoSL would have to face the consequences unless Norway persuaded the EU to lift travel restrictions (LTTE front warns: Lift EU ban or face war––The Island Oct 10, 2005). Interestingly, the threat was made by the Jaffna University Students Union.

Silence of IC

Had the international community taken tangible action following the Kadirgamar assassination, the LTTE wouldn’t have dared engineer Wickremesinghe’s defeat at the presidential poll to pave the way for war. Instead, the LTTE was allowed to pursue its strategies both here and abroad. In the wake of the EU travel ban, the LTTE demanded recognition by the EU, while ordering the Tamil Diaspora to organize protests in Brussels on Oct 24, 2005 in support of its move. The LTTE refused to acknowledge that the travel ban had been imposed consequent to Kadirgamar assassination.

The LTTE operated on the premise that whatever the consequences of its strategy, it had to be pursed.

The UNP leader had the support of all, including then President Kumaratunga and her brother, Anura Bandaranaike. The NGO community loved Wickremesinghe, whereas Rajapaksa was portrayed as a hardliner, whose ascendency to executive authority could set the stage for eelam war IV.

Had the LTTE not interfered in the electoral process, the outcome could have been different. The Opposition candidate had the support of the US, with US based influential Sri Lankan having Senators, Joseph Biden Jr and John McCain move a bipartisan resolution, if released ahead of the poll in its original form, could have caused serious damage to Rajapaksa’s presidential bid.

The resolution referring to Sinhala extremist parties had been made in the context of the JVP and JHU throwing their weight behind Rajapaksa. The resolution also made a reference to ‘non-democratic foreign powers’. Citing the threat posed by Sinhala extremists and ‘non-democratic foreign powers’, the two Senators called for international intervention in Sri Lanka’s electoral process. They obviously failed to realize that the LTTE’s game plan was very different from what was pursued by the UNP and its international supporters.

The US-led Western powers obviously felt that the resolution of Sri Lanka’s conflict primarily depended on victory for Wickremesinghe at the Nov poll. The SLMC and the CWC, too, endorsed this position. They considered Rajapaksa an impediment and believed that his victory at the poll could derail the peace process. Only the LTTE-TNA combination changed its stand at the eleventh hour, much to the surprise of the UNP leadership.

As the then UNP Chairman Samarawickrema pointed out, Wickremesinghe’s success hinged on the Tamil vote. In fact, the LTTE must have discouraged even those living in areas outside the Northern and Eastern Provinces from voting for Wickremesinghe.

UNP Deputy Gen. Secretary, Tissa Attanayake accused the government of being silent on the LTTE polls boycott move. Dr. Jayalath Jayawardana alleged that Rajapaksa had benefited from the LTTE move. (Govt. tight –lipped on LTTE terror on polls day––The Island of Nov 23, 2005). What Attanayake and Jayawardana did not realize was that the LTTE manipulated the electoral process to help the candidate who it thought could be tackled easily. The LTTE underestimated the Rajapaksas, particularly the newly elected leader bringing in his younger brother, Gotabhaya as the Defence Secretary in place of Maj. Gen. Asoka Jayawardene (New Def. Secy –The Island of Nov 23, 2005).

The international community, particularly Norway and the UNP, never bothered to examine the LTTE-TNA action ahead of the presidential poll. Although the UNP in response to The Island queries expressed the need on the part of the EU to take action against the LTTE, it never pressed for international action targeting the LTTE. Norway remained silent on the issue. An expensive post-war examination conducted by Norway never bothered to delve into the LTTE strategy as well as Norway’s response as the facilitator (UNP seeks EU action against polls-day LTTE terror: Norwegians keep mum––The Island of Nov 24, 2005).

The LTTE was never asked to explain its decision to deprive Wickremesinghe of the Tamil vote.

The UK presidency of the EU, while congratulating the newly elected President said: "We deeply regret reports that people in the Northern and Eastern Provinces were prevented from exercising their democratic right to vote by the actions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam."

The former Austrian Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, while regretting the LTTE move, said: "This is in complete contradiction with our repeated calls that they should allow for greater pluralism and democracy in the Northern and Eastern Provinces."

No probe

The civil society should inquire into the circumstances under which the LTTE created what it believed was an environment conducive to an all out attack on the government. In hindsight, the LTTE strategy was simple. It intended to provoke the new President to quit the CFA by launching a series of devastating attacks on the military. The LTTE was of the opinion that the President was more likely to respond to attacks on the military than the assassination of individuals. The LTTE also realized that the JVP and the JVP, which supported Rajapaksa’s campaign, would insist on a military response, regardless of the consequences. The LTTE thinking should be examined on the basis of its readiness for an all-out war by August 2005. The LTTE needed an excuse to launch an offensive. The JVP and JHU believed the President would retaliate as soon as the LTTE targeted the army. Much to the surprise of those who believed in the President resorting to arms in the wake of LTTE attacks, the government acted patiently. In spite of all provocations, President Rajapaksa delayed a conventional military response, though intelligence services were allowed to maximize the LTTE split. A surprised LTTE leadership gradually stepped up pressure on the government. The LTTE felt that the President would have no option but to take up the challenge and hence pave the way for multi-pronged assaults simultaneously on the Eastern and Northern provinces. But the President didn’t go on the offensive till August/September 2006, though limited military action was set in motion subsequent to the closure of Mavilaru anicut in June/July 2006.