A new Sri Lanka?
On July 23, 1983, the LTTE, a separatist militant organisation under Prabhakaran began its bloody insurgent fight aiming to create an independent Tamil state named Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island. When escalation of level of the conflict in Sri Lanka led to the pouring of refugees into India in 1987, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, decided to push the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord through and on the request of then Sri Lankan President J R Jayewardene, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), formed under the accord’s mandate, was inducted into Sri Lanka.
As per the terms of the accord, IPKF’s main task was to disarm not just the LTTE, but also all the different militant groups. It was to be quickly followed by the formation of an Interim Administrative Council. IPKF was initially not expected to be involved in any significant combat, but within a few months, it became embroiled in <g data-gr-id="71">battle</g> with the LTTE to enforce peace. The differences which cropped up owing to LTTE trying to dominate the Interim Administrative Council and also refusing to disarm, a pre-condition to enforce peace in the island, and soon led to the LTTE attacking the IPKF.
The prolonged 32 months of IPKF’s Operation Pawan was fought at a disproportionately high cost of the lives of over 1,100 Indian Army personnel. This was largely because of a flawed political approach, hurry and <g data-gr-id="78">adhocism</g>, which also meant lack of preparation and lack of not only vital but even basic intelligence and maps for IPKF in the face of the LTTE, which was highly trained in guerilla warfare, extensive use of explosives and motivated as well as its <g data-gr-id="79">ruthlessnes</g> of using women and child soldiers to fight. Following the election of the Vishwanath Pratap Singh government in India and on the request of the then newly-elected Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, the IPKF de-inducted from Sri Lanka in March 1990. Whereas Rajiv Gandhi visited Sri Lanka during Operation Pawan and even escaped a crude attack by a Sri Lankan Navy sailor, what was most disgraceful was the Indian government’s cold reception to the IPKF, when it returned back home.
For almost 26 years, the insurgency brought misery upon the people, ruined the environment and economy of the country and took a toll on 80,000 lives. 32 countries, including the United States, India, Australia, Canada and the member nations of the European Union declared LTTE a terrorist organisation. After two decades of fighting and three failed attempts at peace talks, a ceasefire was declared in December 2001, with its agreement, facilitated by international mediation, signed in 2002. Then again, hostilities were renewed in late 2005 and the conflict intensified.
That time major military offensives against the LTTE beginning in July 2006, drove the LTTE out of the entire Eastern province, after which it declared to “resume their freedom struggle to achieve statehood”. In 2007, the offensive shifted to the north and on January 2, 2008, the Sri Lanka government formally announced its withdrawal from the ceasefire agreement accusing the LTTE of repeatedly violating it. Thereafter, Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces became quite effective by destroying a number of LTTE’s large arms smuggling vessels and an international crackdown on its funding. Eventually, the entire area previously controlled by the Tamil Tigers, including their de-facto capital Kilinochchi, their main military base Mullaitivu and the entire A9 highway, was captured leading to the LTTE finally being defeated by May 17, 2009.
After many written works on Sri Lanka’s bloody <g data-gr-id="98">three decade-long</g> civil war, involving Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE also known as the Tamil Tigers), Sri Lanka: The New Country comes across as a refreshing change. First, because much of the author’s narrative is based on her interaction with a wide range of Sri Lankans. From the founder of the cyanide-pill-suicide-bomber brand of terrorism, <g data-gr-id="99">Velupaillai</g> <g data-gr-id="100">Prabhakarn</g> and some of his colleagues/<g data-gr-id="101">ex colleagues</g> to politicians, princes, Sinhalas including Buddhists and others, Sinhalese Tamils, as well as army generals and “sailors wary of ghosts” – she met and provides interesting insights into Sri Lankan affairs as also the roller-coaster ride of India-Sri Lanka relations. When the author met ‘Daya Master’, the former LTTE spokesman and many other Tamil acquaintances, the answer to her question about public opinion of the Rajapaksas was that like in any other country, some liked him, others did not but all claimed “he deserved his second term because he had brought the war to an end.” A major factor for the victory was the power that the <g data-gr-id="102">Rajapkshas</g> wielded. Son of one of the founding fathers of Sri Lanka Freedom Party, President Mahinda’s brother Gotabhaya, a former army officer was the flamboyant and controversial defence secretary who had <g data-gr-id="92">solid</g> support of the army. Another brother, Basil was a minister, yet another, Chamal, is a former minister. Mahinda’s one son is an elected MP and another is in the navy.
To the author’s query about the international Tamil diaspora’s dangerous persistence with Eelam, Daya Master replied, “All blah-blah”, while the general opinion of others she spoke to was, “They have done nothing for us and neither has Tamil Nadu. They should leave us alone now.”
The author, a Telugu and daughter of an army medical officer married a Tamilian, whose father was a former Indian Army Chief. While such a background is an advantage for her to get a far better look at the Sri Lankan ethos, that and her uninhibited writing may also be reasons- and not surprisingly so- for her being criticised as being a “paid” journalist/guest of the Rajapaksas/Tamil-hater/Sinhala-hater, etc.
However, as a strategic analyst researching Sri Lankan affairs, I would take her observations in this book more seriously than I would of most western writers. The book is recommended for all those interested in Sri Lanka and particularly politicians, analysts and security related professionals on both sides of the Palk Strait.