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Achievement 2008, Challenge 2009

The organic identity of the people, armed forces and political leadership

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Sri Lanka closes out its 60th year of Independence , though in the strictest sense it lasts till the beginning of next February when we celebrate our 61st Independence Day. It is a moment to take stock. Due to all the wrong turnings we took and the right ones we did not at and since our Independence six decades ago, we have spent a quarter century commemorating our independence in conditions of a separatist civil war. This will in all probability be so next year too. However it may not be so the year after, and from then onwards, because of what we have achieved this year. And I do mean “we”: the leadership, the government, the military, the vast majority of people, the dissident Tamils.

What has been the balance sheet of 2008? It is that we are winning but have not yet won. Victory is on the horizon but it has not yet been achieved. 2008 was the year in which the Sri Lankan political leadership decisively reversed the balance of forces between the state and the LTTE. It is the year in which the country feels itself on the strategic offensive while the enemy is on the (admittedly dogged) defensive.

The main achievement of 2008 was the shift in the balance of forces between the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE and the maintenance of the posture of strategic offensive by the Sri Lankan armed forces. The Lankan military has succeeded in squeezing the LTTE into parts of two contiguous districts and the peninsular neck. The LTTE was unable to make any territorial gains this year. Nor was it able to regain any territory it lost. As importantly or even more importantly, the Tigers lost thousands of valuable fighting cadres. The corresponding losses by the Sri Lankan forces are affordable given the discrepancy in size of the two armed formations as well as the vaster discrepancy in the population base of recruitment. Voluntary recruitment to the Sri Lankan armed forces kept rising throughout the year, while forced conscription in the LTTE controlled areas brought in ill-motivated fighters into the ranks of the enemy.

The main result of 2008, that of the maintenance of the offensive posture of the Sri Lankan armed forces, was a unique one on the part of the Sri Lankan governing elite over the decades since the conflict erupted. As Karuna, ex-LTTE rebel commander turned parliamentarian –who was double-crossed by President Kumaratunga when she allowed Prabhakaran’s seaborne attackers a landing behind his lines at Verugal-- points out, these achievements would have been impossible if not for the leadership provided by President Mahinda Rajapakse, Secretary of Defense Gotabhaya Rajapakse and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. I would add the Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake and the Service chiefs Wasantha Karannagoda and Roshan Goonetilleke to the list. A half a dozen good men. But these men would have been unable to turn the tables on the Tigers as they have, and no one else before had done sustainedly, strategically, if not for the morale of the officer corps and rank and file of the armed forces. This morale itself is drawn from the supportive population base, whose active support for the war is manifested in popularity pools which range from a low of a 75% approval to a high of 83%-93%. Thus it is the people, chiefly but not exclusively the Sinhala people, who by their support and sacrifice have provided the foundation for the military success.

What this reveals is an organic identity between the people, the armed forces and the political leadership; an identity between state and society, which is a historic rarity. For the first time we have a leadership that listened to the people on this central issue, that turned itself into an instrument of the people’s will. This is the secret of the success of 2008 and one of the main features of this year.

The Tiger’s Police Chief has clearly indicated to the BBC last week that economic targets will be high on the list of terrorist priorities. What the man and his leaders obviously do not understand from their own record of destructive achievement is that such attacks only clarify matters and swell support for a war to a finish. They do not diminish or erode popular support. The erroneous thinking is based on the parliamentary elections of 2001 in which Mr. Ranil Wickremsinghe won, seemingly on the back of the economic damage caused by the attack on katunayake airport and as a result of the emergence of a lobby of corporate fat cats calling itself Sri Lanka First. What this interpretation fails to take into account is that the real secret of that election is something that has been known since 1952, namely that if the forces of the Centre (the SLFP) and the Left (be it MEP, LSSP, CPSL or JVP) remain disunited, the Right wins. In 2001, the SLFP and JVP ran against each other. The combined SLFP – JVP vote was larger than the UNP vote. Today, the JVP will run against the SLFP, but it is a divided and diminished party, whose main orator will run with the governing coalition.

