President’s clear vision, key factor in eradicating terrorism
*Gotabaya - one of three leaders who crushed
* Lanka’s successful strategy - a valuable
* Arrest of KP, a great success
* Indo-Lanka Accord had lots of loose ends
A specialist on South Asian military intelligence, Colonel R.
Hariharan said that apart from lack of international support, including
India to the LTTE to survive the final battle, the prime factor for the
demise of the LTTE was President Rajapaksa’s clear political
determination to eliminate Prabhakaran and the LTTE.
an interview with the Sunday Observer Col. Hariharan, who served as the
Head of the intelligence for the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka
between 1987 and 1990, said President Rajapaksa’s political leadership
had geared the entire government machinery to achieve the single goal -
annihilation of the LTTE.
“In brief, he provided the critical support needed for the success of
military operations the national leadership”, he said.
The military intelligence specialist said that Sri Lanka’s successful
war strategy would definitely provide many valuable lessons for all
Col. Hariharan said Kumaran Pathmanathan’s (KP) arrest was a great
success for Sri Lanka’s efforts to curb the resurgence of LTTE
internationally and would have a big impact on the future of overseas
According to Col. Hariharan, though the LTTE remnants are trying to
‘stage’ a come back, it will not be a reality as the internationally
activated pro-LTTE groups are split into two factions - political and
He said that though there were some LTTE sympathizers who appreciate
its militancy, it was doubtful that they have the capability of
mastering the support of the Tamil Nadu’s mainstream politics.
Following are the excerpts of the interview:
Q: The government is credited for annihilating the LTTE. What
were the main factors that contributed to the victory?
A: I have written extensively on this. I would summarize my
reasons as follows, not necessarily in the order of priority:
1. President Rajapaksa’s clarity of objective - to eliminate
Prabhakaran and the LTTE and providing leadership support to combine
policy making, planning and executing actions not only the armed forces
or the ministry of defence but the entire government machinery to
achieve this goal. This enabled the government to cash in on the
weaknesses of the LTTE not only on the military front but also
politically and internationally. In brief, he provided the critical
support needed for the success of military operations, the - national
President Rajapaksa’s efforts to transform the armed forces into
fighting machines should not be ignored. To reach his goal he created a
politico-administrative structure to help the armed forces achieve their
military objectives, unmindful of its enormous cost in terms of finance,
manpower, governance and international relations. He also provided the
much needed political support for the armed forces.
2. Maintaining close relations with India and thereby ensuring that
the LTTE does not gain either large scale political or other clandestine
support from India, interfering politically or otherwise both internally
and internationally to affect the Sri Lanka government actions or
3. Allowing the armed forces to plan and execute their operations
without political interference is achieved. Providing all out support to
them to maintain military superiority all through the operations. This
enabled the armed forces to build adequate fire power and carry out its
4. Making full use of the global anti-terror environment to fight the
LTTE. This made it possible to gain valuable international support -
notably from the U.S. to conduct military operations, though there were
critical moments towards the end of the war due to their human rights
The President in a strategic ploy identified his campaign against the
LTTE as part of the global war against terrorism. India and the U.S.
started providing regular intelligence inputs and technical support on
the movement of LTTE’s shipping logistics. The LTTE was banned in 32
countries particularly after the assassination of Sri Lankan foreign
minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Consequently the foreign assistance to Sri
Lanka in its war against the LTTE gained legitimacy.
5. Mounting a high profile information and publicity campaign on the
war, which the LTTE could never match. This enabled to garner large
scale public support for the war which was lacking in earlier campaigns
as the LTTE propaganda organs were more effective.
Q: Where do you think was the turning point of the LTTE’s
A: As a military analyst, I think the LTTE lost the war, when
they could not break the army’s stranglehold of Elephant Pass-Paranthan-Kilnochchi
area that started after the logistic shipping support was destroyed. The
LTTE could not launch any sizeable counter attacks to break the
Q: What went wrong for the LTTE?
A: Before the war the lack of political strategy was LTTE’s
problem. In 2002, they were controlling most of what they called the
‘Tamil Eelam’, yet they could not take advantage of the peace process
and strike a win-win deal with Sri Lanka. Similarly they never made up
with India, where they were dependent upon weak political parties for
During the conflict LTTE choice of fighting a conventional war
instead of fighting an insurgency battle which is their strength, was a
big strategic error. They just did not have the numbers or fire power to
fight a conventional battle with Sri Lanka, particularly after they lost
recruiting bases in Tamil areas in the East when Karuna broke away. When
they were overwhelmed by army, they did not have a responsive strategy
Q: Still the LTTE’s remnants are trying to show that they are
alive. Can they make an impact in the present environment?
