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SRI LANKA: An Analysis of the Military Situation –02-July-2008 - Page 2

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SRI LANKA: An Analysis of the Military Situation –02-July-2008
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Does that mean the ‘final military victory’ over the LTTE is around the corner? The Army Commander was more realistic. He said that though the LTTE's fighting capabilities was badly weakened, it would take another one year or so “to completely defeat them militarily.” He summed up the assessment saying, “I am sure the LTTE will totally lose even their present capability in less than one year. Then they will resort to a totally different type of tactic” So what the LTTE has lost is its proactive conventional operational capability. And that is undoubtedly a plus point for the security forces because they have the military initiative in the war from now onwards.

To the man fighting the insurgents, the only difference between the two kinds of warfare is that firepower is concentrated in conventional war, while it comes in penny packets in unconventional war. But bullets remain equally deadly in both kinds of warfare. This was dramatically illustrated yesterday when some extremist element shot at the Bell 412 helicopter while it was returning after flying in the President in Amparai. The LTTE in that area was driven away more than a year ago. Fortunately, the helicopter managed to land safely though its fuel tank was punctured by bullet fire.  

But what the General said in the course of the interview on the on the ‘overall plan’ of his forces was a little disturbing. “We do not just go for terrains, but we go for the kill. This is the difference between the military operations in the past and the present,” he said. The laudable military achievements need to be put in the overall perspective. Was the LTTE’s military capability the only issue that had dragged the nation into war with its own population for the last three decades?

Far from it; as long as there is Tamil population outside the fold of good governance in Kilinochchi,  Mullaitivu and parts of Vavuniya and Jaffna districts, even if the LTTE loses its conventional capability, every year it should be able to muster 1000 to 2000 recruits by coercion or otherwise. The LTTE’s conventional capability is an acquired skill egged on and abetted by skewed Sri Lankan political priorities and decisions. Unlike that the LTTE’s unconventional war capability is rooted in the grievance of the Tamil population. It does not matter whether others feel these grievances exist or not. And definitely it is not due to international conspiracy as dubbed by some Sri Lankans.

How does the LTTE sustain the ability to wage unconventional war? It is because the government has not given the Tamil population a feeling of security and trust in the present dispensation. The slogan ‘Freeing the Tamils from the LTTE yoke’ (as the government media proclaims) alone will not gain their trust if the they feel that they are being saddled with another yoke!  This lack of trust and feeling of insecurity among them cannot vanish as long as white van operations continue, media is muzzled, inquiries into illegal killings become political soap operas, and indefinite incarcerations without trials go on as before. These actions are not done by international NGOs or friendly foreign powers as it is made out for political convenience. Most of such actions are taken such loose cannons operating within the system to score political brownie points rather than solve problems.  

Many Tamils feel that every action to empower them with all the good intentions is undone by backroom operations. Two glaring examples of lack of political sincerity are the half hearted implementation of the 13th amendment and the ‘non working’ of the APRC – the all party committee - constituted for evolving an acceptable formulation of devolution. The 13th amendment has a lot of lacunae for the elected provincial government to exercise its powers; the government agents do not come under it, it has little powers to collect any form of revenue, and it has policing as a subject but has no control over the police force (the DIG Northeast works under Colombo). It cannot even organize and control water supply for the people.  Added to this is a general reluctance to implement even its limited articulation of power. So merely installing a Tamil chief minister in the east is not going to make the problem vanish. It requires hard decisions to empower the population. And there is no sign of anyone in authority seriously considering this.

As regards the APRC, there is nothing much to show. After a lengthy and very eloquent dialogue process, with all the inputs of wise men, its only practical achievement is its recommendation for the implementation of the existing 13th amendment of the constitution. And beyond that, there appears to be nothing on its cards except the travel bills accumulated on tours of the committee members to study how the devolution process has been achieved in other countries. Is this status going to change?  Sadly, there is no sign of any other initiative.

Mahatma Gandhi’s description of Sir Stafford Cripp’s Mission in 1942 as the 'post-dated cheque on a failing bank,' appears apt for the current situation in Sri Lanka.  The government in Sri Lanka regardless of its composition or ideology has to create a sense of security and trust among the minorities. And this is not going to come on its own by military victory over the LTTE alone. The security forces can only do so much. The government has to act to make use of the opportunities provided by military victories. The Tamils have to feel the ‘power’ to take them to new places, like my own military experience taught me when we moved our regiment by train.

Col. R. Hariharan (Retd.)
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(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies.)


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