Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Northern Operation Will Not be a Cakewalk

by Shakuntala Perera, Daily Mirror (Colombo), August 4, 2007

The human rights issues are going to snowball. This is one reason I am personally against aerial bombing. It will take three years and that is a long time for international diplomacy to keep quiet, however much you convince the local constituencies. We will be embarrassing all those people who are underwriting their belief in Sri Lankan democracy and governance if you have an operation for three years.

Col. R Hariharan, an intelligence specialist on South Asia, is a retired Military Intelligence officer. He served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka (1987-90). He was in Colombo to attend a seminar on the 20th anniversary of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord by the South Asia Peace Initiative.

A much respected defence analyst, Col. Hariharan has continued to hold that Tamils are not Tigers; but they are not anti-Tiger either and that the Tamils can be won over to the idea of a different Sri Lanka. He tells Hard Talk that there must be a clear demonstration that the decision makers are serious about coming up with a political solution to the ethnic problem with or without the Tigers. He also holds that war is an ‘inappropriate and inadequate’ tool to bring about unity.

Q: What is your assessment of the LTTE- Do you think the LTTE can be defeated militarily?

There is no organization that can’t be defeated militarily. So I don’t believe in this myth of invincibility. But at the same time we shouldn’t forget who an LTTE cadre is. He is a citizen of Sri Lanka. So you are actually losing a human resource as well as a defender of civil law in the country (in the soldiers) through this war. No insurgency can be crushed 100% because the motivation is in the mind. You can’t vanquish an idea. The cadres are not only fighting for Prabakaran. It is something more. Each one in his own mind has what he feels is a possible solution. So he should know that there are other alternatives. It is not just whether the LTTE can be defeated, of course they can.

Q: So what went wrong with the IPKF? You had some of the best men on ground the battleships ready at sea and the air power but seemed to fail against the rebels. Why?

Someday the truth will come, because the LTTE keeps proclaiming that they were victorious, and many Sri Lankans have also bought that story. As at August 1998 in Operation Checkmate 2, all the LTTE from both North and East were cornered in the Wanni. From then onwards we were operating inside the Wanni. After that operation the LTTE could not do anything. They lost the middle level leadership. When we came they had batches of leadership in numbers one but as we left it had gone down to nine. It was a matter of time. We had restored the trains for the first time, the telecommunication system and the banks were dealing in cash and electricity was back, all in one year. How do you gauge success? By a head or body count? So I don’t agree with this thinking.

But yes it did fail in one respect because as soon as we left the LTTE came back again. But that was because the political process that was brought across was not carried through. This is why both the military and the political process must go together.

Q: It has been said that none of the key parties to the agreement were consulted or informed. Is this a true analysis?

Here they didn’t assess the opposition when President Jayawardena signed the agreement. The snow-balling opposition maybe due to nationalism didn’t like the foreign troops coming in, because they had earlier seen them training the Tamil militants, and now they themselves had come. There would have been sections that felt very nervous. PM Premadasa nor Minister Athulathmudali were consulted. There was no transparency in the whole transaction, both in India and here. In India too the very experienced who handled Sri Lankan affairs were not consulted; there was a new set of advisors who advised PM Gandhi. There was no ownership of the people.

Q: Are you saying that even in India it was a secret mission?

It was not secret but sudden. Nobody realized that it would come in this form or that the troops would be deployed. I was myself at Army Headquarters that day on some other work, my superior called me and informed me that there was likely to be an agreement of sorts and he didn’t know what it was nor had he been consulted, and he asked me to make a list of Tamil speaking intelligence officers. On July 27, 1978 we didn’t know troops were going to be deployed. It was disappointing for me when it ended up in a war. This is the problem with war- it overrides all other considerations. So what is a political move becomes a military issue.

Q: There has been growing criticism against the govt’s approach to the victories in the East, especially Thoppigala. And one serious criticism has in fact been the overriding of the other considerations. How do you see this?

As a military man I can say that the Sri Lankan army has done its homework and in a professional manner. I am glad because the Indian Army has also been involved in the training. And ultimately the government has now established its rule in the East. But if we think that its going to be like any other province it is wrong. It is not the end of the exercise. The government knows this and that’s why they are establishing 53 police stations. It’s been done because there is going to be an upsurge in infiltrations because they are scattered. Many of those cadres who are not from the Wanni may not run back to Jaffna either. The Army will have to prepare for small scale activities, scaling down the operations. It’s a
good thing that the East is established under the rule of the government. It sends a message to the LTTE that the govt. is serious. The other issue is that you can’t copy a solution- each one is different. To my mind even the solution to the East will be different to the North. All communities have to be satisfied. The Muslims are already feeling let down. The danger is that they draw the conclusion that if they are peaceful they will remain ignored.

Q: Do you see a similarity in the way the government is handling the East now with Karuna, to when the IPKF cleared the LTTE and put the EPRLF to govern the East, in place of the LTTE? Is this a viable option after witnessing the first time around the whole process collapsed after IPKF withdrew?

It is a moment of truth for Karuna. He has to make up his mind how he is going to handle the situation. He can’t be another LTTE and he knows that- so he has formed a political party of sorts. I am sure he has been cooperating. I don’t know how he has been doing that. I have not met him. He has to decide on his political role because the elections are going to take place. He has no grass root political organization. There is also a contract on his head by LTTE and he has to protect himself. If he is armed how will the other Tamil parties operate? He has to decide what to do.

