And this time he needed the ears of New Delhi, more than Tamil Nadu, to act upon his strong plea for India’s support for his armed struggle and lifting the Indian ban on the LTTE. Actually this was the central theme of his, otherwise recycled, annual speech.
The Manmohan Singh coalition is fighting a battle to survive the ground swell of criticism for its abysmally poor performance in handling the Mumbai terror strike. In a knee jerk reaction so typical of New Delhi, long standing proposals to strengthen the counter terror apparatus at the Centre and the states are hurriedly being resurrected. With the general elections in another three months, no Indian political party can afford any more to soft pedal terrorism of any hue – religious, ideological or ethnic. The national impact of the Mumbai terror raid is so strong that policy makers from now onwards can only take a hard line on activities of terrorist organisations. And in India that includes the LTTE, whose conduct had qualified it to be banned as a terrorist organisation. Only recently the Delhi High Court has upheld the ban on the LTTE.
The first counter measures against terror are already in the pipeline and relate to coastal and marine terrorism. Stricter control of illegal entrants, tightening of security at airports and harbours, tightening of shipping and fisheries control, and tougher vetting of visitors from neighbouring countries would probably follow. The proposed federal agency for integrating the national response to terror attacks and expansion of the reach of the counter terror force – the Natinal Security Guard (NSG) to the metros might take a little more time to come through. But surely come they will, for the government had been dithering on these issues for years now.
And all this is bad news for Prabhakaran’s mission to win friends and influence people in India.
Happy at the resurgence of political support in Tamil Nadu for the LTTE, Prabhakaran called it a “great changes taking place in India.” Prabhakaran is probably expecting greater acceptance of the LTTE in Tamil Nadu encouraged by the revival of pro-LTTE elements in Tamil Nadu as the “dormant voices in support of our struggle” re-emerging aloud again, as he termed them.
Perhaps in a bid to save the face of Tamil Nadu leaders who are demanding immediate ceasefire, he explained his readiness to talk peace, after listing out the record of failed peace efforts in the past. He stressed that Tamil genocide was taking place as a result of the war, to strike a chord among Tamils everywhere.
It is significant that Prabhkaran wants India’s help on his own terms as there is not a word of regret or remorse in the speech for his own betrayal of India when it had actively intervened in support of the Tamil cause in the past. He has not even provided a fig leaf of apology for the role of LTTE in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, former Indian prime minister on the soil of Tamil Nadu.
It is out of question for any politician in India to ask people to wish away (as Prabhakaran had done) not only the Rajiv assassination but also the LTTE’s black record of killings of his own kind let alone his opponents, Tamil or otherwise. This attitudinal problem of Prabhakaran will make it difficult for any worthwhile Tamil politician to openly express support for the LTTE, even if the ban on the LTTE is lifted. Many Sri Lankan Tamils apparently consider these issues as not germane to their struggle which has been militarily taken over by the LTTE.
But across the Palk Straits it is still considered as the LTTE’s unacceptable conduct, particularly when it had depended upon India’s goodwill for its survival, not once, but many times in the past. Prabhakaran’s refusal to recognize this is manifest in his description of the earlier Indian interventions as “injurious to the people of Tamil Eelam, as well as to their struggle.” Obviously this was to justify his collusion with President Premadasa, of the same “racist Sinhala state, “to throw out the Indian forces which went to Sri Lanka to help Tamils. Not only that, his love-hate thoughts on India were evident when he blamed “the racist Sinhala state, with its intrigues, conspired to bring enmity between our freedom movement and the earlier Indian administration.” So his platitudes of India “the super power” sound hollow.
Prabhakaran has castigated “some countries which identified themselves as so-called Peace Sponsors, rushed into activities which impaired negotiations.” Obviously this was a reference to the U.S. and the EU who have banned the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. They have also busted LTTE clandestine arms procurement rings and clamped down its front organisations including some NGOs. He probably felt no more confident of influencing them to mend their ways in favour of the LTTE.
