Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Sri Lanka’s 2009 triumph over terrorism misinterpreted




By Shamindra Ferdinando

Those who had implicit faith in the LTTE’s prowess never envisaged a negotiated political settlement. They always endorsed solutions proposed by the LTTE on the basis the group can never be militarily defeated, therefore an agreement on its terms is a necessity. They strongly believed in the invincibility of the LTTE, one of those Indian sponsored terrorist groups operational since early 80s.

A section of the media, too, repeatedly reinforced the theory that the LTTE had the wherewithal to withstand the Army under any circumstances. The media propagated that the combined armed forces lacked the capacity to conduct large scale operations, simultaneously, on multiple fronts to bring the LTTE to its knees. They expressed confidence in a massive LTTE counter attack in late Dec 2008 before the government liberated Kilinochchi in early Jan 2009.

Eradication of the LTTE had never been seriously considered as a solution by the UNP and the SLFP until Velupillai Prabhakaran took on Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006. Newly appointed Defence Secretary, Gajaba Regiment veteran Gotabhaya Rajapaksa spearheaded meticulous efforts to militarily defeat the enemy. On a number of occasions, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa explained that a negotiated settlement would never be a reality as long as the LTTE believed in its capability to achieve objectives through war. Rajapaksa told top Norwegian delegation on April 6, 2006 in Colombo that ethnic and political problems in Sri Lanka could be solved by military means. What Rajapaksa really meant was the national issue couldn’t be resolved as long as the LTTE retained its military capability. Although the LTTE’s defeat paved the way for direct talks between the government and the TNA, the latter sabotaged negotiations by following the LTTE’s path.

LTTE-TNA coalition

At the behest of the LTTE, R. Sampanthan led Tamil National Alliance recognized the former in Oct 2001 as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The TNA remained in LTTE’s ‘captivity’ until the armed forces brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Had President Mahinda Rajapaksa succumbed to Western pressure and called off the offensive in early 2009, the TNA would have remained Prabhakaran’s proxy. That is the undeniable truth.

MR’s efforts to reach consensus with LTTE

Having secured the presidency at Nov 2005 polls thanks to the LTTE depriving UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe the northern Tamil vote, President Rajapaksa, too, has been initially hesitant to face the LTTE challenge and sought various ways and means of reaching a consensus with the group. President Rajapaksa sought to initiate a dialogue with the LTTE through one-time Norwegian funded NGO guru Dr Kumar Rupesinghe. President Rajapaksa also requested assistance of head of Seva Lanka Foundation Harsha Kumara Navaratne to establish direct contact with the LTTE. The LTTE spurned both offers as it felt inexperienced Rajapaksa can be easily overwhelmed.

President Rajapaksa went to the extent of having talks with the LTTE in Geneva twice under the auspices of the Norwegians in 2006 even after Prabhakaran resumed hostilities.

Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP explained to the writer in late July 2010 how the LTTE had planned to overwhelm President Rajapaksa at the onset of the eelam war IV. None of those who had been shedding crocodile tears for the Tamil community dared to request the Prabhakaran not to quit the negotiating table in April 2003. Prabhakaran withdrew from Norway led talks that month to pave the way for then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to call early general election. Having helped the TNA to take control of the Northern and Eastern electoral districts at April 2004 general election, the LTTE ordered the Tamil community to prepare for final war. The LTTE’s Vanni leadership had been so confident that it could defeat the government in spite of unprecedented split caused by Karuna in early 2004.

The LTTE resumed eelam war in Aug 2006 with multi pronged simultaneous offensives in the northern and eastern theaters. The enemy furiously engaged the Army on both fronts for several weeks until the government managed to bring the situation under control.

In early Oct 2006, the Army suffered a debilitating setback on the northern front at Muhamalai. Although, Muhamalai offensive went awry with catastrophic results, the Army bounced back within weeks. The ground offensive would never have succeeded if the Navy and the Air Force failed. The Navy and Air Force provided significant support to the overall campaign in addition to their independent strategic actions that caused severe damage to the LTTE.

The LTTE was brought to its knees in two years and ten months on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

Post-war politics; Fonseka factor (May 24, 2017) dealt with contentious issue of Sri Lanka’s right to annually celebrate LTTE’s annihilation with a spectacular armed forces victory parade. The writer’s assertion that there couldn’t be any dispute over Sri Lanka’s right to continue with annual Victory Day Parade received mixed reactions. Those who had been opposed to victory day parade propagated the lie that such an annual event severely undermined post-war national reconciliation process.