If the outstanding achievement of 2008 has been the shift to and maintentence of the strategic offensive against the LTTE, what is the main task of 2009? President Rajapakse has, in his remarks to a civil society gathering on December 22nd, already identified it correctly in its historic, military and political dimensions:

"The year 2009 will be the year when our motherland would be finally liberated from the LTTE…There will be many attempts to stall the forward march of the security forces. Malicious elements have already begun to create political unrest by making many problems for the government in an attempt to save terrorists from their imminent defeat. Therefore, I expect that there would be testing times ahead. For this very reason, I would like to declare 2009 as a year of victory for heroic soldiers”. (Lanka Dissent)

The challenge of 2009 is to conclude the war victoriously and do so in a manner that precludes to the extent possible, a prolonged guerrilla war. This is by decapitating and destroying the LTTE’s fighting forces in the battles to liberate Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. The finest military mind of the post WW2 20th century, Vietnam ’s General Vo Nguyen Giap calls this definition of the military goal as “the annihilation of the living forces of the enemy”. It is a myth of the misinformed that a powerful irregular force, especially if based on some collective identity or social constituency, can never be fully defeated, and that even if conventially defeated they revert to or are reborn as guerrilla movements which are impossible to eradicate. Take three well known examples: Chechnya , Angola ’s UNITA and Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. All three were defeated and decapitated, never to be reborn as guerrillas.

Part of the challenge of 2009 is that the large unit war will have to be won within a fairly compressed time frame, before the impact of the world economic crisis manifested in collapsing commodity prices combines with the burden of military expenditure to damage the economy. A victory and the restoration of normality will spontaneously generate an economic upsurge.

Having won the quasi-conventional war, the Sri Lankan armed forces will have to eradicate the infrastructure of a residual or resurgent terrorist campaign. This cannot be done and must not be attempted by the Sri Lankan forces alone. It will require the legitimate, large scale engagement of Tamil allies and auxiliaries, and this legitimacy can result only from the constitutionally ordained devolution of power to the Eastern Provincial council and its Northern counterpart. A genuine measure of autonomy and self government, and joint operations with elected local allies has always been the secret of effective counterinsurgency.

The real challenge of 2009 then is twofold and indissolubly twinned: the liberation of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu in such a decisive and comprehensive manner as to pre-empt to the maximum degree the survival of the LTTE as a guerrilla/terrorist force and the redrawing of the Sri Lankan social contract in so enlightened and reformist a manner that the Tamil people feel included as fully fledged citizens enjoying equal rights and genuine provincial autonomy. 2009 must be the year of the full and final liberation and reunification of Sri Lankan territory and upon that reunified territory, the beginning of the construction of a truly Sri Lankan identity, an authentically Sri Lankan nation.

(These are the strictly personal views of the writer).


Sri Lanka does not deserve independence and the Sinhalese do not understand the VALUE OF FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE. Instead Sinhalese only understand violence and that's why even after 60 Years British left Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese still occupies Eelam and commit War Crimes against Tamils.

There is no exception of the behaviour of Indians too. The occupiers and rulers want independence but not for other ethnic groups and small nations. Is this 21st century Independence?

The Criminal politicians will learn one day the Freedom struggle, Will and determination of Eelam Tamils will help to achieve freedom like those live in Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia and those Criminals will pay a price for there wrongdoing and attrocities.

Posted by: V Siva | December 26, 2008 05:37 PM

Rajapakse's achievement in 2008 may be the highest number of Tamil civilians kidnapped, raped and killed by any other Sinhala leader. International Community has been collecting details of War Crimes and other atrocities against Tamils. It's time will teach Rajapakse and his regime a lesson probably in 2009 when Obama takes over power in the US.

Rajapakse will never, ever win the hearts of Tamils as everyone know the unspeakable crimes committed by his regime. Rajapakse must be dreaming like former Serbian president Milosevic and will receive the same fate of Milosevic.

Posted by: V Siva | December 26, 2008 05:46 PM

Gotabhaya Rajapakse and Sarath Fonseka are to be charged for War Crimes in the US in early 2009.

This may be the turning point for the Rajapakse regime going forward 2009?

Posted by: V Siva | December 26, 2008 05:51 PM

To The Editor:

Please reproduce this article in end of 2009.
I would like to comment then.

