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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2734

The fall of Thoppigala and Loss of the East: Will the LTTE Change their Long Term Strategy?

By Raj Gonsalkorale

The euphoria from the victory in Thoppigala and the virtual liberation of the East from LTTE military clutches is both understandable and well deserved for the people of Sri Lanka who have been suffering the forcible capture of Sri Lankan territory by an armed mob for years. This victory is bound to lift the spirits of all Sri Lankans who have seen their Armed Forces and their political leaders capitulating to the LTTE and their military strength and allowing them to take over more and more territory by force and demanding a political solution based on illegal and immoral grounds. There can be no argument that none could give into terror as the precedent that will create could be the end of what we know as Sri Lanka and our way of life, our society and our heritage.

There can be no argument that what President Rajapaksa is doing in trying to liberate Sri Lankan territory from a terror mob is right. He has to have the full support of the people of the country for his endeavors, as his endeavor is the endeavor of the people of Sri Lanka. He is the current custodian of the country and its people, all the people.

As the President himself has so often repeated, there is no military solution to the fundamental underlying issue that has led to some Tamils to take arms and bring in a reign of terror. While the solution to ending terror is through a military response, solving the underlying issue has to be through a political response. These two issues are mutually exclusive, and the President does not have to wait for one to finish, to start the other as both are not inter dependent, although some amongst the Sinhala community and also amongst the Tamil community may think so for different reasons.

The philosophy behind a political solution for Sri Lanka has to a solution that is based on justice for all, equality for all, greater empowerment at regional levels and a constitutional structure that does not provide any community superior powers over others simply on account of their numerical strength, to introduce legislation that discriminates other communities. The challenge for the President and the government is to devise the required constitutional and political structures that provide adequate safeguards to ensure all communities are protected from such discrimination.

While some democratic Tamil political leaders have argued for a Federal structure with a combined North East province, if not a combined North and parts of Eastern province, many Sinhala political leaders have argued against such a structure for various reasons. These have been mentioned and argued in several articles in the Asian Tribune and it is not the writer’s intention to visit those arguments in this article. The writer as well as several others have pointed out that any political structure in contemporary Sri Lanka has to address the realities of today rather than the history of yesterday, and that Sri Lankan population demographics have changed so much over the years that a North East merger or a Federal structure will not address the Tamil issue for all Tamils in such a structure even if it were implemented.

However, this article wishes to focus on the need for an appropriate political solution, an inclusive Sri Lankan solution, not a Sinhala solution, for the East, the North and the rest of the country, and why such a solution has to be announced sooner than later on account of a possible change of strategy and tactics on the part of the LTTE.

The liberation of the East and the euphoria arising from it may be short-lived if the LTTE carries out the threats they have made to wage a guerilla campaign and terror tactics via such a campaign. It will be virtually impossible for the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to defend the East as well as fight in the North and also defend the rest of the country at the same time. As the retired Air Vice Marshall Harry Goonetilleka has said in an interview, while 2000 soldiers may have been adequate to attack in the East, it would require more than 10,000 soldiers to defend the East, something that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces will find almost impossible to do, although they will want to do it judging from their bravery and fortitude. Following from this, if the government continues their strategy of liberating the North as well, many more soldiers will be required there to attack and defend the area that is the real stronghold of the LTTE.

Resorting to guerilla warfare and terror tactics in the East is no change in tactics by the LTTE. It is their strategy and nothing has changed and nothing will, so it is to be expected that they will plan such attacks in the East. The challenge for the government and the Armed Forces will be to devise methods to counter such tactics, and here, their best weapon will be to win the hearts and minds of the people in the East so that they could act as the eyes and the ears for the government and provide advance information on any suspicious activity in their midst. For this to happen, the people of the East should not be made to feel that they have just moved from one form of occupation to another and that their aspirations have been buried in the guise of liberation. The intention of the government to have elections in the East is laudable although it being a very difficult task, but even if elections were held, the people of the East, especially the Tamils and the Muslims living there should have a fair degree of autonomy if they are to feel truly liberated. Such political structural changes however have to be part of an overall change in the entire country as they cannot be enacted on an ad hoc basis just in one part of the country. For this reason, a political solution that can be applied on an island wide basis has now become far more urgent than before if one were to try and contain and eventually defeat LTTE guerilla tactics in the East.

Besides this reason, a political solution is even more critical from another angle. This is due to possible change in the short term strategy of the LTTE to achieve their long term goal of separation and creation of a separate State in the North and the East.

