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Is Lt.Gen Sarath Fonseka nurturing a Political Ambition After Retirement?

by Col. R.Hariharan

On Sunday December 7, the security forces were within "kissing distance" of the outer defence lines Kilinochchi, announced the defence spokesman. On Monday, December 8, it became "Troops in Kilinochchi are targeting the town and they are in the vicinity of the town." However, by December 9 it seems the security forces' strategic focus had shifted from Kilinochchi to Mullaitivu according to the defence ministry. This contradicts what the army commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka said in his Sunday Observer interview on the same day; he said "after capturing Kilinochchi the security forces will definitely capture Mullaithivu..."

Arms left behind by the SLA.jpg

[Arms left behind by Sri Lanka Army near Kilinochchi-Dec, 10 2008-pic:LTTE]

In military parlance, this kind of shift in 24 hours takes place only in tactical rather than strategic focus. Somebody is not getting the terminology right or the army is facing major problems in turning the "kiss" into reality in Kilinochchi. Its two pronged offensive on Kilinochchi by Task Force-I from the west and by 57 Division from the southwest was reported facing very heavy LTTE resistance. Could this have compelled them a change in the security forces' strategy? The defence spokesman had acknowledged this at least on the Task Force-I front. In the Muhamalai sector also there appear to be no substantial progress in spite of 53 Division's claims of having captured 800 m long and 8 km wide line of defences there. All these bits put together would indicate stalling of offensive.

A second possibility is that 59 Division was making better progress having captured Alampil on December 8. With Task Force-III making good progress on A34 Mankulam-Mullaitivu road branching off eastwards from A9 road 59 Division's offensive to Mullaitivu would be benefited. So a tactical shift of immediate focus from Kilinochchi to Mullaitivu is understandable.

But such a shift in axis would still be a tactical shift. Ultimately the security forces have to either capture Kilinochchi or force the LTTE to vacate it after they pay a heavy price. Then only the A9 Kandy-Jaffna road can be opened to restore some form of normal life for most of the population of Northern Province. Regaining A9 road from the LTTE control by evicting them from Kilinochchi –Elephant Pass would always remain the strategic objective of the entire operation.

But these are all military semantics; in the absence of independent sources to verify operational information, semantics of both the defence spokesman and the LTTE become important; they indicate the issues hidden behind the words.

After the capture of Pooneryn on November 15, crossing Akkarayankulam bund on October 31, and capture of Mankulam on November 17, it is a month. Evidently since then, momentum of advance has been stalled due to adverse weather on a few days, and stiff LTTE resistance that had been progressively increasing. This would contradict repeated Sri Lankan assertion that the LTTE was on the run. If this is not so, what is holding up the troops?

Loss of momentum in an offensive means more time for the opponent to recoup, rest, repair and readjust defences, reinforce positions, launch counter offensives and inflict more casualties. And cost of war in terms of men, material and money goes up as the clock ticks in days and days become months. The more it is prolonged the better it is for the forces on the defence.

Fortunately, the army commander has cleverly put himself in an advantageous position with multiple options of axes to pick and choose. He also has adequate troops for achieving the strategic objective. Even granting the monsoon rains that affected both sides comes in fits and starts the progress is becoming slow and taking too long. This raises a few operational questions:

Why the offensive to Kilinochchi ending up as a slow crawl?

Has the LTTE built up its strength beyond the ken of four divisions?

Is the army commander facing a major operational dilemma or political rider interfering with his operations for reasons not known to the public?

In this context, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka's comments on India's role in Sri Lanka in an interview to the Sunday Observer is interesting for more reasons, than his derogatory description of Nedumaran and Vaiko,(Tamil Nadu politicians who head the pro-LTTE political lobby in Tamil Nadu) as jokers who receive money from the LTTE. Regarding the operations he sounded quite confident of capturing both Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. He was not unduly worried about the slow progress or any casualties. There was apparently no operational stress. Does it mean operations are going on smoothly at an accepted pace? In the absence of access to information our questions still linger, unanswered.

