I have received many questions in response to my article on the capture of
Kilinochchi, the so-called administrative capital of the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE), by the Sri Lankan Army on January 2, 2008. I will attempt to
answer some of the questions:
What will be the next move of the Sri Lankan Army (SLA)?
One of the reasons for the continuing success of the SLA during the last two
years has been its ability to deny to the LTTE an opportunity for an offensive
action. It has consistently forced the LTTE to fight a defensive battle in one
piece of territory after another--whether in the East or the North. Succession
of defensive battles with no opportunity for taking the offensive anywhere saps
the morale. That moment has not yet come for the LTTE, but it could and it will
if the SLA manages to continue to deny to the LTTE an opportunity for an
offensive action. From the reports coming out of the North, one gets an
impression that the SLA is not giving itself a pause after its success at
Kilinochchi. It is pressing its offensive against the LTTE and has started
moving towards Mulaithivu, which has now become the principal target of the
bombings by the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF). The objective of the SLA is to keep
the LTTE bleeding and not to allow it to re-group itself.
In the past against the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) as well as the SLA subsequently, the LTTE had repeatedly bounced back from seemingly hopeless situations and recovered lost territory. Will it be able to do it again?
The LTTE's morale and motivation remain strong, but strong morale and motivation alone cannot win battles in the absence of resources--human and material resources. In respect of both, the law of diminishing returns has already set in for the LTTE. One cannot totally rule out the kind of spectacular come-backs the LTTE had staged in the 1990s, but the objective conditions in the post-9/11 world are different from those in the pre-9/11 world. There was a certain amount of acceptance of the legitimacy of terrorism/insurgency for achieving a political objective if left with no other option pre-9/11. Hence, the LTTE had a free run of the world collecting funds and clandestinely procuring materials. One of the consequences of the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US is the acceptance by the international community that terrorism is an absolute evil and cannot be accepted whatever be the reason for it. The LTTE today is a terrorist organisation in the eyes of the international community. It no longer has a free run. Its source of funds and equipment are being choked off one after the other. Before 9/11, another important source of replenishment of arms and ammunition for the LTTE was the capture from the SLA. In defensive battles this also dries up. The ground realities today are much more strongly against the LTTE than they were pre-9/11. It will be a miracle if it is able to repeat its pre-/9/11 comebacks, but one should not act on the assumption that it will not be able to stage a come-back.It particularly can if the SLA, in over-confidence or over-exuberance, creates serious tactical or strategic mistakes.
But even in the post-9/11 world, Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda forces in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan staged a come-back?
Yes, they did due to two reasons-- the availability of sanctuaries and assistance for the pro-Al Qaeda forces from Iran and Syria and the similar availability for the Taliban from the Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The LTTE is a banned terrorist organisation in India and its leader Prabakaran is a wanted assassin in India wanted for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Hence, the LTTE may not be able to get sanctuaries and assistance from elements in Tamil Nadu. It has to fight with its back to the sea with no possibility of escape beyond the sea.
But even under the IPKF the LTTE managed to stage a come-back despite being denied sanctuaries and assistance in Indian territory?
As I have already mentioned, the pre-9/11 objective conditions were different from the post-9/11. Moreover, the IPKF did not indulge in a ruthless application of India's air power against the LTTE. If it had done so, as the SLAF has been doing now, the LTTE might not have been able to stage a come-back.
Does it mean, the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils has become hopeless?
Their cause was not hopeless till 2003. It enjoyed a lot of international support. Prabakaran made it hopeless by a series of errors of judgement and tactical and strategic blunders. He continues to live in a make-believe world of his own, nursing an illusion that the international opinion might once again change in favour of the Tamils. Yes, it might, but only if Prabakaran is removed from the leadership of the LTTE along with his close associates. As I have been saying and writing for the last two years, he has become a liability for the Tamil cause and should be removed by the Tamils themselves or by his associates in the LTTE leadership who realise the damage he has caused to the Tamil cause.
How will the end of Prabakaran come?
Either in an air strike by the SLAF or through suicide or through one of his own men turning against him. I would not be surprised if one of these days the SLAF manages to kill him as it managed to kill Tamilselvan, his political adviser, in 2006. As I wrote in the past, he has to be lucky every time,but the SLAF has to be lucky only once.
What are the chances of he and his cadres taking shelter in India?
The Governments of India and Tamil Nadu will not allow it. However, one has to be alert to the possibility that the Maoists (Naxalites) in the tribal belt of central India who have some territorial control in the jungles might help him and give him shelter in return for the assistance which the LTTE had allegedly given them in the past. If he manages to reach the Maoists controlled territory, the ability of our security forces to get at him may be limited. In the case of the LTTE cadres, some of them might succeed to come over to India as refugees. This would call for stricter vetting of the refugee flow in order to identify and arrest such elements.
What would happen to the arms and ammunition and the planes at the disposal of the LTTE?
They might try to cache them in the jungles in the Northern Province or bring some of them to India and give them to the Maoists for possible use or safe custody. We have to be alert enough to prevent this.
If the SLA ultimately manages to defeat the LTTE, will there be peace in Sri Lanka?
Most probably not. It might be the end of classical insurgency, but it will not be the end of terrorism till the aspiratiions of the Tamils are addressed without weakening the unity of Sri Lanka.
India has been accused of double standards--taking a strong line against terrorism as seen after Mumbai, but at the same time critical of the strong measures taken by the SL Government?
There are no double standards. We take a strong line against the ISI-sponsored Pakistani terrorists, who have no business to be in our territory. We follow a no-holds-barred policy towards them to eradicate them. Our policy towards our own people--separatists, ideological terrorists or jihadi terrorists-- is more nuanced. Our policy towards them is graduated with a mix of political and the law and order components. We have never hesitated to talk to them. We look upon indigenous movements not as a conflict between one community and another, but as a conflict between the Government and aggrieved elements in a community. Some of the strongest supporters of the human rights of the aggrieved communities have come from the majority Hindu community. In Sri Lanka, there are no foreign terrorists operating. All the insurgents and terrorists are their own people. The counter-terrorism strategy of the Mahinda Rajapakse Government lacks the kind of sophistication and nuances we have. It treats the Sri Lankan Tamils as if they are foreigners while paying lip service to their being citizens with equal rights. This has made the conflict in Sri Lanka not only between the Government and aggrieved sections of the Tamils, but also between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities. How many Sinhalese moulders of public opinion have come forward to support the human rights of the Tamils? How many of them have criticised the use of the Air Force against the civilian Tamil population? Even if the SLA is able to defeat the LTTE, it will take years for the SL society to heal the divide between the Sinhalese and the Tamils caused by the policies of the Rajapakse Government and the intemperate pronouncements of Lt.Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the Commander of the SLA.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
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