Such a change, only a hypothesis at this stage, could arise on the strength of two key factors. One, their failure to defend themselves militarily and the loss of territory, and the possible loss of more territory and even their political presence in the areas they have lost and may lose in the future. Secondly, the more ominous factor for the Sri Lankan government, their increasing political strength overseas that has arisen from their successful lobbying effort to win influential political friends in the USA, UK, Norway, Australia and several other countries, as well as in international bodies like the UN and the EU and amongst several leading NGOs. These friendships have been nurtured or bought, not for the creation of a separate State as no country will support such a concept. They have and will however support extensive devolution and a combined North East Province, and even a quasi State if it is seen as a means to end the fighting either through a conventional war or a guerilla war.

Many Sri Lankans underestimate the strength of the international community and the extent of pressure they could put on the Sri Lankan government on various issues. While we may bravely state that we could live without foreign aid and assistance, the reality is that we simply cannot do that. Pressure from the international community could not only impact adversely on aid lines, but it can also impact adversely on foreign loans from bodies like the World Bank, the IMF, the EU and other foreign aid and lending sources. Many of our development projects will come to a standstill if foreign assistance is withheld or curtailed and Sri Lanka will face a major economic crisis if we are able to fund only about 20 – 30% of our total expenditure requirements with our own funds, as is the experience and reality now.

The possible change in the LTTE short term strategy may come from their behind the scenes organization of a wider Tamil political front in Sri Lanka to advocate for an autonomous North East province, a concerted international campaign using all their political friends to pressurize the Sri Lankan government to commence “peace talks”, and an announcement by the LTTE that they will cease their violent campaign if such a proposal is brokered by a representative international group, on the lines of the international quartet trying to find a political solution for the Palestine problem. On the face of it, the international community will find no hidden agenda in such a proposal and they are likely to support such a move especially if the LTTE will give up their violence as a trade off.

For the LTTE, this change in strategy to make a move to a political front from a military and a guerilla force will only be a temporary deviation from their avowed overall objective of separation and the creation of a separate State. If they achieve an autonomous combined North East province, it will be the spring board for them to continue their campaign for more and more autonomy until they achieve their ultimate objective of a separate State. The difference between this possible strategy and earlier attempts to engage in peace talks is that on this occasion, they will work towards establishing a much broader Tamil political front before calling for peace talks, even including the likes of the TULF leader Mr Anandasangaree and Mr Arumugam Thondaman and other upcountry Tamil leaders in such an alliance. It is likely that the LTTE will use their proxies in Parliament, the TNA to form this broad political front, and they will continue to remain in the background until such a front is formed. While this strategy may seem far fetched, it is very logical if one looks at it from an objective Tamil eye, as all that is required to make it happen, is a change in the LTTE campaign stance from a military one to a political one. Those who argue rightly that Prabakaran will never change his tactics should remember that he is getting old, his military capabilities have been dampened, and that he would find it difficult to sustain such a campaign even if he were to regroup and rebuild his military strength, which incidentally he will find extremely difficult to do as time passes. He therefore has to set in place an alternate strategy that will realize his end objective even if takes some years.

The rich and powerful Tamil Diaspora that is supporting him now are finding it difficult to raise funds as they have done in the past due to the international community coming hard on their heels because of the current persona of the LTTE and their violent outlook, But if his stance changes, countries that have banned it are bound to lift the ban and they will be able resume fund raising to further their political campaign to new heights with legitimacy.

The challenge for the Sri Lankan government and even other political parties in the South is now to counter such a political development by pre emptying such a development with a political solution that they can convince the international community as fair and reasonable to all parties. So far the Rajapaksa administration and other leading political parties have not been able to present such a proposal, and the APRC process that the President initiated appears to be stuck without leadership or an urgency coming from the government. If this situation continues and the political process takes a backseat to the military process, it will give more and more breathing space for the LTTE to work on alternate strategies, and as has been seen and proven, they and their Tamil Diaspora friends, who are basically one and the same, have always been several steps ahead of the Southern polity of all persuasions when it comes to strategy, planning and lobbying, leaving successive Sri Lankan governments capable of only reacting to situations created by the LTTE to their own advantage rather than being capable of any pro activity.

The imperative to present a credible, just and fair solution to the conflict therefore has ramifications beyond internal needs as it is an issue that has acquired a substantial international flavour. Those who think otherwise should give serious thought to this reality. These realities have been highlighted in several articles appearing in the Asian Tribune, the latest being the possibility that the Mayor of London could be the newest friend of the Tamil Diaspora, and impressive addition to the long list of powerful overseas political personalities they can count as their friends. The solution that might be forced on us could be far worse for us than anything anyone has contemplated so far if the current impasse continues as regards the non existent political strategy amongst the Southern polity. It is well for the Southern polity to know who their friends are amongst the democratic political leadership and work out a political solution with them rather than wait for them to become their adversaries and join the LTTE in a new political initiative.

- Asian Tribune -

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