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May 23, 2009

The death of the Tiger

AFTER DECADES of battling, the Sri Lankan army finally managed to destroy the LTTE with the confirmation of the death of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Prabhakaran, who formed the entity with just the revolver on his person, expanded the terrorist outfit so effec-tively that the outfit managed to exert control over large parts of Sri Lanka, including the Jaffna peninsula. Although the Lankan army managed to recapture the territory, confining the tigers to a mere jungle airstrip, the LTTE never failed to make its presence felt - through its several assassinations - including those of the Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 (following which India banned the outfit) and the Sri Lankan President, Ranasinghe Prema-dasa, in 1993. They accomplished the assassinations with their suicide-bombers. The Tigers pioneered such bombings. The suicide bombers were ordered to bomb Sri Lanka’s holiest Budhist shrine, the Temple of Tooth. They were also ordered to bomb the Lankan army camps - in the north-eastern town of Mullaittivu in 1996 and Kilinochchi. Eventually, such actions led the United Nations to label LTTE a terrorist organization in 1997.

While the war continued for a long time, on February 23, 2002 the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers signed a ceasefire pact and later in December, the same year, both the parties agreed to share power, with the Tigers being given autonomy in the Tamil speaking areas. But peace could not be restored, with the Tamil Tiger commander V. Muralitharan’s (aka Karuna) exit from the organization leading to more violence in the region. Finally, in January 2008, the Sri Lankan government withdrew from the ceasefire agreement, in order to force the issue.

A year later in 2009, the Sri Lankan army managed to capture Kilinochchi and later Mul-laitivu, where the tigers were hiding. After capturing the last jungle strip occupied by the Ti-gers, the Lankan army reached the last leg of the operation. It was now all blood and bullets and many civilians were caught in the crossfire. It aroused global concern and most impor-tantly for India, the lives of Tamilians were at stake. All this happened at a time when the Lok Sabha campaign was in progress in India. The DMK Chief Karunanidhi took advantage of the ongoing struggle and went on a 6-hour hunger strike.

Meanwhile, the United Nations, labelling it a bloodbath, instructed both the warring factions to spare civilians who were caught in the crossfire. The country had to inevitably create a ceasefire zone to protect the civilians. Karunanidhi resorted to a cheap gimmick to cash in on the situation – he opined that his hunger strike had led to the ceasefire. He added that when his arch rival Jayalalitha went on a similar strike, nothing had happened.

Finally on May 16, 2009, the Sri Lankan army defeated the rebels, ending their decades-long rule of the Tamil speaking areas of the island nation. The Tigers waved the white flag offi-cially on May 17, inviting their end. The following day, the LTTE chief Prabhakaran was shot dead while he tried to flee in an ambulance. His son, Charles Anthony, was also shot dead. It brought a bitter end to their rule and liberated the country from LTTE which once thought of liberating the Tamilians through their terror outfit – another attempt of terrorism failing mis-erably.

There are speculations on the death of Prabhakaran though - whether he was really shot dead by the Sri Lankan army or whether he committed suicide. Also the fact that the body was re-covered a day after the Lankan army announced his death raised some doubts about the au-thenticity of the announcement. The ‘body double’ debate also heated up - if he was really fleeing, why did he not disguise himself? Also, the Lankan army proudly showcased the documents found on his person which proved his identity. Would a man, who so brilliantly led a terrorist organization for decades, be so dull-headed as not to use a disguise and also carry documents on his person which would highlight his capture? Well, such things may be speculation to some, conspiracy to others and just plain media hype to yet some. The truth of the matter is it is all over now.

While people like Karunanidhi tried to gain advantage when the battle was on, post war, it was the media channels. The moment Prabhakaran’s death was announced, there was a mad rush to release the exclusive pictures to the viewers! It was still seen as a race for TRP (Tele-vision Rating Points) rather than a celebration of the liberation of civilians who were the ac-tual scapegoats and not the politicians. Viewers were flooded with visuals of a dead Prab-hakaran, with his eyes popping out and a bullet mark on his head that couldn’t have looked ghastlier! Not a single channel had the decency to blur out the bullet mark until a few hours after the first telecast. Worse, a leading Hindi news channel crossed all limits of decency and zoomed in on the bullet. All for what? Creating hype or sensationalizing news or gaining more TRPs.

I can still visualise his face, tilted up and down for the sake of media persons, his eyes pop-ping out and the camera zooming in on the frame. The treatment of the story was so bad that instead of being happy about the end of at least one terror outfit, I could do nothing but feel sorry about the way our media approached it.

End of ltte

THE LIBERATION Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) seem to have succumbed to the final assault by the Sri Lankan Army. According to Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan Army dealt the final blow on LTTE when it wrested control of the last remaining coastline under their captivity and in the process trapped LTTE cadres to an area of one square kilometre.