The interview had a political content not usually found in interviews of army chiefs. His sarcastic comment was clearly provocative. As anticipated it drew widespread condemnation from political parties in Tamil Nadu and Government of India protested to Sri Lanka on the issue. There was quick apology from the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse the General's remarks. And in the corrective action that followed, Colombo axed the editor of Sunday Observer while the errant General went scot-free. One cannot imagine the army commander casually tackling a political issue involving a sensitive neighbour without some tacit official acceptance of his perceptions. The freedom of operation given by the President to Lt Gen Fonseka appears to go well beyond the military kind.

And this is not the first time Gen Fonseka has made a politically controversial remark His interview inn October 2008 to the National Post, a Canadian daily, created enough concerns among Tamils when he said: "I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people…We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country…We are also a strong nation … They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things."

While that remark did not endear him to Tamils and caused more concerns in the ethnically polarised nation, Sinhala right wing lobbies applauded him.

Why is Lt Gen Fonseka making such controversial remarks repeatedly? Does he nurture political ambitions after he completes his extended tenure next year? His latest remark on Tamilnadu politicians in the Sunday Observer interview definitely raises this question.

But whatever be the reason, such provocative remarks of the army commander only strengthen the Tamil suspicions of the ulterior objective of Sri Lanka government's war against the LTTE.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail:


As long as they harbour such racial feelings within them, Sri Lanka will never prosper & be poorer for it. It is this mentality of the ruling majority that has driven Sri Lanka to be one of the poorest & corrupt countries on earth.

Posted by: RANJITH FERNANDO | December 10, 2008 02:18 PM

surely he has political ambition.

And his controversial remarks will be to his benefit when he ventures into politics.

Posted by: Murugan | December 10, 2008 04:36 PM

The army is ofcourse within "kissing distance" of Killinochchi. Whether they will ever make this"kissing distance" into "a distance of inter-course" is anyones guess.

Posted by: joker | December 10, 2008 04:51 PM

Dear Col. Hariharan,

You mentioned that remarks by the commander only strengthen the Tamil suspicions of the ulterior motive of the Government of Sri lanka.

Sri Lankan tamils do not have any suspisions anymore after struggling for almost 60 years. How long the time frame one needs to determine if something is suspicious or is the reality?

The commander had also previously revealed his and the Sinhala people's belief that Sri Lanka belonged to Sinhala people only and minorities can not have any undue demands. This kind of belief is embedded in almost every Sinhala person you can come across. I have heard this comments from my beloved Sinhalese friends from the time I have interacted with them when I was very young.

In all due respects, Sinhala people are nice people except that they cannot see beyond the belief that Sri Lanka belonged to Sinhala people only. This is also the only reason to justify the subjugation of tamils by violence.

This belief just don't belong to the right wing but the whole community. This is something very hard to understand for an outsider. All are deliberately fed the wrong history and still live with the mahavamsa mentality. They are still unable to see the light.


Posted by: Jude | December 10, 2008 05:36 PM

It is very unlikey. He is a green card holder and ready to settle in US. with all these massiv arms procurements, I am sure he is ver well settled for his retirement.

And above all, he is not part of the Rajapakse family.


Posted by: aratai | December 10, 2008 05:53 PM

Tamils are fighting a war to expand the Indian Territory into Sri Lanka.

This is the end result of Eelam.

The real requirement is "A TAMIL HOMELAND"

Sri Lanka is the starting point. Then it will move on to greater demands in Tamil Nadu. Perhaps even the Sinhalese will support the Tamils for a break way Tamil Homeland if India helps Tamils to break up Sri Lanka on behalf of Tamils.....

Food for thought India. Bigger you are the harder for you to defend yourself.

Posted by: Sinhala_Voice | December 10, 2008 07:39 PM

what is wrong in General Fonseka's statement

..."I strongly believe that this country belongs to the Sinhalese but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people…We being the majority of the country, 75%, we will never give in and we have the right to protect this country…We are also a strong nation … They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things."

Haven't Mr Hariharan heard "Majority Rules," and isn't that a normal thing in any where in the world? Note that General continues ..."we treat them like our people". And, is there anything wrong in his statement?

