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Sunday, 15 August 2010

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President’s clear vision, key factor in eradicating terrorism

*Gotabaya - one of three leaders who crushed LTTE

* Lanka’s successful strategy - a valuable lesson

* Arrest of KP, a great success

* Indo-Lanka Accord had lots of loose ends

A specialist on South Asian military intelligence, Colonel R. Hariharan said that apart from lack of international support, including India to the LTTE to survive the final battle, the prime factor for the demise of the LTTE was President Rajapaksa’s clear political determination to eliminate Prabhakaran and the LTTE.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer Col. Hariharan, who served as the Head of the intelligence for the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990, said President Rajapaksa’s political leadership had geared the entire government machinery to achieve the single goal - annihilation of the LTTE.

“In brief, he provided the critical support needed for the success of military operations the national leadership”, he said.

The military intelligence specialist said that Sri Lanka’s successful war strategy would definitely provide many valuable lessons for all nations.

Col. Hariharan said Kumaran Pathmanathan’s (KP) arrest was a great success for Sri Lanka’s efforts to curb the resurgence of LTTE internationally and would have a big impact on the future of overseas LTTE operations.

According to Col. Hariharan, though the LTTE remnants are trying to ‘stage’ a come back, it will not be a reality as the internationally activated pro-LTTE groups are split into two factions - political and military.

He said that though there were some LTTE sympathizers who appreciate its militancy, it was doubtful that they have the capability of mastering the support of the Tamil Nadu’s mainstream politics.

Following are the excerpts of the interview:

Q: The government is credited for annihilating the LTTE. What were the main factors that contributed to the victory?

A: I have written extensively on this. I would summarize my reasons as follows, not necessarily in the order of priority:

1. President Rajapaksa’s clarity of objective - to eliminate Prabhakaran and the LTTE and providing leadership support to combine policy making, planning and executing actions not only the armed forces or the ministry of defence but the entire government machinery to achieve this goal. This enabled the government to cash in on the weaknesses of the LTTE not only on the military front but also politically and internationally. In brief, he provided the critical support needed for the success of military operations, the - national leadership.

President Rajapaksa’s efforts to transform the armed forces into fighting machines should not be ignored. To reach his goal he created a politico-administrative structure to help the armed forces achieve their military objectives, unmindful of its enormous cost in terms of finance, manpower, governance and international relations. He also provided the much needed political support for the armed forces.

2. Maintaining close relations with India and thereby ensuring that the LTTE does not gain either large scale political or other clandestine support from India, interfering politically or otherwise both internally and internationally to affect the Sri Lanka government actions or operations.

3. Allowing the armed forces to plan and execute their operations without political interference is achieved. Providing all out support to them to maintain military superiority all through the operations. This enabled the armed forces to build adequate fire power and carry out its offensive successfully.

4. Making full use of the global anti-terror environment to fight the LTTE. This made it possible to gain valuable international support - notably from the U.S. to conduct military operations, though there were critical moments towards the end of the war due to their human rights concerns.

The President in a strategic ploy identified his campaign against the LTTE as part of the global war against terrorism. India and the U.S. started providing regular intelligence inputs and technical support on the movement of LTTE’s shipping logistics. The LTTE was banned in 32 countries particularly after the assassination of Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. Consequently the foreign assistance to Sri Lanka in its war against the LTTE gained legitimacy.

5. Mounting a high profile information and publicity campaign on the war, which the LTTE could never match. This enabled to garner large scale public support for the war which was lacking in earlier campaigns as the LTTE propaganda organs were more effective.

Q: Where do you think was the turning point of the LTTE’s fall?

A: As a military analyst, I think the LTTE lost the war, when they could not break the army’s stranglehold of Elephant Pass-Paranthan-Kilnochchi area that started after the logistic shipping support was destroyed. The LTTE could not launch any sizeable counter attacks to break the investment.

Q: What went wrong for the LTTE?

A: Before the war the lack of political strategy was LTTE’s problem. In 2002, they were controlling most of what they called the ‘Tamil Eelam’, yet they could not take advantage of the peace process and strike a win-win deal with Sri Lanka. Similarly they never made up with India, where they were dependent upon weak political parties for support.

