Military Matters

India steps in: Ready to go the whole hog

India believes that, given the options available, rather than confronting the Sri Lankan Government, the better approach would be to engage it.

India also felt it is better to have something in place, in terms of an interim arrangement based on existing provisions, than have nothing at all.

The prompt and favourable response from the Indian External Affairs Ministry, to the government’s watered down interim proposals to implement the 13th Amendment, is an indication that Delhi was entering the fray.

India is shedding her “hands off policy” and hopes to go the whole hog, as evident from the statement made pronto, after the proposals to implement the 13th Amendment were unveiled on Wednesday (23).

“The Government of India will continue to work with Sri Lanka and its people, to bring a settlement of the issues,” said the official spokesman, External Affairs Ministry, Navtej Sarna, on Friday (25).

India said the proposals were a “welcome first step”, on the condition that they pave the way for a final settlement of the ethnic conflict.

India’s Independence Day ceremony held yesterday at India House was attended by a large representative gathering of politicians, diplomats, goverment officials, civil society and professionals. Deputy High Commissioner A. Manickkam, during an animated conversation with top JHU officials, Environment Minister Champika Ranawaka and Environment Authority Chairman Udaya Gammanpila made a significant remark. Referring to the change of policy towards Lanka’s ethnic conflict, he said, “Brothers are coming together after almost two decades.”

In fact, such a favourable response by the External Affairs Ministry to a mediocre set of proposals, is proof of a new interest in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict.

This reponse was despite a joint statement by the Prime Ministers of UK and India, urging “the Sri Lankan Government to put forward a credible devolution package as a key contribution to finding a political solution.”
How does one explain the latest Indian policy?

One step at a time
Some explain it this way: The Norwegian-brokered Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) was abrogated and with it, western influence over the peace process reduced. India is now keen on getting the defunct 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Accord operative after 21 years in the Diamond Jubillee year of Lanka’s independence.

The Accord brought in its wake the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, as well as provincial councils, including a merged North and East, that has now been de-merged.

With both the merger and the CFA thrown overboard, and pronouncements by the military top brass that the war will be fought to a finish soon, the international community strongly believes that the Sri Lankan Government was pursuing a military solution.

Hence, the joint statement by the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in Delhi.

The fact that the House of Commons had debated human rights and a possible UN presence in Sri Lanka, just days ago, suggests that the British Government was truly concerned about the deteriorating situation here.

However, it was just a handful of MPs from pro-Tamil constituencies who were present, suggesting that the LTTE, which was feeling the military onslaught, had sought to influence them.

While UK would have had its own reasons to thwart a military solution here, the Indian Government certainly has its own domestic compulsions, given that the ruling DMK in Tamilnadu is a constituent party of the central government.
Coming as it did, just two days before the APRC was to hand over its proposals for an interim arrangement, the statement seemed well timed.

Days before the LTTE were set to announce its proposals for an interim administration, the then Indian Premier A.B. Vajpayee and Sri Lankan Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a joint statement to set out the parameters.

Here, too, the emphasis was on dissuading a military solution and urging a credible devolution package towards finding a political solution.

If this was the essence of the joint statement, how does one explain the Indian statement welcoming what was unveiled on Wednesday?

India believes that, given the options available, rather than confronting the Sri Lankan Government, the better approach would be to engage it.

India also felt it is better to have something in place, in terms of an interim arrangement based on existing provisions, than have nothing at all.

Delhi believes that the military will not find it a cakewalk, and given the minimal progress in the Wanni and the north, it is likely that the parties, after a while, would return to the negotiating table.

Delhi also feels the way forward is to have devolution in stages than have too much too soon that is immediately maligned and rejected.

The Indian Government is very much happy if a final solution could be worked out similar to the quasi-devolution of power in the states, even as the provincial councils are set in motion.

India also does not believe in symmetrical devolution of power, and cites the example of Kashmir, where there is greater autonomy than the rest.

But, India knows that only one step could be taken at a time. She is keen on getting the 13th Amendment, which is already in our statute books, implemented simultaneously, while fresh talks for a final solution is being discussed and debated.