Perhaps, the Tamil lobby may soon demand cancellation of annual military-led events at a memorial at Palaly for Indian Army personnel killed in Sri Lanka fighting the LTTE. The long-forgotten memorial inside the Palaly high security zone was built in 2012. The memorial pays homage to 33 men of the Indian elite special forces, the 10 Para Regiment, who were cremated there. It comprises seven structures and has the names of all the soldiers.

Sri Lanka maintains another monument for the Indian Army near Parliament at Pelawatte. Indian leaders have paid floral tributes at the memorial. Sri Lanka should earn the respect of the international community for maintaining memorials for those Indian officers and men killed in battles here with Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists. India lost 1,200 officers and men while over 3,000 received injuries. Interestingly, India never put up a memorial for them and those who commanded the ill-fated mission here, too, never demanded that those who fought the LTTE on Sri Lankan soil should be honoured with a monument in India.

Daya Gamage, the author of Tamil Tigers’ Debt To America challenged the writer’s assertion in respect of Victory Day Parade.

In a piece titled Sri Lanka facing consequences of ‘Victory Parades- Triumphalism’, Gamage faulted the writer for asserting the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)-led Tamil National Alliance, foreign-funded civil society organizations, as well as a section of the international community resented the Victory Day parade as they believed such celebrations hurt the feelings of the Tamil speaking people.

Gamage also questioned the writer’s observation that those who were opposed to victory day parade acknowledged the LTTE and consisted of almost all Tamil speaking Sri Lankans hell-bent on driving out the Army from the Northern Province.’ Gamage blamed the Rajapaksas style of post war governance for influential diaspora elements creating an environment overseas hostile to Sri Lanka. Subsequently, Gamage issued a clarification in respect of Sri Lanka facing consequences of ‘Victory Parades- Triumphalism following contrary views expressed by various others.

There is absolutely no point in denying the fact that the LTTE as well as about six other terrorist groups sponsored by India in early 80s consisted of entirely Tamils. That is the undeniable truth. Driving the military out of the Jaffna peninsula had been their dream and they relentlessly pursued that objective though the peninsula was brought under government control in 1996, a few years after Indian Army pulled out of Sri Lanka. Even eight years after the LTTE’s defeat, the TNA, civil society as well as a section of the international community had been pushing for further reduction of military presence in the Northern Province. Of course, some Sinhalese, including some in police as well as armed forces had been on the LTTE’s payroll and provided crucial support to LTTE intelligence.

If Gamage genuinely felt that the ITAK-led TNA, foreign funded civil society organizations and a section of the international community had no issue with Sri Lanka having Victory Day Parade, why on earth Yahapalana rulers cancelled the 2015 event. Gamage has conveniently refrained from commenting on Canadian High Commissioner Shelly Whiting’s 2014 demand that Sri Lanka should stop military celebrations.

Different kind of celebration

Having cancelled the Victory Day Parade, the government organized a cultural spectacle, ‘Sanhindiyawai – Sangrama Shakthiyayi’, on June 14 at the Independence Square to celebrate Sri Lanka triumph over the LTTE and post-war developments. For some reason yahapalana government celebrated the restoration of GSP plus facility denied to Sri Lanka in 2010. The EU move was meant to pressure the Rajapaksa administration. Those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE resorted to various tactics to undermine the war winning government. The British went out of their way to harass Sri Lanka to appease UK nationals of Sri Lankan origin. The British turned a blind eye to the LTTE issuing statements from UK regarding its operations. The British gave the LTTE a free hand. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, the world got to know about how UK played politics with the Sri Lankan conflict.

Gamage also found fault with the writer for describing nearly 30-year-old conflict as a war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Whatever the explanation and positions articulated by various parties, the fighting had been between the majority community and minority Tamils. The writer had absolutely no reason to describe the conflict in any other term than one between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The vast majority of the Muslim community threw their weight behind the Sinhalese. Muslim youth joined the armed forces, faithfully served the intelligence services and essentially supported the war against the LTTE. The LTTE drove the Muslims out of the Northern Province in Oct-Nov 1990.

The 1971 and 1987-1990 insurrections divided the Sinhala community with the JVP comprised almost 99.9 Sinhalese Buddhists challenging the hugely Sinhala Buddhist dominated armed forces.

It would be pertinent to keep in mind that Tamils, too, contributed to the LTTE’s defeat. Those Indian sponsored Tamil groups namely TELO, PLOTE, EPDP and EPRLF which had been militarily weakened by the LTTE in the late 80s were recruited by the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa. They proved useful. At the behest of the LTTE, the then UNP-led UNF government disarmed them in accordance with Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement signed in Feb 2002. Whatever the so called Tamil lobby here and abroad propagated, the US and European powers fully comprehended the extreme danger posed by the LTTE and the world’s solitary superpower provided required intelligence to Sri Lanka Navy in 2007 to hunt down floating LTTE arsenals in international waters. Let me stress that it was a personal achievement for the then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda whose determined leadership proved crucial in eelam war IV.

