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Focus

   
 

The uncertain future  of Velupillai Pirapaharan


With the army advancing Tigers have been
on the run (inset) Velupillai Pirapaharan

The  conventional war  waged against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the armed forces of Sri Lanka is expected to conclude  in a few weeks time. The Tigers are currently boxed into a  littoral swathe amounting to about 160 square km in area. With the army closing in from different directions  there seems little doubt that the Tigers would be deprived of formal territorial control soon. 'When?' remains the unanswered question.

The capture of Tiger controlled territory by the armed forces does not necessarily mean that the LTTE would be totally destroyed. It only means that the  positional warfare  phase  in which  the LTTE has been retaining and defending territory will cease. Once the Tigers lose all territorial control they  are expected to 'melt away' and resume guerrilla attacks  against the armed forces, police, government  installations etc. Terrorist type attacks of exploding bombs in public places and assassination of politicians and government officials is  also likely to continue.

The important point is that with the loss of territorial control the "promise of Tamil Eelam" would be irredeemably lost. It was the LTTE's ability to maintain control of territory that enabled the organisation to project an impression to the world at large and the Tamil Diaspora that a separate Tamil state could be a distinct possibility.

The setting up of a parallel administration with structures like police, courts, tax offices, prisons, banks, immigration offices etc. helped enhance the image of an LTTE controlled Tamil Eelam being a state-in-formation. It was  made out that gradual expansion of territorial control would result in a creeping Tamil Eelam.

This myth has now been effectively exposed.  It is becoming crystal clear that the LTTE will no longer be able to recapture or retain territory.

Status quo remains

It must be noted that the Tigers who lost the  Jaffna offshore islands in 1990 never wrested them back. The bulk of the Jaffna peninsula lost in 1995-'96 remains in military hands still. The Eastern Province regions lost in 2006-'07 are under effective government control.

Likewise the northern mainland areas captured by the army in 2008-'09 are  yet in army hands with all Tiger counter-strikes being denied success.

Tiger strongholds like Adampan, Vidathaltivu, Thunukkai, Mallavi, Vellankulam, Mulangavil, Valaipadu, Pooneryn, Paranthan, Elephant Pass, Pallai, Thalaiaddy, Aliyawalai, Soranpatru, Chundikulam, Killinochchi, Mankulam, Puliyankulam, Olumadhu, Oddusuddan, Iranaimadhu, Nedunkerny, Nayaru, Chemmalai, Alambil, Mulliyawalai, Thaniootru, Mullaitivu town,  Challai, Murasumoddai, Tharmapuram and Visvamadhu have been taken by the army. Despite speculation about Tiger counter-offensives aimed at retaking them the ground position remains the same.

Currently the army has  begun entering the general area of Puthukkudiyiruppu. What remains in LTTE hands now  are parts of Puthukkudiyiruppu, a stretch of roadway  and adjacent areas  between Puthukudiyiruppu junction and Nanthikadal lagoon, along the A 35 highway or Paranthan-Mullaitivu road and a coastal strip of land extending northwards from Vattavaagal up to the south of Ambalavan Pokkanai.

Bloodshed going on

This area is now saturated with civilians and Tiger cadres. There is much bloodshed going on now. If and when the civilian  presence in this area becomes non-existent, there is very likely to be a combined fiery onslaught against LTTE positions by the army, navy and air force. That would be the  grand finale for the LTTE in positional warfare.

Realising fully well that the writing is on the wall  for the LTTE if this trend continues, various  members, supporters and  sympathisers of the Tigers have begun orchestrating a campaign to "Save the Tiger." Ostensibly it is being conducted as one being concerned about the civilian plight.  That this seemingly humanitarian concern is only a hypocritical facade is exposed by four factors.

Firstly there was no such concern evinced when civilians in the Eastern Province were in distress due to a ruthless military campaign or even when civilians in the north-western regions of Wanni  were affected. It is only when the LTTE dominated  north-eastern enclave is under threat that this cacophony  for  civilian concern  increases volume.

