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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
Govt.'s Dual Strategy Against the Tigers
7 June 1992
'The security forces have been deployed to disarm militants carrying weapons (in the northeast). It is a dual political military strategy that the government is adopting' Ranil Wickremasinghe; Cabinet Press Briefing. 4.6.92.
Speak soft and hit hard; this is the President's approach. The JVP was successfully destroyed. Can he succeed in the ethnic quagmire? The UNP's desire, it is now evident, is to gather Tamil support in the north and east while 'disarming' Tamil militants.
The goal of disarming is undoubted-• ly a sign of confidence. In Vavuniya the President claimed that he did not want to defeat anyone but only wanted to make everyone victorious. That day the government's newly acquired F-7 supersonic bombers took off from Katunayake towards Jaffna, each with a payload of four 2501b bombs. The 'thrust' into Jaffna was a political decision. It has taken some wind out of opposition sails. The military offensive into the peninsula has been long awaited in the south. The opposition had been casting doubts on the government's bona-fides. India was eager to see the Sri Lankan security forces smash their way into Jaffna and establish their control there. Some Tamil groups which work with the army had urged army generals in the north to expedite the blitzkreig into the peninsula.
One of the biggest multi-pronged offensives by the army was launched while the President was in Vavuniya, either by meticulous design or by a significant coincidence. But the message to his southern electorate was clear: that militarily he means business in the north; that there are more sophisticated methods of initiating the destruction of 'armed Tamil militant' ideals, than the customary style of shaking the mailed fist across the ethnic divide.
India might now find itself in a situation where it cannot convincingly use the extradition issue to build up diplomatic or political pressure. The government has demonstrated, at a very critical point that it is after all, going hammer and tongs at the LTTE; it has even begun talking of disarming.
Although Mr. Rand Wickremasinghe says that the government is pursuing a dual political-military policy, the set of factors to which it responds in its self interests make such a policy impracticable. What are these factors and why does their impact make the government's purported dual policy difficult to realize? The factors are:
a) India's attitude toward the LTTE and its determination not to be left out from any serious process by which a settlement might be worked out for the ethnic crisis.
b) India's influence in southern politics.
c) the potential of the opposition to exploit the President's seemingly pro-minorities stance.
d) the imperatives of the strategies of the security forces in the north and east.
The government is only too well aware that any move at this juncture to openly and actively consider the LTTE as an essential component in a political solution to the Tamil question would jeopardize its hold on political power. It has to demonstrate that it sincerely backs the security forces' campaign against the Tigers in the North and East.
Furthermore, a wide spectrum of people in the south now believe that India's antagonism toward the LTTE is a positive gain that should be fully exploited for the benefit of the military campaign to destroy the Tigers.
The government of course, is keen to avoid being seen as soft pedalling the Tiger issue to spite India. All Tamil parties and groups assert that a merged north-east is non-negotiable in working out any solution to the Tamil problem. Even if the government were to accept this in principle it will be seen as a major blow to one of the army's most important imperatives –the Weli-Oya settlement zone. Under these circumstances, the government will find it easier to address the northeast problem as a military question. By doing so, the government may believe it can ensure stability and effectively deflect, or neutralize both internal and geopolitical pressures.
The political part of the government's dual strategy will, therefore, be limited only to standard rhetoric, to woo Tamil votes. It is argued that if the army could smash its way into Jaffna, the LTTE morale would bedestroyed locally and internationally; that there will be many desertions; that the Tigers will not be able to muster enough strength to launch major attacks; that the volume of information on the LTTE provided by the people of Jaffna (which is already said to be quite considerable) would dramatically increase.
It is also claimed that once the army moves into Jaffna it would be extremely difficult for the Tigers to revert to a pre-1987 situation, because of these reasons.
Therefore most of the anti-LTTE (armed) groups see the continuation of the army's offensive into Tiger terrain in the north as a means of establishing minor domains of their power and influence.
Thus, the government will increasingly find it easier and politically advantageous to address the Tamil problem as a military question. Therefore the Tamil problem as a political question is bound to lose its cogency in the schemes of India, the opposition the anti-LTTE groups and the government. The ethnic question is already a rhetorical question.
How is the Tiger planning to face these developments, in the aftermath of the President's Vavuniya approach?
The latest issue of their official organ outlines their thinking. The LTTE says: It is the wish of the international community that the Tigers should not close the doors to finding a just solution to the Tamil national problem and that the Tigers should try all means and opportunities before taking the final decision to secede. Countries have brought diplomatic pressure on the Tigers on this basis.
The western world is pressing that the Tigers should examine a substantial arrangement for regional autonomy as an alternative to a separate state. At the same time these countries have not failed to imply that they may favour the Tamils if the Sinhala government refuses to give a just solution, steps up oppression and if a situation should arise where a political solution becomes impossible. Our political approach is determined by these international conditions.'
A brief perusal of the LTTE's rise to power would reveal that they adjust political setbacks with military gains and military setbacks with political gains.
It remains to be seen whether the President's speak soft, hit hard approach can deny the LTTE military as well as political gains.