The ‘Karuna’ factor
On a personal note, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, may have won the confidence of India, by his comment that he would hand over the man wanted for the Rajiv Gandhi trial, LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, to India, if the forces capture him.
India is also aware that, unlike previous Sri Lankan Presidents, Rajapaksa was more inclined towards India than the rest, who had a western bias.

His presidential manifesto, his acceptance speech and the like are all testimony to the fact that he was unafraid to openly declare his allegiance to Delhi, more than the West.

But, the West has an axe to grind with the Rajapaksa administration, for the way it has dealt with it.
TMVP Leader Vinayagamoorthy Muratlitheran alias ‘Karuna’, was sentenced Friday to nine months imprisonment in Britain, for travelling on forged travel documents from Sri Lanka.

The prosecution maintained that Karuna implicated the Government of Sri Lanka, including Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.

The Crown Prosecution Service is also considering the possibility of trying Karuna for war crimes committed in Sri Lanka in breach of the UN Convention on Torture.

If that were to happen, Karuna is likely to spill the beans and further implicate the Sri Lankan Government.
When Alan Rock made allegations against the Sri Lankan Army, for supporting the Karuna group in armed conscription, the Sri Lankan Government flatly denied the charge.

The whole episode led to a diplomatic standoff between Sri Lanka and Britain.
Karuna may have outlived his purpose here and may have been a thorn in the Sri Lankan Government’s flesh. But despatching him to the UK may be more detrimental to the Government. He has nothing to lose and more to loathe for what happened to him at the hands of key people.


Will Eelam War IV lead to peace?

With the phoney ceasefire over and the Sri Lankan military pressing in on the LTTE’s northern heartland, three distinct scenarios are possible. But, in all of them, the constructive role, friends of Sri Lanka, in the region and outside, could play is the same

By Ram Manikkalingam
Sri Lanka’s phoney peace is over. By abrogating the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the LTTE, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has finally proclaimed what has been a reality for two years – the effective end of the ceasefire brokered by the Norwegians six years ago. The Sinhala-dominated government and the Tamil Tigers have decided that war is not only inevitable but also required, before any fresh political process could emerge. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised to eradicate terrorism. His brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has promised to kill Tiger supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran. Scenting victory, the Sri Lankan military is pressing in on the Tiger heartland in the north on several fronts, while targeting Tiger leaders for assassination.

Meanwhile, the LTTE leader has proclaimed that only military force will work, to change the government’s policy. He has directed attacks against hard military targets such as Air Force bases and soft political targets like ministers and civil guardsmen. The Tamil Tigers are using a combination of hit and run attacks, bombings and assassinations to deter and delay the government’s impending assault.

The GoSL has newly acquired armaments – multi barrel rocket launchers, heavier artillery, precision guided missiles, and bunker busters – and recruited 30,000 new recruits into its armed forces. The Tamil Tigers have developed an air wing, an effective sea wing, and heavily infiltrated population centres in the Sinhala-dominated South. This next round of violence will lead to the deaths of thousands, the displacement of hundreds of thousands, and the destruction of property on a larger scale than what we have ever witnessed before in Sri Lanka.

The LTTE could emerge defeated, weakened, or emboldened from this fighting. The Tigers will be defeated, if the government succeeds in ejecting them from territory they control and in eliminating their leadership. The Tigers will be weakened, if the government ejects them from territory they control, but they can still continue as an insurgent organisation capable of guerrilla operations and terrorist attacks. The LTTE will be emboldened, of course, if it succeeds in bringing the government offensive to a standstill. While these three scenarios are very different, the role that friends of Sri Lanka, in the region and outside, could play in helping to move the country towards a stable peace, is the same in all of them.

