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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame of  Struggle for Tamil Eelam  > India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Glimpse of the LTTE's Fortunes in Sri Lanka: Designs on India

India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam

Glimpse of the LTTE's Fortunes in Sri Lanka: Designs on India

Major General Afsir Karim (AVSM (retd)
in Transnational Terrorism: The Danger in the South
Lancer Paper 5, published by Lancer International, New Delhi, 1993

The current (1993) situation in Sri Lanka is fluid. Despite continued military pressure on Jaffna, the LTTE retains its capability to hit back at will. A great shock was administered to the Sri Lankan Armed forces at Kayts Islands when the LTTE planted a land mine and killed ten top army and naval commanders on 10 August 1992. Lt Gen Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Northern Area Commander, and Maj Gen Wijeya Wimala, Area Commander, Jaffna were among those killed. 

These commanders had recently carried out several successful offensive operations against the LTTE in the North; but Gen Kobberkaduwa was also making an attempt to reach out to the people and appeal to their good sense to avoid bloodshed. However, the Army mostly found deserted villages and abandoned positions during its various operations. Therefore, the Sri Lankan Army's drive, master minded by Gen Kobbekaduwa, to reach out to the people seemed to have made little headway. During "OP Earthquake' which was launched immediately after the mine incident, the Army captured Mudgal, an important base for the 'Sea Tigers'. 

In northern Jaffna too a stage seems to be set for another major offensive by the Army. Regardless of these offensive plans of the Army, sporadic LTTE attacks on army posts and soft civilian targets continues. The killing of the Sri Lankan Navy Chief Vice Admiral W.W.E. Clancy in November 1992 in a suicide bomb attack in Colombo showed the LTTE's reach and daring right inside the capital. In all theatres of operations, the LTTE continued attacking military convoys, boats and army vehicles carrying civilianc. The 'Sea Tigers' too have remained highly active.

In July 1992 the Sri Lankan Army seemed to be on the verge of succeeding in sealing off free movement of the LTTE militants in and out Jaffna (OP Balawegave II). As it was inflicting heavy casualties on the LTTE elsewhere, the Army was hoping that given enough resources they would wrest control of the entire North and North-east.

Gradually, however, the Tigers have regained the initiative and from September 1992 onwards the LTTE have launched a counter offensive. In Pooneryn, they killed 25 soldiers in one attack. Even the new Northern Army Commander Lt Gen Gerry De silva had a narrow escape during one such LTTE attack. Subsequent events proved that the Sri Lankan forces were not anywhere near achieving their aim. Although the military commanders continued to mount several offensives against the LTTE, they made little headway. Thus their ultimate aim to defeat and disarm the LTTE has remained elusive. According to Ravi Wickramsinghe, a Cabinet spokesman, they were not seeking a purely military solution, both operational and political aims were to be achieved. No operational or political solution is yet in sight.

No Tamil organisation, not even the pro-government PLOTE, would want a total disarming or annihilation of the LTTE. G. Ponnambalam of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress recently stated forthrightly that "no Tamil expects anything after the total annihilation of the LTTE". 

The moderates fear that once the LTTE is defeated, the government under pressure from hardline Sinhalese groups will stop seeking a political compromise. Most Tamil groups had hoped to receive justice through the efforts of the year old 45 member Parliamentary Committee; however, no major political party has come up with any compromise formula. 

The Ceylon Workers Group (CWG) and other moderate groups favour a four point fomula of substantive devolution of power which would ensure a degree of autonomy to a unified North-east. The Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, (SLMC), the biggest Muslim party, agrees with the merger plan in principle, but insists on a 'Muslim country' with substantial autonomy within the region. Sinhalese hardliners are against the merger and the formation of a Tamil dominated North-eastern region. Hela Urumaya, a ginger group in the Sri Lankan Freedom Party, has called the four point programme 'ultra chauvinistic'. Its leader Tilak Karunaratne is totally opposed to the merger. He has said that "It is self evident that Sri Lanka cannot be one united, undivided, unitary state if two of her provinces are autonomous of the other seven".

During his visit to India in 1992 Premadasa indicated at a press conference that his Government will only resume talks with the LTTE on the condition that the LTTE stopped the use of arms and recognised the right of other Tamil parties to contest elections. He also revealed that several expert groups from the SAARC were engaged in formulating steps to deal with terrorism and that there were proposals before the SAARC to establish joint data banks and an information network to combat terrorism. 

