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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

The Rajapakse Strategy

By Geoffrey Evarts

When the Tsunami struck on the 26th December 2004, Sri Lanka’s then President Chandrika Kumaratunge was out of the country on a private visit, effectively rendering the country’s normally inept authorities leaderless and floundering in the face of a catastrophe of horrific proportions. Even by 10am/12noon on that fateful Boxing day, the authorities were largely unable to establish contact with the affected areas due to the break down of electronic communication as well as the access roads to these areas being blocked and filled with debris.

Into this doomsday scenario, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse stepped in and quietly but firmly took control and gave leadership to the foundering wheels of the rescue effort. First and foremost, the Prime Minister identified that access and communication had to be re-established to the affected areas. Hence Rajapakse ordered the security forces to clear the roads and reach the affected areas by any means possible. Galvanized into action, forces personnel began commandeering bulldozers and other such equipment from wherever they could get their hands on (with the nod of the prime-minister) despite the howls of protest by private companies, whose equipment had to be hurriedly requisitioned for this purpose. The Prime Minister also personally commandeered an Air Force helicopter and was shuttling from affected area to affected area giving guidance, leadership and orders for the rescue and relief effort.

(And in the middle of all this, journalists calling the Prime Ministers mobile phone expecting an aide to answer the phone were surprised that it was the PM himself who answered the phone and briefed journo’s on the ongoing situation, while modestly declining any offers of publicity!)

Meanwhile, CBK arrived back to the island in a hurry, grabbed the Prime Ministers ongoing efforts from him, and unashamedly took the political kudos that was deserved to Rajapakse, who never protested or spoke against CBK for robbing praise deserved to him. This chain of events went largely unnoticed by the general public, but not by us reporters who were monitoring the situation at the outset.

The rest of course, is history.

Going for the jugular of the core problems

These actions point out a few traits of Rajapakse which is even now used by him in his Presidency. Firstly, Rajapakse would identify the core problems and barriers of the issue and then go for the jugular vein of these core problems - while trampling a few toes in the process. This was clearly shown in the Tsunami aftermath, when Rajapakse quickly identified the core problem as being access and communication to the affected areas, and gave the security forces the go ahead to commandeer the necessary equipment from wherever obtainable (Even if it were from the construction sites of powerful and influential foreign or multinational companies) and clear the roads ASAP. Meanwhile, food stocks and other essentials were requisitioned by hook or by crook (on Rajapakse’s orders) and also sent to these areas within a short space of time of these roads being cleared. This shows Rajapakse’s single minded determination in achieving a goal, in order to solve a problem, regardless of the consequences.

Similarly, once Rajapakse ascended to the Presidency, he identified the core barrier to lasting peace in Sri Lanka as being – surprise, surprise - the Prabhakaran led LTTE. Hence, (after a superficial show of giving peace talks a chance) he made it his primary objective to destroy this obstacle by any means necessary. In order to achieve this, Rajapakse knew that he would have to;

A) Revamp the Military leadership with super-achieving officers. Cut off the tentacles of politics that had crept into the military (while maintaining his hold on the Military through his brother, the Defence Secretary). Give the military whatever resources and decision making powers they needed to destroy the LTTE.

B) Buy time for the military to achieve their goal, by building a political power base that will see him in power until this goal is achieved - instead of suddenly getting kicked out of power and leaving a job half done.

Hence, Rajapakse began stepping on toes again. Once Rajapakse revamped the military hierarchy (which was the easier of his two tasks), he began treading the political path of the Sinhala Nationalist. Being the crafty political strategist that he is, Rajapakse realized that if he plays to the patriotic sentiment of the majority Sinhalese in a war situation, he has the best chance of retaining power until the military goal is achieved. Hence his wooing of the JVP and the JHU. Not stopping there, Rajapakse used his political know-how, earthy charm and the financial resources of the state to buy, beg, borrow and steal parliamentarians (who could be bought for the price of a ministry) from the opposition in order to reinforce his power base.

The Military situation

The ground situation in the North & East shows that the Rajapakse strategy is successfully going according to plan. The Tigers are militarily vulnerable as never before.

- The Tigers are being starved of re-supplies of military hardware by the SL Navy and thereby its ability to wage conventional warfare is ruined. Tiger artillery and heavy ammunition stocks are said to be in short supply and used sparingly. It is also reported that the LTTE is short of items such as uniforms, boots and even food in some areas.

- The Tigers are increasingly losing the support of its civilian base in the Wanni, as Prabha’s men have had to resort to forcible conscription from almost the whole Wanni population in order to refill the LTTE’s depleted ranks, and plug the gaps in Tiger defences. In the old days, depleted LTTE ranks were replenished by eastern Tamils, but now this is (obviously) not happening.

- Reports from the Wanni state that the LTTE has gone completely underground and is reverting back to guerrilla mode, as their ability to face a conventional battle is being increasingly compromised, and Air force attacks are a constant threat to Tiger movements.

