The LTTE’s New Concept- Confederation
31 July 1991
Sri Lanka is a nation with two armies. The two weeks of fierce
fighting to reach the besieged camp to Elephant Pass makes it an
inescapable fact: a fact that might slowly impress itself upon the
national psyche as the war drags on. The strapline in the state run
English daily said yesterday.
“Both sides call in reinforcements,” reducing the nation’s army in
one fell swoop of a phrase to equality. State Secretary of Defence,
Air Chief Marshal Walter Fernando told the press on Thursday:
“Neither side is now in a position to pull out. It’s not only a
matter of prestige but of having to maintain what so far has been
the biggest build-up of troops in an operation.”
Whether the army would ultimately thrust through the three miles or
so (according to official reports) to reach the Elephant Pass camp
is not the question now. Having committed almost eight thousand
troops to the effort, there is no other option. The question however
is that once the battle ends, will not the LTTE be able to gain more
credence for its political claim that it is the Tamil national army
capable of defending what it calls its homeland?
It should be understood that the LTTE is as much interested in
pushing this claim among the Tamil people and the Western countries
it may hope to woo, as it is interested in securing the arms and
ammunition of the 800-strong Elephant pass camp. Battles such as
these in the future will inescapably establish that Sri Lanka is a
nation with two armies. It is not a problem of semantics or
technicality as to whether the LTTE is a conventional army or not;
there are many who are ready to split hairs over that. It is the
political implication of this emergent fact that poses the problem
to the idea of Sri Lanka’s political unity, while its physical unity
may still be intact.
It would certainly be a major mistake to call this a final battle.
At the end of it to suppose that the LTTE will be a spent force
would be again foolish. In January, it was claimed that the LTTE
declared a unilateral ceasefire because it was exhausted. But some
of the fierce battles took place in Mannar and Vavuniya after the
government unilaterally called off the ceasefire (Latterly the
theory of exhausting the supplies of the Tigers- both men and
material- has found currency.
This theory has to be reviewed if one takes into account the fact
that even a lone guerilla would count the number of cartridges in
his rifle magazine before he decides on how to engage the enemy.
Therefore to see the battle for Elephant Pass as a final one will be
a gross underestimation of the LTTE.
The arms that the LTTE would recover from the army camp were it to
fall will definitely bring about a qualitative change in the war.
The artillery pieces that the LTTE may capture there will introduce
a new dimension into the war no doubt. This is why the army I
presume is throwing in almost eight thousand soldiers and a vast
quantity of resources into the thrust to save the camp.
Contrary to the expectations of the ‘exhaustion theorists’ the LTTE
most probably will emerge as a conventional army using guerilla
methods in the south western part of Mannar and the Eastern
Province. Only a fool would have us believe that it will not be so.
Irresponsible psychophants might insist and pretend to the country’s
political leadership that it would be only a matter of time before
the LTTE was finished off having critically exhausted of its men and
Who has paused to look beyond a Pyrrhic victory at Elephant Pass
into the political horizon? If the fact that there are two armies in
this nation almost equal in power is taken for granted in the long
run as a result of battles such as these, then the Tigers would find
it easier to establish and push their claim that there are two
nations in this island; and that one nation has a state and the
other nation- the Tamils- need a nation state. An official
publication of the LTTE has said in an editorial that the
territorial divide, the traditional homeland, should become an
‘accomplished fact.’ Even if the ‘Homeland’ does not become an
‘accomplished fact’ the presence of two armies in the island can
make it a politically established fact.
This is what the LTTE aims at; and this is what they might have even
if they lose the Elephant Pass camp. Then they will come for talks
and negotiate for confederation. The objective of the Tiger in its
ambition of building up a massive conventional force is not a U.D.I-
only an India inspired sucker may dream of it- but to negotiate a
confederation which would include the right of self-determination.
This is a post-1989 concept that the Tigers have come up with as a
result of their new connections with the west. The concept is to
keep India at bay and to muster the blessings of interested Western
The two-army situation and its political implications as briefly
outlined here are the result of the government’s refusal to
secularize when they had the opportunity in the form of Perumal.
The two-army situation can confound India’s options as well; already
the Sri Lankan problem has become one where officials “come and go
talking of Michael Angelo.” Unless a bold step is taken to
secularize the political framework of the country and, thereby,
pre-empt the political implications of the two-army situation, the
escalation of the war will only serve the LTTE’s political