Secondly these voices are stridently loud about the damage and destruction caused by artillery shelling and aerial bombardment by the armed forces but are conspicuously  silent on the atrocities committed against their own people by the LTTE. There is no condemnation of  how the Tigers endanger civilian life, limb and property by locating their artillery and mortars in thickly populated places and engaging  the enemy thus bringing about inevitable retaliatory attacks.

No criticism

Thirdly there is no criticism of the LTTE for preventing sections of the people fleeing Tiger-controlled territory for safety concerns. The LTTE has killed and injured several civilians for daring to escape their clutches and  seek army protection. Only the armed forces are blamed.

Fourthly , these sections want a permanent ceasefire. The United Nations has called for a temporary ceasefire to help facilitate the humanitarian evacuation of entrapped  civilians. But the pro-Tiger elements agitating for civilian protection are not responsive. They want a permanent ceasefire to safeguard the LTTE. They are not for a temporary truce to help relocate civilians safely.

All these factors demonstrate clearly that the Tiger and pro-Tiger elements are keen to help preserve the LTTE by getting a permanent ceasefire declared. Their intention is to let the LTTE survive further by bringing about an end to the military campaign. They also want the entrapped civilians to remain as human shields in Tiger areas rather than obtain safety and relief in government controlled areas.

While these frantic attempts are on, the government in Colombo seems firmly resolved that the military juggernaut should keep on rolling forward till the Tigers are firmly dislodged from their positions and LTTE remnants are chased away. The only way government resolve can weaken is through Indian or international intervention.

Military campaign

Despite the endeavours of pro-Tiger elements and the well meaning, altruistic concern shown by respected organisations like Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch there seems very little  hope that the military campaign will be called off. At best there may be a temporary lull to evacuate civilians but a permanent ceasefire seems unlikely until military objectives are achieved.

The LTTE has only itself to blame for this state of affairs. The Tigers have through a series of acts of omission and commission created a situation where  a  'consensus' of sorts seems to have evolved among influential  members of the international community that the Tigers have to go. India too shares this opinion.

This does not mean that India and other international actors are happy about the Rajapakse regime and are prepared to give it carte blanche. No! There is great concern and dissatisfaction about the government's dismal record in governance, human rights and inertia in  moving towards a political settlement.

Nevertheless there is a feeling that the LTTE is about to receive the coup de grace by this government and that nothing should fetter Colombo in this. The belief is that pressure could be exerted on the government to toe international diktat after the Tigers are put in their place. So there is no constructive support for a permanent ceasefire though  appropriate  noises are being  made about the civilian plight. Only time will tell whether the international community has misjudged the Rajapakse government or not.

LTTE's fate

In such a situation, the  ultimate fate of the LTTE in positional warfare seems a foregone conclusion. There will be much Tiger resistance but it  is only a matter of time for the LTTE to be deprived of formal territorial control. How the LTTE would thereafter fare in guerrilla warfare and terrorism in the future is a moot point.

The multi-crore rupee question is the future of LTTE supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan. There was a time when the LTTE's political adviser Anton Balasingham referred to Pirapaharan publicly at a press conference as both the president and prime minister of Tamil Eelam. But  the situation today is a far cry from that. Against this backdrop, Pirapaharan's future is indeed a matter of speculation.

If and when the  LTTE is deprived of territorial control, its cadres have very limited options. One is to surrender to the armed forces and hope for an amnesty and rehabilitation. Another is to flee abroad. The third is to re-coup in small groups in the jungles and jungle-adjacent villages and continue with a low intensity guerrilla campaign. The fourth is to infiltrate various parts of Sri Lanka, in incognito mode and lie low but occasionally engage in terrorist acts when suitable.

While it may be possible for ordinary cadres to  utilise any of  these options, the senior leaders in most instances would find it difficult to do so. In the first place the government will not offer an amnesty to the leaders but mete out retributive justice to them. So that avenue is blocked.

Fitness problem

Then there is age and physical fitness. Most senior Tiger leaders are in their naughty forties or nifty fifties. Some suffer from ailments. Continuing with the guerrilla struggle means experiencing much hardship and difficulties. Few of these leaders are likely to survive in that  acid test.