Even as Premadasa was making the above statements, Tamil militants were mounting several lethal attacks against Sri Lankan security forces. The nine year old insurgency shows no sign of abating, despite denial of all major routes to Jaffna and the continued occupation of important areas of the Elephant Pass and Vettilaikern by Sri Lankan forces: the 'Tiger' remains untamed. A strong security ring extending from Kankasanthurai and Point Pedro in the north to Pooneryn and the Elephant Pass in the south, Islands of Xetblnai in the west and Chindikulam in the east has failed to check the movement of weapons and personnel into Jaffna although larger deliveries have been curtailed.

The campaign against the LTTE this year has cost the Sri Lankan forces rather dearly as they have lost more than 1000 soldiers in the recent offensive. In the last three years over 3Q00 soldiers have been killed and about 8000 have been disabled. The LTTE, despite heavy casualties, has shown an undiminished capability to attack security forces in their strongholds; it seems to bounce back and take the offensive after every big campaign by the Sri Lankan forces. The LTTE have so far warded off the so-called final assault on Jaffna, although the Sri Lankan army continues to hold on to the captured areas and is extending an helping hand to the Tamil population.

The Sri Lankan Armed Forces are still looking for the right strategy to face the challenge of insurgent-terrorism cum guerrilla warfare of the LTTE. The command structure and coordination with the police forces are being improved and the police forces are now under a Joint Operational Command (JCC). However, the JOC is still an advisory body and there are problems between the JOC and the armed forces. There are complaints of political interference which hamper military operations. The armed forces have suffered heavy losses in men and equipment. Even the Air Force has lost two Y-8 aircraft. Despite the loss of logistical bases in Tamil Nadu, the LTTE appears capable of carrying on offensive action against Sri Lankan forces effectively. The latest tactics of attacking and killing senior commanders is bound to make the war even more brutal.

The war of attrition has now reached a crucial stage as defeat in set piece battles has failed to crush the LTTE and diminish its resolve to carry on an armed struggle to achieve its political aims. The security forces in these circumstances are likely to be demoralised. The lack of any tangible gains may make the commanders and troops resort to measures which would make political compromise even more difficult. In such an environment, guerilla forces are likely to continue their operations undeterred.

It is clear that a military solution is nowhere in sight and the hope of tiring out the LTTE is remote. Recently, a delegation of the Quakers International', a peace and service organisation, visited Jaffna and Colombo (in November 1992) but failed to bring the two sides closer. Badman Weerakoon, adviser to the Sri Lankan President, told reporters that nothing new had emerged from the Quakers' visit. The stalemate continues; the government insists that the LTTE give up arms and the LTTE refuses to accept any preconditions. Moderate Tamil groups are in a disarray and in any case do not represent majority Tamil opinion. External powers have so far shown little interest in bringing about a ceasefire in Sri Lanka. India would, apparently, prefer some moderate group to negotiate peace with Colombo while the Australian government has shown preference for a Commonwealth initiative provided the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE cooperate.

In the meantime, the massacre of Muslims also continued. In October 1992, the LTTE killed 161 persons, a majority of whom were Muslims. This was the largest attadk against Muslims since 1990, obviously with a view to pressurising the Muslim population in eastern Sri Laoka into toeing the LTTE line. So far the Muslims have been resisting this and are demanding a separate autonomous province. Such killings could result in a large scale exodus of the Muslim population. 

One result of the October 1992 massacre has been that the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC) has served notice on Colombo--if such massacres are not stopped, they would stop supporting the government. The SLMC expressed doubts about the honesty of Colombo's intentions in safeguarding the interest of the Muslims and renewed the call for jehad against the LTTE. The party announced the resignation of a new North-west Provincial Council member to register their protest and called for strikes and a boycott of the Parliament session to coincide with the second anniversary of the Mannar massacre. The Muslims, who have a 30 per cent demographic representation in the eastern province also demand a Muslim Regiment in the Sri Lankan Army so that it could protect Muslims. They believe that a Muslim Regiment can help carry out their religious obligations without hindrance. Rising Muslim belligerence can however create major problems for Colombo and increase LTTE-Muslim confrontations, thereby complicating the situation even further.

