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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2371

Lalin's Column : SL’s Conflict. Who is to blame?

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

ars operate on 3 levels distinct yet interlocking: The political, the strategic and the tactical. They are undertaken by political leaders in pursuit of a goal. The goal determines strategy, an overall plan based on military means available and the means available to the enemy.

The strategy shapes tactics, the orders given and the operations launched where gun confronts gun and soldier (Appuhamy) confronts insurgent cadre (Ponnuswamy) who never knew or had any hatred of each other.

They are brought to a spot unknown to them ever before, do not see the other’s face but finally blow each others’ brains out. If SL’s conflict has so often seemed mysterious or even senseless to be ascribed to blind accident or blind fate in its outbreak and its course, it is precisely because it bore little resemblance to this neat and academic model.

As an instrument of policy, war can serve any number of variously defined goals: protecting endangered territory, acquiring desired territory, reducing the power of a rival or neighbor and so on. But the point is that the goal must be defined.

Prussian General Clausewitz’s dictum that “war is a continuation of politics by other means” is sometimes invoked as if it licensed politicians to declare war whenever tempers fray and the normal processes of pressure, negotiation and diplomacy do not answer. In fact it means just the opposite. War has to have a goal that war can achieve and only war can achieve: we should hardly need Clausewitz’s reminder that it is “always a serious means for a serious object”

Did Tinnevelly provide such a goal? Was there a spirit of political realism? If it was the spark what and where exactly was the powder keg ignited? Was the potential for war built up? Even if the necessary conditions had been met, neither economic conditions nor protection of land seemed to demand war and war alone. Were there precise aims? Were differences in the cabinet not brought out in the open? There were strident calls for battle as neither flexibility nor silence reigned. Politicians were intransigent. The public were misled. As death tolls climbed there were no expressions of sorrow, reluctance or consistency. War hysteria, inflammatory propaganda, powerful and savage extremism, shock and rhetoric filled the void.

President Kumaratunga at a Temple Trees conference with retired Commanders and General officers of the Armed Forces presumably awoke to this reality in April 2000 when Elephant Pass was lost. She had been in office for 6 years. She placed the blame on the military. It took a lesser General of the Armoured Corps to politely but squarely refute her. Lacking credibility and sincerity, habitually and exasperatingly naïve, Kumaratunga was clearly incapable of changing course. Playing musical chairs with incompetents in higher command in the Army remained the constant and tragic response of Presidents and Prime Ministers. It prolonged the nation’s agony until a new President took over in 2006.

JR Jayewardene declared war with a light heart. Premadasa, Wickemasinghe and Kumaratunga were only too ready to appease the LTTE, the latter two with delusionary dreams of winning either western, Norwegian or Nobel Prize awards or rewards. The deaths and injuries to troops and civilians in thousands at a time left SL’s leaders stupefied.

In 1990 while a mockery of ‘peace’ talks were being played out, 600 policemen ordered to surrender by a criminal aberration of Premadasa’s government, were butchered. The policemen ordered to dig their own graves were murdered in Nazi SS Babi Yar style (Kiev 1942) as a sacrifice to safe guard the charade of ‘peace talks’ being held in Colombo. All Tamil policemen were spared. Was a genocidal plan unmasked?

The LTTE terrorists believed ‘war was the cradle of a nation’. It would unhappily also become its grave. It murdered to get unity. The LTTE wanted to bomb and shoot all Sinhalese and stab their women and babies too. Their norms of conduct it was said, required that for one LTTE shot, a dozen or more Sinhalese or Muslim civilians were to be killed, hideously. Peace terms offered 4 times were unilaterally and criminally breached. The LTTE’s ally the DMK of Tamil Nadu financed it. The DMK also inveigled India to train and equip its cadres. In 1987 Indian forces invaded SL, committed war crimes and bugged out, leaving 1,200 killed by the LTTE it had trained. Tamil Nadu barred wounded IPKF soldiers from its hospitals.SL built a monument to the IPKF dead. India has none.

The LTTE was finally and totally destroyed in May 2009. It was not left to be a wounded animal. It was swamped as in a tsunami. While Prabakaran and the overseas Tamils vaingloriously vowed the LTTE would not surrender, the LTTE covertly beseeched USA, UK and France, the WW1 Entente, for an escape plan. They planned and threatened to impose an armistice in SL. Was Germany to fault for the outbreak of war in 1914 or was it France that wanted to avenge 1870? Whose fault was it in SL in its 26-year-old conflict?

