LTTE'S Self-Destruction
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Issue Vol 24.2 Apr-Jun 2009 | Date : 07 Jan , 2011

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.

Also read: The Subverted Indo-Bangladesh Border

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.

There is a parallel here when we juxtapose the instance of Pakistan–its military and the people it holds in thrall as their sole protector. It is becoming obvious that the crack and the chasm between the people and their militant instrument and activities are emerging as dominant factors in the scale of success. It is particularly noticeable in insurgency–guerilla war combination. Same is the case with the waning insurgency in the J&K–chasm between the insurgents and the people. It is clear therefore that while insurgency, guerilla operations, militant activities are only means, the main thing is the mindset of the people and their active support. The militant leadership of the Tamil insurgency seems to have missed this reality in the conduct of insurgency, and the role of political activity in carrying on the struggle from the point armed activity has brought it to.

In this light the blame on the IPKF for its so- called failure in the three years of its involvement in Sri Lanka seems to be less than justified as its operations brought about a situation of devolution of power to the Tamils there in a suitable political arrangement , and which is once again being talked about as the best solution in the present situation as well, even as the mindset of not only the Tamils but also of the Sri Lankan and Indian governments has changed in favor of the people, relegating their leadership arrogated by the LTTE. The Times of India issue of 1 Feb’09 says, “In the past year India made a careful distinction between the LTTE and ordinary Tamils.

Also read: What the armed forces expact from DRDO?

It said the LTTE must be crushed even as ordinary Tamils are helped to reclaim political, economic and social rights. It is this distinction that drives India’s Sri Lanka policy”. The emphasis everywhere is on reconstruction and rehabilitation. Rambukwella, a Sri Lankan minister says “India’s influence will be greater after the demise of the LTTE” – a sea-change from the earlier LTTE’s image as India’s leverage in Tamil affairs to that of its demise! MJ Akbar writes in the same issue, “…Colombo has reason for continued suspicion of Delhi…But it has exchanged past bitterness for common sense, refused to let animosity interfere with trade, benefited from the ensuing economic partnership and created a sustainable and equitable relationship with Delhi”.

Prabhakaran alienated his eastern brethren, lost their support, cleared the way for their elected representation in the Sri Lankan parliament, adding another heavy blow to the LTTE’s Eelam idea and cause. His leadership is established and accepted more out of fear and ruthlessness than through persuasion and consideration for people’s will. Nearly two generations have suffered thus, with little to show by way of worthwhile progress. In Nagaland it was within a decade of their uprising that the Nagas got their statehood. In Mizoram their chief insurgent leader took over as the state’s chief minister, democratically elected, and within the constitutional framework.

The LTTE started seeing itself as a military power and started building its conventional forces–artillery, air force, navy. That led to its undertaking its conventional, positional war. These forces were at the particular stage no more than fancy stuff, as it turned out, when in opposition to the regular Sri Lankan military units, and offered set-piece territorial targets for attacks by superior forces. In the interregnum the fight with the LTTE over three decades saw the graduation of the largely ceremonial Sri Lankan military into a professional fighting force, with sufficient experience and military hardware.

The blame on the IPKF for its so- called failure in the three years of its involvement in Sri Lanka seems to be less than justified as its operations brought about a situation of devolution of power to the Tamils there in a suitable political arrangement, and which is once again being talked about.

LTTE’s premature conversion to conventional forces and positional war seems to have been its undoing. Worse, its traditional tactic of pushing upfront its civilian human shield, and ruthlessly resorting to it even in conventional war holding captive hordes and lakhs of helpless civilians in the shrinking war zone may have set afire human rights activists, and certainly must have displeased and endangered the human gun fodder.

LTTE is a banned terrorist organization, it cannot even change its name like Lashkar–e–Toiba, so famous and prominent the world over. In its Eelam obsession, in its irredeemable demand for enormous sacrifices by the people over years upon years, in its boorishly uncompromising self- righteous attitude which can only be called irrational and obstinate, and in its treating the very people as secondary and expendable, the LTTE has let a breach appear between itself and the people. Its senseless and demoniac exercise of terror, violence, assassination, destruction and elimination, with no thought, leave aside efforts, on reconstruction and relief for the people are widening the chasm. Its self-delusion of graduating to conventional forces and positional warfare has been leading it to self-destruction as is becoming clearer as days pass.

Its failure or refusal to judiciously mix political efforts, armed violence and flexibility of approach to arrive at an agreeable solution for the common weal of the people has left no friends, no help and little sympathy. India’s standing aside has already resulted in the Sri Lankan government seeking arms and ammunition from Pakistan as reported a TV channel. China eyes the Indian Ocean with renewed hope and desire. It has remained on sympathetic and helpful terms with the Sri Lankan government over these four decades and more.

Also read: Zardari in Sri Lanka: Counter-Balancing India

LTTE’s treatment of Sri Lankan Muslims is cause enough for the latter’s neutrality, and for extending welcome to Arab largesse. These possibilities will impact on Indian interests since “Sri Lanka is critically important to India’s big power ambitions” as one journalists puts it.

Despite being its northern neighbour’s (India’s) protégé and leverage, despite their role as the Sri Lankan Tamil’s protector, as their champion of demand for a place in the sun, and as the shield against Sinhala infliction, the LTTE has been found wanting in waging a successful insurgency war because of its wanton practice of excessive violence and terrorism, failure to ensure the people’s well–being and development, refusal to wisely and judiciously practise use of force and political dialogue in achieving their political goal; and because of their inflexible, obstinate rigidity, holding them captive to their fascist, dictatorial, brutally self-righteous tendencies. Fantancy of graduation to conventional forces and conventional war has capped its failure because of it being premature.

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