Lt Gen S C Sardeshpande, UYSM, AVSM, former Commander of 54 Infantry Division, Indian Army in Sri Lanka.
Insurgency-guerilla war as a combination in the struggle of the weak against the strong has established itself as a strong and successful method of waging an armed struggle. It is said that the combination may not win but forces the opponent to lose, thereby bringing success (victory) to the former.
Experts have listed various conditions where it can thrive, expand, grow in strength and achieve success, like-binding cause, people's support, outside help, safe areas, difficult terrain etc; and classified various stages through which it passes, i.e. growing local resistance and discontent, expanding armed resistance, hit-and- run-merge with the public, guerilla operations, liberating chunks of territory, organising conventional forces, resorting to conventional wars, with necessary flexibility to get back to the lower stage depending on the situation, while considering time to be on its side and a means of wearing down the opponent. Examples are Mao's China, Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria, some of the Central and Latin American countries.
Afghanistan has a long history of resisting intruding powers and sending them to their doom, as none of the Central, West or South Asian powers or those of Great Britain, Russia or now the USA have succeeded in subjugating and ruling the fiercely independent Afghans, despite Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic influences over them. We have our own Naga, Mizo, Manipuri and now Maoist insurgencies still biting at us. The Bangladeshi insurgency also turned its full circle in 1971.
In all this where does the Sri Lankan Tamil genre stand? Besides a history of over three decades, it has had an unassailable "cause", people's support, safe haven (India), foreign assistance (India, Western and Southeast Asian world), a highly trained, disciplined, dedicated, motivated and innovative cadre based organisation (one of the best in the world). Its militant cadres withstood the 80,000 troop onslaught of the IPKF for 30 months in the difficult terrain of lagoons, kulams, marshes and forests in its vast expanses. Yet in these last few months its militant wing, the LTTE, has been at the losing end with astonishing rapidity, though it lost the eastern wing some time ago. From its real estate of 2500 sq km, it is reduced to a 250 sq km swathe of marshy forest, with nearly three lakh hapless civilians trapped-virtually imprisonedâ€“within. It seems to be a matter of time before the armed resistance of the LTTE is reduced to zero.
Has the Sri Lankan Tamil insurgency failed? Even as it had almost all the plus points and favorable conditions? The answer will very soon be 'yes.' The question then for the warfare specialists and military thinkers is why has it failed?
It is said that war is politics by other means. In return can it also be said that war should revert to politics at an opportune moment? The LTTE seems to have missed this aspect. Identifying the opportune moment depends on many factors - stages of success achieved in the continuum of the conflict; people's welfare and well-being, levels of favorable factors obtained which help the further pursuit of the ongoing struggle, i.e. people's feelings, outside support, safe areas, effectiveness of operational methods, availability of resources, international opinion and so on. Fascist, dictatorial, self-righteous regimes find it difficult to identify such a moment. This much emerges clearly.
Image: Sri Lankan sailors assist a wounded Tamil civilian who managed escape from the last sliver of land held by the rebels in the Mullattivu Region of Sri Lanka. (Photograph copyright AFP. Unauthorised reproduction is prohibited.)
Also see: Military Power | India-China Relations | Trouble in Paradise