Thank you,


Posted by: aratai | December 26, 2008 06:16 PM

"Part of the challenge of 2009 is that the large unit war will have to be won within a fairly compressed time frame, before the impact of the world economic crisis manifested in collapsing commodity prices combines with the burden of military expenditure to damage the economy. A victory and the restoration of normality will spontaneously generate an economic upsurge."....
Your thoughts seem so academic to me. Dream on.

Posted by: SriLankan | December 26, 2008 07:02 PM

DJ means to say that the sinhalese are heading for a chauvinistic rule

Posted by: pandara vanniyan | December 26, 2008 09:31 PM

Excellent article. The truth. The so called freedom strugle has completely destryed the tamil nation and continues to do so. Tamils will need another couple of decades to rebuild their image and reputation. More power, indipendence should come through democracy. Give up the bullet, take to the ballet. Tamils will be more powerfull then.

Posted by: obama | December 27, 2008 02:22 AM

Dayan Jayatilleka: “This is by decapitating and destroying ... fighting forces in the battles ... The finest military mind of the post WW2 20th century, Vietnam ’s General Vo Nguyen Giap calls this definition of the military goal as “the annihilation of the living forces of the enemy”.”

Not so Dayan Jayatilleke!

“[T]he annihilation of the living forces of the enemy” is a strategy or method of militarily winning a war - winning being the goal.

There are also other ways/methods/strategies apart from the total anihilation of the enemey forces, such as incapacitating or compromising their fighting ability in some other way.

You have muddled up strategy and goal! - Despite mentioning General Vo Nguyen Giap!

And while he was certainly a great master of guerrilla war, why do you think that "The finest military mind of the post WW2 20th century, [is] Vietnam’s General Vo Nguyen Giap"?

Posted by: N2 | December 27, 2008 02:33 AM

DJ correctly and succinctly outlines the achievement of the Sri Lankan state in deflating the bloated image of the 2 legged tiger. No wonder the eelamists posting their opinions here are piqued at the diminishing fortunes of an illusive 'Tamil Eelam' in Sri Lanka!

Posted by: Sugeeshwara | December 27, 2008 06:13 AM

It is amazing how easily you come out with such nonsense having published a book on such a complex subject matter as Fidel's Ethics on Violence. Vietnam ’s General Vo Nguyen Giap fought on the side of victims of imperialism. He had nothing what so ever to do with hegemonists, imperialist or racists. Now, you are even trying hard to hop on the Obama bandwagon. You ain't fooling no one except your own self!

The LTTE is motivated enough prevail, over whatever obstacles the Sinhala racists and supremacists may throw at them. In the end, it is the quality of the Journey that matters, as a Sinhala-Buddhist you shouldn't find that statement difficult to grasp!

Posted by: P Shantikumar | December 27, 2008 08:39 AM

LTTE were reduced to rag-tag group of guerilla outfit during IPKF times. LTTE rose from the rubbles and the 1996 Do-or-Die battle of Mulletivu which saw SLA annihilated on all counts. If this is anything to go by,then, "Tigers are down but NOT out" is the more accurate analysis of current war.

Already, LTTE Politico mentions that LTTE fighting a DEFENSIVE war. Once their Offensive War begins,then, the outcome of that will either underscore DJ's predictions or the repeat of 1997 - 2001 phase of war.

No soothsaying by DJ is going to alter the future proceedings. By the time war is complete, SL will be another Ethiopia or even worse.

Suddenly, the war theatre has gone quiet. The fighting is still going on,but, death counts cannot be verified and a media blanket hides all progress from both sides. Why?

The price paid by SLA to capture Kili is enormous. I feel sorry for those village youths and families who are paying with their dear lives to please a few.

Posted by: Rodhan Goonetilake | December 27, 2008 02:22 PM

"What this reveals is an organic identity between the people, the armed forces and the political leadership: an identity between state and society which is a historic rarity................"

He is right.

This "organic identity" is manifested by disappearances, assaults, extortions, killings, appearance of dead bodies, arbitary arrests of tamils only because they are tamils, & incarceration for months as "they are not willing to talk" as represented to the Supreme Court recently, thereby increasing the period of incarceration without even the reasons for the arrests being communicated to those arrested, as required by the PTA. Now these are also manifest in the "liberated east" where even those who quit the LTTE years ago and are engaged in peaceful livelihood, and their sibligs, are being gunned down. Even those who quit the war zone are being forced to live in special camps by the army.