During the conflict LTTE choice of fighting a conventional war instead of fighting an insurgency battle which is their strength, was a big strategic error. They just did not have the numbers or fire power to fight a conventional battle with Sri Lanka, particularly after they lost recruiting bases in Tamil areas in the East when Karuna broke away. When they were overwhelmed by army, they did not have a responsive strategy in place.

Q: Still the LTTE’s remnants are trying to show that they are alive. Can they make an impact in the present environment?

A: I doubt very much that they can carry out any spectacular terrorist attack within Sri Lanka in their present state. However, they may have the capability to do something more visible overseas. We should remember it took Prabhakaran two decades to build the LTTE into a powerful force. They have neither a leader like Prabhakaran to lead them nor a global environment that would help them as it did in the 90s to stage a powerful comeback.

Q: What is your comment on post-war Sri Lanka?

A: While military success has been achieved, the charged atmosphere built up during the war needs to be defused. This would require people affected by the conflict resuming normal life as early as possible. While this is a huge national challenge, it has to produce more visible results. Modern governance demands ensuring people enjoy fundamental freedoms. As it is a notion in the minds of people, it is they who should feel a sense of security and trust in the government.

Q: What do you have to say about President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s military strategy?

A:Military strategy is only a part of national strategy when a nation goes to war. This was provided by President Rajapaksa and he gave enough space to armed forces to come into full bloom to carry out their campaign.

Q: The force behind the entire military manoeuvre was Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. How do you see his commitment?

A: Of course, he was fully committed to achieve the President’s objectives; that was why he was appointed for the job. The President had always been the supreme commander of the three services. While Basil Rajapaksa provided the political interface for the war, Gotabaya Rajapaksa provided the government interface for military operations. But as Defence Secretary he provided vital interface between the national leadership and military leadership so that the entire campaign was conducted smoothly. I am sure his military background was a great help in this. So I would rate him as one of the three key leaders who helped Sri Lanka win the war.

Q: Out of 11,000 ex-LTTE cadres, over 8,000 are still in state custody undergoing rehabilitation. How best do you think the government can train them to become useful citizens?

A:They should find a place in society to live a meaningful life without fear of deprivation. This requires more than a few months of training. It requires an environment where they can look forward to the future rather than go back to the past.

Q: How do you see the arrest of KP? Did it make a huge impact on the LTTE’s future in the international sphere?

A:It is a great success for Sri Lanka’s efforts to curb the resurgence of LTTE internationally. Yes, it will have a big impact on the future of overseas LTTE.

Q: How vital is his contribution to the post conflict Sri Lanka?

A:It is too early to assess.

Q: What is your assessment of the LTTE’s international network?

A: It is not united but split into two major groups the ideologues of Eelam who want to politically keep the Eelam struggle alive and the militant elements. I don’t know whether they will join together in the near term.

Q: What are your observations on the LTTE’s activities in Tamil Nadu and how do you view the pro-LTTE views expressed by certain politicians and sympathizers of the outfit?

A:The LTTE activities in Tamil Nadu are neither visible nor assertive. There are some LTTE sympathizers who appreciate its militancy. But the Eelam issue has a wider appeal. The plight of Tamils in war zones affects a very large number of people. There are issues which some of the political parties are trying to cash in. But I doubt whether they have the capability to make a strong on Tamil Nadu’s mainstream politics.

Q: Do you agree that India made a blunder by grooming LTTE in early 80s?

A: I am against arming any insurgent groups either locally or internationally. I had made this clear in my own military channels in the 80s, though army was not involved in the training of Tamil militants.

Q: How vital was the India’s stance on defeating the LTTE and do you agree that Prabhakaran had much hopes that the international community including India would save him at the last minute?

A: I think India’s intelligence, political and international support was one of the winning factors for Sri Lanka. I believe Prabhakaran overestimated the readiness of the international community to bail him out. Of course, political support in India for him was not sufficiently strong to do this job. Apparently he failed to realize this.

Q: Why did he fail to convince them? What went wrong?

A:Three things in his conduct were instrumental in losing international credibility over a time: killing Rajiv Gandhi, willful disregard for international efforts to make the peace process a success, and global war on terror after 9/11 the world was not prepared to accept terrorism as a tool to fight for ethnic or other rights.

Q: Did the IPKF fail in defeating the LTTE?

A:The IPKF was not sent to defeat LTTE. It was to help Sri Lanka government to enforce the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement in which the disarming of Tamil militants was provided for. That was how it got embroiled in war with LTTE.

