Saturday, August 25, 2007

Counterinsurgency in Sri Lanka

In an interview to the Daily News on August 4th 2007 Col. R Hariharan a retired Military Intelligence officer of the Indian Army made a remarkable comment with regard to the Tamil Insurgency in Sri Lanka that all policy makers and the armed forces should take note of. When the question was posed, “What is your assessment of the LTTE- Do you think the LTTE can be defeated militarily?” His answer summed up what the policy framework should be in fighting this ethno-political insurgency.

Hariharan answered, “There is no organization that can not be defeated militarily. So, I do not believe in this myth of invincibility. However, at the same time we should not forget who an LTTE cadre is. He is a citizen of Sri Lanka. Therefore, you are actually losing a human resource as well as a defender of civil law in the country (in the soldiers) through this war. No insurgency can be crushed 100% because the motivation is in the mind. You cannot vanquish an idea. The cadres are not only fighting for Prabakaran. It is something more. Each one in his own mind has what he feels is a possible solution. Therefore, he should know that there are other alternatives. It is not just whether the LTTE can be defeated, of course they can. These ideas should form the bedrock of counterinsurgency policy in Sri Lanka.

A close observation of the current military strategy of the GOSL reveals that the counterinsurgency efforts do not focus on the “center of gravity”, the Tamil population in the North and the East. The counterinsurgency efforts must not be against the Tamil population rather, a policy for the population that provides sustainable and viable alternatives in the social and political spheres. Hariharan correctly points out that the motivation is in the mind and unless the counterinsurgency efforts of the GOSL focuses on wining the hearts and mind of the Tamil population in these areas these military victories would not translate into political victories.

The recent massacre of aid workers and civilian does not auger well for the efforts of the GOSL. One of the primary pillars of best practices in counterinsurgency is establishing rule of law and creating a reliable system that treats everybody equally. In Northern Ireland the British counterinsurgency efforts succeeded due to several reasons out of which adherence to maintaining rule of law stands out. The population had faith in the system and could seek refuge in a system that was transparent and fair. This is a lesson for the GOSL, establish rule of law and treat every one equally. The massacre of aid workers and civilians should be investigated and the perpetrators should be brought to justice through a transparent system. This has a duel effect, one on the population, a sense that they have a system where justice is served and they can rely on it and the if such a strong message is sent it serves as a deterrent against errant soldiers to conform to rule of law and will eventually make the military a professional military. The current stance of the GOSL of denial and cover-ups will only serve to the detriment of the military and tarnish the image of the government in both domestic and international spheres.

There is a dire need for the GOSL to formulate a political framework within which this counterinsurgency efforts should be carried out. The lack of a political policy framework is a hindrance to the counterinsurgency efforts. Unless a broader inclusive political framework can be developed by the GOSL the current military efforts will be futile. An ethno political insurgency of this nature will resurface unless alternatives are generated to address the political grievances of this insurgency. The political framework is necessary and civilian elected leaders and not the military should guide the political framework. Repeatedly the military leadership in Sri Lanka has made policy statements or contradicted the policy statements of previous regimes. This is a disturbing trend and the insurgents will be closely monitoring these developments. The military in a state is at the disposal of the state and not vice versa. Hence, the policy makers must be in firm control of the counterinsurgency policy framework and not the military.

The Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka is a contest of governance. It is a contest to establish who governs effectively and efficiently their territory. For the LTTE achieves governance through coercion and coercive means. LTTE will strive to portray that the GOSL has failed to govern and does not have the ability to protect its citizens. LTTE is not elected and are not accountable to the people. The GOSL is an elected body that has to be accountable to the people; they have to govern, show progress and provide for the people, regardless of their ethnicity. The motivations of the insurgents are different from that of a government and if they can show that the government has failed to govern, failed to protect its citizenry they win, not loosing is a win for the insurgents, and the same does not apply of the government. Thus, while conducting an effective counterinsurgency campaign that is firmly rooted in the principles of best practices, the government has the responsibility to be effective in governance. If governance is neglected you create ripe conditions for another insurgency. This is a vicious cycle and unless a holistic approach is adopted, the ethno political insurgency in Sri Lanka will push Sri Lanka closer to a failed state.

Contributed to DefenceWire by SDS who identifies himself as a researcher in International Security and Conflict Resolution

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