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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of Struggle for Tamil Eelam > India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > A Post Mortem on the Indian Intervention - Voice of the Tigers Bulletin, February 1990
India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam
A Post Mortem on the Indian Intervention
The Indo-LTTE war, which began on the 10th of October 1987 and lasted more than two years, was the longest protracted armed conflict ever undertaken by the Indian military establishment. In the view of several experts, it was a misguided military adventure that tarnished the image of India and severely discredited the Indian army. What led to this humiliating military debacle? How is it that a formidable military machine, consisting of more than one hundred thousand troops at the peak of the war, could not dislodge a small guerilla movement operating within a tiny geographical enclave? Why did the Indian army become extremely unpopular and deeply despised by the Tamils and Muslims? What are the strategic objectives of the Indian policy makers and why did they fail? Let us address these pertinent questions and attempt to provide an objective analysis of the Indian military intervention in the Tamil homeland and the disastrous consequences that followed.
Soon after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord in July 1987, an Indian military contingent of about 10,000 troops was originally brought to Jaffna, the northern Tamil capital, under the guise of a peace-keeping mission. The provisions of the Accord stipulated three tasks for the Indian forces.
To a superficial observer the tasks set out in the Accord for the Indian army would seem to be limited to a harmless exercise of peace-keeping. But the real strategic objectives of the Indian military penetration were different.
The Indian policy planners had an overall strategy in which the army was to play a specific military role. First and foremost, the cardinal aim behind this geo-political scheme was to bind Sri Lanka within India's strategic sphere of influence precluding all penetrations by extra-territorial powers in the region. To secure such an objective, the presence of the Indian army on the islands soil was thought to be an effective deterrent.
Secondly, the Indian army was assigned an offensive role to disarm and neutralise the LTTE guerrillas if they fail to lay down arms and accept the Accord unconditionally. The military liquidation of the LTTE was a central aim behind Indias strategic objective.
In the Indian perspective, the emergence of the Tamil Tigers as the dominant politico-military force and their determined struggle for self-determination could spark-off nationalist upsurgence in Tamil Nadu. To a regional super-power, which was extremely intolerant and repressive towards national struggles in the subcontinent, LTTE's fervent nationalist cause posed a serious irritant.
The military annihilation of the LTTE, the Indian policy planners assumed, would put an end to the Tamil nationalist movement and the Tamil demand for self-determination. Such a measure will certainly placate the chauvinistic Sinhala ruling elite whose support India needed to implement the Accord and to secure India's geo-political aspiration.
Thirdly, the Indian army had to be utilised to impose the Provincial Council framework which the LTTE had rejected as totally inadequate and to install to power some of the quisling Tamil groups who were prepared to betray the Tamil cause for personal political aims. Therefore, the task envisaged for the Indian army was not a peace-keeping exercise. It was essentially a politico-military task dictated by the determinations of Delhi's political and bureaucratic elite who chartered an imperial policy with purely hegemonistic ambitions totally disregarding the aspirations of the Tamils and the apprehensions of the Sinhalese.
The LTTE leadership was fully aware of the Indian strategic objectives. At the Delhi talks Pirabakaran protested in vain against the planned Indian military intervention. In order to avoid armed confrontation the LTTE leadership adopted a conciliatory approach agreeing to lay down arms and to cooperate with the implementation of the Accord provided it promoted the interests of the Tamil and Muslim people. India and Sri Lanka jointly created conditions so that the military offensive against the LTI'E became inevitable. India declared war against the Tamil Tigers on the 10th October 1987.
The war was a monumental tragedy in so far as the Tamil civilian population was concerned. In a desperate attempt to smash through the fierce resistance of the LTTE guerrillas in Jaffna, the Indian armed forces unleashed torrents of artillery and mortar shells indiscriminately against the unguarded civilian targets. The ruthlessness of the attack took a heavy toll of civilian casualties.
In the battle of Jaffna which lasted for more than a fortnight, over two thousand innocent Tamil and Muslim civilians were killed and five thousand wounded. The utter callousness by which the civilians were exterminated in cold blood by the advancing Indian columns and enormous suffering inflicted on the huge population of helpless refugees made the Indian offensive a most barbarous act of inhumanity. The offensive against the LTTE soon became an all-out war against the civilian masses.