Q: What were the difficulties the IPKF faced in dealing with the LTTE?

A:I can only give a strategic analyst’s perspective but it might disappoint those expecting political brownie points. The IPKF at the beginning faced three problems - lack of role clarity, inadequate information, and security forces’ own structural snags.

The Indian army had very little warning to prepare for its overseas deployment. Nobody was very clear what its role in Sri Lanka would be because the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord had a lot of loose ends. India was signing a third party undertaking to do its bit for an internal problem of Sri Lanka. So it was bristled with uncertainties as the two signing powers and the Tamil militants who were non-signatories had to conform to the Accord to make it a success. So the troops were initially sent only as a token force to show solidarity with Sri Lanka rather than fight a pitched battle with the LTTE.

Secondly, the Indian security forces had very little information available on Sri Lanka’s political and militancy problems. This might be surprising as many accuse India of plotting the whole thing. This is far from true. So the Indian army went there without adequate preparation.

It had obsolete maps and an inadequate knowledge of Sri Lanka. To top it all, it was supposed to meet the continuous demands of Sinhalese and Tamils who had built high expectations. Military Intelligence had a few assets - both information and sources - when it landed. (Information sharing among intelligence agencies in all nations is minimal for fear of compromise of sources.)

Structurally, when the war started, a joint services command had to be created to conduct an insurgency operation in a foreign country. This was totally a new experience for the three services. Troops had to be flown in and they were not familiar with either the terrain or ground situation when they were put directly from Jaffna airport to join the operations. However, the three services rose to the occasion and improvised command and control structure and improved it as operations progressed.

Q: Do you think the LTTE became stronger with the withdrawal of the IPKF?

A:The LTTE was at its weakest when the IPKF left. It was confined to a small space in Vanni. It had suffered heavy casualties - losing most of the junior leaders. That was why it desperately built bridges with President Premadasa which resulted in the pull out of the IPKF at a crucial stage for LTTE. In fact, it provided the oxygen the LTTE needed for survival and stage a comeback in the North and parts of East where it massacred a few hundred policemen. So it became stronger by default.

Q: Who were the main LTTE leaders who came across during your stay in Sri Lanka? How do you see Prabhakaran’s militant mind?

A:When we were in talking terms initially in August 1987, I have seen all the top leaders of the LTTE including Prabhakaran, Kittu, and Mahatthaya etc. I had no rapport with them but they knew who I was. Prabhakaran as a militant believed in the overwhelming power of the gun to achieve his goals. This led to his downfall as he failed to seize the opportunities the peace process offered in 2002.

Q: How do you recollect your three -year stay in Sri Lanka as the intelligence head of the IPKF?

A:As a Tamil, Sri Lanka was never a foreign country for me. So it pained me more to see the great human tragedy that was turning the country - one of the most beautiful ones I had seen - into a battleground. I found the people of Sri Lanka - Tamils, Sinhalese, Muslims and everyone warm hearted and more easy-going than Indians. When I visited Colombo I was amazed everyone revealing as though they had nothing to do with the war in the North!

Q: Sri Lanka’s military strategy that ended the Asia’s longest civil war will be a case study for other nations threatened with internal conflicts?

A:Of course; even failed operations teach us many things. So a successful war like Sri Lanka’s definitely provides many valuable lessons for all nations.

Q: The Maoists and the Naxalites have increased their attacks in India. Do you think the LTTE cadres who are believed to have escaped from Sri Lanka are supporting them?

A: No. There were some marginal contacts between Maoists and the LTTE when the latter was powerful. To my knowledge, even these were commercial deals between two ‘fraternal’ organizations. Now there are safer pastures for fleeing LTTE elements to seek refuge than the hotbeds of Maoist violence in India.

Q: Where are these safer pastures for fleeing LTTEers?

A: I can only conclude that they would mix with families fleeing Sri Lanka as refugees; of course that does not make all those refugees LTTEers. I am sure Canadian and Australian intelligence also some of the countries like Indonesia would be doing this.

Q: No doubt, intelligence played a vital role in defeating the LTTE. How vital is strengthening the intelligence networks locally and in the post conflict era?

A:Intelligence is a silent shield. It does not distinguish between war time and peace time. At all times it has to be functional. As it provides foreknowledge, it is vital to prevent wars as much as to win them.

 

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