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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2524

Is there a future for Prabhakaran?

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

First to fall was Mavil Aru. Then came Muttur, followed by Sampur. The latest is Vakarai with more to come if the Sri Lankan forces continue marching into Tamil Tiger territory as before. The reports of entrenched Tiger camps in the east falling into the hands of Sri Lankan forces -- not mention the Tiger cadres and civilians fleeing the grip of Tigers --indicate that the Sri Lankan forces have effectively pulled the teeth and claws out of the Tigers in the east.

Victory in the east is good for the morale of the soldiers and, of course, the political leadership of President Mahinda Rajapakse. But this string of victories is not the end of the march that began with Mavil Aru. There are still many miles to go to before the Security Forces can rest. This means that there are many battles yet to be won in the north and in the centre of Vanni. The Tigers are not just going to curl up and die. They will resist. There are credible reports of Tigers going for a heavy build-up in the Killinochchi.

That is predictable. What is unpredictable is the next move of the Tigers. What will the Tigers do next? Tigers will have to do something spectacular to reclaim their lost prestige and power. But what will it be? Since the east is out of their control will they risk a massive confrontation with the Sri Lankan Forces in the north? Tigers have failed in their earlier attempts to attack military bases in the north. The Air Force has given them a heavy pounding both in the north and the east. The Navy has also been a formidable force sending the Sea Tigers to a watery grave.

The Tiger failures on all military fronts – air, land and sea – have dented once again the myth of Tiger superiority and invincibility. The current situation indicates that the Tigers cannot recover fast enough to confront the Security Force either in the north or in the east. The Tiger territory has been shrinking rapidly and if the Security Forces continue to advance at the current rate the Tigers will be confined to Killinochchi sooner or later.

Even so the Tigers will refuse to lie low. The Tigers will not be overly concerned about their loss of bargaining power at the negotiating table. That is immaterial to them for the moment. Their claim to be on equal status with the state was based purely on their military strength. As a terrorist outfit their sole power has been in the gun. They must hit back to make their presence felt nationally and internationally. Besides, Velupillai Prabhakaran has never relied on any strategy other than violence. That has been his trade mark as symbolised in the Tiger flag of 33 bullets ringed round the head of snarling tiger under two crossed guns fixed with bayonets. It was designed by him personally as an expression of his reliance on violence. Without violence he will be reduced to nothing. His politics is based on violence. The Tamil diaspora finances him to keep on fighting. And his future depends on the success or failure of his violence.

But he has also to face new realities. After nearly 27 years of fighting he is nowhere near his goal of Eelam. In fact, he has been losing territory. Eelam without the east and Jaffna -- the heartland of the Tamil separatists – is like a torso without a head and heart. He has also been losing his cadres at a rate that he can hardly afford, if he is to win back the east and the north. He is also running out of ammunition unless he can replenish it with new stocks. His finances are also drying up. Contrary to what military experts say, he is dependent more on supplies of money from the Tamil diaspora than ammunition. The ammunition comes from the diasporic funding and if that source dries up he is finished.

Besides, the A-9 road which was a gold mine to him is no longer open for him to rake in the shekels. On top of all this, there is a recommendation before the UN to target his military and political leadership. India, though dithering, has come out with a statement that buries all his hopes. India says that its commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka is absolute and is not dependent on any internal development towards a solution.

The Tamil diaspora, the sole source of external resources to the Tigers, is batting nervously, and sometimes even reluctantly, on its back foot. Each defeat in Sri Lanka reduces the flow of funds abroad. But fund raising activities are monitored and the leading Tamil agents abroad are under surveillance by foreign governments which are hostile to the banned Tiger terrorists.

One other factor that should also not be overlooked is the way in which Velupillai Prabhakaran killed the goose that could have laid the golden eggs for him. Ranil was his best chance of consolidating his position now and challenging the state later – better than any lethal weapon he can acquire in the underworld. But he miscalculated. He thought he could win by defeating Ranil. He also wanted to impress that he can be the king-maker of the south. The upshot : he and his political ally, Ranil, lost. It is obvious now that in denying the Tamil people their right to vote he wrote his own death warrant

In short, he has painted himself into a corner from which he cannot get out. He is totally isolated. He has no one to support him either abroad or at home. There isn’t a single state that is prepared to back him. Earlier, he had alienated his best commander, Karuna, who is now waging his own battle against him in the east.

He has divided the Tamil community not only into two regional blocs of the north and the east but also within the influential northern community. There is the committed hardcore that still worships him.

But the initial inspirational wave that swept "the boys" on the back of Tamil community peaked with the Ceasefire Agreement where he acquired substantial power – thanks to Ranil -- to run his own show. The force of that wave is no longer there to take him further. In violating the Ceasefire Agreement 95% of its terms and conditions he lost all what he gained with the consent of the international community. The early enthusiasm for “the boys” is now replaced by a weary disillusionment that is yearning to see an end to his ruthless and unending violence pursued with no hope of reaching the promised goal of a separate, mono-ethnic state for the Tamils.

