Insurgency-guerilla war as a combination in the struggle of the weak against the strong has established itself as a strong and successful method of waging an armed struggle. It is said that the combination may not win but forces the opponent to lose, thereby bringing success (victory) to the former. Experts have listed various conditions where it can thrive, expand, grow in strength and achieve success, like – binding cause, people’s support, outside help, safe areas, difficult terrain etc; and classified various stages through which it passes, i.e. growing local resistance and discontent, expanding armed resistance, hit-and- run-merge with the public, guerilla operations, liberating chunks of territory, organizing conventional forces, resorting to conventional wars, with necessary flexibility to get back to the lower stage depending on the situation, while considering time to be on its side and a means of wearing down the opponent.
Examples are Mao’s China, Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria, some of the Central and Latin American countries. Afghanistan has a long history of resisting intruding powers and sending them to their doom, as none of the Central, West or South Asian powers or those of Great Britain, Russia or now the USA have succeeded in subjugating and ruling the fiercely independent Afghans, despite Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic influences over them. We have our own Naga, Mizo, Manipuri and now Maoist insurgencies still biting at us. The Bangladeshi insurgency also turned its full circle in 1971.
It is said that war is politics by other means. In return can it also be said that war should revert to politics at an opportune moment? The LTTE seems to have missed this aspect.
In all this where does the Sri Lankan Tamil genre stand? Besides a history of over three decades, it has had an unassailable “cause”, people’s support, safe haven (India), foreign assistance (India, Western and Southeast Asian world), a highly trained, disciplined, dedicated, motivated and innovative cadre based organization (one of the best in the world). Its militant cadres withstood the 80,000 troop onslaught of the IPKF for 30 months in the difficult terrain of lagoons, kulams, marshes and forests in its vast expanses. Yet in these last few months its militant wing, the LTTE, has been at the losing end with astonishing rapidity, though it lost the eastern wing some time ago. From its real estate of 2500 sq km, it is reduced to a 250 sq km swathe of marshy forest, with nearly three lakh hapless civilians trapped–virtually imprisoned–within. It seems to be a matter of time before the armed resistance of the LTTE is reduced to zero.
Has the Sri Lankan Tamil insurgency failed? Even as it had almost all the plus points and favorable conditions? The answer will very soon be ‘yes.’ The question then for the warfare specialists and military thinkers is why has it failed?
It is said that war is politics by other means. In return can it also be said that war should revert to politics at an opportune moment? The LTTE seems to have missed this aspect. Identifying the opportune moment depends on many factors–stages of success achieved in the continuum of the conflict; people’s welfare and well–being, levels of favorable factors obtained which help the further pursuit of the ongoing struggle, i.e. people’s feelings, outside support, safe areas, effectiveness of operational methods, availability of resources, international opinion and so on. Fascist, dictatorial, self-righteous regimes find it difficult to identify such a moment. This much emerges clearly.
Over the years the LTTE earned more international opprobrium over its numerous assassinations, explosions, obduracy, deceit, intolerance, continuation of violence and stark rigidity. It even earned the terrorist tag and has been internationally banned. It torpedoed successfully all peace efforts, all development and reconstruction projects and plans in the war ravaged North and East, and obviously paid little attention to the woes and weal of the people. A 4.5 billion dollar aid offered by Japan and other donor countries in 2003 was rejected by the LTTE as it linked the peace process to the offer. Indian’s proposal for a safe zone for the lakhs of civilians caught or forcibly retained in the war zone was not respected by the LTTE. It lost major part of Indian sympathy by killing Rajiv Gandhi and eliminating other Sri Lankan Tamil leaders on Indian soil.
The Sri Lankan military and government have not distinguished themselves as the practitioners of winning peoples hearts and minds, a cardinal principle of counter-insurgency. And yet the LTTE has been losing peoples support. That is a point of significance.
It stood to lose even in Tamil Nadu itself, notwithstanding the outpourings of Vaiko. Its Sri Lankan Tamil representational charter appears to have been lost, giving way to the Tamil people themselves, perhaps a worst blow to the LTTE. That has cleared the way for the Sri Lankan military to methodically destroy the LTTE. The Sri Lankan military and government have not distinguished themselves as the practitioners of winning people’s hearts and minds, a cardinal principle of counter-insurgency. And yet the LTTE has been losing people’s support. That is a point of significance.
The Indian government concentrated on the well-being of the Sri Lankan Tamil people, and cast away the LTTE as terrorists. The feeling making rounds is that the fight is against the obstinate LTTE which cares little for the people, and not to jeopardize the Tamil people as such. The LTTE in the name of the Sri Lankan Tamil insurgency has brought about this situation upon itself through its thoughtlessness, rigidity, selfishness and political arrogance. Its injunction that the people too have to suffer in the cause of freedom has perhaps backfired in the face of its obstinacy, overemphasis amounting to force, and lack of political wherewithal to bring succor to the people.