Friday, September 7, 2007

Counter-Insurgency and Political Solutions

Accusations have been made against the Security Forces for abductions and summary executions. In counter-insurgency operations, such executions occur when operating in theaters where a law-and-order situation is non-existent. Usually, Intelligence Officers identify spies, assailants or civilian collaborators and eliminate them along with the threat they pose. The decision to kill is usually made by those on the ground and are seldom made by either the political or the military hierarchy. The hierarchy may however indicate that such tactics are permissible for purposes of defensive and offensive action. The fact that the death punishment is given without proper hearing and for a lack of a just and transparent process and recourse to a court of law, such assassinations are alarming to those following accepted norms of Human Rights, ethics and justice. From a counter-insurgency perspective, such tactics are acceptable and are considered pro-active solutions to advancing defensive or offensive positions. In a Democracy this is tantamount to a break-down in the Rule of Law. The Sri Lankan government has been accused of promoting such acts and have been deprived of economic and political support and privileges internationally. In the Early 80s and 90s, international criticism of the state enabled the LTTE to advance its claims for separation and increase its Diaspora support-base for waging a deadly campaign against the state.

The LTTE has also committed such violations but have evaded the full-wreath of the International Community due to its Non-State nature. Constant innovations in fund-raising, money-laundering and various business enterprises, both legal and illegal, have allowed the LTTE to remain afloat financially. The government, on the other-hand, must fight its first war in the kitchen before it can fight the Tigers with its Army. The LTTE does own an international image to safeguard in-terms of its ‘right to champion the Tamil cause' but no elections to win in the home-front, like the government.

An insurgency's backbone can be broken through an effective counter-insurgency campaign which can also utilize the Rule of Law and public support to its advantage. The role played by the public in a counter-insurgency operation can never be overstated. The government underestimated the culture of protest and violence developing in Tamil areas prior to the insurgency. By responding to civilian agitations with violence, the government created a culture of violence in Tamil areas and popular support of violent responses to violent repression. The insurgency was not routed at the very beginning with effective elimination or arrest of its key leaders, imprisonment of followers, deterrence by punishment. Proper addressing of Tamil 'grievances' and a rise in political alternatives to armed rebellion were missed opportunities. Organization of armed groups and access to weapons and training could have been averted if Sri Lanka had a sound Foreign Policy, targeting particularly India. An insurgency needs a base to grow unharmed and guerrillas need a base to retreat to and recuperate in order to fight another day. Back in the mid 1970s and early 80s, that base was in South India.

In the present scenario, the situation remains more or less the same with slight changes to the status quo. Top-ranking LTTE Leader Ramanan was killed by a Sniper last year, but LTTE Supremo Prabhakaran and many of the organization’s key leaders like Pottu Amman, K.P and Balraj are still alive, though attempts were made on their lives. Enlistment of Tamils in the LTTE continues, either voluntarily or by force. The Burn-out rate in the LTTE rose sharply after a section of the LTTE’s Eastern Command led by Karuna, Reggie, Jim-Kelly, Pullaian, Markan, Ineya-bharathi and Riyaseelan defected in 2004. This burn-out paved the way for successes in counter-insurgency operations throughout the island.

The Military has improved its counter-insurgency tactics to a certain extent. It managed to capture the Eastern Province from LTTE’s conventional fighting units throguh unconventional warfare. The recapturing of Silavathurai is another example. The Army has demonstrated its ability to change tactics. So has the Navy and the Air Force. The Navy has managed to prevent the loss of its Dvora fleet in recent confrontations whilst inflicting heavy casualties on the LTTE. The Air Force has improved its Intelligence-Gathering Resources and the accuracy of target-acquisition and engagement. Battle-plans prepared by lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka and his subordinates have been effective in placing the LTTE on a defensive-mode on the ground.

Battle-plans are no-longer prepared in English and the policy of rewarding performance over seniority in the Army have paid dividends. For the first time since the commencement of the insurgency, the Sri Lankan Military has an overall strategy to combat the LTTE. All units of the Army, Navy, Air Force and even the Police are playing their part in the counter-insurgency strategy. However, the military is still struggling with its policy on paramilitary forces and Human Rights violations. Limited hearts-and-minds campaigns are conducted. More planning and resources need to be invested in this regard.

The politicians are the ones who have least delivered. No suitable ‘political solution’ to the conflict has been tabled, although such a solution can only be reached through a time-consuming process. Yet, the other general requirements of running an administration and the future of a nation have not been met to their full potential. The economy is withering and government subsidies are heavily burdening the budget. Foreign Reserves are almost non-existent. In this background the present administration must not become a ‘war-government’ like that of Winston Churchill. As soon as WWII ended, Churchill was voted out.

At least for the time-being, the present Administration seems to be fulfilling its military role, but also exploring, through the All-Party Committee, a ‘political solution’ to the conflict. This is of utmost importance. This committee must not fail now. The country has seen many such committees come and go. Let us hope that this Administration's ‘multi-pronged’ strategy to the conflict pays rich dividends!

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