(From my book titled "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" published in June last by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi (www.lancerpublishers.com)
The termination of the 2002 cease-fire agreement with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and of the role of the foreign cease-fire monitors and facilitators underlines the determination of the Government of Sri Lanka not to let anything stand in the way of its military operations against the LTTE reaching their logical conclusion.
In its objective, such a logical conclusion would be the disruption, if not the destruction, beyond recovery of the command and control of the LTTE and the re-enforcement of the writ of the Government over the areas in the Northern Province, which are still under the control of the LTTE. Nobody can quarrel with this objective.
This objective is sought to be achieved through a two-pronged action---- intensified air strikes against the LTTE's command and control in the Wanni region and graduated ground operations, which are initially focussed more on a decimation of the LTTE's rank and file than on recovery of territory. If and when the rank and file is weakened substantially, the focus would turn to the recovery of territory presently under the LTTE's control.
The more the command and control is disrupted by the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF), the easier will be the ground operations. The longer the command and control remains intact, the slower will be the progress of the ground operations. Unlike Al Qaeda, which is a decentralised organisation with its operatives capable of autonomous operations for a long time even in the absence of a centralised command and control, the LTTE is a very rigid and centralised organisation. Its operatives do not seem to have the same capability as the operatives of Al Qaeda for autonmous action. The disruption of the command and control could have a debilitating effect on the organisation.
The LTTE has a very narrow pyramid at the top. Its command and control is concentrated in the hands of essentially three persons---Prabakaran, its leader, Pottu Amman, the chief of its Intelligence wing, and Soosai, the chief of the Sea Tigers. If the air strikes can eliminate these three persons, that could mark the beginning of the end of the LTTE as it is constituted today and the ground operations could achieve their objective without large-scale civilian casualties.
The law of diminishing options and assets has set in for the LTTE. The law is already operating inexorably. It has very little option for offensive ground action of the guerilla type not amounting to terrorism. It has been reduced to fighting one defensive action after another against a harassing army in order to retain control of the territory and retard the advance of the Army towards Wanni. A guerilla force without offensive options slowly bleeds to death. It still has the option of the card of terrorism in areas outside the Tamil belt. It has already been using this card, killing innocent civilians without minding about the impact of its acts of terrorism on the international community. It has already lost considerable international support and understanding for the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. The more it resorts to terrorism against soft targets, the more will be the loss of international support and the ultimate casualty will be that of the Tamil cause.
It has still two options left for it to use---- a successful ground strike to destroy the fighter planes of the SLAF and a successful attack on an economic target of considerable strategic significance for the Government. To use these options, it needs assets----human and material. Its human assets are still well-motivated and capable of turning the tide in its favour. But, its material assets are diminishing due to the disruption of its supply channels from abroad and its inability to mount successful offensive operations against the Army, which could replenish its stocks of arms, ammunition and explosives. Human assets alone, however top grade, cannot produce miracles without adequate material assets.
Internationally, the LTTE finds itself more and more isolated. What goodwill it had in the international community till 1991! A series of political blunders by Prabakaran like the brutal assassinations of Rajiv Gandhi, Premadasa and Laxman Kadirgamar, the unsuccessful attempt to kill Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunge, when she was the President, and its frequent resort to terrorism against Sri Lankan Tamil leaders disliked by Prabakaran and other innocent civilians have severely damaged this goodwill. Prabakaran has shown again and again a tendency to lift huge boulders and drop them on his own feet. He started his career as the well-heard voice of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. He has squandered away this goodwill.
There is no need to feel concerned over the self-created predicament of the LTTE and its ultimate fate. But one has to feel concerned over the fate of the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. Rajapaksa and his advisers have been saying soothing words about the importance of India for Sri Lanka, their receptivity to India's security concerns, their readiness to right the wrongs done to the Sri Lankan Tamils in the past etc.
But, let there be no doubt about it. If they succeed militarily, the dictated peace, which they will seek to impose on the Tamils, will be the peace of medieval conquerors over the conquered. They will seek to take Sri Lanka back to 1982 and the years before.
India has done well to assist the Sri Lankan Navy in its operations against the LTTE's Navy. It will also be justified in assisting the SLAF in destroying the so-called air force of the LTTE. The LTTE's naval and air capabilities pose a threat to the security of not only Sri Lanka, but also of the region as a whole. But this assistance should have been as a quid pro quo to simultaneous steps by the Rajapaksa Government to address the aspirations and grievances of the Sri Lankan Tamils, with firm commitments on the kind of peace, which would be acceptable to India and the world. India's action in not insisting on a visible and palpable quid pro quo in favour of the Tamil cause can prove to be a strategic blunder.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com)