*A Pyrrhic Victory? The ‘End’ of the LTTE and the ‘Tamil Question’

The Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapakse, has proclaimed the end of the three-decades old civil war that reportedly has taken more than 100,000 lives. In a speech to the nation, Rajapakse has declared that Sri Lanka has achieved a military triumph over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or, as they are commonly known, the Tamil Tigers. The LTTE leadership has been killed, and among the dead are, reportedly, the secretive Prabhakaran, who forged a unique if ferocious and unrelenting fighting force and led it in a bitter war to the end with the Sri Lankan army and state; Pottu Amman, the LTTE’s intelligence chief; and Soosai, commander of the Tiger’s naval forces.

Many more details of the last stage of the war will surely emerge as human rights organizations and journalists, who had hitherto been barred from the scenes of military action, swoop into the pockets of northeast Sri Lanka from where the Tigers staged their last futile acts of resistance. But this much is already clear: in its drive for military supremacy, the Sri Lankan army put tens of thousands of Tamil civilians at great risk, often in sheer defiance of calls to ensure the safety of civilians, and the 7,000 odd Tamils who lost their lives in the last stage of conflict stand forth as mute testimony to the reckless disregard for human life shown by both the Sri Lankan army and the Tigers. The Sri Lankan army claims, as official armies generally do on such occasions, that the Tigers used the civilians as ‘human shields’; the Tigers, on the other hand, allege that the Sri Lankan army, in its single-minded and bloody pursuit of a victory that had seemed ever so elusive, was determined that nothing, not even the lives of innocents, would be allowed to stand in the way of total victory. That both views should have some credibility is evidence enough of the reputation that both the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers had deservedly acquired for brutality, senseless killings, and the callous disdain for human lives that have signaled the hostilities in this long-drawn war. It is characteristic of both the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Tamil Tigers that, down to the very end, they should have been so fiendishly true to the reputations that they wore around themselves as ornaments of their sincerity.

Wars have been described as tragic and senseless by countless number of commentators, though there is no end to them in sight. When it is the rebels or insurgents who triumph, they often find that a military victory is perhaps more easily accomplished than the task of reconstruction. Rebels have, as well, been known to become dictators. But the triumph of states over insurgents is almost always a pyrrhic victory, unless one is willing to accept the idea that a nation-state can be something other than a repressive force in history. For the present, the question is: having compelled the LTTE into submission, is the Sri Lankan state prepared to treat the Tamil as equals? Is it prepared to take seriously the question of autonomy within a federal republic, and is it willing to persuade the Sinhalese that they have to disown some of their privileges? Had these questions not been ignored in the first place, what might have been the need for LTTE? Much the greater part of the task of the state, which does not inspire much confidence, is before it: not only will it have to work with a subjugated and angry Tamil population, it will have to keep the hounds among the Sinhalese at bay. So much for victories.

11 thoughts on “*A Pyrrhic Victory? The ‘End’ of the LTTE and the ‘Tamil Question’

  1. ”For the present, the question is: having compelled the LTTE into submission, is the Sri Lankan state prepared to treat the Tamil as equals? Is it prepared to take seriously the question of autonomy within a federal republic, and is it willing to persuade the Sinhalese that they have to disown some of their privileges? Had these questions not been ignored in the first place, what might have been the need for LTTE?” IN RESPONSE TO YOUR ABOVE STATEMENTS,YOU TATE THE REASON FOR THE EMERGENCE OF LTTE.
    THIS WORLD CONTINUES TO SEE THE LTTE AS TERRORISTS,BUT MANY OF THOSE WHO SAY THIS DONT KNOW THE GENUINE REASONS FOR WHAT THEY FOUGHT FOR .BY DOING SO THEY COMPLETLY NEGLECT THE BRUTAL ACTS OF THE SINHALESE STATE SPONSORED EXTREMISM/TERRORISM,WHILE CONJURING UP IMAGES OF SRI LANKA AS A TROPICAL PARADISE WHERE THE PEOPLE OF BUDDHA LIVE IN PEACE AND LET OTHERS LIVE IN PEACE.

    HOW MANY KNOW ABOUT THE BLACK JULY RIOTS;THE SINHALA ONLY ACT;WELLIKADA PRISON MASSACRE;BURNING OF JAFFNA LIBRARY;GAL OYA RIOTS.