Take for instance Australia, the indigenous Aborigines are out numbered by visitors to the country and they rule the country. There are many nationalities living in Australian Multicultural society and they too worked hand in hand to build the country with early arrivals from Europe. However, no community is trying to carve a part of the country for themselves. Even if do so, there is no chance the majority Australians will tolerate such a claim.

However, knowing the system of the country, the pro LTTE Tamils found safe haven in Australia, Canada and many other countries having similar historical background. If these migrants does not accept the fact that majority rules, there is no reason for them to nestle in Australia and other countries with the minority people. Those Tamils who does not want to share and live with the majority should have gone to India and be in their ancestral land Tamil Nadu and share ownership for their land instead being minority people elsewhere.

Once, an official of the Immigration Department in Australia at a citizenship ceremony in one of the states said that the Australian Government welcome migrants to become citizens of the country and also, to respect the rule of the country.

During last decades, most of the Tamils live in north and east were isolated from rest of the majority Sinhalese by the LTTE Terrorist group mainly to achieve their own goal to be the only rulers for the North and the east of Sri Lanka. And, they have brainwashed the average Tamil peasant in those areas as Sinhalese are anti Tamil evil people prepared to kill tamils. LTTE, did not want people in their areas to learn Sinhalese language purposely to avoid communication and contacts with the rest of the country. Most of the Tamils living in LTTE areas have no idea how so many Tamils living in peace in the South with majority Sinhalese.

If, the Tamils are treated differently how come that many of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka is living in the South with the Sinhalese and being employed in Government departments, private sector, owning properties and businesses. In Capital of Colombo there are many streets in the main city centre where the businesses are run by 75% Tamils. Similarly, many parts of Colombo the metropolitan properties are owned by Tamils notably, Colombo 5 and 6 areas. Since of late there are many Tamils migrated from north and east and have bought properties and settled down in predominant Sinhalese areas in the South.

Col. Hariharan need more understanding of the situation of Sri Lanka.

Ranjith C

Posted by: ranjith chandrasekera | December 10, 2008 08:44 PM

Colonel Hariharan,

Kindly drop your pomposity and your fake bluster.

When the SLan Army commander makes any kind of statement his words are carefully measured by political pundits, tamil tigers and arm chair quarterbacks like you. He knows this full well and expresses his words so that that they spread disinformation with the tamil tigers. As you know his stratgic plan is to wipe out the tamil tigers as well as capture their territory, and so far he has achieved his goals.

It is tragic that pundits like you keep poking around affairs in Sri Lanka when ten 22 year old kids made a mockery of the Indian intelligence apparatus (where was RAW and the 3rd agency?) and the Indian counter terrorism apparatus.You would better serve your nation by providing your so called expertise to the Indian government.

The very fact that it took 160 hours to get rid of 10 terrorists is a shame and should prick the entire Indian security and intelligent apparatus.

There is an apt biblical script that I will quote here:" Quit pointing out the speck of wood in your neighbour's eye and work on getting the wooden beam out of thine eye."

Posted by: Ari De Andrado | December 10, 2008 09:19 PM

There was a time the Sinhalese used to argue that Thamils occupied high posts in public and judicial service quite disproportionate to their total population.

That the government is run by 3 lingams. That the Chief is a Thamil. The Attorney General is a Thamil etc. But this is no more the case. Sinhalese occupy 95% of the public service, judicial service and armed forces. This is far in excess of 74% Sinhalese population.

Democracy is the rule of the majority, but not in a multi ethnic , multi-language, multi-cultural and multi religious country like Ceylon. In Canada the white Anglo Saxons constitute more than 70% of the total population. But they don't claim that the country should be ruled by Anglo Saxons.

If at all Canada has seen more French Canadians as Prime Ministers than English Canadians. Sri Lanka was never one country before the arrival of the Portuguese. It had two or more Kingdoms with the Thamil Kingdom constituting one of them.

Posted by: Thanga | December 10, 2008 11:37 PM

Where on earth this commentator Ranjith Chandrasekara lives?

The Tamil people in north,east,Colombo,in the up country and the some very few Tamils in other densily Singalese
populated areas in the country live in fear. Every single day is passed with deadly panic and confusion. Does Gunasekara reads newspaper and pay his much needed attention to other sources of news media?

