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Is there a future for Prabhakaran?

After leading the Tamils in a militant hate campaign against the Sinhalese for at least 32 years, after waging four Eelam wars, after sabre-rattling in the last annual speech threatening dire consequences to the nation if the Tiger demands were not met, after killing more Tamils than any other force put together, after sacrificing the Tamil children recruited into the depleted Tiger cadres, after investing the millions subscribed by the Tamil diaspora into the bottomless pit of purchasing arms, and, above all, after subjecting the Tamil people to the worst imaginable indignities and sufferings in the name of an elusive political goal of a separate state, Velupillai Prabhakaran, the self-styled "sole representative of the Tamils", is nowhere near his goal of Eelam. Long before he lost the territorial grip on east to Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the SL Army Commander whom he failed to assassinate, he lost his grip on the Tamil people of the east with Karuna Amman, his best commander, breaking away from him. And in between the fall out with Karuna and fall of Vakarai Prabhakaran was dealt a deadly legal blow by the Supreme Court by de-linking the north from the east.


Never has Prabhakaran been in a plight like this before, losing simultaneously on territorial, military, political, legal and international fronts. Ever since he got the scalp of the first Tamil, Alfred Duraiyappah 32 years ago - and he has not stopped killing the Tamils since then - he had been on a winning streak until his political fortunes peaked with signing of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) on February 22, 2002 . In the CFA Ranil Wickremesinghe offered him on a platter not only control of territory and powers which Prabhakaran could not have won in the battle field but even the heads of the daring soldiers in the LRRP who were risking their lives to save the nation from the perils of separatist terrorism. In clause 2a of the CFA Wickremesinghe agreed to dismantle the deep penetration units to make life safe for Prabhakaran. In addition, he virtually surrendered when he agreed to dismantle the LRRP and de-fang the "para-militaries" (read anti Tiger Tamil groups).

Though the CFA was a defeat for Wickremesinghe it was Prabhakaran's glorious moment. Prabhakaran was on top of the world with recognition, status and power derived from Ranil Wickremesinghe's CFA which spilled over to consolidate his position in the Tamil community and, of course, the international community. Quite brashly, his emissary abroad, Anton Balasingham, was claiming parity of status with the Sri Lankan government and Erik Solheim, who fell headlong into the blarney of Balasingham, too treated the sovereign State of Sri Lanka as equal to that of a terrorist enclave though it had no legal, political or moral status. Wickremesinghe was on his wobbly knees before Prabhakaran and Bradman Weerakoon, Wickremesinghe's batman, was ever willing to grant practically the never-ending demands of the Vanni hierarchy on the fallacious NGO theories of "confidence-building".

Psychological coup

With Wickremesinghe and Weerakoon falling at his feet it was easy for Prabhakaran to strike fear into the hearts and minds of the southern polity. The psychological coup he scored infected Chandrika's regime too and their political and military responses were determined in this mood of defeatism and surrender. Both of them not only withdrew from any confrontation but deliberately weakened the military capabilities of the forces. Both had accepted that the only way out was to appease under the euphemism of "confidence-building". The fear psychosis generated by Prabhakaran also gave the NGO agents the upper hand to rule the roost. Instead of the Security forces invading the enemy territory the NGOs (example: the German Berghoff Foundation) were invading the Security Forces demoralizing them and persuading them to surrender. NGOs were prescribing formulas of surrender as victories for the people, the government and peace.

The nation was teetering on the brink of falling into the fatal pit of separatism. After grabbing supremacist status from Wickremesinghe the next move of Prabhakaran was to manoeuvre Chandrika Kumaratunga's regime, through the willing coalition of NGOs, to legalise his political power in the north and east with the ill-conceived and misguided P-TOMS. If by any chance Prabhakaran got P-TOMS on top of CFA the history of Sri Lanka would have gone in an irreversible direction with the international community accepting it as the way to go for a final solution. But the unravelling events proved that there were forces greater than Chandrika, Ranil, Erik Solheim, NGOs, and Prabhakaran put together. The combined attack of the JVP, JHU and other nationalist forces scuttled Kumaratunga's proposal to sacrifice the overall rights, interests and aspirations of the Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils in exchange for a peace that would never have come from Eelam-or-nothing Prabhakaran.