As of now, it seems that the war is over and this is even admitted by LTTE sources. In a statement on the pro-rebel website TamilNet, the Tigers’ chief of international relations said that the battle had reached its bitter end and the LTTE has decided to silence their guns to remove the last excuse the Sri Lankan army had to attack Tamils. But the question arises - is it the possible end to a 25-year civil war? Has LTTE been demolished to its core? What has been the fate of its chief Velupillai Prabhakaran? Is he dead or in a hideout plotting his new series of actions?

Amidst a lot of speculation and apprehension, the Sri Lankan government and Army proudly claim that they have uprooted LTTE which people believed was invincible. The LTTE had for almost three decades fought the Sri Lankan military and defended its right to carry arms as a means of protecting the Tamil people living on the island. But going by the reports and claims, the army seems to have established control on the island.

The result of the war was well visualized a few days earlier when the army had been able to overrun and conquer the entire coastal area held by the Tigers. The rebels were slowly giving up their fight against the advancing government troops and a large number of civilians had managed to flee the war zone.

The Tigers had received a huge jolt when the army was able to capture family members of LTTE's naval wing chief Soosai, a close confidant of Prabhakaran, when they were trying to flee the island in a boat with huge sums of money with them. Ultimately, as expected, the Sri Lankan Army had the last hoorah.

Despite all the claims of defeating LTTE, the army has not been able to capture the ever elusive Prabhakaran. There isn’t any concrete evidence of his whereabouts. There have been contradictory reports that the bunker in which the Tiger’s high command was located has been destroyed in a big explosion, and that a body believed to be his had been taken away for identification. It is also speculated that Prabhakaran and the other fighters may resort to mass suicide with cyanide pills or other means.

However, at the moment peace seems to have been established on the island which was witnessing a civil war for almost 30 years. After unilaterally walking away from the peace process that began in 2002 with Norwegian facilitation, the Sri Lankan government had opted for a military solution to end the crisis. The mission seems to have headed in the right direction for them, but a lot needs to be done on the part of rehabilitation and maintenance of peace and camaraderie in the region.

Sri Lanka had the will that Pakistan lacks

ON May 18, 2009, Mahinda Rajapakse, the President of Sri Lanka was a happy man. The Sri Lankan Army declared its enemy, LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran dead. With that, the 30-year-old bitter battle between the once powerful LTTE and the state of Sri Lanka came to an end. In spite of international pressure, including from India, the president went ahead with his plans of eliminating the rebel forces. No call for humanity deterred Rajapakse as he had an aim that needed to be accomplished.

LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is considered a terrorist organisation by some countries, including the UK and the US. The world has rarely seen a force like that of the LTTE with a great charismatic and ruthless leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. They were the pioneers of suicide bombing and even had women as cadres. Their guerrilla tactics and knowledge of modern equipments have often amazed many. Hence, keeping all other arguments aside, it would be right to say that the accomplishment of the Sri Lankan Army has been commendable.

Now let’s look at our other neighbouring country facing a similar crisis. Pakistan finds itself in the same catastrophe as Sri Lanka. But does Pakistan have the will to accomplish what it set out to do? While Sri Lanka dealt with LTTE, Pakistan is dealing with the Taliban, which is also a terrorist organisation. However, unlike Sri Lanka that did not get international support to deal with the rebels, Pakistan is been showered with aid from all international agencies. Arms, ammunitions, monetary aid, emotional aid, and whatever the Pakistani army wants are being granted by the US. According to Financial Times, ‘The US said that it was providing $110m (€81m, £72m) in emergency assistance to Pakistan.’

Pakistan is now facing humanitarian crises with thousands of people being displaced. According to Radio Netherlands, ‘Heavy fighting broke out recently between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army, forcing many civilians to flee the region in the north west of the country. Some people stayed behind to protect their property, which leaves aid organisations with the problem of looking after people who have fled and people who are stuck behind enemy lines. NGOs expect this situation to last for at least a year.’

Inspite of all the money that is being pumped in, the crisis looks far from being resolved. The LTTE in Sri Lanka had the locals as their support. Being a part of the country for 30 long years, they knew the country and its politics well. The Taliban on the other hand, isn’t a part of Pakistan. There might be few hard-core fundamentalists who support them, but by and large the people there detest them. So how is it that the Taliban is always having an edge over the Pakistani Army?

The fact is that unlike Rajapakse, Asif Ali Zardari has no resolve to end the crisis. On his tour to the US, he did acknowledge the fact that India wasn’t the real threat to his nation. However, it was a statement made under coercion by the American president, Barack Obama. Zardari, who is infamous for corruption during the reign of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto would rather plead for money citing different reasons than divert his attention to the ongoing military action. Now, where exactly is the aid money going?

Well, there have been contradicting reports of that in the media.

Recently, New York Times reported that — Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions in Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.

If this is true, then the day when Pakistan will be relieved of Taliban is a utopian dream. As the saying goes, ‘One can take the horse to the pond. But it is up to the horse to drink water.’ Similarly, the US can keep pushing Pakistan to flush the Taliban out of the country, but it is really up to Pakistan to make it a reality. However the fact is that the Pakistani leaders neither have the will nor the ability to help the country come out of this crisis.

