Colonel (retd) Dr Anil Athale is a Chhatrapati Shivaji Chair Fellow of the United Services Institute and co-ordinator of INPAD, a Pune based think-tank. He is also the author of ‘Nuclear Menace: the Satyagraha Approach’ (Pub 1997).
There is no purely military solution to problems of insurgency. The only known successful ‘military’ solution to such problems in world history is to be found in the US, namely the genocide of the native Red Indians.
Most civilised nations would balk at such an approach, but short of that, a purely military solution to problems of ethnic minorities will and have always failed. It is, therefore, a little surprising that many have begun to write the epitaph of LTTE and the cause of Tamil Eelam.
It must be clearly understood that the LTTE or V Prabhakaran are not the reason for the turmoil in Sri Lanka, but products of an ideology and circumstances. As long as the cause and the conditions that caused the Tamil revolt exist, peace will be elusive, notwithstanding the claims of an imminent military victory.
As some one associated with the Sri Lankan conflict since 1988, I am dismayed at the repeated mistakes on part of all the principal actors in this sordid, blood soaked drama.
On its part the LTTE is being obdurate in sticking to the demand of ‘independence’ that can never become a reality since India does not support it. On the Sri Lankan government’s part, the notion of national unity and integrity is equated with ‘unitary’ form of government, and a federal structure is considered an anathema. This has further legitimised the hard line position of the LTTE.
And finally India, a country that has a major stake in peace in Sri Lanka, has been shy of forcing the Lankan government to move in direction of federalism and autonomy for Tamil areas. Thus in this tragedy, there are only villains and no heroes.
The Tamil-Sinhala rivalry is 'mother of old conflicts'. The two sides trace their animosities to the battle between Tamil King Ellara (after whom Eelam is named) and the Sinhalese King Duttagamini in 167 (or 145) BC!
Obviously it was not a continuous conflict, and there were many periods of peace. But it must be understood that in the perception of ordinary Tamils and Sinhalas, the conflict is very old.
Since the Buddhist revival of 1956-1957, Sri Lanka has become a 'Buddhist' State, much on the lines of many Islamic states. But even worse, the law of the land denies equal opportunities to non-Sinhala citizens. Many, specially Indian commentators, have flippantly 'advised' Tamils to accept Sri Lankan unity without realising that Sri Lanka is not a secular State like India, or is it a 'fair State' like the UK in terms of rule of law. Thus there is a fundamental problem in the nature of the Sri Lankan State at the root of this conflict.
Sri Lanka is a plural society and multi-ethnic country. Like other developing countries, including India, the process of economic development and nation building have often led to clashes between various groups.
In the late 19th century, conflicts took place mainly between the Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims. The most serious riots against the Catholics took place in 1883 and 1903. Major anti-Muslim riots took place in 1915. But since 1958, the focus of Sinhala violence has shifted to the Tamils. Major anti-Tamil riots took place in 1958, 1977 and 1981-83. This antagonism has led to a feeling of insecurity amongst the Tamils and the movement for Tamil Eelam or homeland was born out of this cauldron of hate.
The people of Tamil Nadu have historical and blood relations with the Tamils of Sri Lanka. They will not remain inactive and watch the genocidal tactics of the Sri Lanka army against their brethren. The rise of Dravidian parties has ensured a competitive backing for the rights of the Sri Lanka Tamils. The late Tamil Nadu chief minister M G Ramachandran went a step further and linked survival of Sri Lanka Tamils with Indian nationalism.
Having studied insurgencies over last two decades, it is easy to predict that that the LTTE will revert to the classic first or second phase of Guerrilla War, that is, melt into jungles and populated areas and indulge in small unit hit and run actions. Given the difficult terrain in jungles of Sri Lanka, the LTTE can continue this struggle indefinitely.
In addition, it may restart its terror attacks in capital Colombo and eliminate the Sri Lankan political and military leaders. The LTTE is certainly down (as in 1988 when Indians had it down on its knees) but not out.
But must Sri Lanka, a beautiful country with friendly people, continue to bleed?
No. There is a solution, though it might sound simplistic.
Tamil Eelam is no solution. The new State cannot be in peace with Sri Lanka as the Eastern province claimed by the LTTE has a mixed population; the boundary is not well defined and is 600 km long. Perpetual bloodshed is predetermined in case of that outcome.
On the other hand, most Sri Lankan Tamils would be quite satisfied with an Indian type of federal structure. The first step in the direction has to be taken by the Sinhalese by recognising that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic State and not a Buddhist one. The Sinhalese have to give up their insistence on a unitary State and accept federalism, perhaps even a Kashmir-like arrangement, where Article 370 ensures that the Kashmiri identity is preserved.
A three-language formula could solve the language issue.
Sri Lanka also needs to ensure equality before law for all citizens and no Sinhala bias. There should be open negotiations and a ceasefire. India could guarantee this accord. Before an ideological dispute can be solved it needs to be converted into a tangible dispute over territory or rights.
The Middle East process only got off the ground once the Palestinians recognised Israel's right to exist and Israel in turn accepted the demand for a Palestinian state. Once the ideological hurdle is crossed there can be give and take over territory.
Till such time this happens, there is very little chance of peace. The world and major powers like the US and Japan have to convince or coerce the Sri Lankans into abandoning the path of military solution. India has to act and realize that between inaction and military intervention, there are many intermediate tools available to it.By the same author: N-deal will boost self-reliance | Next steps for Kashmir
In dealing with insurgencies, Sri Lanka seems to be following the Pakistani model, where they have been using air power, tanks and heavy weapons which cause immense collateral damage. We have been battling insurgencies for 60 years, but have never resorted to genocidal tactics. Given the close links and relation between the peoples of the countries, India must intervene as a regional power, which could take shape in the enforcing a no-fly zone and similar restrictions.
India as a power cannot escape this moral responsibility and must use its clout to enforce peace.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not of Sify.com