As a corollary, his need for India to bale him out is more than ever before as the security forces are closing in on the LTTE bastion at Kilinochchi.
So it was not surprising to read that he had “great expectations that the Indian super power will take a positive stand on our national question.” Probably, he expects further political pressure from Tamil Nadu to influence India. He felt Tamil Nadu “has taken heart to rise on behalf of our people at this hour of need. This timely intervention has gratified the people of Tamil Eelam and our freedom movement and given us a sense of relief.” Of course Sri Lankan Tamils plight is dear to the heart of Tamils but not the self-inflicted plight of the LTTE.
Though India has unequivocally stated that it was against the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam, the LTTE leader had “cordially” requested them “to raise their voice firmly in favour of our struggle for a Tamil Eelam state, and to take appropriate and positive measures to remove the ban which remains an impediment to an amicable relationship between India and our movement.” Does he really believe in his call? Or a stray event like the celebration of his birthday by a group of lawyers in the Madras High Court has kindled his high expectations? Prabhakaran is too shrewd for that. All this hype built over Indian support is probably to boost up his constituency among expatriate Tamils and the LTTE cadres battling it out in Wanni under adverse conditions.
The Great Heroes Day statement only shows that despite his strategic blunders Prabhakaran is yet to introspect and come to term with the dynamics of sub-continental reality. If he wants Indian support he has to change his script drastically. And it has to be on India’s terms, not his. That might well be an academic question in the case of Prabhkaran.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
As expected Task Force-I of the Sri Lanka security forces captured Pooneryn on November 15 freeing A32 highway from the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). But the security forces used the continued spell of fine weather and the newly raised Task Force-3 to capture of Mankulam, a key junction on the A9 Kandy-Jaffna lifeline on November 17. On the eastern seaboard of Mullaitivu district, 59 Division captured Mulliyavalai village, 10 km from Mullaitivu, the key coastal town of the area.
These developments in three different axes substantively increase the strategic options available to the security forces. All of them will also add to the pressure on the LTTE already beleaguered in its last footholds in Kilinochchi-Elephant Pass on the arterial road of A9. Once, A9 road is opened up under the security forces control, the hold of the LTTE on the jugular of Jaffna’s normal life will be lost. As a corollary it will also lose its relevance to the peninsular population.
The opening of the A32 Mannar-Pooneryn route will substantively reduce the logistic burden on the security forces, easing pressure on their limited airlift capability. Task Force-I can provide flank support to 57 Divison’s thrust on Kilinochchi from the southwest. Its artillery and possibly machine guns can also interdict the escape routes of LTTE cadres through the lagoon waters when 53 Division strikes along the northern axis of Muhamalai-Elephant Pass.
The capture Mankulam provides two options for the Task Force-III to progress operations along A9 axis in support of 53 Division offensive from the north, and or support from Mankulam side the 57 Division offensive on Kilionchchi-Elephant Pass from southwest. But the more likely course of the Task Force-III will be to develop a threat to the heartland of the LTTE from Mankulam to the east along road Mankulam-Oddusuddan-Mullaitivu. This would prevent any LTTE counter stroke developing on the Kilinochchi offensive, and also tie down the LTTE when 59 Division launches offensive from area Mulliyavalai where a number of roads converge increasing offensive options.
Thus with some quick successes the security forces have built up a five division strong threat against the LTTE with adequate reserves to hold the ground freed from the control of the insurgents.
In my analysis on the failure of the security forces’ half-hearted divisional offensive along axis Muhamalai-Elephant Pass in April 2008 (SAAG Note No 447 of May 29, 2008 “Sri Lanka: An analysis of military operations – Update No. 141” available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/notes5/note447.html ), I had said
“The strong defences of LTTE in Muhamalai axis to Kilinochchi show that it is not going to allow easy passage through. Strategically, the security forces will have to probably consider coordinating the Jaffna offensive along A9 with offensive along A32-Pooneryn to enhance the threat to Kilinochichi and weaken the LTTE defences. Whether the security forces have the wherewithal to carry out such a complex operation is the question only the Army commander can answer best.”
