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The end of Prabhakaran?

January 02, 2009

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The War in Lanka
There have been understandable scenes of jubilation in Colombo and other Sinhalese majority areas of Sri Lanka [Images] over the occupation of Kilinochchi, which used to be the administrative capital of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE [Images], by the Sri Lankan army on January 2.

These scenes bring to one's mind similar scenes one witnessed after the US army moved without resistance into Baghdad vacated by Saddam Hussein's [Images] army in 2003 and shortly thereafter President George W Bush [Images] proclaimed 'Mission Accomplished.' Almost six years later, the violence still continues in Iraq. His proclamation of 'Mission Accomplished' has kept haunting him since then. Shortly after the US troops entered Baghdad, I had pointed out that the US army's entry into Baghdad marked the end of one phase of the war and the beginning of another.

So too in Afghanistan where the Taliban [Images], whose death was proclaimed with fanfare in December 2001, rose from its proclaimed grave and staged a comeback causing much bleeding and destruction. The fighting is still going on in Afghanistan.

To mention all this is not to underestimate the significane of the LTTE's loss of control over Kilinochchi after remaining in occupation of it for 12 years, but to stress the inadvisability of premature claims of victory in unconventional conflicts between a State actor and a non-State actor.

The re-occupation of Kilinochchi by the Sri Lankan army will naturally add to the pride, confidence and morale of the Sri Lankan army. This does not mean that it will necessarily undermine the motivation and morale of the LTTE. Its motivation and morale would have been undermined if it was an unexpected rout for the LTTE. From all indications, it was not.

It was a denouement for which it had prepared itself and the Tamil population of the area on which it depends for support. It has lost territory whose gain was symbolically important to the Sri Lankan army. But this does not mean the end of the LTTE's campaign of insurgency-cum-terrorism.

The end of the LTTE's campaign will come not when it loses an important piece of territory, but when it loses the support of the Tamil people in the areas still controlled by it and in the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

In an unconventional warfare, there is no victory day when the war definitively ends with the adversary vanquished once and for all. Victory comes invisibly when the insurgent or terrorist organisation either realises that continued fighting or violence is no longer a viable option as it happened in Mizoram or when it totally loses the support of the people on whose behalf it claims to be fighting the State as it happened in the case of Khalistani terrorism in Punjab.

We must be proud of our political leaders. They did not indulge in scenes of jubilation when Laldenga, the leader of the Mizo National Front, sought peace talks with the Government of India in 1975. Nor did they indulge in triumphalism when they realised by the end of the 1990s that the Khalistan movement has withered away without their even realising it due to the aversion of the overwhelming majority of the Sikhs to the movement.

Turning points in unconventional warfare are brought about not through the force of arms, but through the force of wisdom. Arms do play an impiortant role if they are wielded with wisdom. One is yet to see such signs of wisdom in Colombo. The turning point in Sri Lanka will come the day the Tamils realise that V Prabhakaran has become a liability for their cause and get rid of him.

If there is to be real peace in Sri Lanka, the end of Prabhakaran has to be brought about by the Tamils themselves and not by the Sinhalese army. Has that day been brought nearer by the entry of the Sinhalese army into Kilinochchi? One has to keep one's fingers crossed.

B Raman

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