Sri Lanka from War to Peace, Nitin A Gokhale, Har-Anand Publications, Pp 184, Rs. 395.00 (HB)
FOR those in Tamil Nadu who witnessed the downpour of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka in the early eighties, narrating the horror stories of rape, torture and murders by the government sponsored Janata Vimukti Peramuna and the Sri Lankan army, Prabhakaran was one shining star, protecting the life and honour of Tamils. From there he grew larger than life. But in the past decade or so, people have been exasperated with LTTE and its chief as they abandoned negotiations and boycotted peace talks. Even so, his death in such a lowly way brought gasps of non belief. The images of his dead body reminded one of Najibullah and Saddam Hussain, men who terrorised nations for decades who also met such dishounourable ends. What was their last hours like? We will never know for, people who lived with them died with them.
That seems to be the precise case with Prabhakaran, according to a recent book Sri Lanka from War to Peace by journalist Nitin A Gokhale. The book begins with the end of LTTE leader’s death in the Sri Lankan army’s persistent assault. The questions — why and how he ran out of strategies or why he did not take cyanide tablet when he was confronted by death, a dictum to all LTTE recruits — remain unanswered.
The book captures in a reporting style how the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajpaksa came to power in 2005, articulating peace without war, and yet had determined in his mind to finish the LTTE. During his campaign he rejected the call for a Tamil home land in Sri Lanka and also any special privileges to the Tamil majority region. (Do we need to learn a lesson on Kashmir from this?) The man he chose to finish the LTTE was Maj Gen GSC Foneska, who was made the Army Chief.
As the world now knows, Foneska executed his task but Rajpaksa and he became political adversaries. Round two also went to Rajpaksa.
Gokhale, NDTV’s Defence and Strategic Affairs Editor, chronicles Eelam War IV, a 33-month military campaign that saw the areas under Prabhakaran’s control shrink before his fort finally crumbled. The LTTE cadre was probably weapon-weary. According to the author, 28,000 combatants were killed in this war, most of them the Tamil Tigers.
So what won the war for Sri Lanka? The book says, mainly because of three reasons. One, the Sri Lankan armed forces were given a clear politico-military objective for the first time in many decades, to finish the LTTE militarily. Two, there was excellent synergy between the air, water and land defence forces of the island nation and three, China, Russia and “even India” provided strong military support to the army. From Prabhakaran’s side, his major fault was that he kept 300,000 civilians within the region, which obstructed his moves and a possible retreat.
The LTTE had received political set back when senior people had deserted it over the years. And as Muralitharan, now a minister and formerly Col Karuna of LTTE told Gokhale, there was growing unrest within the organisation as the top posts and strategic position went to Tamils from the northern region while the bulk of the fighters came from the eastern side. Also, over the years, Prabhakaran let slip several opportunities that could have brought about a peaceful political settlement. But he refused to budge from the position of a separate Eelam nation.
The book is an hour by hour account of Prabhakaran’s final war for Eelam, though viewed and narrated from the reports of the army moves. With the entire top rung of the LTTE decimated and the surviving cadres and civilians cooped up in the refugee camps, the story from the LTTE side has not unraveled yet. The book is a good chronicle.
(Har-Anand publications, E-49/3, Okhala Industrial Area, Phase II, New Delhi 110 020)