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Inconvenient questions answered

By Col R Hariharan

In the last few weeks I have received a number of questions from readers for which there are no simple answers. I have tried to answer some of these inconvenient questions, although my answers may not satisfy all.

1. You have been writing only about the war situation, in utter disregard to the humanitarian crisis. And your analysis is also based upon Sri Lanka defence sources reports. Don’t you think it would mislead the readers?

There are three issues involved in my writing:

• I am basically a military analyst. I am commenting upon the military performance of the two sides. And war is not a cricket match. It is basically an inhuman exercise. It is a fight by the two sides to eliminate each other and survive. And I have commented upon the inhuman nature of war and its humanitarian implications in many of my articles. But as I am not a human rights analyst – many experts in that field are doing excellent work – my comments on humanitarian issues are included in my analysis as relevant in forecasting the developing military trends. (Please see SAAG Sri Lanka Update No 167 dated March 8, where I had commented in detail on the humanitarian disaster waiting to happen.) But I also believe war can be still prosecuted more humanely; so I am against small arms proliferation brought about by insurgency and war as well the use of inhumane and dangerous weapons. I had devoted an entire article on the subject of small arms proliferation and insurgency. Similarly I had also condemned the reported use of cluster ammunition.

• Sri Lanka security forces have been providing detailed and regular battlefield reports and most of the analysts have been using them with caution, particularly regarding the number of casualties. On the other hand the LTTE had been giving reports in bits and pieces with no logical coherence – perhaps due to problems of communication after the destruction of its infrastructure including TV broadcasting facility were destroyed during the war. And the LTTE has not regularly reported on the fall of its defences creating doubts about its selective reporting. In war, possession is three fourths of law and the security forces achievements are there for all, including the LTTE, to see. There is no point in not recognizing the reality that the security forces have performed better than LTTE. So the question of misleading the readers does not arise.

• Lastly, as far as possible I am avoiding what other commentators are writing in their own expertise on political, sociological and economic issues related to war. So I have been confining largely to my area of specialisation – intelligence analysis and assessment. So there will be limitations in content on issues not directly related to the overall assessment. As this war is being commented upon with inadequate independent sources of battlefield information, commenting upon every incident is not possible.

2. From your writing you appear to be against a ceasefire that would provide relief to the trapped civilians. Even the UK and Canada have called for it. Please explain.

Ceasefire in war is not a purely military issue. It is a political issue also; in the case of Sri Lanka there is a strong international element also. So, although ceasefire is not wholly in my domain let me attempt to answer the question from the point of view of a military man.

I am not against a ceasefire. But to expect a ceasefire to come into force when one side is routed and the other side is winning in a hot war is not realistic. This applies to any war. I believe in writing on what is possible. And my writing on Sri Lanka is no exception.

Even if theoretically, the Sri Lanka government agrees to a ceasefire it will not be able to survive the political upheaval that is likely to follow. Moreover, if a ceasefire comes into force, the LTTE would be the gainer, not the Sri Lanka government. LTTE would survive to carry on the fight as before another day. So for Sri Lanka to seriously consider ceasefire as an option instead of war, there has to be an incentive - say a LTTE promise to denounce armed conflict to gain Tamil Eelam. (I am not too sure the LTTE would agree to it). Protagonists of ceasefire call should take their own call seriously and work on how to achieve a ceasefire; mere sloganeering would not do. And they should work on both the warring sides to get results and not focus on Sri Lanka government only.

Yes, the well-meaning souls in power in the UK and Canada have called for an immediate ceasefire. Although I don’t doubt their humanitarian intentions, it sounds a little hollow as there is suspicion their eyes might be on the Tamil expatriate votes while making the call. So if they are to be taken seriously they can come with some concrete suggestions on how Sri Lanka can go about doing it without a loss of face. One suggestion is that they can offer a sanctuary to all the LTT militants on their soil to start with.

And for a lasting ceasefire, the question “what after the ceasefire?” also needs to be examined in advance. That was one of the reasons for the failure of the ceasefire of 2002 to hold. Ceasefire has to be linked to a political process. I don’t see any such move in the horizon in Sri Lanka or elsewhere.

3. “Prabhakaran is a clever military strategist. So even if the LTTE is defeated now, he would rise up once again and vanquish the Sinhala Army.” Your comments please.

