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Crystal Gazing On Sri Lanka

By Col R Hariharan

(February 13, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) The future of Sri Lanka conflict has raised a lot of global conflict. Here are some questions from a Russian media and my answers to them; they give an over view assessment of the whole situation:

Q1. What is the current state of play in Sri Lanka as you see it? Is peace as far off now as it ever was? Have there been any achievements in the last 30 years?

A: Complete peace will come back to the island nation only when Tamil speaking minority and majority Sinhalas trust each other and feel secure with each others rule. This requires a long healing process. Even after the military defeat of LTTE it will continue to simmer in provoking guerrilla struggle. But despite this if the govt introduces devolution of powers to Tamils in progressive stages the healing process will begin and take about 5 years. But there are political forces against the process on both sides who could be obstacles to this process.

Other takes:

1. It shows that unless is India involved in the mediation process, international community can achieve little to ease the conflict situation.

2. In the lat 30 years of struggle Tamil people have impressed upon the world the righteousness of their cause; this has made the world and the Sinhala people examine the issue more positively.

3. It has also proved the limitations of armed struggle in achieving aims on both sides;

Q2. Militarily speaking, what do you envisage is the next move for both the government forces and the LTTE?

A: Govt has raised a huge military disproportionate to Sri Lanka's size. There is an element of militarism that is disturbing as it represents rightwing Sinhala nationalism rather than Sri Lankan nationalism. Army has become a power to reckon with in Sri Lanka so like Pakistan it can perpetuate its importance. By current indications I expect an army detachment in every major Tamil concentration to openly or discreetly keep an eye on Tamils so that they dont go back to take up arms. This is bad for restoring confidence in govt among Tamils that it would not treat them as 2nd class citizens which they feel it does. Govt needs to take Tamils into confidence progressively and withdraw armed forces back to their barracks. As far as the LTTE is concerned its initial worry would be to survive; it may seek shelter in neighbouring India which is a risk for the latter. It will recoup its global assets to build its organisation afresh. This will definitely happen if Prabhakaran survives the dragnet thrown to catch him. I think he is too uncanny to get caught so easily.

Q3. Considering the LTTE now find themselves limited to less than 200 sq km of land area in Mullaittivu will their attacks get more desperate and vicious?

A: Already its attacks are desperate. Otherwise when the end is so close why lose more people? They had always been vicious because they have a militant mindset without political nuances in their conduct. It cannot change now because Prabhakaran will not.

Q3. How much international goodwill is there for the LTTE or indeed the government - especially in India?

A: We should not confuse Tamil Nadu with India. Likewise let us not confuse sympathy for Tamil cause with LTTE. But right now Tamil Nadu wields considerable clout with govt in Delhi for reasons of coalition. But it will not always be so. It will clear up after the results of next election in Apr '09 and the type of coalition govt formed in Delhi. Indians as a whole, probably 60%, are sympathetic to the Tamil cause. Others are indifferent probably. This is a ball park figure based on feedbacks I get.And it may not be correct. LTTE is admired for carrying on their fight for so many years successfully but admiration is not sympathy in a crisis situation for LTTE. So overall at least 80 % inn India will be hostile to LTTE as there is an attitudinal change to terrorism after Jihadi strikes. This compunded their disgust at LTTE after Rajiv Gandhi killing.

Q4. Do you think the recent suicide bomb attack marks a new period where we will see more assults like this? If so, how can the govt act without losing any international support?

A. It is an act of desperation; I expect such attacks not here but elsewhere after LTTE lies low for a few more months. Govt should develop patience. Use of artillery to return fire will be counter productive as it causes casualties. They will have to nibble into terrirtory little by little before sending in commandos to finish off embedded LTTE elements. I think army is probably thinking on these lines. LTTE cannot hold on forever.

Q5. How effective do you think the Sri Lanka military's new safety zone for civilians will be?

A:Depends upon what the safety zone gives the people who take refuge there. If safety is there then that means both sides are adhering to rules of the game. But I am not optimistic. Because LTTE will break any positive move by international community to rein in its activity; already Sri Lankans are resisting it.

Q6. The Sri Lankan army commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka has claimed that 95 percent of the LTTE is 'finished' is he right?

A:Probably 85% of conventional capacity of LTTE is finished. It is only my guesswork; I hope he is in a better position to assess but I am not too sure. But leadership down to subunit level and Prabhakaran must be eliminated to really 'finish' LTTE. Probably the army commander knows this.

Q7. How do you envisage the situation unfolding the the next days and weeks?

A: The current impasse will carry on for a couple of weeks when both sides run out goodwill and LTTE finishes its reserves of ammo and food. Civilians will continue to trickle out and LTTE would grudgingly allow it causing some casualties now and then just the army would. International community will continue to do what it does best - make a lot of noise. India will simmer. If Prabhakaran quits the scene, LTTE enthusiasm may wane.

Q8. Why is it the western media have largely ignored this conflict?

A. Basically because it has no interest in any conflict unless Westerners are getting killed or their troops are doing the killing. Who cares any more if only Africans kill their own kind? Look at Darfur. You will understand. Of course Palestine conflict is an exception to this thanks to Jihadi terrorism's sins and Israel's successful selling of the conflict for its "survival" in the West.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served as the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-90.He is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail:colhari@yahoo.com)

-Sri Lanka Guardian

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