War clouds with a thin silver lining - Dayan Jayatilleka
The war clouds are not devoid of a thin silver lining. Though he
retains and exercises the capacity for tactical surprise, in that he
decides when and where he strikes next, Velupillai Prabhakaran has lost
that most vital resource, namely strategic surprise. No one will really
be blindsided if he engages in a full-scale attack. Though he may have
attacked the Pearl Cruise, he cannot achieve a Pearl Harbour, because
the USA did not really expect a war of aggression by Japan.
Tiger attack on the troop carrier
Prabhakaran's war of attrition has meant that the Sri Lankan forces
are getting his measure. The attacks are not all one way, as two recent
engagements prove. The first was when the navy repulsed an attack and
helicopter gunships took out an LTTE heavy weapon in a flat truck on the
shore. The second engagement was the one which involved the troop
So the Sri Lankan forces are no longer paralysed, and are giving
Every time they do so, and inflict casualties on the Tigers, it is an
act of liberation, in the psychological sense (and here I obviously draw
on Sorel, Fanon and Sartre).
The third feature of the present situation, which I characterise as
part of the silver lining is that the LTTE's escalatory tactics, its
bellicosity towards the SLMM, its blatant claim of sovereignty over land
and sea, and its refusal to be characterised as a non-state actor,
constitute an alarm signal for the international community over what is
really at stake here.
The Sea Tigers are a potential threat to Indian shipping lanes,
especially with the Sethusamuduram project under way. Even without it,
India has to weigh the dangers of permitting such a naval force on its
southern defence perimeter.
The Sea Tigers are also a potential threat to international shipping,
in a vital zone of the world's commercial sea-lanes. India and the USA
therefore have decided on whether the Sea Tiger threat to the
strategically vital Trincomalee harbour, and the LTTE's claim to
legitimacy for a pirate navy with suicide boats, can be tolerated.
If a terrorist movement resting on population base of a million can
suicide bomb its way to such recognition, then the example it sets other
armed groups and restive ethnic/religious communities would be
destabilising to the world system. The Tigers will be the model.
This is more so when, according to the latest online issue of TIME,
the 'Tigers are the fathers of modern-day suicide bombing - not only
masters at keeping up a fresh supply of new recruits, but also willing
exporters of their expertise.... in February 2002, the Tigers accounted
for around a third of all suicide attacks in the world.
A Western diplomat based in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo
describes the Tigers as "the most successful terrorist organization in
the world." ' (Alex Perry, How Sri Lanka's Rebels Build Suicide Bomber,
May 12 2006)
The fourth factor that completes the silver lining in the present
gloom is the successful attack by the Karuna resistance forces, on Tiger
encampments in Sampur and Mutur, matching the LTTE's own attack on the
Karuna camps in the East. That the Karuna forces were able to launch a
large scale raid away from their home base in the Batticaloa-Ampara
area, into Trincomalee, indicates that they have now begun to fulfil
their claim of operating throughout the East, rather than only in and
around their home base in the southern half of the Eastern province.
The scale of the operation also shows that the Karuna guerrillas have
moved beyond 'sparrow unit' tactics of individual hits and small scale
ambushes, to large scale deep penetration raids.
If the LTTE's aggressive attacks continue, the Sri Lankan state's
military planners should explore the possibilities of replicating with
Karuna, the successful tactics of the US in Afghanistan (in contrast to
the quagmire in Iraq), namely the combination of heavily armed militia
of indigenous allies (the Northern alliance), backed by US Special
Forces, Intelligence (CIA), air mobility and air strikes, and enhanced
ground mobility (Humvees, motorcycles).
So much for the wafer-thin silver lining.
A New York Times journalist e-mailed me the other day with a
question, "does the Sri Lankan government have a plan for devolution?"
It was a question to which I must confess, I had no answer, and
therefore had to direct to my old friend, former Georgetown alumni, and
spokesperson for the joint Tamil delegation at the crucial closing
session of the 1985 Thimpu talks, Kethesh Loganathan, who is currently
the deputy head of the Peace Secretariat. Frankly, I don't know whether
he had an answer, or whether anyone does for that matter.
This is the Achilles heel of the democratic Sri Lankan state; the
weakest link in the Sri Lankan case. It has to be rectified, and here's
how: President Rajapakse should appoint the TULF leader Mr
Anandasangaree as special representative, assisted by SCOPP's Kethesh
Loganathan, to hammer out a devolution deal in consultation with the
non-Tiger Tamil parties, the politicians of Tamil Nadu (known to Mr
Sangaree), and New Delhi (where he will be welcome), as well as the Sri
Lankan parties in Parliament.
Mr. Anandasangaree belongs to the old Federal Party tradition, and
therefore has longstanding Tamil nationalist credentials. He is also a
veteran parliamentarian, and is untainted by association with any kind
of violence, unlike the other non-Tiger Tamil groups. He has good
relations with the JVP and JHU, who would shoot down his devolution
proposals at the cost of exposing themselves as extremists.
Mr. Anandasangaree's relations with the Tamil Nadu politicians can
bring them on board or neutralise them, thereby pre-empting
Prabhakaran's use of them post-election, and also relieving the pressure
they are likely to bring to bear on New Delhi, against Colombo.
Anandasangaree can dialogue easily with the UNP leadership. He can also
convince the world community about the merits and adequacy of the
He is a model of a moderate representative of any ethnic community
anywhere in the world, and must surely be given the chance to serve his
people and country in this dark hour. His time to play a role in history
has come, if only we give him the chance.