A: I doubt very much that they can carry out any spectacular
terrorist attack within Sri Lanka in their present state. However, they
may have the capability to do something more visible overseas. We should
remember it took Prabhakaran two decades to build the LTTE into a
powerful force. They have neither a leader like Prabhakaran to lead them
nor a global environment that would help them as it did in the 90s to
stage a powerful comeback.
What is your comment on post-war Sri Lanka?
A: While military success has been achieved, the charged atmosphere
built up during the war needs to be defused. This would require people
affected by the conflict resuming normal life as early as possible.
While this is a huge national challenge, it has to produce more visible
results. Modern governance demands ensuring people enjoy fundamental
freedoms. As it is a notion in the minds of people, it is they who
should feel a sense of security and trust in the government.
Q: What do you have to say about President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s
A:Military strategy is only a part of national strategy when a
nation goes to war. This was provided by President Rajapaksa and he gave
enough space to armed forces to come into full bloom to carry out their
Q: The force behind the entire military manoeuvre was Defence
Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. How do you see his commitment?
A: Of course, he was fully committed to achieve the
President’s objectives; that was why he was appointed for the job. The
President had always been the supreme commander of the three services.
While Basil Rajapaksa provided the political interface for the war,
Gotabaya Rajapaksa provided the government interface for military
operations. But as Defence Secretary he provided vital interface between
the national leadership and military leadership so that the entire
campaign was conducted smoothly. I am sure his military background was a
great help in this. So I would rate him as one of the three key leaders
who helped Sri Lanka win the war.
Q: Out of 11,000 ex-LTTE cadres, over 8,000 are still in state
custody undergoing rehabilitation. How best do you think the government
can train them to become useful citizens?
A:They should find a place in society to live a meaningful
life without fear of deprivation. This requires more than a few months
of training. It requires an environment where they can look forward to
the future rather than go back to the past.
Q: How do you see the arrest of KP? Did it make a huge impact
on the LTTE’s future in the international sphere?
A:It is a great success for Sri Lanka’s efforts to curb the
resurgence of LTTE internationally. Yes, it will have a big impact on
the future of overseas LTTE.
Q: How vital is his contribution to the post conflict Sri
A:It is too early to assess.
Q: What is your assessment of the LTTE’s international
A: It is not united but split into two major groups the
ideologues of Eelam who want to politically keep the Eelam struggle
alive and the militant elements. I don’t know whether they will join
together in the near term.
Q: What are your observations on the LTTE’s activities in
Tamil Nadu and how do you view the pro-LTTE views expressed by certain
politicians and sympathizers of the outfit?
A:The LTTE activities in Tamil Nadu are neither visible nor
assertive. There are some LTTE sympathizers who appreciate its
militancy. But the Eelam issue has a wider appeal. The plight of Tamils
in war zones affects a very large number of people. There are issues
which some of the political parties are trying to cash in. But I doubt
whether they have the capability to make a strong on Tamil Nadu’s
Q: Do you agree that India made a blunder by grooming LTTE in
A: I am against arming any insurgent groups either locally or
internationally. I had made this clear in my own military channels in
the 80s, though army was not involved in the training of Tamil
Q: How vital was the India’s stance on defeating the LTTE and
do you agree that Prabhakaran had much hopes that the international
community including India would save him at the last minute?
A: I think India’s intelligence, political and international
support was one of the winning factors for Sri Lanka. I believe
Prabhakaran overestimated the readiness of the international community
to bail him out. Of course, political support in India for him was not
sufficiently strong to do this job. Apparently he failed to realize
Q: Why did he fail to convince them? What went wrong?
A:Three things in his conduct were instrumental in losing
international credibility over a time: killing Rajiv Gandhi, willful
disregard for international efforts to make the peace process a success,
and global war on terror after 9/11 the world was not prepared to accept
terrorism as a tool to fight for ethnic or other rights.
Q: Did the IPKF fail in defeating the LTTE?
A:The IPKF was not sent to defeat LTTE. It was to help Sri
Lanka government to enforce the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement in which the
disarming of Tamil militants was provided for. That was how it got
embroiled in war with LTTE.