Prolonging the guerrilla struggle by relocating to jungles and jungle adjacent areas will also be problematic because the armed forces would be unleashing a comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign after establishing full territorial control. An intensive search and destroy campaign will be underway. With plans of civilian relocation being in the air the LTTE would find itself denied civilian sustenance.

Similarly the  idea of infiltrating other areas in the island and remaining incognito also  is not safe. The government will keep on conducting search missions to apprehend Tigers in hiding. While some low level, unknown cadres may be able to pull it off, the well known seniors may find the going tough. Besides  most are married with children. What happens to the families?

One way of escaping would be to go abroad. Some seniors have already sent offspring abroad. But again the chances of well known Tiger leaders escaping detection abroad are quite slim. Of course the only way out is for some country to  provide them safety and protection "unofficially." But given the widespread antipathy towards the LTTE there is very little hope of the  Tigers  getting such a "protectorate."

Pirapaharan's health

The predicament faced by the senior Tiger leaders is one  that is very applicable to Velupillai Pirapaharan also. The Tiger numero uno will be 55 this November. He is not in very good health.  Given his  diminutive  height and  excessive weight Pirapaharan's Body Mass Index would certainly be on the high side.

There was a time during the Indian Army period where Pirapaharan underwent tremendous hardship leading the life of a guerrilla on the run. It is reported that he had to lie prostrate amid  shrubs  for hours and hours as Indian soldiers were scouring the area. It is unimaginable that Pirapaharan would be able to repeat this experience  nowadays given his physical condition.

In anticipation perhaps of advancing adversity, Pirapaharan has reportedly sent his wife Madhivadhani and younger son Balachandran away to an undisclosed foreign country. His daughter Duwaraga is already abroad doing higher studies. News reports state that Pirapaharan and his elder son Charles Anthony are in the Wanni still.

But what of the future? The fighting is going to intensify in ferocity and brutality  as the armed forces  move towards their goal of decimating the LTTE in direct combat. What does Pirapaharan do in such a situation? Will he throw his customary caution to the winds and lead from the front in a devil-may-care attitude or will he adhere to the  concept that discretion is the better part of valour?

Decreasing territory

With Tiger territory  decreasing day by day Pirapaharan's vulnerability also increases daily in corresponding fashion. Apart from getting injured or killed in direct fighting the probability of a shell, bomb or stray shrapnel proving fatal also cannot be dismissed lightly. If that were to happen the LTTE will suffer an irreversible debacle. Velupillai Pirapaharan is the life, brain, spirit and soul of  the LTTE. If something harmful happened to him the LTTE will explode and the Tamil Eelamists implode. VP is LTTE. LTTE is VP.

There is also another danger. The armed forces are capturing LTTE bunkers and hideouts on a daily basis. Many of these seem to have been used by the supremo himself. At this rate the possibility even by a fluke of the armed forces being able to encircle a Tiger lair with the first feline occupying it cannot be firmly ruled out.

This is a prospect  much dreaded by the Tigers and supporters. It would indeed be a day of shame for them if the LTTE leader is pulled out of a hidey hole like Saddam Hussein of Iraq  or paraded around as a captured animal in an open cage like Peru's shining path leader Abhimael Guzman.

 It may be recalled that  Pirapaharan was surrounded by about 40 bodyguards during the Indian Army phase and one of them carried with him at all times a plastic container with gasoline. His instructions were to burn the leader's body if Pirapaharan was killed or had to consume cyanide on the verge of being captured.

Take his life

Under these circumstances Pirapaharan will most probably  take his own life rather than allow himself to be taken prisoner and exhibited like a prized trophy by the Rajapakse regime. But will he permit a situation to develop where he could be killed, injured,  captured or compelled to  commit suicide to avoid capture? Not if he can help it!

Therefore the best bet for Pirapaharan seems to be that of  getting away from the north at an appropriate juncture. He would be taking a huge risk if he tries to wage guerrilla warfare by being physically present in Sri Lanka. Likewise his life will be at high risk if and when the fighting escalates. When the going gets tough, the tough get going but in this case - going  away from action.