    THE WORLD ONLY ASKS QUESTIONS WHETHER THE SRI LANKAN STATE WOULD STICK TO ITS PROMISES,WHILE THE TAMILS IN SRI LANKA GO THROUGH ABSOLUTE HELL IN THE HOLOCAUST LIKE TORTURE CAMPS(MAY BE WORSE THAN HITLER’S) WHERE FOOD IS GIVEN ONCE IN THREE DAYSEN AS INTERNATIONAL AID IS SAID TO BE FLOWING INTO THE CAMPS(PL NOTE THE WANANGAMANN ISSUE) IN A POST-WAR SITUATION EV WHERAS THE LTTE WERE ABLE TO PROVIDE THEIR PEOPLE HALF A KILO OF FISH AND A KILO OF RICE EVERYDAY DURING THE TIMES OF THE FINAL CONFLICT.

    THE WORLD WILL ONLY WATCH.MAYBE THE OTHER COUNTRIES CANNOT AFFORD ANOTHER WAR OR THE DANGER OF A THIRD WORLD WAR?

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  3. Hi professor,
    The Sri Lankan war with the Tamil Tigers seems to have been unnecessary. This is because a lot of innocent civilians were killed during the war which reportedly lasted for three decades. Although Sri Lanka achieved a military triumph over Tamil Tigers, it should have initially considered whether or not to treat the Tamils as equals. The fact that journalists were barred from the military action scenes proves that more people might have been killed, and the actual number of deaths had not yet been established. Sri Lanka’s victory was pyrrhic since much destructions were done. It would have been better if the war did not happen. Additionally, the victory of Tamil Tigers would have been less destructive than Sri Lanka’s victory.

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      • Professor,
        I thought the sentence in closing summed up why wars take place quite precisely: “Had these questions not been ignored in the first place, what might have been the need for the LTTE?”
        This war appears to have been driven by the Tigers, but one that would have inevitably come about no matter who fostered it. This seems to be the case with the majority of civil wars that stem from revolutions.

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  4. Ten years after the Civil War, there is progress, but not early enough. From my personal experience in Sri Lanka, the Tamil population in Sri Lanka is still thought to be somewhat lesser than the Sinhalese population. The Jaffna area is still economically depressed, and not nearly enough post-war rebuilding has occurred there. However, there has been more of an effort to integrate the Tamil people from a linguistic standpoint. Instead of the Tamil solely being expected to learn Sinhala, the Sinhalese schools have put more of an emphasis on teaching Tamil to the Sinhalese students. This does not mean that the bridge between the two groups has been magically built. But, it is an important first step.

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    • The linguistic issue was always a critical one and in some respects even precipitated the conflict that eventually sent the country into a civil war. So it would be more than a small step if both the communities made attempts to learn each other’s language. Every language is a world unto itself.

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  5. Hello professor,
    Apparently, the war between Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers resulted into a pyrrhic victory for Sri Lanka. This is because of the high number of lives lost during the war. Innocent civilians were killed during the war with both sides blaming each other for the killings. However, it seems that the excuse given by Sri Lankan army was not genuine since they stated that the Tigers used the civilians as “human shields.” The claim given by Tamil Tigers seems to be genuine. The Sri Lankan army was single–minded to victory and so determined to win that it did not even consider the lives of civilians. The victory of Sri Lankan army brought more harm than benefits.

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  6. Hello professor,
    Due to the high number of lives lost during the Sri Lankan war with the Tamil Tigers, it would be okay to say that the Sri Lankan government should treat the Tamils as equals. This is because they already compelled the Tamil Tigers to defeat. The Tamils also accepted defeat and would not want to get into another war which would cause mass destructions and loss of lives. Although the Sri Lankan army won the war, it probably does not have anything to celebrate. This is considering the high number of civilians killed. It would have been better if the Sri Lankan government had considered the Tamils as equals.

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  7. Hello professor,

    Just as it is visible in this case, there is no war where any of the involved party does not bear any fault in the loss of lives. Isn’t it always the case in any war? An interesting point was that “they often find that a military victory is perhaps more easily accomplished than the task of reconstruction”. Also, why do military interventions only happen once the suppressed, “lesser viewed” minorities only voice their opinions with the emergence of violent rebellion, and then get an equally violent anwer?

    Sundo Oh

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  8. Very Intresting piece professor. The main problem that I see is that after it’s victory the Sri Lankan government might have come more opressive twoards the Tamil population out of a fear of having to go though another civil war. Also I belive that the civil war might have ended any ideas of autonomy for the Tamils due to the war creating a fear among govt ministers that were they to give Tamils greater autonomy then they might retry their attempt at independance.

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