Part 2: Remember to Remember. LTTE Calculus
Sivaram was worried that the Eelam struggle was increasingly becoming a test bed to try out different Counter Insurgency (COIN) campaigns. He started discussing this with friends and was hinting at it in his writings. RAND publications, now released in public domain, bear witness to his worries. Many of the RAND’s National Defense Research Institute papers are sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Below are few examples of recent research releases where LTTE was used as case study.
“Characterizing and Exploring the Implications of Maritime Irregular Warfare”,
“Subversion and Insurgency. RAND Counterinsurgency Study. Paper 2”
and “Understanding Proto-Insurgencies. RAND Counterinsurgency Study. Paper 3”
Furthermore, right after the ceasefire, Sivaram was openly skeptical about the peace process and started warning about the “Peace trap”. LTTE became concerned about Sivaram’s position and invited him to Vanni. Sivaram visited the LTTE heartland for the first time in 2003 ( Unsure about the exact time) and met with the LTTE leadership. He was engaged by LTTE on their strategy at some considerable depth during that meeting.
This had an impact on Sivaram and his writings afterwards. LTTE’s strategy lead him to coin the term Counter – Counter Insurgency or as he called it CCI.
He, later, became frustrated again that the LTTE was not “educating the people about the truth”.
By 2000, LTTE realized it had achieved the necessary level of strategic parity through military means. Any further military expansion towards Jaffna risked a direct intervention by India. And further advances would have been hampered by the threat to its rear supply line in Vanni. All heavy war material needed to be brought in from Vanni, a required element to sustain any large scale incursions into Jaffna. LTTE would have incurred heavy casualties. Not to mention the Tamil civilian casualties in the peninsula. This strategic pause also paid off when Sri Lanka launched the Agni Kela offensive in Apr and failed. Sri Lankan military literally threw everything it had into that battle. At this juncture of parity, and with the airport attack in July, Sri Lankan state was left with limited options but to pursue peace.
The objectives of the American DoD review, and the LTTE’s offer of peace coincided in 2001, resulting in the peace process.
LTTE was aware of the peace trap yet it was still adamant about staying in the process.
LTTE’s immediate and short term goal was to consolidate and preserve the strategic parity it gained. LTTE calculated to exit the peace process at an appropriate time with that parity recognized as inevitable, and as the “new normal”. It was worried that Sivaram’s public position about the “peace trap” would create doubts in peoples mind.
LTTE invested heavily in the people of Vanni. It was creating a lasting Vanni mindset: A mindset that is intimately tied to the LTTE’s state building project. As Sivaram was learning, LTTE made that investment as an antidote to counter insurgency tactics as well as a long term strategic springboard. At that time, many of the counterinsurgency tactics of the government was starting to work in the East and in the Jaffna peninsula. Tamils in those areas were starting to be conditioned to accept the state violence and the loss of dignity. They were afraid to loose that “normalcy” . Normalcy for them was lack of mass violence in the form of indiscriminate shelling and air raids. But constant military presence, disappearances, targeted killings, no freedom of movement, were rationalized as tolerable by them. And the state crimes were dismissed as only happened to those who did not know how to “stay out of trouble”. This was an erosion of their will to resist and the desired outcome of a counterinsurgency campaign.
In the Vanni, through the unceasing waves, LTTE created areas of full control. And invested heavily in projects of statebuilding that gave people a sense of dignity, safety, limited freedom of movement. Before that meeting, Sivaram saw those projects as waste of precious resources during the time of war. He was of the opinion that, as a direct consequence of state building, LTTE focused too much on expanding conventional capabilities and on protecting territory at the expense of its guerrilla roots. But the witnessing of statebuilding exercise has left an everlasting impression on the Vanni people as well as on the visiting diaspora. That investment paid off in the form of willing participation and in unflinching loyalty to the LTTE even in the dying days.
LTTE built on that during the peace process as a counter to any moves to weaken the bond between the people and the organization. It became the lived experience of people of Vanni and the diaspora. It must be mentioned that it is because of that Vanni mindset, that the Vanni survivors were made to suffer in the concentration camps post war. It was a pre-planned counterinsurgency exercise to dehumanize them. To make them forget the good days of the Vanni life. Even Though Sivaram did not live to witness the outcome of the LTTE’s Vanni mindset project, he understood the ramifications of it in 2003.
During Peace Process
LTTE devised several other strategies during the peace process to ensure Sri Lankan state and its backers did not drive a wedge between them and the people using the peace process. As part of the counterinsurgency campaign, practitioners plan out the twin approaches of “legitimacy building” of their side and of “de-legitimizing” of their opponents. This delegitimacy campaign is targeted at different types of audience. In the case of LTTE, it was primarily aimed at the Tamil people in the island and abroad. LTTE was already handicapped by the terrorist label. As mentioned in part 1 about the Aug 2002 visit of Deputy Secretary Armitage (who held one of the key leadership role in the US DoD review) the following wiki leaks info sheds some light into what was happening. key word emphasis is mine
“The Deputy Secretary.. noted that the US
bureaucracy has moved very quickly in response to GSL
requests for assistance in the areas of intelligence,
security, trade, investment, and aid… He
noted that the intelligence team (septel) and a team from the
Peace Corps are in the country. He stressed that the
US could not serve as an “honest broker” between the GSL and
the terrorist LTTE (as some people wanted),..”