Q: What were the difficulties the IPKF faced in dealing with
A:I can only give a strategic analyst’s perspective but it
might disappoint those expecting political brownie points. The IPKF at
the beginning faced three problems - lack of role clarity, inadequate
information, and security forces’ own structural snags.
The Indian army had very little warning to prepare for its overseas
deployment. Nobody was very clear what its role in Sri Lanka would be
because the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord had a lot of loose ends. India was
signing a third party undertaking to do its bit for an internal problem
of Sri Lanka. So it was bristled with uncertainties as the two signing
powers and the Tamil militants who were non-signatories had to conform
to the Accord to make it a success. So the troops were initially sent
only as a token force to show solidarity with Sri Lanka rather than
fight a pitched battle with the LTTE.
Secondly, the Indian security forces had very little information
available on Sri Lanka’s political and militancy problems. This might be
surprising as many accuse India of plotting the whole thing. This is far
from true. So the Indian army went there without adequate preparation.
It had obsolete maps and an inadequate knowledge of Sri Lanka. To top
it all, it was supposed to meet the continuous demands of Sinhalese and
Tamils who had built high expectations. Military Intelligence had a few
assets - both information and sources - when it landed. (Information
sharing among intelligence agencies in all nations is minimal for fear
of compromise of sources.)
Structurally, when the war started, a joint services command had to
be created to conduct an insurgency operation in a foreign country. This
was totally a new experience for the three services. Troops had to be
flown in and they were not familiar with either the terrain or ground
situation when they were put directly from Jaffna airport to join the
operations. However, the three services rose to the occasion and
improvised command and control structure and improved it as operations
Q: Do you think the LTTE became stronger with the withdrawal
of the IPKF?
A:The LTTE was at its weakest when the IPKF left. It was
confined to a small space in Vanni. It had suffered heavy casualties -
losing most of the junior leaders. That was why it desperately built
bridges with President Premadasa which resulted in the pull out of the
IPKF at a crucial stage for LTTE. In fact, it provided the oxygen the
LTTE needed for survival and stage a comeback in the North and parts of
East where it massacred a few hundred policemen. So it became stronger
Q: Who were the main LTTE leaders who came across during your
stay in Sri Lanka? How do you see Prabhakaran’s militant mind?
A:When we were in talking terms initially in August 1987, I
have seen all the top leaders of the LTTE including Prabhakaran, Kittu,
and Mahatthaya etc. I had no rapport with them but they knew who I was.
Prabhakaran as a militant believed in the overwhelming power of the gun
to achieve his goals. This led to his downfall as he failed to seize the
opportunities the peace process offered in 2002.
Q: How do you recollect your three -year stay in Sri Lanka as
the intelligence head of the IPKF?
A:As a Tamil, Sri Lanka was never a foreign country for me. So
it pained me more to see the great human tragedy that was turning the
country - one of the most beautiful ones I had seen - into a
battleground. I found the people of Sri Lanka - Tamils, Sinhalese,
Muslims and everyone warm hearted and more easy-going than Indians. When
I visited Colombo I was amazed everyone revealing as though they had
nothing to do with the war in the North!
Q: Sri Lanka’s military strategy that ended the Asia’s longest
civil war will be a case study for other nations threatened with
A:Of course; even failed operations teach us many things. So a
successful war like Sri Lanka’s definitely provides many valuable
lessons for all nations.
Q: The Maoists and the Naxalites have increased their attacks
in India. Do you think the LTTE cadres who are believed to have escaped
from Sri Lanka are supporting them?
A: No. There were some marginal contacts between Maoists and
the LTTE when the latter was powerful. To my knowledge, even these were
commercial deals between two ‘fraternal’ organizations. Now there are
safer pastures for fleeing LTTE elements to seek refuge than the hotbeds
of Maoist violence in India.
Q: Where are these safer pastures for fleeing LTTEers?
A: I can only conclude that they would mix with families
fleeing Sri Lanka as refugees; of course that does not make all those
refugees LTTEers. I am sure Canadian and Australian intelligence also
some of the countries like Indonesia would be doing this.
Q: No doubt, intelligence played a vital role in defeating the
LTTE. How vital is strengthening the intelligence networks locally and
in the post conflict era?
A:Intelligence is a silent shield. It does not distinguish
between war time and peace time. At all times it has to be functional.
As it provides foreknowledge, it is vital to prevent wars as much as to