The monstrous massacre at the Jaffna hospital, the helicopter borne rocket attack at the Chavakachcheri market and lately the Valvettiturai massacre amply illustrated the brutality and ruthlessness of the Indian military operations which earned universal condemnation. Unable to cope-up with the increasing resistance of the Tiger guerrillas, the Indian military retaliated on the innocent civilians and adopted repressive methods subjecting our people to merciless persecution More than six thousand civilians perished during the two year war.
The Indian army became an object of fear and hatred. The people regarded them as an aggressive army occupying their homeland. The myth that the Indian military presence would guarantee the safety and security of the Tamils and Muslims was soon dispelled. Because of this disenchantment the people overwhelmingly supported the armed resistance of the Tamil Tigers. The hostile irrational behaviour of the Indian army towards the civilian population, the ruthless repressive methods adopted as a collective punishment against the people, the callous and cruel disregard to human life and dignity, were the essential factors that led to the estrangement between the people and the Indian army and made the Indian military approach a disastrous failure.
The other crucial factor that caused the Indian military debacle was the miscalculation and misconception about the LTTE guerrilla movement - its manpower, its firepower, and above all its fierce determination to resist. The Indian policy makers, heavily depended on the inaccurate reports provided by RAW miscalculated the strength and motivation of the LTTE and assumed that the Tamil Tigers could be wiped out within days.
When the war prolonged indefinitely and when the Indian army faced heavy casualties, Delhi began to realise its folly. The LTTE was not a rag-tag army of sarong clad boys as the Indians assumed. The Indian army was faced with a unique military phenomenon - a well disciplined, highly organised, fully motivated guerrilla force - one of the best in the world. Delhi was compelled to re-orientate its military strategy. The honour of the Indian army was at stake. Yet, Rajiv rejected the LTTE's pleas for unconditional talks and wanted a quick military victory.
India decided to increase its military strength in the occupied areas and to intensify offensive operations against the Tigers. Accordingly, the Indian troops were beefed up to more than one hundred thousand troops and intensified offensive operations under various code names were launched against the LTTE.
Jungle trained special commando units were thrown against the LTTE fighters in the northern jungles. Fierce battles raged on several fronts. LTTE fighters withstood the might of the Indian army and were able to inflict heavy casualties on the Indians. The morale of the Indian army began to crumble. After massive military efforts, the Indian army high command realised that the Tiger guerrillas could not be defeated. The price paid in terms of men and money to subdue the Tigers was inconceivably high.
It was the new Sri Lankan President who realised the utter futility of the war which had lasted nearly two years and might continue indefinitely for years entrenching a foreign army on the Sri Lankan soil forever.
Furthermore, the presence of the Indian army has not only brought havoc in the Northeast but the entire South was in turmoil ignited by the insurrectionary struggle of the JVP which demanded an end to the Indian imperialist aggression.
To the shock and surprise of the Indian leaders, the Sri Lankan President called the LTTE for peace talks in Colombo and thereafter demanded an early withdrawal of the Indian troops. After months of diplomatic tussle the Indian government finally agreed to withdraw troops on a time schedule, and now the troops have already withdrawn from several Tamil districts.
It is now universally accepted by all experts including the Indian analysts that the Indian military intervention in Tamil Eelam was a serious mistake. It served no purpose; it achieved nothing; it was counter-productive. The paradoxical aspect of the Indian military intervention can be best discerned by the end product of the whole exercise. What began as a peace-keeping exercise turned out to be a hot-blooded war; what began as a disarming process turned out to be a heavily arming process in the creation of a proxy army called the TNA; what began as a process of securing the physical safety of the Tamil speaking people turned out to be a process of mass extermination of Tamils and Muslims; what began as a strategic objective of eliminating the LTTE ended up with the emergence of the LTTE as the most powerful politico-military power in the Tamil homeland.
All the Indian initiatives failed miserably because
Rajiv's administration totally disregarded the desires, aspirations and
hopes of the Tamil speaking people and embarked on a war effort against
a national liberation movement which enjoyed popular support. Engaging a
conventional army in an offensive war to implement a political and
administrative task was another serious blunder. Worst of all, the
choice of a wrong ally in the EPRLF and creating an army from forcefully
conscripted youth to protect that organisation which is universally
despised, was the ultimate error in the policy calculations of the
former Indian administration.