Deputy Sec. Armitage was very direct with the Tamil clergy and others when they met him in Jaffna. he made it clear which side the US backed in the peace process. It was the reality but it was also an intended message to undermine the legitimacy of the LTTE in the eyes of the people.
TNA was formed in Oct 2001 in a pre emptive move to consolidate the Tamil political space. Primarily to deny any opportunities to delegitimize the LTTE.
LTTE also organized a series of Ponguthamil events to keep the people highly mobilized and motivated. This mobilization was a key to consolidate the support even in the peninsula where LTTE had very limited presence before the peace process. Sri Lankan state later targeted and killed many of those involved in organizing the Pongu Thamil events.
LTTE also saw the calls for democratization in the form of multi party campaigns through a counterinsurgency lens and resisted those suggestions.
As mentioned in part 1, the US DoD looked at “under governed areas with in states” as a security risk while LTTE was bent on consolidating the Vanni under its control.
It should be noted, many of LTTE’s actions for parity ( thus legitimacy) were bitterly opposed by the Sri Lankan state and were also tactically supported by its backers. And according to Dr. Sandra Destradi’s research, this is was one of the primary reason for the failure of the peace process since it took away the incentive for LTTE to continue negotiating. Few actions of the delegitimacy campaigns are worth highlighting.
1) Holding of the Donor meeting in DC knowing LTTE can not attend
2) Denial of visits to the Vanni areas to Koffi Annan and to President Clinton after the tsunami
3) Abrogation of PTOMS
4) Framing the LTTE taxation as extortion or as ransom. (Many Tamils fell victims to this campaign).
There are also accusations that few of the current TNA leaders were undermining the LTTE’s strategy to prevent delegitimacy campaigns. They are accused of telling the foreign delegations in private meetings that LTTE should not be given the political legitimacy as it is a military organization. And it should be the preserve of the TNA.
In anticipation of international pressure tactics on its associates ( As India did with the deportation orders of Anton Balasingam and Nadesan Satyendra in the 80’s ) and to prevent infiltrations, LTTE re organized its international operations. Many long time associates, including KP, were deliberately sidelined. And its international coordination was moved to and controlled from the Vanni. It was both a tactical necessity and as well as a strategic move that further reinforced the centrality of Vanni, forcing dignitaries to make the trek to the Vanni.
Sivaram also learned about two of LTTE’s secretive divisions. One was the “Defense Planning and Military Science Division” under Sasi master and the other was the “Strategic Planning Division” under the coordination of Mano master who previously was the head of “Military Training school”.
Again, reverting to part 1, where the US DoD saw the “adoption of asymmetric approaches “ as a challenge to be dealt with in the new century, LTTE doubled downed on its black tigers as the “asymmetric deterrence” against any possible foreign intervention. Sivaram wrote an article in May 2004 under the heading “LTTE develops asymmetric deterrence to stall foreign intervention” .
LTTE considered its reaction to the Indian intervention in 87 a tactical failure. While LTTE knew ( Purportedly through its close friendship with the TN chief Minister MGR )
of the plans for Indian intervention in 1986 , it thought it had pre empted it by banning TELO. It did not have a tactical plan in place for such an eventuality. Sasi master was tasked with such strategic scenario planning. Accordingly Sivaram, LTTE had tactical plans in place to handle limited foreign intervention as well as for a possible rebellion in the east.
As Katunayake Airport attack demonstrated and later the Anuradhapura air force camp attack reinforced, LTTE had elevated the suicide attacks to full unit level deployments which was never done before. LTTE saw that as a core part of their strategic deterrence
And by the end of 2005, while trying to prevent de legitimization, and while developing a deterrence, LTTE also sought to undermine the “legitimacy building” of the UNP government. Under the cover of international safety net, Ranil’s government was endowed with enough legitimacy. There were open warning from the US leaders ( Nicholas Burns, Ashley Willis, etc)to the LTTE about the cost of resuming the war. So when LTTE “engineered” the defeat of the Ranil, and by letting a “Hawk” win the election, it reduced the “legitimacy” argument. Today, that regime is accused of Genocide, War crimes, and Crimes against humanity. The international players are unable to openly endorse the conduct of the war. Had Ranil won the election in 2005, the war still would have resumed. The outcome may still have been the same. But the conduct of the war and the narrative may have been different.
Next: Post peace process. Was Genocide anticipated ?