According to the state owned 'Sunday Observer', Prabhakaran recently said that there was no alternative to war as Tamil Eelam could not be achieved through negotiations. Prabhakaran's broadcast over the clandestine radio 'Voice of Tigers' in November 1992, on the occassion of his birthday, showed no inclination towards a compromise. According to Prabhakaran, some foreign countries were giving the Sri Lankan Government financial and military assistance. "We are not expecting anything from foreigners: we will fight with our own resources" he said.

The Sri Lankan Army is apparently reeling under relentless pressure of the LTTE onslaught. There have been large-scale desertions from its ranks. Reports indicate some 6000 soldiers have deserted in the past year alone. The Army is having trouble in getting new recruits. Regardless of the military situation the possibility of a negotiated solution is still remote as neither the SLFP or the ruling United National Party (UNP) have the political will or inclination to accomodate the demands of the LTTE. The assssination of President Premdasa through suicide bomber has another dangerous dimension in Sri Lankan politics.

In sum, there is no military or political situation presently in sight in Sri Lanka. The chaotic situation in Sri Lanka obviously poses a danger to India; particularly due to the LTTE's grand design of Greater Eelam. In these circumstances we will do well to workout a new long term policy with Sri Lanka without getting involved in its internal politics and turmoil as far as possible. The LTTE's likely designs in India are summarised below.

From the geographic point of view, southern peninsular India and Sri Lanka form a single entity. The great Indian peninsula is shaped like a triangle with its apex separated from Sri Lanka only by the narrow stretch of the Palk straits. This narrow strait has a significant number of off-shore islands along the eastern and north-eastern approaches to the Jaffna peninsula and for small boats and local fishermen, any beach front is a land-fail. From times immemorial, people have crossed these narrow waters unhindered. Any attempt to permanently block this route or to sanitize the Indian coast line against infiltration is a very difficult proposition except for short periods. It is almost impossible to pick up every small fishing boat or low dugout in these waters. 

The joint blockade by the Indian and Sri Lankan Navies in the past only decreased the traffic but failed to stop it. In other words the geo-physical proximity and the land configuration make it virtually impossible to stop the interface between the ethnically related people of Tamii Nadu and the Jaffna peninsula. The Tamil population on both sides of the Palk straits have a common heritage and history. For the 'Jaffna' Tarnils, Tamil Nadu is not merely a place of safety, sanctuary or base but a traditional homeland. The Sn Lankan Tarnils ~nd it impossible to believe that this land can ever be denied to them or become hostile. The LTTE game plan rests on the premise that they will never let Tamil Nadu or its people be permanently alienated from the LTTE. 

If a situation has been created in which Sri Lankan Tamils are unwelcome in Tamil Nadu, then this situation must be reversed. If the Governments of India or Tamil Nadu are unhelpful, these governments must not be allowed to continue with such policies. To implement its plans the LTTE has a grand design. Some portions of the game plan are quite evident from a close scruitiny of events in Tamil Nadu and the LTTE's hand behind them. A broad out-line of the LTTE's grand design maybe considered to be as follows:-

  • Create pro-Eelam lobbies in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu and foster a separatist pan-Dravidian greater Eelam movement there.

  • Destabilise the present AIADMK government with the help of pro-LTTE groups like the TNRF etc.

  • Establish a political nexus and a network for the supply of arms and ammunition, exchange of information and intelligence with all the separatist or terrorist groups in India. Links have already been established with ULFA, PWG, the J&K and Punjab terrorists. TNRF cadres are being armed by the LTTE and personnel are being trained in Jaffna (a reversal of what India did in the early eighties)

  • Establish links with countries which are hostile to India with a view to creating new bases for the procurement and smuggling of weapons into India and Jaffna. Also establish safe havens in these countries.

  • Coordinate drug trafficking with international mafias with aviewto raise finances and smuggle weapons into India and Jaffna.

  • Use the southern Indian States for the LTTE's hideouts with the help of various separatist groups.


