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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > Counter-civilian strategies

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

 

Counter-civilian strategies

30 July 1992


Recently I met a person from Kottai Kallar, a coastal village, between two causeways, on the Batticaloa-Kalmunai road in the eastern province. The army left that area sometime back; the STF has moved in. He said that the STF was keen to communicate with the people, although only one or two people of the village could understand or speak Sinhala fluently; but they had knocked off parapet walls, cut many coconut trees to put up barriers, and had got the villagers to clear the thick growth of a poisonous tree called "Thillai" on the marshy edges of the lagoon.

The STF had also succeeded in killing the much feared Tiger 'collector' Varunan at Mahiloormunai as he was setting off to Kavudathivu a scenic island of abandoned paddy fields in the middle of the lagoon, once famous fore the hoppers made there during harvest time. (Many years ago I used to often stop-over there, while rowing towards Thembalavathai from Kottai Kallar or Thuraineelavanai).

"So", I ask him "has the LTTE been cleared?" He looked very much surprised at what he seemed to have taken as a naive question, and went on to explain how the LTTE was still very much part of life in that area. Finally he said "they will come back". Yes, that was the crux of the matter: That the Tiger will return, come what may.

My Kottai Kallar acquaintance was voicing a general attitude, one of the most important legacies of the Indian army's war with the Tiger. It is a legacy with far reaching consequences in the civilian oriented strategies - both coercive and friendly - that, apparently constitute a major component of the army's plan to take control of the peninsula.

This attitude gains relevance in view of the army command's recent claim that now they are interested in "real estate"; and in view of the fact that the strategy of sealing all routes to and from the peninsula is partly one that is aimed at the civilians of Jaffna, who between '87 and '89 saw the Indian army smash its way into Jaffna, sealed it off from the mainland and almost 'cleared' the LTTE from most parts of the peninsula. But then they also saw the Tigers return.

Civilians and counter-civilian methods that have been incorporated into the strategy of weakening the Tigers will be of little consequence if the population at which these are directed remain convinced like the resident of Kottai Kallar to whom I spoke, that the LTTE is something which inexorably keeps coming back into their life.

Sealing all access routes between the peninsula and the mainland is expected to a) prevent the LTTE from bringing reinforcements and supplies into Jaffna when the army begins to push interior b) shatter civilian morale which the textbook says is the basis of the enemy's strength and ambition. This could be done says a modern military theoretician Giulio Douhet by exposing large portions of the population to the terror of destruction or by causing severe shortages of goods and services.

Modern counter civilian models or coercive military action presuppose "that economic devastation will undermine civilian morale which in turn would divert the opponent's attention away from the warfront.

Jaffna has been without "electricity, fuel and many essential services since the war started, its infrastructure is in shambles and prices are high.

Jeyalalitha in Tamil nadu, is determined to totally prevent anyone coming across the Palk Strait even as refugees. For this purpose she has even held very friendly discussions with Sri Lanka's Navy Commander. Therefore it may appear Jaffna's population has been totally sealed up in the peninsula on the eve of a massive army assault into Tiger terrain. (Except for the Kilali route of course).

The Indians did the same, before they began to consolidate their position in Jaffna. A report on November 1, 1987 based on an Indian army communique stated "the Indian strategy is aimed at cutting off another access route between the peninsula and the mainland in a bid to cordon off the Tigers in the peninsula.

The new camp (at Muhamalai, near Iyakkachi on the Kandy road) would help restrict movement from the peninsula through the Chundikulam sanctuary and lagoon on the north-eastern flank. The north western route via ferry between Kerativu in the peninsula and Sankupiddy on the mainland has been already sealed by the Indian forces, who have established three new camps at Pooneryn, Sangupiddy and Kerativu. The ferry has been terminated. The only access to the peninsula is now through the isthmus if Elephant Pass which is guarded by the IPKF" (THE ISLAND).

The Indian military cum counter-civilian strategy of sealing the peninsula and posing the threat of destruction and hardship did not fully succeed in distancing the people away from the LTTE according to Depinder Singh and Sardeshpande. But the Indians were quick to saturate the region with their forces and to promote the other groups which were yet to loose their large constituencies in the Peninsula.

The counter-civilian strategy of shattering a population's morale by cutting off all means of its communication with the outside world can be counter productive in the long run, as the Indians discovered later.

Firstly because the civilians see convincing political reason to distance themselves, or bring pressure upon the LTTE to give up its territorial and military ambitions.

Secondly because the LTTE itself is an organization, that can to a large extent run on its external financial and business empire which include shipping, share market trading, film distribution (the blockbuster 'Thalapathy's European and North American rights) financial services' etc.

Thirdly because the follow up to this type of counter civilian strategy can pose difficulties in the form of resource constraints and reluctant Tamil partners who are becoming more and more unhappy with the government.

Whether it is in Kottai-Kallar or in Jaffna the civilian and counter-civilian strategies may not work as well as long as the civilians themselves feel that the LTTE is inevitable in their lines.

 

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