Pacification: key to end war
2 June 1996
Can the current cost of the war be brought down? This has become
a central question in the context of the growing power crisis, the
spiralling cost of living, the persistent resistance to
There was a general willingness in the south since the beginning of
Eelam War Three to tighten belts and tolerate without grumbling the
rising cost of living. The general view was that the war had been
thrust on the government by the recalcitrant LTTE and the government
therefore had no alternative but to fight it at any cost.
The people in south, it appeared, felt almost duty bound to support
the war effort by putting up with adverse impact it was to have on
Jaffna has really been secured. The government says it and the
people in the south generally tend to believe it . The government
censor leaves them with no alternative anyway.
The government cannot tell the people now that they should continue
to tighten their belts and endure the cost of living because the war
is yet to be won. It cannot contradict the impression it has
wittingly or unwittingly cultivated since the conclusion of Riviresa
Three to extricate itself from the crises which appear to be
engulfing the economy regularly now.
So the question again Ñ will the government be really able to bring
down the cost of war within a reasonable period of time now that
Jaffna has be brought under the control of the army?
To find an answer one has to first tentatively identify the main
components of the high cost of prosecuting Eelam War Three against
the LTTE in the northeast CENSORED and inquire whether these key
elements which keep the defence spending quite high can be
rationalised or made redundant.
The main components of Eelam War three's high cost are:
1) the large deployment of troops in Jaffna
3) the expansion programmes of the Navy and the Air Force
4) the demand for high-tech equipment and heavy armour
5) expansion programmes of the military and naval intelligence and
the National Intelligence Bureau.
6) the military programme to bring the east under complete control
which has to be implemented sooner or later.
In my view none of these components of Eelam War three's high
capital and recurrent costs can be brought down significantly
anywhere in the near future - unless of course the LTTE implodes
into militarily negligible pieces.
The expenses of a war can be trimmed to suit a country's growth and
fiscal discipline only if its conflict zones are pacified.
It is pacification which permits a government ultimately to pull out
troops from a region where they have been deployed over a certain
period of time. It is a process which ensures that an insurgency is
contained politically and militarily to a degree which does not
require the deployment of troops but just the normal law and order
We can say that the south was pacified in 1990. The JVP insurgency
was contained in a manner which helped the government pull out a
very significant number of troops from the affected areas in the
south and then bring those areas under the supervision of the normal
law and order machinery (Police, courts and prisons).
Can anyone say this about Jaffna even by the end of this year? No.
The mere denial of access to Jaffna to the LTTE by cutting off all
known routes from the Vanni is not equal to pacification because the
removal of troops from those access routes or the development of new
ones would give rise to a situation where the management of the
region cannot be left to the care of an army much reduced in size
and handling at most a low intensity conflict assisted by normal law
and order machinery .
There are two instances which will illustrate the dimensions of this
problem in the Eelam wars. In 1989, it appeared that the north and
east was completely pacified and the Indian army high command
claimed so. If this claim was correct then the EPRLF should have
been able to carry on, on its own, in the NEPC.
Instead the well armed militia of the EPRLF collapsed like nine pins
and in a matter of months following the TNA debacle the LTTE was
able to recruit thousands of cadres and run a vast military and
administrative machine in most parts of the north and east.
The same claim was made by the Sri Lankan army in the latter half of
1993. Many, including western diplomats who visited the province
found the claim quite credible. Those who were convinced at that
time that the east had indeed been pacified were so convinced by
what the government had to show them in the province that they
refused to see that the fundamental elements of pacification were
missing in what the government claimed to have achieved in the east.
Nevertheless they were proved wrong when the government had to pull
out troops from there in mid 1995 to launch operations in the north.
They were also proved wrong when more than three thousand boys and
girls were recruited in the east by the LTTE during the peace talks
it held with the P. A in late 1994 and early 1995.
The army commander spoke of reducing the war to a low intensity
conflict. This is based on the assumption that some degree of
pacification is possible in the main theatre of operations in Eelam
War Three - the north.
This is not possible, as we argued in these columns earlier, as long
as the LTTE is in a position to sustain its military assets and
resources in the Vanni region.
In the face of all this some military analysts are inclined to
believe that the establishment of an Main Supply Route to the
peninsula through the Vanni would vastly reduce the cost of the war
and hence possibly help the army in reducing Eelam War Three into a
low intensity conflict. It is true that the government incurs a very
high cost in keeping the north supplied by sea and air. The
potential of the LTTE's Sea Tiger arm and limited anti-aircraft fire
power have made these lines of supply very expensive and precarious.
The opening of a land route can improve the army's logistics but
cannot significantly reduce the cost of prosecuting Eelam War Three.
Some supplies have to be still sent by sea and air. Until the LTTE's
military assets and resources are substantially diminished, a large
number of troops would be required to keep the MSR secure. Supply
convoys might be ambushed and destroyed.
In short, it is too early for the government to approach and handle
the latent and manifest economic crises in the south as though the
success of Riviresa Three has ensured the inevitable diminution of
Eelam War Three's high cost.