A general review of media reportage on India’s southern security, relating to Sri Lanka in recent months reveals following salient aspects:-
- Sri Lankan Govt’s (SLG) argument of finding convincing reasons to push military strategy to the logical conclusion of giving top priority to the “annihilation of LTTE’s military assets”, while many others are trying to impress on the SLG the need for an “imaginative formula to isolate the Tigers”.
- The LTTE and the Tamils yet again rejecting Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s (SLFP) latest package of May 1, 07.
- The LTTE being under “tremendous pressure” from the Sri Lankan Security Forces (SLSF) at its gates; threatening (India) yet another SL Tamil and LTTE migration to Tamilnadu (TN), once again disrupting India’s security situation.
Eelam as an idea and LTTE as a sentiment” have mesmerised the people, impressed the Indian Tamils, galvanising them to abide by the dictates of the LTTE and face even harshest sacrifices.
- India’s “benign neglect” of policy prescription towards SL since its withdrawal in 1990; its preoccupation with Indo-Pakistan problem and Indo-US developments; its reluctance to get involved again with SL, though it is India’s “moral responsibility” to help solve that problem.
- India being edged out from SL in preference to the USA and China, as India is unwilling to shoulder its responsibility as a regional power. India must bring the SLG and the LTTE to negotiating table.
- LTTE trying to graduate from guerilla to a regular, conventional force, as it has had a functional shallow water naval capability and, now, added a fledgling air component sending enough shock-waves in the region.
It is a basketful of ideas and approaches : annihilation of LTTE; imaginative formula to isolate it; repeated rejection of SLG offers by LTTE; LTTE being under tremendous pressure; India’s unwillingness to shoulder its responsibility as a regional power, and therefore losing out to China and the USA; addition of air power to LTTE armed strength; threat of another LTTE-Tamil exodus to TN.
It is time an assessment of realities and determining factors in the SL-LTTE case is made.
It is a thoroughbred, hard-boiled militant organisation – strong, disciplined, highly motivated, dedicated, daring, innovative and fiercely focused on Eelam, to the exclusion of any other arrange-ment. Its guerilla warfare capability may give some quarter to SLAF conventionally, but will not give up and will not let the SLG/Sinhalas live in peace.
It is ruthless in maintaining its sole supremacy among the SL Tamils as their only protector and representative, and has brutally eliminated all other competitors, leaving no alternative body to speak for the people.
“Eelam as an idea and LTTE as a sentiment” have mesmerised the people, impressed the Indian Tamils, galvanising them to abide by the dictates of the LTTE and face even harshest sacrifices.
LTTE is convinced of its justification of waging war to the very bitter end, using all stratagems including nego- tiations, ceasefires, even some co- operation with the SLG if it suits its interests to recuperate, rebuild, regain strength-thus keeping alive even remote hope of a solution in the international community, but only to dash it at its convenience. It has remained enigmatic, unpredictable, vicious, unreliable, obdurate, ruthless and inflexible in the pursuit of its aim and methods adopted.
India has to contend with two indispensable entities – SLG and LTTE. Both have a warm and permanent place in its calculations. One cannot be jettisoned for the other.
It has cultivated a good backing of and networking with many an insurgent group of neighbouring countries ; its varied ties with South and Southeast Asian neighbours to evoke their sympathy for its struggle for independence against Sinhala chauvinistic intransigence and coercion.
Though monolithic in its visage, it has suffered a fracture in the eastern wing with Karuna’s break-away, and a major disadvantage as it is added to the US-EU’s terrorist list.
SL Tamils and the LTTE need and exploit India’s help to the hilt against their Sinhala-fellowmen, but do not want Indian compromise-formula or its intervention to bring about a give-and-take with the Sinhalas.
The Sinhalas are as proud, unyielding and inflexible as the Tamils led by the LTTE. Their idea of Sinhala dominance is absolute. They have deep distaste for the Tamils for the latter’s privileges enjoyed while under the British.
Sinhala Buddhism has a strong hold on the majority and is equally uncompromising and ruthless.