If the demands of the reborn WW1 ‘Entente’ had been allowed, the LTTE would not only have escaped it’s just and deserved fate but could after a while declare, like Germany under Hitler, that it was never defeated. The consequences could have been catastrophic. Prabakaran would have been ‘reconciling’ all to his methods and systems in periodic and sudden blood baths without end. Was not India, fighting secession in many states, relieved?

Fortunately SL had an audacious President in 2006. He had the traditional bullies; the world’s then most powerful, holding a gun to his head. He saw them off. For the first time the nation and the people mattered more than the survival of a politician.

Calls to surrender were not responded to. Prabakaran had been led to believe the West would mount a rescue operation to get at least the LTTE leaders out and a parole for his cadres. The purpose was not difficult to understand. Resistance prolonged the inevitable, predicted but sudden end. SL’s overwhelming fire power was severely constricted until 300,000 civilian hostages used as human shields were able to escape into Army held land. Neither the UN nor any western government had ever prepared, cared or looked after so many displaced better and in record time.

For most of 26 years the LTTE fought SL, IPKF and SL again. Having destroyed other rebel groups it had no ally and was isolated. It had only one identity that of the cyanide capsule tied round their necks. Prabakaran demanded euthanasia of his supporters. But in death no capsule was tied round his neck. He could well have said ‘I fight for Eelam. I do not believe in it’. (Flambert on the French Republic)

The LTTE’s devastating cruelty lasted 30 years. It destroyed everything and carpeted the jungle floor with thousands of dead. When 2 prominent leaders decamped, Prabakaran was hardly ever seen, living under ground like a troglodyte, protected by 4 layers of wire fencing each under different regional cadres who did not know each other. He instinctively chose total destruction when he switched from guerilla war to conventional.

The conflict put the SL clock back not 26 but 70 years. Although SL climbed out of the abyss repeatedly during the conflict, she plunged back 4 times yet never wavered that its aim was death to the LTTE and never the Tamils. It mattered not whether they were living under the LTTE or as the majority was, in Colombo or in the Kandyan hills, unharmed and cared for.

Lanka had about 100,000 Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim, Malay and Burghers dead, killed by the LTTE, supported by its political ally TNA and southern political appeasers. Nationalism and Determinism, now snidely called Triumphalism have become a rallying call after the years of terror and sudden death. People believe, especially after 26 years of conflict that they are born into a nation not societies, associations, pacts and treaties that the present government adores.

Fortunately in SL the dead did not outnumber the living. Yet false reports ‘born out of collective perceptions that exist before its birth’ (Marc Bloch) stigmatize SL. Where do the graves of the improbable death toll of over 7,000 in the final battles exist? It is nearly 10 years since the war ended.

To soldiers their regiment was their family. The LTTE desire to smash, crush and not just beat them, rebounded with a vengeance, finally. Which soldier in any army would fault them?

For nearly all of 26 years policy did not define or shape strategy. Instead barren thinking of strategy was given the freest hand by rhetoric. President JR Jayewardene in fear of an invasion ‘invited’ the Indian occupation forces called ‘IPKF’. Weapons, ammunition and US dollar payments to the LTTE by President Premadasa in 1989 did not bring a whimper of protest from his party favorites.

They survived to thrive today. Kumaratunga far too readily accepted the recommendation of her Jaffna Security Force Commander, backed hastily by the newly appointed Northern Overall Commander, to abandon Jaffna to the LTTE. Fortunately the deservedly much maligned Deputy Defence Minister intervened personally in situ and reversed the decision. The troops saved SL.

Today those responsible for 29,000 security forces dead in a national total estimated at 100,000, carry on regardless. They have with facile ease co sponsored UN/US resolutions to bring battle winning SL commanders and their troops to face trial at international tribunes. SL’s agony continues under its own appeaser, US dictated, reckless and spineless government. Was the conflict wasteful and futile only for those who did not take part? What is the limit to a peoples’ endurance? Are principles worth fighting for?

- Asian Tribune -

  Lalin's Column : SL’s Conflict. Who is to blame?
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