- Prabhakaran in desperation is also resorting to terror tactics in order to get the military top brass to redeploy fighting formations and overstretch the Army’s human resources. However, this strategy is also counterproductive to Prabhakaran, as the targeting of civilians isolates the LTTE from its international backers, and pushes the Tigers back into the Terrorist bracket in the International community’s “war on terror”.

- The army’s elite Deep Penetration Units are giving Prabha a taste of his own medicine by targeting LTTE VIP movements through Claymore and IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) attacks deep inside Tiger territory.

- The SLAF is also continuously maintaining round-the-clock surveillance of guerrilla areas (via UAV’s) in order to bomb any Tiger positions that show its nose from the Air.

- The government has purchased new stocks of state-of-the-art military hardware (Brand new artillery guns, ample stocks of ammunition, UAV’s for the Air Force, mobile MBRL’s etc) and has fully restocked military supplies in preparation for the impending heavy battles that are planned after the monsoon season ends.

- The army has also evolved an innovative tactic of constantly attacking the LTTE forward defence lines and bunker outposts (I.e. a war of attrition), thereby wearing the Tigers down and making Prabhakaran waste valuable material and human resources to maintain his borders of control.

The obstacles to this strategy

The main opponents to the Rajapakse Strategy are the moderate Sri Lankans (Sinhala and Tamil alike), who are pushing for a political solution. The moderates understand that if the Tamils are not offered a dignified solution and the current war is portrayed as a Sinhala victory over the Tamils, the ethnic issue will continue. These moderates are half-heartedly backed by the main opposition United National Party, who has to be mindful of its weakened southern-Sinhala political vote bank while also backing the moderates.

Rajapakse knows - and has acknowledged - that a dignified political solution is a must for a lasting end to the problem. Experts on the ethnic conflict have pointed out that if a political solution that is dignified to the Tamils is not implemented, another carbon copy of Prabhakaran would raise its head from the brow-beaten Tamil community in the future once again. However, until the LTTE is defeated, Rajapakse has to be seen thwarting any attempts at “dividing the country” in order to appease the Sinhala Nationalistic elements which prop up his regime.

Another huge obstacle Rajapakse has to contend with is the burgeoning cost of living. The average Sri Lankan has to resort to buying milk powder by the grams and coconuts by the halves and still not be able to make ends meet. And it is harder for the commoner to stomach (excuse the pun) when obese politicians whiz past in the air conditioned comfort of their super luxury vehicles.

It should also be pointed out that the LTTE should not be written off as a spent military force as yet. Only a fool would underestimate Velupillai Prabhakaran at this stage. Over the years, Prabha has shown himself to be a brilliant military strategist who could turn the tables with a few genius strokes. It also won’t help the Rajapakse cause if an overconfident Military lets down its guard (as shown in the recent Anuradhapura airbase debacle) and allows the Tigers to “fly under the radar” and pull off spectacular victories. Also, any military push towards Kilinochchi is bound to cost a heavy toll in human lives - security forces, civilians and LTTE cadres alike.

And like EPDP leader Douglas Devananda pointed out, even if the military succeeds in securing the whole island under government control, the cancer will not be rooted out as long as Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman are alive.

The Negative Aspects of the Rajapakse Strategy

The Rajapakse strategy bought about a radical change to the public image of Mahinda Rajapakse. People who once knew Rajapakse as a Human Rights activist and a champion of trade union and minority rights saw that man disappear, and up rose a Sinhala nationalist hawk who seems to be championing a cause of Sinhala supremacy and “dharmarajya”. This has helped the LTTE propaganda machine no end to portray the ongoing conflict as a war against the Tamil community.

Meanwhile, the doors opened up for political opportunists to exploit the delicate balance of power for their own gain. Bribery and corruption are running rampant. Wastage of state resources goes unchecked. Parliamentarians demand no less than a ministry to support the Rajapakse strategy. Human rights abuses are being tolerated to a certain degree. Meritocracy has been dealt a mortal blow. Moderates and honest politicians within the Government (such as the Bandaranaike clan, Dilan Perera, Wijedasa Rajapakse, Dr. Sarath Amunugama etc) are being sidelined, isolated and suppressed. Other moderates (such as GL Peiris and Milinda Moragoda – the initial advocates of Federalism) have compromised on their principles for power. The Islands prestigious international standing is being compromised. And last but not least (by far), the economy is taking a severe beating with the cost of living rising to horrendous proportions.

On the bright side

However, it is a possibility that once Rajapakse achieves his main objectives of destroying Prabhakarans’ LTTE, he will end the political façade, and revert back to his real self - which is that of a champion of human rights, minority communities and workers, as well as being a charming man able to mingle amongst the commoners with ease.

Once (and if) he reverts back to his real humane self, the political pillars of “Rajapakse the Sinhala Nationalist” would crumble and collapse. And not unlike what happened to Winston Churchill after the Second World War, Rajapakse is likely to fall from grace.

- Asian Tribune -

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