The first scenario is that the government deals a decisive blow to the LTTE – ejecting it from territory it controls and eliminating its leadership. The hope, in this scenario, is that a Sri Lanka liberated from war, would find the will to seek peace. Sinhala hardliners, fearful of Tamil autonomy in LTTE hands, would be less opposed to granting it after a Tiger defeat. Tamil hardliners seeking a separate State, would stop doing so. This would create the opportunity for a new politics of co-existence among all communities in the island. But the fear is that military victory may, instead, embolden Sinhala hardliners to reject any concession to the minorities – Tamil and Muslim – compelling them to live at the sufferance of the majority. War would give way, not to peace and reconciliation, but to bitterness and recrimination. Sri Lanka may not have war but neither would it have a just peace.

The second scenario points to a weakened, though not defeated, LTTE. It is ejected from territory it controls, but continues as a formidable insurgent organisation capable of guerrilla operations and terrorist attacks. The hope here is that both parties would declare victory and call a truce. The government will view further efforts at defeating the LTTE as too costly, and the Tigers would accept that they cannot get what they want by military means alone. Each will give up on its preferred political objective. The government will give up on centralising power in Colombo and the LTTE would give up on the establishment of a separate State. The result would be the classic federal compromise that most people see as the only reasonable solution. The fear is that neither party would have the political sagacity to stop at a partial victory or defeat. Rather, the GoSL would press on, in the hope of eliminating the LTTE permanently. And the Tamil Tigers will refuse to accept a new balance of power, where they do not control territory and administer populations. Each side would seek to continue the war. Neither would prevail.

The final scenario is a bloody stalemate – where the government fails to eject the LTTE and the Tamil Tigers fail to make military headway themselves. The government will unleash all it has, but would not dislodge the LTTE from territory it controls. The Tamil Tigers would hold firm but, they would not be able to expand their hold on territory or population. The result would be a stalemate, but after spilling a lot of blood. The hope is that, after much cost to the people of the country, the government and the Tamil Tigers would have relearned the lesson that war alone would not alter the political dynamics of the country. They would initiate a political process that would keep the strengths, and redress the weaknesses of the previous one. This process, with a combination of internal acceptance and external support, would get somewhere. The fear in this scenario is that a combination of Sinhala extremism and political rivalry in the South and Tamil extremism and militarism in the North, would prevent the parties from seizing the opportunity to move forward toward a fresh process. Instead, they would continue seeking military breakthroughs, only to be further mired in a bloodier stalemate.

While these three scenarios are distinct, the role, friends of Sri Lanka, in the region and outside, could play in helping to move the country towards the more hopeful scenarios, and away from the fearful ones, is the same.

The GoSL, as a responsible State in the international system, has some basic obligations, even while fighting an insurgency. These include upholding the human rights of all its citizens, irrespective of their ethnic affiliation; respecting the laws of war; providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict, including refugees; and ensuring access to humanitarian organisations, local and international, seeking to assist those affected by the armed violence. Sri Lanka’s friends could help it fulfil these responsibilities.

At the same time, the world could also impress upon the Tamil Tigers that, while they are no State, they must still respect the laws of war, as an armed group engaged in a conflict. These include, but are not limited to, refraining from deliberately targeting civilians, ensuring humanitarian access to those affected by war, and refraining from recruiting children. They must emphasise that the future role of the Tamil Tigers, as serious political interlocutors in a peace settlement, would depend on how they conduct themselves during war.

Sri Lanka’s friends could also prod the two parties to lay out their respective visions of a political settlement, without evading it. These must not be the reiteration of tired old positions by both sides – where the LTTE repeats its call for an interim administration that only it controls, and the GoSL reiterates its commitment to a unitary State that only it controls. Rather, it must be an imaginative effort to describe both an end goal – where they would like to see the country end up - and a pathway for getting there – how they would like to set about achieving it. This would invariably involve a permanent political settlement, an interim structure for getting there, a process for disarmament on the part of the LTTE and demilitarisation on the part of the State, and finally, a mechanism for post war reconstruction that could rebuild the shattered lives of all communities.

Finally, the world could also help amplify Sri Lankan voices that support a solution that respects the concerns of all communities equally, within an undivided country. These include the Muslims, the upcountry Tamils, and the left-liberal political actors, whose significant presence has been ignored, precisely because, they have not been obstacles to peace.