It is also crucially important that Pirapaharan should be in the realm of the living if the struggle for Tamil Eelam is to perpetuate itself. Therefore it is most likely that he would leave Sri Lanka for an undisclosed destination at some point of time in the near future. From there he could control and direct the LTTE clandestinely.

A hitch

There is however a hitch. If news got around that the Tiger supremo was not in Sri Lanka and had escaped abroad there would arise two major problems. Cadres and supporters would be thoroughly demoralised and may even view this act as  one of cowardice and betrayal. The other is that some countries like India would  unleash a massive, worldwide  search operation to apprehend and bring Pirapaharan to justice.

The way out in this scenario is for the LTTE leader to slip away but keep the matter under wraps. The stage is being set for an elaborate  drama  where the Tigers would create an illusion that their leader is still in the Wanni overseeing various aspects of the armed struggle. But in reality Pirapaharan will be in an external location, maintaining  a clandestine presence but  directing as far as possible the affairs of the LTTE.

Meanwhile the security forces could be straining every sinew in a bid to capture or kill him. But Pirapaharan would be elusive as the scarlet pimpernel. This facade of Pirapaharan playing 'catch me if you can' with the security forces would add to the superman myth surrounding him. The Diaspora cash cows would be milked further as they lapped up glorious fairy tales about the  self-styled Tamil National leader's  valiant exploits.

For Pirapaharan to adopt this future course of action he needs a trustworthy accomplice capable of ensuring the Tiger supremo's secluded safety while interacting as a link between the leader and cadres in Sri Lanka as well as  with followers among the global Tamil Diaspora. The man who fits this bill perfectly is none other than Selvarasah Pathmanathan alias KP a.k.a. Kumaran.

Liaison officer

The former LTTE  arms procurer was recently appointed as the accredited head of the LTTE's global network. The coming days will see KP acting as liaison between the leader and the organisation. The illusion that Pirapaharan is in the Wanni will be maintained while KP would relay information to and from the leader. Pathmanathan will grow in stature as the  virtual leader of the LTTE while keeping the real  leader in the shadows.

Recent media reports state that  Tiger cadres who surrendered to the armed forces have revealed that Pirapaharan and his first-born are in the Wanni still and are preparing to lead from the front when the occasion demands it. To discerning observers this revelation smacks of an orchestrated propaganda exercise by the LTTE. An image is being conjured up to depict the leader and offspring in a heroic light. In actual practice the duo is likely to make a clandestine tactical withdrawal at the right time.

In a nutshell  this is what the future is likely to be. Pirapaharan, son, senior leaders and family members will go abroad and lead a clandestine existence. Middle level leaders and loyal cadres will prolong a guerilla campaign amidst great difficulty. An illusion would be created  that Pirapaharan is  leading the struggle while living in the Wanni. A myth  would be built around his elusiveness. KP will be the link between Pirapaharan and the LTTE.

The scheme at face value seems workable. But then the best laid plans of men and mice go awry at times. The two legged Tigers are no exception. The future of the LTTE in general and that of the supremo in particular remains uncertain.


Recollections of the east coast of Sri Lanka

Every time I read the arrant nonsense and litany of hate that issues from the "patriotic political parties" of Sri Lanka on the subject of settlement patterns along the eastern seaboard, I am filled with a mixture of anger, sorrow and helplessness.

I have perhaps been spoiled by living in a liberal democracy where I worked for many years with people from, literally, every corner of the earth to be tolerant of the "frog in the well" attitudes of so many in this benighted land whose opinions are taken to carry the weight of expertise in their field.

Apart from the erudition of academics such as Dr. Goonewardena, Indrapala and the like who have exploded the Mahayana-myths and fables parading as history with regard to who the "original" settlers of this country were, I have clear recollections of the eastern coast of Sri Lanka from north of Kuchchaveli, down to Kumana.  None of those recollections over very nearly 70 years, jibe with the hate-filled diatribes of the JHU, in particular.

