Prabhakaran plotting in the pool.
Three years ago, Vellupillai Prabhakaran made a bet. He bet that if he surrounded himself with thousands of hostages, the Sri Lankan Army wouldn’t dare attack. In this bet, he counted on international pressure to force the government’s hand. But the Army did attack, they did finish the war and Prabhakaran lost that bet along with his life. Yet the dice still spin.
This is the same dynamic that continues to this day. This is the ‘war crime’ that Prabhakaran engineered as a sort of burning tire around the neck of the government, the pyrrhic victory he hoped to saddle the government with. All the calls today for accountability or investigations amount to this, saying that Sri Lankan should not have finished the war, should have let Prabhakaran live, because the cost was too high – a logic that Prabhakaran himself set up.
It is important to remember how this happened. All the talk of no-fire zones, hospitals being shelled, these were all situations that Prabhakaran set-up not for military purposes per-se, but also for their media value. Terrorism is primarily a media function, it doesn’t actually occupy land or achieve direct military goals. Prabhakaran was cynically and sociopathically trying to shape perceptions, and those perceptions remained warped to this day.
This is the background of the war crimes debate. To the great shame of the Sri Lankan government, however, they did not seem to hesitate about killing their way through at all, and are only now – after great pressure – even acknowledging that A) this happened and B) it was bad. An ounce of prevention in this case would have been some sign of ethical, compassionate leadership in the first place and at least a government with the intelligence to spin after the fact.
I honestly blame a lot of this deficit on the assassination of Lakshman Kadiragamar – the eloquent Tamil Foreign Minister, snipered in his pool by the LTTE. The LTTE undertook three hits that could have effectively won (or at least extended) the war for them. They suicide bombed General Sarath Fonseka, coming damn close to killing him, leaving him effectively holding in his guts with his hands. They also hit Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s convoy, leaving him shocked but unscathed. In their one successful hit, they did kill the Foreign Minister. Had they got the trifecta, they would have crippled Sri Lanka’s military, political lever and foreign capabilities. As it was, the only hit the latter, the effects of which we see today.
Sri Lanka’s foreign policy sucks. There are ways to phrase and communicate a just war, or even an unjust one, but the foreign service too often resorts to conspiracy theories and blanket denial. It plays OK at home, but it’s honestly an insane waste of energy and time. Also acknowledging reality early (ie that people died) also saves years of trouble, as does even token gestures, like putting media in a damn helicopter and showing them around. These are all simple things this government cannot do because they treat everything like local politics, and international bodies really do not give a shit who their father is.
So, Prabhakaran’s Play continues. This was the bitter and warped moral calculus he tried to play to garner international support for his rather terrible regime. As with any good terrorist, he played on peoples sympathies, using body counts and suffering in a strategic, communicative sense. His bloody language still warps the conversation today.