Q: But the ground situation in Batticaloa doesn’t seem that conducive to peace or an election especially with a view to Karuna’s own involvement. Do you think the strategy can work?

Yes, the government writ never ran from Batticaloa all the way West to Thoppigala. It will take a long time for the government to re-establish itself. Govt. should find a way to integrate Karuna in to some project in the area. It can’t be merely a military or some usual govt. project but something the people can relate to.

Q: The present strategy of the SL government is seen to be to militarily weaken the LTTE and then push a political solution through. Would you recommend such a strategy?

The LTTE is already weakened. The govt has proven itself. But the issue is does any one believe that the LTTE will come begging for a solution? It’s a wrong assessment of the LTTE. They will not come to talks like that. If you attack them what have they to lose- so they will fight back. You can see in the operations going on now that they will not give in so easily. It is going to be a long drawn out thing. But they must know what the end plan is. We should not repeat the mistake over and over again but proactive. Without that it will simply become a govt. vs. LTTE fight.

Q: How do you see the Northern operation this time around?

East was not easy in the first place, let us not underestimate. The bulk of the cadres have escaped. In a way it has done good in a way to bring back the writ of the govt without merely slaughtering the LTTE. But in the North they are going to have their back to the wall. So it will not be a cake walk. The bulk of their artillery is there and I’m sure they have brought enough ammunition. The more you prolong you create three things. Internationally they have been tolerating, because they know the LTTE had not been keeping their promises on the CFA. But that is not going to last long. The human rights issues are going to snowball. This is one reason I am personally against aerial bombing. It will take three years and that is a long time for international diplomacy to keep quiet, however much you convince the local constituencies. We will be embarrassing all those people who are underwriting their belief in Sri Lankan democracy and governance if you have an operation for three years.

Q: Much fear initially rose over the air capability of the LTTE. What is your assessment of it?

It is not serious. We should not over estimate it. They have used it dramatically that is all. And they will do so. But we should not underestimate the impact on the public mind. This is where LTTE excels in studying the mind of the others.

Q: Is it the failed IPKP intervention that keeps India away today?

I think India should play a more positive role. It shouldn’t mince words. I think the coalition is overestimating the impact in Tamil Nadu. I don’t think the Tamil people in Tamil Nadu are crazy over the LTTE now. That honeymoon is over. The people are better informed and LTTE can’t get the same support. But the problem is the corruption, and the LTTE will buy influence just as they do in Colombo. The Indian government should give out a strong message that they can’t continue to meddle in issues. It wouldn’t mean they aren’t supporting the just demands of the Tamil people. They can say that in the same statement. Otherwise you are making the
mistake of equating Tamils with the LTTE. They represent some and not all Tamils. But they are able to control all Tamils physically.

Q: But are they able to convince the Tamils?

Practically others have been eliminated from the scene so the Tamils have no choice because even the politicians have joined the band wagon- because you have provided room for that and have not provided a viable solution. You have gone back to separating the NE which gives no benefit to anybody.

Q: Do you think the govt. was pushing the people towards the LTTE by not providing that solution?

How long can they fight? They must be desperate and tired. If at the end, the Tamil Eelam they get is a cremation ground what is the point?

Q: SL has long held the notion that since India used the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka and created Tamil militancy; India should solve it. Is this a fair assessment?

That is over simplifying a very, very complex problem. I don’t think any country can do that to another country. But India did provide support for strategic reasons. Personally I feel no country should encourage any kind of insurgency. I feel it was an aberration but after ‘83 the mindset in Tamil Nadu was of one where they felt offended. It was a throw back. Delhi wanted to satisfy TN because it was an important state. And the personality of Indira Gandhi also came in, with the mix up of the notion of American influence in the region. We can’t undo what happened. But India should do more to help Sri Lanka, without just saying “go to peace talks”.

Q: The Indian National Security Advisor M K Narayanan recently claimed that “Sri Lanka should come to India as it was the big power in the region”. Would you subscribe to this notion?

I don’t agree with it. No country should go around saying it. It is a wrong statement and I don’t know why he said it. It must have come for some reason, but it was not evident in the statement. Maybe he was exasperated and it came out like this. I don’t think was correct.

Q: There has been much criticism about the CFA signed with the LTTE. How do you see the agreement?

It was a flawed agreement. It was not well thought of. I don’t think the Army was consulted on the HSZ. There was no action on what will be done in the case of a violation. There must be some accountability. But the point is that it is already there and talk of amending it is pointless, because it requires two parties.

From another opinion piece in the same paper:

Will They Stand the Test?

...

The society has been so pulverised by this government, the people have dropped the war from their priority list. It is no more the first, in place of food and essentials. It is no more the first, worthy of sacrifice. And even the JVP that made hell out o the CFA can not use the much publicised accusation on a Mahinda – Prabha deal alone for any protest against the government now. Who cares even if Prabhakaran is given the North, when we have to find a South that could give us food and security, is now the growing feeling. This mood needs to be nurtured to accept sharing of power in its most effective way. It’s the other side of the see-saw that swings up against the Sinhala war now. And that is the test for the National Congress leadership. Will they take it up to mould the social mood to devolve power within a federal framework as leaders should do, or will they also hide behind petty Sinhala sentiments and leave their own dream to fade away? The war will be over, only if we want it to be over.