The security forces appear to have done just that after seven months, during which three divisions have been inducted into battle to increase the force level and thrust lines. And now the security forces goal would be not merely to capture Paranthan and Kilinochchi on A9 highway but to launch multiple offensives on the Muhamalai-Elephant Pass-Kilinochchi complex to restore normal life in Northern Province. And when that materializes, President Rajapaksa may give form to media speculations of a general election.
LTTE’s limited options
As the LTTE had been fighting mainly delaying actions the security forces casualties in the operation would be maximized if only the LTTE decides on a do-or-die stand at Kilinochchi. In the past, the LTTE tactics had always been to pull back after fighting delaying actions and build up a strong counterstroke. This had kindled widespread expectations of such a LTTE strike which is yet to come.
While this had succeeded in the earlier war, this time around the security forces appear to be ready to prevent a replay of the same script. There are three reasons for this: the security forces are not carrying through the offensive with the same troops holding static positions; they have multiple axes as well as substantive strength to deflate a counter stroke and lastly, the offensive capability of the Sea Tigers who provided vital support has been substantively eliminated on both the western and eastern coasts. (In fact, the security forces have neutralized repeated efforts of the Sea Tigers to take any initiative in the sea along the eastern coast north of Mullaitivu from Champianpattu to Nayaru where the LTTE still has some freedom to operate.)
With A32 road in the hands of security forces and with 59 Division along the east coast (and probably 55 Division too from Nagarkovil southwards) and the navy denying the LTTE access to sea routes of overseas supply to sustain the war, the LTTE’s options appear very limited. Strategically the LTTE would probably be better off to consolidate its armed strength after fighting a delaying action than defend Kilinochchi strongly and further deplete its dwindling strength. But that would be a decision based on military logic and reasoning rather than on the convoluted logic of an insurgent force operating on a different plane. So strictly speaking it is difficult to read Prabhakaran’s mind. It would be overambitious to expect him to again pull a rabbit out of the hat with a masterful counter stroke at this belated stage as some of his overseas supporters expect him to do.
Political implications of military success
Undoubtedly, military successes one after the other have strengthened the hands of President Rajapaksa and the hawks in Sri Lanka politics. Thus even the consideration of any peace move would be shelved till military success is taken to its logical conclusion of making the LTTE irrelevant. This has been amply made clear by the President in his statements on a number of occasions. The military successes have also strengthened President’s resolve to pursue the war. They have also exposed the limitations of India’s ability to influence the course of events.
The delicate pulls and pressures of coalition politics on the central government and the Tamil Nadu government so close to the parliamentary elections have prevented the emergence of any substantive Indian political initiative on Sri Lanka. In Tamil Nadu there is widespread dismay at the plight of lakhs of Tamils deprived of their homes, livelihood, and shelter caught in the wilderness of battle zones. It is easy to dismiss the snowballing public protests and hunger strikes organized in Tamil Nadu asking for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka as part of Prabhakaran’s strategy or as political gimmick of local parties. However that would be ignoring the mindset of large sections of people in the state who abhor his style of mindless killings while feeling genuinely distressed over the plight of internally displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The Tamil and Sinhala polity in Sri Lanka have not been able to work out a political strategy for evolving a win-win formula either among themselves or collectively to foster a feeling of security and trust among Tamil population. Some sections of them, particularly Tamil leaders, expect India and everyone other than themselves to undertake this delicate task. No external force including India on their own can generate security and trust among the population.
Ultimately Sri Lanka has to come to terms with the issues and evolve a process by which a suitable environment for lasting peace is created and this will not be helped by military victories alone. Till then the military options avidly pursued by both sides for achieving short term ends will dominate the national scene And even if the Fourth Eelam War is won by the Sri Lankan government, ultimately the loser would be the nation as a section of the people would not to trust their rulers or feel secure under them. And that might sow the seeds of the next round of war.
(Hariharan’s Intelligence blog)