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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
Can Indians wipe out LTTE
31 May 1992
Lieutenant General Depinder Singh says of his recently published book 'IPKF in Sri Lanka': "This is a left-handed salute to the LTTE whose deviousness cannot over shadow their incredible motivation and magnificent lighting prowess, for which the Indian armed forces will always have a healthy respect".
His government banned the Tigers only a few days ago. A similar sentiment is expressed in Lieutenant General S. C. Sardeshpande's well written book: 'Assignment Jaffna' "I have a high regard for the LTTE for its discipline, dedication, determination, motivation and technical expertise".
J.N.Dixit had once protested to the IPKF High Command that some of its officers were saluting Prabhakaran.
It is obvious from the background to the conflict given by Depinder Singh and Sardeshpande that their perception of the LTTE had been shaped by the very nature of their brief and the standard methods of counter insurgency war. They had been sent to Sri Lanka to "separate the warring factions" , and to implement the Accord for ensuring permanent peace and justice to Sri Lankan Tamils.
The brief given by Delhi and their own study of the conflict made them see the LTTE as a phenomenon thrown up by the Tamil polity itself in the face of long years of discrimination and therefore a legitimate and extraordinarily valorous and sophisticated underdog. This perception, naturally and inevitably affected their military approach.
The Indian officer, more than any other soldier in the world is sensitive to ethnic conflicts and their consequences. He has been fighting a counter insurgency war in north‑eastern India for more than three decades, succeeding only where an honourable settlement was worked out in the end. The Sikh question had affected many in the Indian army directly to the extent of compelling them to question its policing function in situations of unresolved minority grievances.
The Sikhs who had been a major component of the Indian army for more than 130 years and who had constituted about 25 percent of its manpower during World War II have given ample cause for the Indian army officer to see the ethnic question in political terms rather than in strictly
military terms. (The involvement of several thousand Sikh ex‑servicemen, including five retired major generals, in the Convention in Amritsar, which provided leadership to a volunteer force organized by the Akalis in 1983 just before 'Operation Blue Star' was launched to take over the Golden Temple, is a case in point).
Therefore, faced with an insurgency in which the chief insurgent is seen as a wile but martial underdog, the Indian officer in the field is bound to be uncomfortable with the 'hard option'.
"On October 6, 1987, the Chief of the Army Staff, General Sundariji flew into Palaly where he was briefed about the situation. It was apparent that the political decision to employ force against the LTTE was already taken. My recommendation to General Sundariji was that we must not go in for the hard option because if we did, we would be stuck in an insurgency situation for the next 20 years. I was admonished not to adopt a defeatist attitude, to which my reply was that I was not being defeatist, merely realistic", writes Lt. General Depinder Singh.
The two generals make it clear in their books that Delhi consistently chose and ordered them to implement the hard option, to go hammer and tongs for the LTTE and wipe them out. The popular perception in Sri Lanka that India had not wanted to kill or apprehend Prabhakaran, has been laid bare by the Indian generals.
In the third week of January 1988 `hot news' was flashed to the Jaffna Command from Delhi and Madras that Prabhakaran and some of his top aides were moving in the coastal belt of Valikamam division of the peninsula, in the areas of Keerimalai - Maviddapuram - Tellipalai - Alaveddy - Masikappiddi - Tolpuram. The Valikamam brigade was tasked to apprehend or kill LTTE leaders and other hard core cadres. (Sardeshpande P. 102).
On another occasion para-commandos were landed in Moolai on information that Prabhakaran was in that area. But the Tiger leader had managed to get away because the progress of the commandos had been stalled by the LTTE. Was Delhi's (read Dixit) determined belief that killing Prabhakaran would see an end to the Tiger movement, shared by the Indian army's senior soldiers who were battling with it in Sri Lanka's north and east?
Even now the Indian Foreign Service, the RAW and all the anti‑LTTE groups believe and consistently assert that if Prabhakaran were to be terminated his organization would immediately crumble and disintegrate.
The counter‑insurgency oriented political sociological conditioning of the Indian army's field commander is predictably different. The execution of Delhi's orders are necessarily mediated through the perceptions and tactics evolved by him as appropriate for his situation.
The worm's view of the soldier in the battlefront rarely coincides with the specific desires and views of a political leader or a head quarters officer. As part of his overall C.I project, Sardeshpande had to develop a close relationship with the people of Jaffna to collect information, isolate the Tiger; etc.
But that task in turn leaves him with the impression that the LTTE is a popular sentiment (and hence cannot be totally destroyed as long as the sentiment was there) and, that the other groups, which , Delhi was promoting, could seriously jeopardize his C.I project by alienating the Jaffnaites from the IPKF because they saw these groups as "unprincipled, indisciplined, opportunistic, cowardly, corrupt, crude, and selfish bands of thugs and extortionists" (p. 36).
The history, sociology and politics of the Indian army have necessarily conditioned the counter insurgency approach of the majority of its intelligent officer corps, especially in ethnic situations. Therefore, on the question of killing Prabhakaran, Delhi and its counter‑insurgency expert may always have a difference of opinion. Depinder Singh's view is typical:
"Numerous questions were to be asked as to why the IPKF could not capture or kill Prabhakaran; another equally wild allegation was that the IPKF had orders not to kill Prabhakaran. Apart from the impossibility of singling out an individual target for destruction or protection in such an environment, we must remember that, by virtue of the fact that the LTTE had an effective junior leadership, the loss of Prabhakaran could never have resulted in the disintegration of the LTTE", (P. 125).
The counter insurgency expert, when he does not belong to a mono-ethnic army, constantly demands of his superiors to come up with an effective overall strategy with well balanced social, political, psychological and military elements. The IPKF ground commanders were demanding it, but were not getting enough. But basically Delhi's express wish to eliminate Prabhakaran and the LTTE embodied in the 'hard option' ran counter to what the IPKF's divisional commanders had in mind as the cardinal principles of counter insurgency.
The Indian High Commission in Colombo, Army Head quarters in Delhi and the RAW had not come up with the necessary intelligence, on the LTTE. This failure has received much publicity.
Although Sardeshpande correctly attributes it to the milieu in which they operate the world of ethnic pundits, seminar sahibs club‑trotters, etc, who belonged to the 'right' `social stratum' of Sri Lankan society he has little reason to realize that a section of his country's top intelligence operatives had been heavily bribed by some Tamil militants, who of course did not come from the right social milieu.
The views of an Indian army officer faced with Tamil militarism has to be assessed in an historical perspective as well. The Tamils were an important component of the Indian army till the beginning of the 2Oth century. The Tamil soldier had built a reputation for his education and technical expertise. Regimental histories of the Indian army with which the new officer familiarizes himself show the Madras Regiment as one of the oldest units of the Indian army and one which has the unique distinction of getting the highest number of battle honours won by any single Indian army regiment.
The attitude toward the LTTE's springs from this mind‑set. The quality of the Tigers which is emphasised most by Stephen Cohen (whose work on the India army is still considered a classic) and the two Indian generals is that very trait which has distinguished the Tamil soldier in the Indian army his educational standard.
India's ban on the LTTE and the pressure it may subsequently build up against Colombo -within and without - for bringing Prabhakaran to justice and taming the Tiger can develop into a situation where some form of politically sanctioned military intervention by India can emerge as a tangible factor in Sri Lankan affairs.
The views of Depinder Singh and Sardeshpande are especially relevant when one considers such a prospect. But one is left with a lingering question can Delhi get its counter insurgency expert to wipe out the LTTE given another chance?