There is no doubt that Prabhakaran has a natural talent for military strategy. But progressing a war is a dynamic process and one cannot be victorious at all times. In the present Eelam War IV, he has been outwitted, outgunned, and out-strategised. And that has hurt the LTTE grievously. It will take a long time for the LTTE to recoup from the war wounds. That process requires safe havens, funds, arms, and a lot of loyal supporters who would forgive LTTE’s failure and be ready to sacrifice the lives of the next generation of Tamils. So even though he might still be capable, Prabhakaran has to run the gauntlet of issues I have raised to rebuild the LTTE literally from the ashes. At the age of 52 it will be an ordeal of fire for Prabhakaran to do so. But now his immediate priority is to survive the war that has not ended yet.

In this context I am reminded of the life of Mustafa Barzani (1903-1979), the legendary political and military leader of Kurdish revolution. He fought both the Iraqi and Iranian governments to carve out an independent Kurdish nation all his adult life. Although a short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was created in Iran in 1945, it lasted only a year. He went into exile in Soviet Union after the Iranians overran the Republic. He did not give up; he revived the Kurdish struggle and negotiated peace with Iraq but ultimately all failed because Iran and Iraq bartered away Kurdish autonomy to suit their mutual rapprochement efforts. He died in exile in Washington. And an independent Kurdistan never came into being; it exists as a province in Iraq with a measure of autonomy thanks to the support of the US.

(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.)


Just to comment on Col. Hariharan's first answer- to call war inhuman is to suggest that war is not something found in human nature. This is obviously not true. As far as I am aware, no other mammals fight wars. So wars, with all there bloodshed and horrors, are inherently human. There are no inhuman wars. The label inhuman suggests that humans are inherently good and that their animal nature comes to the fore during a war. Words such as "brutal" imply this. It's time to acknowledge that humans are vicious and nasty when we go to war and that this is an integral part of our nature that goes along with having large brains.

Posted by: Ajit Alles | April 13, 2009 06:49 AM

Dear Colonel (retd) R. Harikaran

I have personally sent an e.mail to clarify my 2 vital questions. You never replied to me. I feel it is right time to answer my questions. Followings are the message I sent to you.

I have 2 vital qiestions for you in connection with Eelam people. I hope that you will answer them with honest.

1) What do you think about the barbaric act of raping by Indian Peace Keeping Forces on Tamil women in the Island country during their assignment period. I think that raping a women will make any normal human a furious. Particularly, we Tamils, who respect women with equal to God, are more sensitive when their women get rapped or sexually assaulted. You cannot escape from this question by simply saying that there was no such incidence, because we have a lot of evidences. My relative was one among them.

2) what do you suggest for solving the Tamil problem in the Island country. Tell me your pragmatic and viable solutions. Because many poeple, who are adept in writing articles, especially in English version, just always pass comments. We want concrete action, not mere words.

With regards

Posted by: Tamilselvi | April 13, 2009 11:39 PM

You have mentioned the canard of cluster weapons. The TTTs have also spread the lie that both Phosphorus and Chemical weapons were used. I am certain that you do know that none of these were used, as the Military does not possess them.
Your comments re. UK and Canadian politicians, I agree with.

Posted by: Ram2009 | April 14, 2009 12:57 AM

When the Red Army had Berlin surrounded at the end of WW2, I doubt if calling a truce to avoid civilian casualties ever entered the mind of General Zhukov. However the Nazis themselves, out of concern for their own people could have surrendered and saved many German lives. But a man with Hitler's mindset would never do such a thing. Its glory or nothing for these types of people, and the people in whose name they fight have always been expendable.

The situation is the same in Sri Lanka. Prabakaran will never surrender because he knows he is finished either way. The tragedy is that he will take the people who stood by him through thick and thin with him. These are the very people whom he elected to liberate from a perceived oppression. In the end he has only succeeded in liberating their souls from their bodies.

Posted by: dingiri | April 14, 2009 06:04 AM

Not true, Ajit. Chimpanzee tribes and wolf packs often fight rival tribes and packs for territory. So do certain species of ants. Many species fight each other for territory and food -- big cats, for example. However, only certain species fight in groups -- man is one of them.

Perhaps the colonel meant inhumane rather than inhuman.

Posted by: David Blacker | April 14, 2009 06:42 AM

Dear Mr. Hariharan,

what about the direct involvement of Indian military personnel? Do you still want to tell the fairy tale that Indian soldiers are not involved in the current war against the LTTE?

As you have mentioned, you are a military analyst. So this should be the right question for you, I guess.

Posted by: Tharmalan | April 14, 2009 09:34 AM

Dear Mr Hariharan,

Thank you for your answers. You call this a war. If it is then it is a very unequal one. 50,000 soldiers backed by the full resources of the state and Indian strategic support against (according to government figures) a rag-tag 2000 strong militia full of forcible conscripts and "child" recruits.