While none of these steps are easy, they are also not impossible. But the window of opportunity for initiating them would be very brief, immediately after the next round of fighting ends, and just before both parties forget about the bloody futility of war. While the belligerents make war, those who are seeking peace in Sri Lanka from within and those who wish to help from outside, must begin their plans for making peace. The people of Sri Lanka deserve another chance.

(Ram Manikkalingam (r.manikkalingam@uva.nl) is Visiting Professor, Political Science, University of Amsterdam. He served as senior advisor in the peace process to the previous President of Sri Lanka.)


Bloodying the Tiger’s nose

The stated military strategy is not to pursue a land grab in the Wanni, as in the East, where the Army took over vast swathes of territory. In the Wanni and the North, the forces have to cope with a less friendly civilian population of around half-a-million people.

And, on top of that, the Tigers are well entrenched in their defences and have proved their conventional capabilities, which they have acquired over the years.

Despite the Military’s superior combat power, it is not easy to dislodge the cadres who have conventional capability including artillery and mortar power and have dug in and mined the area heavily.

The Army has opened up five fronts in the Wanni and the North to draw the Tigers into battle. The Military feels that the way to go about is to destroy the cadres and their strike capability, in an overall war of attrition.

(For its part, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) this week alone, took out two identified targets, including the LTTE’s “X-ray Base” east of Iranamadu Tank in the Kalmadukulama area on Wednesday (23) and its transport base located at Kilinochchi, on Friday (25). In the first air raid, SLAF fighter jets, in a low flying mission, had, with the pin point accuracy, targeted the base that LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was to visit, the SLAF claimed. But, there was no conformation based on ground intelligence, as to the Tiger leader being injured.

The insurgency has grown over several phases and what the Military is doing is to roll back these phases, which, of course, takes time.

Setting deadlines to win the war, is not very practical, on account on the LTTE’s use of conventional force, guerilla warfare and terrorism. We saw how the LTTE continued to make its presence felt in Thanamalwila in the Moneragala district, killing three policemen and injuring two soldiers this week.

The Military is shaping the battle and creating the conditions, until the right time and right place to go for the kill. The last experience at Muhamalai, ahead of the Budget vote, only goes to show that the Tigers expected the operation and dealt with it accordingly. As the soldiers captured the first bunker line and proceeded to get at the second, the LTTE rained artillery and turned the soldiers into sitting ducks. The same mistake was not repeated this time, as troops, this week, destroyed 24 LTTE bunkers and caused damage to the forward defence lines (FDL) at Muhamalai, Nagar Kovil and Kilali.

While mass scale bodies had to be restricted, a few such operations would be in order. Ahead of the country’s Diamond Jubilee of Independence, either side would like to make a dent in the enemy’s lines.

But, until such a large-scale thrust is undertaken; targets in the North and the Wanni were continually under attack by the security forces this week.

According to intercepted LTTE messages, 15 Tigers were killed and double the number injured during the confrontations in Jaffna FDLs. Lt Bopage of the Infantry Regiment and two soldiers were killed. Lt N.M. Rajapakse and another soldier were killed in action in Muhamalai on Thursday (24), while five LTTE cadres were killed during the confrontation.

In another incident, two leading LTTE cadres, including Kengan, who carried out attacks in government controlled areas, were killed.

Meanwhile, in Mannar, during a confrontation at Periyakulam, two soldiers were killed and six others injured, while 14 Tigers were killed in Pandivirichchan, Anandankulam, Marandamode, and Kallikulam areas. A total of 29 Tigers were killed in all these areas on Thursday (24). At Periyapanchakulam in Vavuniya, on Sunday (20), two LTTE regional leaders were gunned down, according to the Military. The security forces recovered six bodies, including those of Kugan and Manju. Troops from 59 Division, advancing from Weli Oya, killed another two dozen Tigers over the week.

Government military strategists believe that by killing Tigers in small numbers, the Army would be able to unsettle the LTTE, to strike hard later.