Sri Lanka Ends Ceasefire with LTTE : Implications For India
The Sri Lankan Government formally ended its ceasefire with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), a Tamil separatist armed outfit fighting for an independent Tamil state of Eelam against this island nation, on January 2, 2008. This ceasefire was brokered by the Norwegian Government in February 2002.
While a formal ceasefire was operative for the last five years or so, terrorist acts by the LTTE did not cease nor did the fighting between the two opponents in the areas held by the LTTE. The Sri Lankan armed forces also relentlessly carried out offensive military operations against the LTTE to push them out of the rebel held areas. The Sri Lankan armed forces have been successful in clearing the Eastern Province of LTTE rebels.
The immediate provocation for ending the ceasefire by the Sri Lankan Government arose from LTTE suicide bomb attack against a Sra Lanka Army bus in Colombo and the killing of a Sri Lankan Member of Parliament. However, the ending of the ceasefire was not unexpected as indications were coming for some time now.
Many reasons both political and military stand advanced by analysts both from Sri Lanka and elsewhere. While the political reasons may be debatable but the military reasons are not in the opinion of this Columnist. For sometime now the Sri Lanka armed forces seem to have attained an upper hand over the LTTE in their operations against the rebels despite the ferocity of the LTTE attacks both against the military and the civilian targets. The confidence born from Sri Lankan armed forces military successes has probably emboldened the Sri Lankan Government to end the ceasefire and launch an all-out military onslaught against the LTTE.
There is no doubt that this could be an opportune time for a Sri Lankan major military onslaught against the LTTE as a number of reports suggest that the LTTE has suffered casualties in its leadership, rank and file and materiel losses as a result of Sri Lankan air-strikes. Reports also suggest that the LTTE is also facing manpower shortages for constituting its fighting cadres
The Sri Lankan armed forces do not seem to be facing any such problems. To reinforce the combat potential of the Sri Lanka Army the Government is adding two new Army Divisions. Military hardware is no longer a constraint for the Sri Lankan Army as supplies have been forthcoming from a host of countries including India.
Sri Lankan military sources claim that they have very good chances of defeating the LTTE and end the decades long civil war in the country. This assessment may have weighed heavily with the Sri Lanka Government. Ending the ceasefire entails the move out of Norwegian and other monitors and NGOs from LTTE held areas and thereby enabling the Sri Lankan armed forces for air-strikes and bombardment of LTTE strongholds in the Northern Province after warning the civil population to move out of designated areas.
It is not going to be an easy walkover over the LTTE and they can be expected to retaliate violently with terrorism, suicide bombings and other forms of asymmetric warfare when the military reverses start piling on them. But in a battle of attrition that could now ensue the Sri Lankan armed forces can be expected to have a better long term sustainability.
What are the implications for India in the evolving situation? India is likely to find itself in a Catch 22 situation in balancing its strategic and national security interests and its political interests in the domestic context.
India's strategic and national security interests demand that peace and stability in Sri Lanka returns. Sri Lanka along with Bhutan are the only two countries in South Asia that remain friendly to India. The stability of Sri Lanka stands disturbed and challenged by the LTTE' civil war against the Sri Lankan Government. The LTTE may have political aspirations but these have to be met within the parameters of he Constitution of Sri Lanka and not by the break-up of Sri Lanka by an armed uprising.
Politically, in the domestic context the situation becomes challenging for the Congress Government with the DMK Government in Tamilnadu being a major coalition partner of the Congress ruling coalition at the Centre. Of the two major Tamilnadu political parties, namely the DMK and The AIDMK, the DMK is reported be soft towards the LTTE.
Even if the Central Government wishes to give primacy to India's national security interests in the ongoing conflagration in Sri Lanka , it will be in no position to ignore the political interests of the DMK. Furthermore, if the civil war in Sri Lanka intensifies due to the reasons discussed above then there is every likelihood of Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing to Tamilnadu in India to escape the fighting in the Northern Province. This would further complicate India's response.
India as the claimant to regional power status in South Asia cannot afford to be an abject and helpless spectator in the developing conflictual situation in Sri Lanka. What is required is an Indian declaratory policy on Sri Lanka which must commit India to Sri Lanka's territorial integrity and also must lay down the red-lines which the LTTE should not cross or if it does then it should be ready to forfeit any calls that it may have on India by virtue of the Tamil ethnic commonality.
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Dr. Subhash Kapila
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