Holiday home

I spent virtually every one of my holidays from the time I was a child on the eastern seaboard, particularly in Kuchchaveli where a maternal uncle settled down to raise his family in the "thirties" of the last century.  His Sinhala wife was, to my recollection, the only resident Sinhala-speaker for many miles around, save for the migrant net fishermen from Negombo and its environs and the deep sea fishermen from Gandara and the south who came east during the South West Monsoon. 

Even the Negombians spoke a kind of patois, a mixture of Sinhala and Tamil, which I as a child speaking Sinhala as my primary language at the time, found difficult to follow.  Despite my best efforts to enter into the excitement of the large nets being drawn into shore, I must admit that my parents took a dim view of such activity because of the nature of the language in common use at the time the nets were being drawn in! 

"Salty" hardly begins to describe the language in Sinhala and, presumably, in Tamil as well at such times!  I do remember also the violent conflicts between the Sinhala deep-sea fishermen and the Tamil-speaking Muslim dynamiters from Kinniya who had their camps north of Kuchchaveli.  The former feeling it necessary to take the law into their own hands to prevent the wanton destruction of the fish stocks of the area at a time when the Fisheries Department did not have the capacity to fulfill their obligation to prevent this patently illegal activity.

But I digress.

Business hub

The town of Trincomalee, about 20 miles and two ferries south of Kuchchaveli, had its share of low-country Sinhala mudalalis and I loved to visit their shops when we took a "trip into town" to buy provisions etc., because this provided a garrulous and gregarious child with the opportunity to speak Sinhala.

My family also owned land south of Batticaloa and here too, my distinct recollection when we visited, was a preponderance of Tamil-speaking Muslims and Tamils.  In fact, except for the low-country Sinhala merchants of the larger towns such as Batticaloa and the migrant fishermen's wadiyas with the attendant ice mudalalis, the majority community was conspicuous by its absence.

Farther south of course, once one was beyond Arugam Bay, there were the small Sinhala communities of Panama, Okanda and, finally, Kumana.  Even here, one of the best known Sinhala trackers hired by many of the hunters from other parts of the country bore the name of Chelliah!

From a later, adult, phase of my life, I can claim quite intimate knowledge of the Eastern coast between Verugal and Batticaloa, the Panichchankerni area in particular.

Fell in love

Panichchankerni became my primary 'stomping ground' because I fell in love with this particular part of the eastern coast and leased and then purchased properties which I attempted to run as semi-commercial holiday retreats.  First "Coral Cottage" and then "Chenaikudah Wadi" were among the first of their kind offering holiday opportunities with sun, sand and the sea on very economical terms at a time when such were not in particular vogue.  In fact, the latter was the first A-Frame building in this country.

I spent a great deal of time along the Kalkudah-Panichchankerni strip of coast and I distinctly recollect my impressions of other parts of the eastern seaboard being reinforced.  Very few Sinhalese, indeed, and a preponderance of Muslims and Tamils, with the Sinhala population, again, mostly seasonal, being comprised of the same elements I have described in other parts of the eastern coast in earlier parts of this article.

An exception to the east coast norm in the Panichchankerni area was the significant concentration of Tamil-speaking people referred to as "Gan (village) Veddahs."  They were distinct from the other Tamil speakers of the area, not being Muslims either. They maintained a separate identity from the 'mainstream' Tamil population.  I believe that some of Sri Lanka's anthropologists of the latter part of the last century make extensive reference to this group of people.

New dimension

In summary, there was never a significant concentration of Sinhala-speakers in this part of the country.  To suggest otherwise and to use that fiction to drive a policy of settling Sinhalese in this part of Sri Lanka on land occupied by Tamils and Muslims upto the time the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam establishing their control gives a new dimension to the policy-driven 'adjustment' of the demographics of Sri Lanka.

It is a gross misrepresentation of fact, a re-writing of history that gives even historical revisionism a bad name and something that deserves the simple description of "evil."  That this litany has the blessing of the powers that prevail in this country says something about that power and those that support it.


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