At best, he is left only with his cadres who are dependent on his killing machine for their careers and survival. Apart from that, there is the Tamil wing of the Catholic Church to lend him some support. Some hired agents in the NGOs too can be thrown into this lot. But their voices too are ineffective as seen in the latest round of violence. Both Churchmen and NGO activists threw their full weight behind him to rescue him from the impending defeats by raising human rights issues. Catholic clergy and NGO activists tried to drum up support but their cries fell on deaf ears. They failed to gain any strong responses, internationally or nationally, to stop the advancing forces.

The reality is that that Sri Lankan crisis, after going through many twists and turns of regional (Indian) and international interventions, has reached a critical point where a solution has to be worked out by internal imperatives and dynamics and not by external interventions. The failures of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement and the Ceasefire Agreement that came with an “international safety net” should convince peace-makers/facilitators that the solution should be left in the hand of the Sri Lankans.

Karl Inderfurth, a professor of international affairs at the George Washington University, and former US Assistant Secretary of State for S. Asia said a mouthful when he cautioned that “arm twisting with punitive threats by diplomats, however, will not force the feuding parties back to the negotiating table.”

He added: "I don't believe that any one government - whether it be the United States of America, the Indian government, the Japanese government or Norway, that has played such an important mediating, facilitating role, can force either the Sri Lankan government or the LTTE to do something that they are not committed to doing themselves."

The diplomats who queued up at the gates of the Tigers in Killinochchi and returned empty handed will bear witness to Inderfuth’s conclusion. In the same breath, Inderfuth states: "I do not believe that there is a military solution to what's taking place in Sri Lanka. This has to be resolved through political means. One side or the other may think that they have the upper hand at one time or another but that is ephemeral - things will change."

How credible is this proposition when tested against the behaviour pattern of the Tigers who react with a pathological aversion for a negotiated settlement? It is unrealistic and illogical to expect an armed group committed to a separatist ideology to agree to anything less than a separate state unless they are weakened or defeated militarily. The ultimate objective of a negotiated settlement is to accommodate the aspirations of all communities in a constitutional framework that guarantees multi-ethnic diversity to co-exist within a sovereign state. But mono-ethnic separatism rejects such formulas for multi-ethnic co-existence. There is, therefore, no meeting point except in the battlefield.

As opposed to the mono-ethnic Tamil Tiger separatists it is possible to negotiate a settlement with the Tamils in the democratic stream. There is a possibility of a negotiated settlement with the Tamil Tigers only if they drop their separatist goal. But the Tamil Tigers, who have consistently avoided or sabotaged peace talks, operate on the basic principle that separatism and violence are inseparable. They also know that no one will give them their state of Eelam if they drop the gun. This explain why peace talks have been mere cosmetic exercises to the Tamil Tigers.

The orthodox mantra of a military solution not working is also wearing thin. Sri Lanka is a classic case where the war against terrorism can be won if the international community (including the regional power India) is committed wholeheartedly to wipe out this global menace. The Tamil Tigers can survive primarily on two main factors 1) funds received from the Tamil diaspora and 2) from covert or overt military, diplomatic, financial and other resources provided by another state. Example: India as it did in the initial stages.

After its misadventure, India has to recognise now that they can't go down the old track all over again. Besides, the Sri Lankan domestic scene has changed significantly. Left to to their own devices, the Sri Lankan forces have shown a remarkable capacity to meet the challenges posed by the Tamil Tiger terrorists. It is absolutely hypocritical and self-defeating for big powers to preach that a military solution will not work in Sri Lanka when they have resolved their issues with those who threaten their sovereignty and territorial integrity with nothing but military solutions.

However, there is a partial truth in the statement that a military solution will not work. It applies to Prabhakaran. Whichever way you look at it, he has come to the end of the road. He is now trapped in a war of attrition that is draining all his limited resources. But this is not going to make him come to the negotiating table with peace offers -- not after the recent string of defeats. It will be too humiliating for him to do that. It will be an act of admitting defeat. He hs to prove to himself at least that he is alive and kicking and the only way he can do that is by hitting back. He will try to hit out in the most dramatic fashion. He can only hit at two main targets: 1) military and 2) civilians – mainly high profile civilians. There is, no doubt, that the Rajapakse family will be high on his list.

But option 2 has been counterproductive. Beginning from Rajiv Gandhi to Kadirgamar he has failed to achieve his objective by targeting civilians. In fact, option 2 has compounded his problems. Besides, the more he targets civilians the more he adds to his long list of crimes against humanity and war crimes. Option 2 will take him to where Saddam Hussein ended. He has accumulated enough charges on this count to face several criminal courts. His thinking probably will be that adding a few more crimes cannot harm him any more than what he is facing right now.

In any case, the last weapon left for him will be to send squads of suicide bombers to the south, or pick a high profile target like the attack on Katunayake Airport. But can he force the Sri Lankan army to withdraw from the north and the east by sending suicide squads to the south, or staging dramatic attacks? Will it not open the way for the Sri Lankan government to launch full scale air raids on Killinochchi and other vital bases of the Tigers? The tit-for-tat war is risky for both sides. But as the military balance stands now it is the Tigers who will stand to lose, forcing Prabhakaran to either negotiate or to dig deeper into his 40-feet Mohole in the Vanni.

- Asian Tribune -

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