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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Without the Tigers

Sinhala and Tamil politicians must appreciate how the LTTE’s defeat changes everything

Written by Satish Nambiar | April 27, 2009 12:43:19 am

The demise of the LTTE is possibly now only a matter of days. The total demolition of the once universally feared organisation that introduced suicide terrorism and the use of improvised explosives (IEDs) as a form of insurgency warfare is a tribute to the determination of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) under its intrepid commander,Sarath Fonseka. General Fonseka has displayed the qualities of a great military leader nations are blessed with from time to time. Resurrected from the grave as it were after the attack on him some years back,he has displayed a single-mindedness of purpose in pursuing his goal of decimating the LTTE. Needless to say,he has been able to achieve his objective because of the full support and encouragement provided by the political establishment led by President Rajapakse.

Whether the methods adopted by the SLAF,duly endorsed by the government of Sri Lanka,met the norms of human rights and international humanitarian law,including proportionate use of force,will remain the subject of discussion for some time to come. However,there is little doubt that the SLAF had to prosecute deliberate operations sector by sector at great risk to their own personnel,and have succeeded by sheer grit and determination.

While the military analysis of the campaign will take its own course,a strategic analysis of events in the recent past and the future course of action at the political level is called for. The major consideration from the Indian point of view is whether or not the government of Sri Lanka meets the legitimate aspirations of its Tamil population after it has removed the LTTE from the scene. This aspect assumes significance in view of the fact that Sinhala nationalism may well overtake rational initiatives. One would hope that this does not happen; and in ensuring that it does not,the government of India has a major role to play.

As someone who was briefly involved with the peace process in Sri Lanka in 2002-2003,I have already acknowledged the outstanding performance of the SLAF and the efforts of General Fonseka,a person I met on a number of occasions during my visits to Sri Lanka during 2002-2003 and developed great respect for,both as an individual and as a soldier. However,as a strategic analyst I would like to make the point that this military victory would not have been possible but for the bold initiatives of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe in 2002 in entering into a dialogue with the LTTE leadership under an umbrella provided by the Norwegians. The present dispensation in Colombo is unlikely to share with him the credit for what has been achieved today. But I have no doubt that when historians come to record the events of the day,Ranil will be lauded for having brought the LTTE leadership out of the jungle for talks in the exotic surroundings of Bangkok and Geneva. And,in the process,weakened the seemingly steely resolve of the cadres,leading in due course to a split in the movement. Karuna’s estrangement and the divorce of the LTTE cadres of the North-East and Eastern provinces from their fellow fighters in Jaffna and the Vanni have without doubt been a major factor in the success achieved by the SLAF.

An intriguing aspect of the situation in Sri Lanka during the conduct of military operations over the last few months has been the relative silence of the leadership of other Tamil groups in Sri Lanka. One is not aware of any strident calls for termination of the operations on grounds of casualties to innocent civilians or human rights excesses by the SLAF. This is in stark contrast to the stridency of some sections of the leadership in Tamil Nadu; where even the possibility of a “blood bath” has been suggested if the LTTE leader Prabhakaran is harmed. This attitude of the Tamil leadership in Sri Lanka can no doubt be attributed to their desire to see the LTTE militarily defeated and Prabhakaran removed from the scene. Having been ruthlessly dealt with and removed to the periphery of the Tamil movement in Sri Lanka,these leaders will now seek to find the political space to re-establish themselves and their political affiliations. Managing this change will be the challenge for the government of Sri Lanka. The removal of the LTTE as a factor on the Sri Lankan political landscape and the euphoria of a military victory over the LTTE will no doubt also be used by extreme Sinhala groups to put pressure on the Rajapakse government not to accede to Tamil demands for devolution of power.

The government of India would do well,together with international players like the US,UK and Japan among others,to ensure that the government of Sri Lanka is given full support,and provided all the assistance necessary to initiate appropriate political processes with the various Tamil groups in Sri Lanka to evolve a framework for devolution of power to the Tamil minority that takes into account the assurances given to the Tamils during the Norwegian sponsored peace process. In doing so it would no doubt be useful to replicate the arrangements that seem to have been arrived at with the Karuna faction in the Eastern and North Eastern provinces. Whatever the intricacies of that arrangement,it appears to have worked with a fair degree of success given the fact that elections have been conducted in those provinces and a representative local government is in place.

A problem that can be foreseen is that,with the removal of Prabhakaran and the LTTE from the scene,the various Tamil groups will possibly revive their old differences and rivalries,and turn out to be an obstacle to the restoration of political processes in the Tamil areas of Northern Sri Lanka. In this context,the government of India should get the leadership of the political parties in Tamil Nadu to use their good offices to compel the Tamil leadership in Northern Sri Lanka to resolve their differences and work together to enable the people of the provinces to get on with their lives under conditions of peace and tranquillity.

The writer,who retired as lieutenant general in the Indian army,headed the United Nations Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia (1992-93),and has also advised the Sri Lankan government (2002-03) express@expressindia.com

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