Large round-ups and mass arrest, abductions,torture and killings carried out on Tamils everywhere by very Government which suppose to protect them? The reports relased by world human righs organizations...has this guy never seen one of them? One would wonder where he lives?

Coming to to the part who should rule the Tamils? Decades of white supremist unafairly ruled the black people in South Africa only to give up at last! Those days terrorist Nelson Mandelo as called by western world then and now he is a worldly accepted freedom figther. Tamils were minding their own business and ruling themselves by their own Tamil kings not by the Singalese King until the British united these kingdoms! Just because the Singalese people did not like the Tamils parting away or just because it didn't serve the regional interest of some big countries, Tamils are not going to stop exercising their right to rule themselves.

The new genarations of Tamils will one day get rid of these alien occupying forces who massacred more than 70,000 of innocent Tamils, and feel what their ancestors felt so many years ago-the freedom to rule themselves!

Posted by: Nishanthan | December 11, 2008 12:03 AM

In Singapore the chinese is about 90% of the population.The president and the important ministers of Finance and law are tamils.Tamil is on of the official languages.

The Country is prospering because of this broadmindness

Posted by: sangarapillai | December 11, 2008 02:24 AM

It is such feelings of Sinhalese, well stated by Fonseka, brought SL to this sad state.

If only the Sinhalese had agreed to the political solution sought in the Fifties by the Tamils in a united country, we would not have ended in this mess, but would have been on top of the world today.

Let the patriotic people of Sri Lanka learn this in many more years to come!

Posted by: Canaga | December 11, 2008 03:09 AM

Mr Ranjith Chandrasekera is absolutely correct and spot on, and there is no doubt about it.

How come the Tamils live in Colombo and the surburbs and other major towns like Negombo,Matale, Kandy, Ratnapura, the up country, Ampara, Trinco etc with others peacefully???

How come you have loads of Tamils working in Private sector, Attend Uni and Tutotories with others???

What about the thriving whole sale business in Pettah and other cities?

Yes, surely every country have majority rule and they dominate be it the Americas,Asia, the Middle East,Europe, Africas etc. It doesn't mean monorities cannot work and live. This is a universal fact and the reality.

Any struggle for self determination by the minorities in any country is resisted by the majority state and militarily crushed if possible

Posted by: Lanka Puthra | December 11, 2008 03:09 AM

No wonder that India accuses Pakistan of plotting recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai.India created the insurgency in Sri Lanka and up until LTTE killed the son of the lady who created LTTE it was supportive.

Keep supporting the terrorists and GOD will send terrorists to India via Pakistan

Posted by: Don | December 11, 2008 05:28 AM

a country belongs to all its citizens.The army commander is erroneous when he states that he strongly believes it belongs to the sinhalese only based on the fact that they constitute 75 per cent of the population.

Even if it is 99per cent the balance one per cent are also owners of the country.all the citizens are owners of the country just like shareholders in a company.What he may be meaning is 75 per cent of the shareholders can control a business and make the decisions regarding its future overiding the rest, which has been the way the country has been run since independence.

That way of conducting business is okay if you are clever and wise enough to always make the right decisions for the country. Whereas Nehru went in one direction of federalism to keep India together srilankan leaders went in another direction thinking they can keep the country together with the gun and thugs with swords.

Imagine if Nehru had thoght he could deal with the southern dravidian part of india in that fashion instead of giving federalism. the consequences would have been 2 indias just like the the koreas. It is not too late for the sinhala leaders to learn from nehru and even at this late stage give a devolution package identical to the indian model.

I suspect they wont because they have a superiority complex over indian leaders and consider them "jokers". It is high time indian leaders learnt from srilankan leaders and ditched the federal model and copied the srilankan constitution, and the northern aryan people who the country rightfully belong to tell the southern dravidians not to make "undue demands".

Posted by: shankar | December 11, 2008 07:08 AM

Ranjit C. I suppose you have not heard of native land title in Australia.

There are some areas in Australia where the aboriginal people control the land and run their own affairs. This was given to them by the Australian government in response to agitation by the aboriginal people.