Sure - a "historic rarity" has occurred.

Posted by: Nathan | December 27, 2008 07:54 PM

I thought the finest military minds of the post WW2 -20th century, are Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro and Che Guevra!

What about Moshe Dayan?

Well! we all love Vo Nguyen Giap for the magnificent victory against the mighty imperialist USA in a classic war of liberation!

The Dien bin Pho victory against colonial power -France was achieved during Peace Talks in Geneva!

But resulted in Vietnam being divided into North Vietnam and South Vietnam!

Then the severe beating the South Vietnamese/Americans experienced was during Tet offensive –again waged during a ceasefire during Vietnamese Tet festival!

The final defeat the Americans suffered was during Paris Peace talks and resulted in final victory and reunification of Vietnam.

This was Giap!

Now what was the role played by the massive anti war protests in USA?

Do you observe any similarities between Giap and LTTE?

Goals, Strategies and Tactics!

Finally Dayan is quoting Giap and Karuna ???

What happened to Obama,Castro Che Guvera......

Posted by: Sri | December 28, 2008 12:36 PM

One must also be aware of Reports by Louise Arbour,John Holmes, Philip Aston, Manfred Novak, Alan Rock & Robert Evans - all of the UN - about the state of affairs in Sri Lanka.

And also the Reports about Sri Lanka by the Amnesty International, Transparecy International, Asian Human Rights Commission, US Human Rights Commssion & the UN Human Rights Council - from which Sri Lanka was evicted. And about the Report by the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons on the progress of the Udalagama Commission.

Posted by: Nathan | December 29, 2008 08:27 AM

*** Sri Lanka does not deserve independence and the Sinhalese do not understand the VALUE OF FREEDOM AND INDEPENDENCE. ***

No surprises from V. Siva for a statement like the above. You can see that after 60 years later the Communalist Mentality and the Arrogance of the Privileged Minority under the British Colonial Rule still is fostered and remains deeply ingrained in the Psyche of these people.

Your contempt for loosing the Limited Franchise system and having to wake up to a Sri Lanka that now recognizes One Man, One Vote has left a very ugly scar on your mentality. Tamils had no problem when they were Favorite Sons to the Colonial Masters, this attitude is still seen today in the Bitterness of the comments written by the likes of V. Siva & Co.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 29, 2008 11:43 PM


30 Years ago the Tamil Federal Party wanted Federalism. When it was offered(even forced) on a Platter in 1987 with India as the co-signer and facilitator,... you people changed your tune and Backed the LTTE who then said they wanted Eelam.

Long and short is your Selfish Communalism has no self-restraints. The Military victory is Long overdue, because it will crush that mentality out of you.

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | December 29, 2008 11:49 PM

Once more a load of rubbish from a pathetic creature trying to hold on to a lucrative job he landed after a long while. You rooted all this time for that much-hyped army take-over of Killinochi by Nov 27 - and that flopped. Chechnya, Unita and General Giap are red herrings to divert readers' minds. If you stand to principles you must quit this sinking ship. But would you?
After all, for the sake of your personal rage against JRJ who forced you underground you were prepared to join the "Tamil terrorists" against the Sinhalese people. So much so for principles of the more initiated of a particular kind.


Posted by: ilaya seran senguttuvan | December 30, 2008 09:01 PM

*** You rooted all this time for that much-hyped army take-over of Killinochi by Nov 27 ***


If the Army does not capture Killinochchi on the day they plan ...but eventually captures it a short while later...who won?

Also, if Prabhakaran is Captured or Killed then who will inherit the Throne of Eelam?

Posted by: Devinda Fernando | January 1, 2009 02:43 AM


For my answer to your comments here,
pls see my comments today on the post-kilinochchi issue in my article on Tamil resistance and Mumbai attacks. Would like to hear your comments.

Happy Newyear and pleasant holidays, my friend.


Posted by: ilaya seran senguttuvan | January 3, 2009 12:47 PM

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