Even though Chandrika and Ranil were bending the constitution in diverse ways to enthrone Prabhakaran, hoping to profit from it at subsequent elections, the Vanni recipient of their political favours were on a suicidal course of his own by shooting 95% of the CFA, as stated by the SLMM. Standing cockily on the peak of the CFA he assumed that it would be a cake walk for him to get the rest through the gun. Prabhakaran was pumped up after the CFA, no doubt.. After that it has been downhill all the way, particularly after the rise of President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the formidable force of the south halting and reversing the trend of defeatism.

One of the main contributory factors to Prabhakaran's downfall has been his intransigent determination not to face the hopelessness inherent in his fixation of enthroning himself as the Sun God of Eelam. It is an ideology which has no future. His all-or-nothing gamble has driven him to a dead end. Eelam is a sword that advanced him in the past to the peak of the CFA. After he came sliding down from the CFA he has fallen on his sword. Now he is bleeding profusely from his self-inflicted wounds. So is there a future for him with his sword sticking out from both ends?

Prabhakaran's fatal flaw

Velupillai Prabhakaran never lacked arrogance or ruthlessness. But his fatal flaw was in relying only on two things: 1. himself as a man of destiny to deliver Eelam and 2. His ideology of separatism based exclusively on violence - his only tried and tested means of survival in the jungle of Tamil politics. He 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 how far can he advance with his violence now? Though he can continue to indulge in sporadic spurts of violence he has yet to realise that he has reached the limits of violence. After Wickremesinghe's CFA and Kumaratunga's failed P-TOMs he had been sliding down the greasy pole of power without any realistic appraisal of the events that had fallen on him like a ton of bricks. His blood-thirsty arrogance made him believe that he could go beyond the Ceasefire Agreement as long as he stuck to his past tactics of violence. That was his undoing. The latest round of violence should make him realise that the future route is not heading in the direction of Eelam but the other way about - i.e into his 40-foot hole in the Vanni! If the current trends continue then it is certain that at the end of the day he is destined to end up in a tragic Saddam Hussein hole with nothing beyond that. Is this his future?

Rapid loser

For him regain to regain his lost stature he needs territory, at least to be recognized as a force with a future. But the rolling events pushing him back are not promising him any additional territory or even the remaining acres under his control. 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. 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.

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.

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 could hope to 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. There is no intifada rising internally to give him strength or moral courage. On the contrary, V. Anandasangaree states that the Tamils of Vanni are eager to welcome the Sri Lankan Army as the Vanni regime is forced to extract more and more blood from the Tamils not for the future of the Tamils but for survival of isolated Prabhakaran. 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 no doubt that a committed hardcore still continues to worship him. However, on balance, considering the overall forces ranged against him, the future seems to be swinging in the direction of the non-violent Tamil forces raising their heads to lead the Tamil people back to mainstream again. Besides, the initial inspirational wave that swept "the boys" on the back of Tamil community to its peak in the CFA has now flattened out on the political shores almost as a spent force. The force of that wave is no longer there to take Prabhakaran further. The disillusioned Tamils generally agree now that he hijacked that force to advance his inflated ego more than the general welfare of the Tamils.

Since Eelam is not a viable proposition any longer the Tamil violence is now seen as a brutal force to save Prabhakaran and not the Tamils. In putting himself before the interests of the Tamils he has lost the momentum that brought him to to peak of CFA. 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. Anandasangaree is articulating that frustrations and hopelessness of the Tamils who, in the pithy words of the poet Vairamuttu's haiku, went for the silk verti and lost even the loin cloth.

Few supporters

At best, Prabhakaran 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 defeats. 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 the 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 would be wary of going down the old track all over again. Besides, the Sri Lankan domestic scene has changed significantly. Left to their own devices, the Sri Lankan forces have shown a remarkable capacity to meet the challenges posed by the Tamil Tiger terrorists, though it's not going to be cake walk as they head towards the north. The east is the easiest to grab. The north is difficult. Different dynamics operate in the north and the task ahead is not going to be easy. That doesn't mean that it is impossible. It is possible as long as the political will is with the Security Forces. Both sides will dig in hard in the battles for the north. The Tigers will try playing up the humanitarian issues arising from the escalating war in the north. But Tiger attacks on civilians in the south will counter-balance whatever collateral damage that occurs in the north. The major obstacle will be the response of the international community. They are bound to react with their double standards. They will preach that a military solution will not work in Sri Lanka.


This is absolutely hypocritical when they have confronted and resolved threats to 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 has 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 Rajapaksa 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 non-combatant 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.



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Kapruka -

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