Sri Lanka: Comments On Heroes Day – OpEd


By Col. R. Hariharan

November 27 used to be celebrated as the Heroes Day by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). On this occasion what is your take on those who lost their lives in the struggle for Tamil Eelam?

It was instituted in commemoration of the death of the LTTE’s first battle casualty – Sathiyanathan alias Shankar, who was killed on November 27, 1982. That was only the beginning; over the next 20 years thousands of Tamil youth sacrificed their lives to fulfil the dream of their founder-leader Prabhakaran. The LTTE used to observe the Day as a remembrance day with solemn ceremonies. But three years after the elimination of the LTTE, the families of the thousands who died can mourn them only in their hearts, without public fanfare and ceremony. I share their agony. Death of thousands of Tamil youth changed their lives and also killed their own shared dreams.

But it is also an occasion to ponder whether the Tamil struggle brought to the world stage by the LTTE could have had a different ending? Thousands of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala families also mourn those who lost their lives at the hands of the LTTE. Here I am not referring to the soldiers who died in war, but to others whose only fault was either they were in the wrong place at the wrong time when the LTTE suicide bomber struck or Thalaivar Prabhakaran did not like them or differed with their views.

On this occasion Sri Lankans everywhere should not only to mourn the dead but also introspect on the living. All communities should take a pledge to do away with violence as a means to settle political scores or struggle for their rights. And the state and polity should facilitate this. For this to become a reality, the government and leaders of all communities have a huge responsibility to make credible efforts. But unfortunately the efforts made so far by all stakeholders are too few and too little. President Rajapaksa who pledged to fulfil his concept of one nation, one people has not shown it in his deeds so far. Confrontation politics appears to be the flavour of the year.

On the other hand sections of the Tamil Diaspora and Tamil Nadu politicians who glibly talk of waging a battle for Tamil Eelam seem to show little concern for the reality of the situation in Tamil areas in Sri Lanka. The callousness with which they talk of war shows their warped priorities. Their number one concern should be to help Tamils, who survived the war and are locked in survival struggle, to resume their lives as early as possible.

On the occasion of Prabhakaran’s birthday on November 26, as one with years of experience in counter insurgency warfare what are your comments on the ultimate failure Prabhakaran and LTTE to achieve his aim, despite waging war for nearly two and a half decades?

The moral of the LTTE’s 30-year quest for Tamil Eelam is violent means are not enough to win wars. It requires political strategy as much as military strategy. Absence of coherent political strategy was Prabhakaran’s biggest weakness.

The second aspect is the need for the leader to keep in touch with the dynamics of the environment in which he operates and adapt his tactics. Field Marshal Tito is a historical example of success in achieving this. Prabhakaran isolated himself and depended upon a small coterie of advisors both at home and abroad. So he failed to gauge changing global mood to terrorism ever since the U.S. launched global war on insurgency after 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks. As a result LTTE was banned in 33 countries and its international support network did not effectively operate during the war.

Secondly, opportunities for achieving the aim by peaceful means come fleetingly in the midst of insurgency wars; these must be spotted and exploited to achieve the overall aim. The peace process 2002 was one such opportunity when the LTTE was physically controlling virtually most of what it called Tamil Eelam. Prabhakaran could have turned this opportunity to achieve a peaceful end to his struggle. But Prabhakaran lacked a world view and failed to recognise the world had changed. Though he agreed to find a federal solution at the behest of his friend and advisor Anton Balasingam, Prabhakaran’s heart was not in it. He literally stuck to his guns and frittered away the opportunity.

Lastly, on operational aspects I have few points. One, use of terrorism is counterproductive in the long run. Even suicide bombing can only be a tactic and not a strategy. Used regularly terrorist strikes not only lose the element of surprise so essential for the success, but also squander highly motivated cadres and operators with special skills, who are irreplaceable. Two, insurgency warfare cannot be carried on indefinitely. If prolonged the law of diminishing return applies to it. Thirdly, counter insurgency forces learn from their failures and insurgents need to constantly revalidate their methods which may not be possible so it is better to come to terms with changed environment. Fourthly, insurgency movements have to remember the state has enormous resources and facilities at their disposal. With right leadership and clear goals ultimately they can win. So insurgency forces should not be lulled into complacency on past achievements.

What is the future of Sri Lanka after winning the war?

Sri Lanka achieved military victory in 30 years of warfare. But victory over insurgency will be complete when the state achieves political victory; Sri Lanka does not seem to be serious in achieving it.

(Summary of answers to questions from media analysts on the occasion of V. Prabhakaran’s birth day on November 26 and the LTTE’s Heroes Day on November 27 are given in this article.)

(Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: [email protected] Blog: )


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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