In your military opinion, do you think that the LTTE have lasted surprisingly longer that anyone would have given them credit for?

You say the SL government has been providing battlefield reports (albeit suspect). What is your estimate of SL army caualties?

What is your estimate of the likelihood of India supplying nerve gas to the Sri Lankan Army?

Finally, can one really isolate war from politics? India has played a dangerous game in Sri Lanka. The Singhalese hate India for the support that was given to the formative LTTE. The Tamils now hate India for supporting a lethal and racist government. Tamil Nadu is a tinderbox waiting to explode. The Tamil issue could develop into a nightmare for India. Which is why military campaigns also have to take "hearts and minds" into account.



Posted by: Segaran | April 14, 2009 02:48 PM

What is the necessacity for the GOSL to go to such extreme lengths to prevent The U N Security Council from discussing the conflict and the IDP in Sri Lanka?
Since S L is a member would it not be to our benefit that we tell the world the true situation about thie present situation and the plight of the displaced and expose the LTTE and their treatment of the innocent civilians.

Posted by: F M de Silva | April 14, 2009 05:51 PM

Mr. Hariharan, the problem has been caused by the polticians, who created all these for their poltical power survival and making money for them and their families. Ponnambalm Ramanadhan defended the sinhalese against the muslims in the riots while speaking in the state council. Later he was let down by the Sinhalese. Srilanka belongs to every bosy and whether sinhalese, tamils or muslims they are migrants from various places.

In India muslims consists of 10% of the population and still chance was given for a minoroty muslim Presidents, Muslim chief ministers including muslim cricket captain. In Srilanka it is unimaginable for the minority to become a powerfull minister even leaving the prime minister president posts. In Madras the Mount Road is called Mount Road in English and Anna Salai in Tamail. In Srilanka ir will be not be so. The sinhalese equivalent for street is called Mawatha. While they name the streets in English for example they call bauddhaloka mawatha in English as well as in sinhalese. It should have been called bauddhaloka road or street in English and they could call bauddaloka mawatha in sinhalese.

The elite thinking sinhalese have left Srilankan shores and started living in other countries knowing that there is no future in SDrilanka. Sinhalese should learn to understand and accept srilankans as equal citizens rather than branding them as sinhales, tamils or muslims.

What is surprising is that Lord Buddha never taught this mind to his disciples. Buddhism is based on rebirth and where does it stsand if mahinda is born again as a tamil e.g. prabhakaran and Gotabhaya as pottu amman.

Everyone of them forgot there is somebody watching their activities from up. Why cant these parasitic politicians explain this to the general masses. They are busy in grooming their children and grand childrem so the generation could survive on public money. What a shame to call a Budhist even if the priets start doing these corruptions and womanising?

Posted by: Dr. Rosh Greenwich London | April 15, 2009 01:22 AM

Col R Hariharan,

Please give your opinion regarding the human rights violations perpetrated by the IPKF. Do not dodge this issue, silence only serves to disrespect the memory of thousands who perished through horrible deaths.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was not a wise course of action, but his life is not equivalent to those who perished at the hands of the IPKF. As former PM who exercised executive authority, this man and his accomplices should have been tried for war crimes. Ultimately, the actions of your IPKF was simply disgraceful, you people essentially raped and killed the innocents you were sent to protect. Shame on you and who ever else was involved in this slaughter force disguised as a peace keeping force.

Posted by: Nitharshan | April 15, 2009 01:43 AM

Dear Mr Hariharan,

How come you never write any thing about Indian government military contribution in this illegal war waged by Sri Lankan government on a helpless small Tamil minority.


Posted by: Anonymous | April 15, 2009 05:27 AM

Please read the reality below

Victories in war decided by military might are ephemeral. India should have already learnt the lesson in the late 80s. But a bunch of people in the Congress Establishment and the bureaucrats installed by them in the government seem to have hardly understood the point.

The will power of the Eezham Tamils and their diaspora; and the wish of the people of Tamil Nadu and their global diaspora, have clearly demonstrated without any iota of doubt, what they want and whom they support.

Knowingly, the extra-parliamentary elements directing the affairs of the Indian government have led the country into committing the worst ever anti-democratic crime since its independence, in the case of the Eezham Tamils.