Some lessons from Sri Lanka victory

SRI LANKAN president Mahinda Rajapakse has given a perfect gift to his countrymen. He has maintained his commitment of setting his country free from the terror of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This island nation has spent at least three decades under the terror of Prabhakran, the LTTE chief who was reportedly killed by the Sri Lankan security forces a few days back.

This all was possible after its government fought for such a long period for the freedom of its citizens. With the help of its troops it has sabotaged the guerillas and finally ended the Tigers’ story. Though some people have criticided president Rajapakse but he has succeeded in his mission. For example, former foreign minister of Sri Lanka has said “it would be day-dreaming to expect that success of the military campaign against LTTE would lead to devolution of powers and a political solution to the Tamil crisis would come out.”

Many international organisations such as the UN Human Rights Commission and many more heads of governments had pressurised the president and asked him to withdraw his troops from the areas, which were known as the territory of Prabhakaran. But keeping all this criticism aside he had done a remarkable job. The president had thought that this is his country and it is his responsibility to rescue his people from the terror of the daredevilry of militants. Now his name is to be written with the golden letters in the pages of the Sri Lankan history.

Following such a huge victory after three decades, don’t you think Sri Lanka has set an example of courage and velour? It is the lesson for the Indian government, too. Being a small country, it has shown such courage to suppress its militant groups and to resolve many other problems of the country, so why not other countries take such a kind of initiative to suppress their rebellious groups? Does India have no guts to uproot its problem? It is not like that India has no such problems but these problems are not being attended to.

Here I am not talking about Taliban, a rebellious group which is busy in spreading its rule over other countries, and also it is not a one-man show. To solve it all countries have to sit together and discuss about the issue. Has India able to solve its own national problems? The SULFA, ULFA, SIMI, Maoists and many others are spreading all over and causing troubles.

In India, a government rules for five years and after that it changes. Parties have their respective manifestos, where they had promised to provide food, shelter and ‘naukri’, but none of the manifestos had talked about security of the country from these respective groups, why?

Once I went to Orrisa and asked the people about their viewpoint on Naxalites. They believed that it is nothing and only the fight of government with the people only for the food. Who is going to see these problems? Somebody has to think about such problems which are affecting the common man. Now, it is high time the government takes some initiatives to resolve these issues.

The power of press prevails

ELECTIONS ARE a great time for voters. This is the only time they get to see their leaders in flesh and blood. It is the time when you are showered with praises for belonging to a particular community or region.

Journalists too love elections. There is no dearth of news as we have enough newsmakers than leaders in our country. Everyday journalists get hundreds of news wires that talk about some hilarious statement made by some ridiculous politician during his or her unrelenting attempt to woo voters. Wearing the garb of a true saviour they enter the world of mudslinging, which is obviously bound to flash across news channels and newspapers alike.

Apart from all this, it is the willingness of the politicians to meet the media that makes elections extra special. Have you ever seen Manmohan Singh’s or LK Advani’s family face the camera before? This is the time when they are dying to be covered like never before. Good or bad. Does not matter anymore. Its Indian elections after all! A little bit of publicity can make all the difference.

Recently, I have been into reporting. Being a new kid in the block, I have very few articles to my credit. But the recent elections have taught me those lessons on democracy, which no book can offer. Before elections, whenever I have tried contacting an MLA, I failed miserably. One of my stories even got scrapped for lack of the concerned MLA’s quote. So this time when my editor asked me to do a story, which required many quotes from the election candidates; I was petrified to say the least.

But as luck would have it, I got quotes from every candidate I tried to contact. My first call was a Shiv-Sena candidate. The candidate who claims will solve all problems faced by Mumbaikars was sleeping at 11.30 am. He was apparently tired after the hectic campaign schedule. The moment I heard his tired and sleepy voice I was ready for a rebuke. But none of that came. Instead, the moment I told him I am from the Press, he promised to call back once he was out of his slumber. For once the promise was kept! I got a call two hours later!

Milind Deora, the much-celebrated young candidate from south Mumbai was next on my list. At first I got through his personal assistant. He politely told me that he is campaigning and so cannot attend the call. Slowly I whispered the magic words – ‘I am from the Press’. His assistant asked me to hold on for a second. Then it was Mr. Deora who answered me.

He asked me to call after one hour but within 45 minutes I got a call from him and was able to get an interview.

Now the magic words helped me throughout and I was able to meet few of the candidates in person too. They made sure to take time out of their hectic schedule to answer my questions. To my dismay some of the candidates just kept reiterating the problems when I kept asking for solutions. Problems like traffic congestion, water woes, loadshedding are such age-old problems in Mumbai that even a small child will be able to point it out. But solutions are something that is hard to come by. Even the candidates seemed to be burdened with the problems than the solutions.

Nevertheless, my job was done and the report was complete.

Come May 17 and I know, once again, I would have a tough time to getting through all those celebrated MLAs. My magic words might help me at times but the common man will have to wait for yet another Lok Sabha election to be able to see their beloved candidates and get their queries answered.