The aboriginal people are quite content to let other aspects of running the country in the hands of the government of Australia. This is because the government of Australia runs the country in a transparent manner and tries to govern in a way that benefits all the people of Australia.

Contrast that with the tin pot dictatorship that your man runs in Colombo under the guise of democracy. If you are so confident the thamil people are happy to live under your hegemony, why dont you have a free and fair referendum in the thamil speaking areas as to whether they want to be ruled by you or leave.

Indonesia and Denmark gave the choise to countries they colonised. What you country has acheived is to be among the 8 worst countreis of the world for genocide.You cant call the entire world sudu kotiyas because of this.

Posted by: Eelaventhan | December 11, 2008 07:12 AM

sri lanka army is already win

Posted by: asanka jayawardena | December 11, 2008 10:08 PM

The dilemma of Mr Sarath Fonseka's comment may be tested once the ceasefire issue comes to the stage. The popularity of army is higher than never ever before and though these people show that they are not politically motivated the truth may come out near future.

Srilanka has never entertained a military regime but I personally feel thet they are asking for a one.

I would bet my money on a military coup as soon as the ceasefire issue becomes inevitable.

Posted by: Banda dissanayake | December 12, 2008 06:30 AM

Tamils are smarter and proved all over the world that they have the ability to win this war despite being monority. The majority,sinhalese, with over 200,000 armed forces that still can not defeat 15,000 tamils freedom fighters - what a shame! GOSL not only among 8 worst countreis of the world for genocide but also among beggers list. Begging India, china, Iran, Pakistan and Israel and many others...all for what? for waging war against its own tamil citizens.

All 3 punters, currently leading this war are foreign citizens too (Gotabaya, Basil and Sarath) and have been allowed to make decisions on local issues but one thing for sure that these 3 have already made fortune out of this war and well settled in the US. After retirement, they would not even want to know about Srilanka but some fools can not understand this.

If those 3 beleive that they can retire safely in the US soil, then they are wrong too - they will be charged for their war crimes against innocent tamils.

Posted by: truth | December 12, 2008 09:31 AM

In Sri Lanka, for the last sixtey years, the history books have being rewritten by the ruling majority in order to deny the tamil existence.

The result of this systemitic denial is apprently leading toward tamil genocide by the state run terrisom. India clearly understands this and hopefuly save the tamils by staying out of this conflict or helping the tamils. Tamil Freedom leads to peace in the region.

Freedom to ALL

Posted by: shan the artist | December 12, 2008 10:34 AM

Dear Col. Hari,

Please don't bother too much about our Army man's sarcastic remark. He is waiting to get his US citizenship to migrate to Nebraska and have no political ambitions whatsoever. We, Sri-Lankans owe him so much for the Army's successes in recent battles.

The silent majority is not with him and actually longing for a peaceful solution to our nation's ethnic problem, because we all can't migrate to Nebraska or California.

It's matter of time before either India or LTTE will force GOSL to opt for a ceasefire.

Not all Tamils are bad and likewise it applies to the Sinhalese as well. After all, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims have to share this wonderful Island once this utterly stupid war is over. Until then I pray to god to help us soon to live in total harmony again.

Peace to All Sri-Lankans.

Posted by: Nirmana Kodituwakku | December 13, 2008 12:39 AM

SF will have to face a few hurdles before becoming the President of "Sinhala Budhist Unitary State of Sri Lanka":

Posted by: Dr KC | December 14, 2008 04:30 AM

Hello All,

I think in October Sri Lankan Spokes man said we are only 2 and a half Kilio meters away from Kilinochi, next day we heard aerial bombing of power station,now they say we are 3 miles away from Kilinochi, I am very confused with this Measurement,Could some body help me, so that I can teach my students about these modern way of measuring the distance,

Many Thanks in advance for your help

Posted by: Maths Teacher | December 14, 2008 05:06 PM

Our Brother Sarath, Rajapakse &Co says we will get Kilinochchi before new year, I am not sure which new year he means English or Tamil Sinhala new year, could some body tell me who is correct?/ !!!!

Posted by: Thamilan | December 20, 2008 05:31 PM

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