SL has a functional democracy, friendly relations with India and an equally visible inclination to strike its own furrow in South Asian conflicts as witnessed in its permitting Pakistan its over flight facilities during Indo-Pak conflicts of 1965 and 1971, as well as its pro-China bias in the 1962 Sino-Indian confrontation. Yet, surprisingly the same SLG sought, and got, India’s armed assistance in 1971 and 1987 to tackle its internal security problem. In a continuing turnabout the SLG with tacit suport of the LTTE tried to throw out the IPKF in 1989 even as the Indo-SriLanka Accord (ISLA) was operative! So the SLG is also unpredictable, unreliable, crafty and adamant, caught as it is between its democratic liberality, ethno-linguistic pride, intolerance of the LTTE’s secessionism and dependency on outside, particularly India’s help.
Any conflict in SL Tamil areas will result in Tamil refugee exodus to neighbouring Tamilnadu. The LTTE has always benefited by this
India has to contend with two indispensable entities – SLG and LTTE. Both have a warm and permanent place in its calculations. One cannot be jettisoned for the other ; a dilemma which stops India from forcing either of them beyond a point. No military solution, as envisaged in the ISLA can satisfy the SLG or the LTTE. The ISLA, in Barbara Tuchman’s definition qualifies to be called a folly “asserting a power you know you cannot exert”. Both are ineradicable parts of India’s quest for peace and security in South Asia, as both have close ethnic, religious, historical, cultural and social ties with India.
India’s Tamils and Tamilnadu become politically, socially and strategically highly sensitive and vulnerable depending upon the condition in SL.
Palk Strait’s mythological Rama Setu being dredged to create a canal big enough to allow passage of blue water naval ships, while solving Indian Navy’s strategic problem of circum-navigating the whole island of SL has simulta-neously created another problem of security of ships while negotiating narrow canal surrounded by shallow waters of Palk Straits, which are within the LTTE’s shallow water naval beat.
Any conflict in SL Tamil areas will result in Tamil refugee exodus to neighbouring Tamilnadu. The LTTE has always benefited by this, while the migration has established a virtual homeland in TN, with opening created in Madurai, Ramnad, Chennai, Trichi, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Vedaranyam etc. It is this bunch of India’s social, political, strategic and security problems that the Indian government has to deal with, which, Gunnar Myrdal’s “soft state” that India is, will find difficult to measure up to.
India’s plurality, diversity, complexities of continental dimensions, its critical sensitivity and its bitter ISLA-IPKF experience have generated great confusion, diffidence, uncertainty, loss of credibility, and even pique of a once-bitten-twice shy-variety in its attitude to the SL imbroglio. At the same time India has displayed adequate sagacity in deferring to the dictum of “thus-far-and-no further” wisdom, as against the background of US, USSR and European arrogance and persistence witnessed in Afghanistan, West Asia and Balkan States, which have had disastrous fallouts.
Witnessed here is a pertinent transformation of Indian philosophy of its military power. In late 1980s Indian military power came to be shaping up for its wider role of regional power, and projecting it outside national confines, under a youthful Prime Minister, his dynamic Defence Minister and a pushing, ebullient Army Chief. The army was on the march to modernisation with its RAPIDs, mechanised forces, airborne and amphibious formations, aerial tanks, science and technology knocking into the conventional baggage and so on. It was heady wine, breezy, elevating. It was in this environment that the SL episode of ISLA was grabbed for the experiment on power projection. The idea subjectively worked to provide a mine of experience and awareness of capabilities, but failed to achieve the objective. The failure too brought out a bundle of lessons, experience and weaknesses. Military power projection has myriad implications ; and rests on certain conditions, limits and preparations. A good example was intervention in Bangladesh –then East Pakistan -. And a bad example was in SL, 15 years later. 1971 was efficient and neat use of force abroad. 1987-90 was ill-conceived, ill-prepared power projection, with only its technical capability to commend it.
It is worth remembering that India has historically, psychologically and culturally not attempted military power projection outside its geographical confines ; no conquests or foreign interventions for it. But in the modern world self-abnegation and non-involvement are no guarantees of national security. They demand readiness to use military power to obtain, and maintain, national security.