A network to promote terrorism and insurgency is being established in India by several international agencies. Its aim is to assist and encourage separatist movements to wage an armed struggle against the State. Terrorism and insurgency are being used to create cleavages in our polity, weaken our economic and social infrastructure with a view to destabilising and breaking up the present structure of the Indian Union. There is an organised attempt by various transnational groups to weaken the will of the people to resist subversive forces, alienate the masses from the established authority and persuade them to take up arms against the State. Violent demonstrations, political assassinations, general strikes and murder of innocent citizens are some of the methods being used to force a constitutional collapse and render democratic institutions like the Parliament and Judiciary ineffective.

The assistance to insurgent groups by various transnational agencies has added a new and dangerous dimension to the disparate separatist movements. There is little doubt that severai international terrorist groups inimical to Indian interests have joined hands to smuggle weapons and explosives into India. These weapons are being distributed to several terrorist and insurgent groups regardless of their ideology or objectives. The discovery of ULFA camps in Tarnil Nadu and joint training of LTTE and ULFA cadres have established beyond doubt that an elaborate system of joint planning and training has been in existence for some years. The similarity of tactics and other methods between ULFA, the Naxalite groups, Bodo and Manipur insurgents and the Punjab and J&K terrorists points towards a single training and coordinating agency.

Regular and unhindered supply of sophisticated weapons from foreign sources points towards an elaborate system outside and within India under a joint operational headquarters. The LTTE has taken full advantage of our shortsighted policies to establish itself in Tamil Nadu and some adjoining states. Despite the loss of popular support and logistic facilities after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, it continues to train several pro-LTTE militant cadres in Tamil Nadu. These groups propagate the concept of 'Greater Eelam' on behalf of the LTTE and are being trained to launch an armed struggle in the state. As the LTTE has developed close links with several separatist groups in India along with the 151 of Pakistan with aviewto encourage an armed struggle against the established order, a serious situation may develop in the South, which is the LTTE's focus of attention. The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi could be a result of collaboration among several 'transnational terrorist groups'. The aim of assassination was to weaken India by eliminating a strong leader.

lndo-Sri Lankan relations remain rather cold and distant due to the LTTE factor. The LTTE is taking full advantage of this situation. The current situation in Sri Lanka remains highly uncertain as the LTTE retains its capability to carry on its armed struggle despite heavy military pressure. It is also capable of launching limited trans border operations across the Paik Straits, aided by its supporters in India. The uncertain and chaotic political situation in Sri Lanka poses a threat to the security of the Southern states of India due to the LTTEs grand designs of 'Greater Eelam'.

The LTTE has well established connections in East Asia, West Asia and Africa and various centres in Europe and America for the supply of arms and ammunition. It has recently developed contacts with the 151 of Pakistan and certain Afghan Mujahideen groups to facilitate the procurement of arms.

As it is not physically possible to seal all the routes between India and Pakistan or Jaffna, it is necessary to combat the menace at the political level in various states.

  • The extensive transnational terrorist network now being established in India and some neighbouring countries must be smashed before it is too late.

  • There is a real danger of destabilisation of the South which has so far remained comparitively stable and peaceful.

  • The nature of insurgent plans and their sponsors must be identified and exposed.

  • Insurgent-terrorism must be recognised as a part of social warfare and all resources of the State should be mobilised to combat it.

The best defence against insurgent-terrorism can be provided by the people who should never be allowed to be alienated from the government. Terrorists and insurgents seek precisely that by provoking harsh government reprisals against the citizenry. The government should therefore use social, political and economic weapons in this war instead of resorting to police methods. This would require patience and long term planning rather than short term knee jerk reactions. An integrated well thought out strategy is required. Strategic guidance must be provided by the Centre but the implementation of social, economic and political measures should be left to the states. A unified joint zonal command and control sructure is required to facilitate intelligence gathering and implementation of various counter measures. Clear cut politico-economic and politico-social objectives need to be specified by the Zonal Council.

The containment of active terrorism and insurgency should, as far as possible, be a police matter; only when insurgency goes beyond police control should specialised forces or the Army be deployed to combat it. Counter mobilisation of the population is the key to defeating insurgent terrorism. This however should be affected through normal democratic processes and should include social and economic upliftment programmes. Secretiveness of the state is a self defeating process. The public must be kept fully informed of all developments. No unauthorised or covert police action should be permitted as these measures only fuel insurgencies in the long run.



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