Sri Lanka’s right to celebrate her victory over the LTTE with a Victory Day Parade shouldn’t have been a domestic or an external issue. Tamil lobby here and abroad easily succeeded in convincing the US and other European powers that Tamils living in the Northern Province felt conquered. Tamil lobby succeeded because they (Western powers) wanted to exploit the situation and use that lie to create an environment to undermine the Rajapaksa administration. The EU decision to do away with the GSP plus facility in early 2010 as well as prohibition of fish exports to EU member states in January 2015 were meant to undermine President Rajapaksa. Western powers cleverly exploited the post-war resentment expressed by the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to form a coalition capable of ousting the Rajapaksasa.

Australia took a different position, at least publicly in respect of post-war Sri Lanka due to its close relationship with war winning government. Australian stand here is largely influenced by bilateral partnership aimed at halting would be illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka.

US backing for SF

In spite of calling war winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka a ‘war criminal’ in January 2010, the US embassy in Colombo worked overtime to arrange a coalition to ensure Fonseka’s victory at January 2010 polls. The US played an important role in forming the coalition. Sri Lanka certainly benefited from the exposure of confidential US diplomatic cables originating from Colombo. Unfortunately, the Rajapaksa administration never bothered to examine those cables, thereby lost chance to exploit them. The US guaranteed the TNA support to Fonseka. Although, the US-led plan went awry in January 2010, almost identical project succeeded in January 2015 to oust President Rajapaksa. It would be pertinent to keep in mind that then staunch Rajapaksa loyalist Maithripala Sirisena had held the defence portfolio at a crucial stage of the final battle (May, 2009 third week) on the Vanni east front where unsubstantiated accusations were made in respect of battlefield executions.

Gamage asserted that the Rajapaksas had failed to ‘emotionally connect to the Tamil people in the North’ following the annihilation of the LTTE and the Tamil lobby succeeded in convincing the US and other Western powers Tamil people in the North felt conquered. Had the Tamil community really felt conquered and overwhelmed by military presence in the Northern Province, they wouldn’t have exercised their franchise in support of General Fonseka. All northern and eastern districts overwhelmingly voted for Gen Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at 2010 and 2015 presidential polls.

In January 2010, Tamils voted for Fonseka amidst widespread wild allegations that the armed forces had massacred over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front and substantial number of LTTE cadres executed. Whatever the TNA leadership said, northern Tamils wouldn’t have voted for Gen. Fonseka if they really resented him and held him accountable for civilian deaths.

The US exploited the situation to get rid of President Rajapaksa due to his growing post-war relationship with China. This should be examined against the backdrop of US-India-Japan partnership against China. Let me emphasize that US regime change project hadn’t been influenced by the previous government response to the Tamil community.

The US nor TNA never explained the circumstances under which they backed Gen. Fonseka at 2010 presidential poll. The civil society, too, never asked why Sri Lanka’s best Army Commander was backed against the war winning Commander-in-Chief.

Those Sinhalese who still believed Tamils felt conquered in the wake of the LTTE’s defeat in may 2009 should peruse Subramanium Sivagami alias ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata (In the Shadow of a Sharp Sword), the Sinhala translation of Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil. Thamilini intimately dealt with the final phase of the war on the Vanni east front. Thamilini’s memoirs launched after her death due to cancer in Oct 2015 depicted the miserable situation caused by the LTTE.

In fact, the writer sought an explanation from top lawyer Kandiah Neelakandan,  President of the All Ceylon Hindu Congress during a ceremony in Vavuniya in the run up to January 2010 presidential poll how he felt Tamils having to choose between Gen Fonseka and President Rajapaksa whose political leadership made Sri Lanka’s victory possible. President Rajapaksa was there to personally release some rehabilitated LTTE cadres and top ACHC representatives were among those invited to participate at the event. Neelakandan acknowledged paradox of the situation. The then Minister Milinda Moragoda played a pivotal role in securing the support of the ACHC in a bid to dispel fears among the Tamil community that those who had surrendered and captured on the Vanni front were to be executed.

The Rajapaksa administration paid a very heavy price for not countering lies. The previous government squandered massive amount of taxpayers money on ‘media projects’ both here and abroad. Those who had received public funds lacked knowledge and the expertise to counter propaganda though they continued to deceive the government until the very end in January 2015.