The latest is the agenda set by the Indian Establishment, hand in glove with genocidal Colombo, to imprison the Tamil civilians against their wish at the cost of any number of casualties, humiliate them in inhuman ways, break the backbone of their independent spirit and put the remaining of them behind the barbed wire of Colombo’s concentration camps.

The Indian bureaucrats, the brains hatching treachery and operating at the behest of the Congress Establishment, were rude to Tamil National Alliance (TNA) members when they received them last in Colombo, sometimes back. When the entire Tamil Nadu was demonstrating for Eezham Tamils one of the bureaucrats irked them by talking on the intimate friendship he forged with Colombo.

The people who perpetrated and mainly abetted the war, the people who nationally and internationally operated against all attempts to call off the war, have now called the TNA to Delhi for talks, that too after setting the agenda for Colombo to pounce on the civilians with all ferocity.

The brutal coercion is too explicit. It is not for talks they are receiving the TNA, but to dictate terms.

The Indian Establishment has an arrogant way of reminding that it is always the Eezham Tamils who will be needing India and not vice versa. There was a time when many Eezham Tamils believed it and were restraining themselves. But it is time to tell the Indian Establishment that they also will need us.

It is not that the Eezham Tamils don’t understand the motives behind the insinuations of the Co-Chairs, their role in perpetrating and abetting the war, their deliberate and scheming delay in arresting the human crisis and unwillingness in recognizing the independently waged liberation struggle.

But there is an increasing tendency among Eezham Tamils today to rely more on the West for solutions and the blame squarely falls especially on the present Indian Establishment.

Observers feel that in recent times the mounting anger of Eezham Tamils are more directed at perpetrators and abetters of the war than at Colombo which is waging the war, for it is always expected what the irredeemably chauvinistic state will do. If not for the abetters, the Tamils would have handled it on their own.

In the Tamil mind, India tops the list of perpetrators and abetters.

It is the last chance for the Indian Establishment to change the equations.

Individual egos operating without mass backing will bring in only disaster.

The silence of intellectuals and the sabotage of mainstream media in India, working against the will power of the oppressed, abetting a demonic state in the island and failing in exposing their own government, have committed Himalayan blunders. Belated remorse is of no use.

Posted by: Rajah | April 15, 2009 05:59 AM

Dear Tamilselvi | April 13, 2009 11:39 PM

If Tamil women had been raped by the IPKF I fully agree with you it is a heinous crime and the culprits should be punished by the rule of law.

Now can I ask you to join me in condemning and urging the these culprits to permit the cause of justice in relation to the following crimes?

In mid 80s the LTTE executed hundreds of TELO cadres even after they surrended to the LTTE and pleaded mercy;

On the 2nd day of the Indo LTTE war, the LTTE put over 30 half and full naked dead bodies of the IPKF on public display. Also, media was permitted to take pictures of this display and the pictures were beamed all over the world;

During the first week of the Indo LTTE war, the LTTE used the premises of the Jaffna Teaching Hospital to carry out fatal attacks on the IPKF;

Many unarmed senior Tamil political leaders (Mr Amirthalingam, Mr & Mrs Yogeshwaran, Mr Thiruchelvam, Mr Thangathurai et al) were assassinated by the LTTE:

Even 2 years after withdrawal of the IPKF, Ragiv G along with over 20 civilians were killed by the LTTE.

A crime is a crime whoever commits it; we should not turn a blind eye because the LTTE has committed it.

I look forward to seeing your response.

Posted by: kc | April 15, 2009 06:39 AM

Col Hari, you have avoided my questions - namely, why did the IPKF entered the Jaffna Hospital with 'open fire' killing the doctors, nurses, patients and civilians?

I got cought to the IPKF, landed the day before the offensive - to stay only five days to see my mother, but caught for five weeks!

I saw some of the atrocities of the IPKF, to achieve which they changed the Tamils in the IPKF army to Gurkas and Sikhs.

The treatment the Tamils recd. at the hands of the IPKF was very very unfortunate.

Posted by: Canaga | April 15, 2009 09:41 PM


The death of civilians by the IPKF in the Jaffna Hospital is a crime and I urge the GoI to punish the soldiers appropriately. But I have to put it to you that before this incident on many occasions during the preceding week, the LTTE used this Hospital - I mean from within the hospital premises - to fatally attack the IPKF. Now would you condemn the LTTE for this criminal act?

Posted by: kc | April 16, 2009 01:52 PM

Below is evidence for LTTE's scorch earth policy. One should realy worry about the civilians trapped by them. It is inhuman to use civilians as fodder to ptotect a terror organization

Posted by: sepa | April 16, 2009 04:29 PM

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