Wait­ing for a Bounce Back?

In the ab­sence of some­one as charis­matic as Velupil­lai Prab­hakaran to lead an­other LTTE, there are slim chances of the group’s re-emer­gence.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Shahzad Chaudhry

Reemer­gence of the LTTE could be a dis­tant pos­si­bil­ity.

Naren­dra Modi’s ac­ces­sion to power in In­dia has the po­ten­tial of some se­ri­ous tec­tonic changes in the geopol­i­tics of South Asia. While it is pop­u­larly stated that In­dia may never be the same again – with both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions – In­dia’s pol­icy in the neigh­bor­hood may also see a sig­nif­i­cant shift. Modi’s state­craft will in­clude some lin­ger­ing geopo­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests and con­cerns that are likely to im­pact his economic agenda at home. Overtly though, he will need rel­a­tive peace around In­dia with­out signs of ven­tur­ing to re­solve any of its ge­o­graph­i­cal or se­cu­rity is­sues by the use of force.

Per­pet­u­a­tion of a mil­i­tary con­flict will coun­ter­vail his pri­mary in­tended course of en­cour­ag­ing economic growth which is de­pen­dent on do­mes­tic and for­eign in­vest­ment. How­ever, the ap­point­ment of Ajit Do­val as the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, and V K Singh, a for­mer army chief, as the min­is­ter in-charge for mat­ters in the north-east, will mean a more mil­i­taris­tic ap­proach at the sec­ond tier of en­gage­ment in for­eign pol­icy. Modi’s alma mater is the RSS, the Rashtriya Swayam­se­vak Sangh, which be­lieves in the ide­o­log­i­cal dom­i­na­tion of In­dia and the re­gion and holds a world­view that it would ex­pect its pro­tégé, Modi, to ful­fill. That will need In­dia to be as­sertive though it may go against the grain of devel­op­ment and re­gional sta­bil­ity, which re­main in­trin­si­cally in­ter­de­pen­dent.

There are then likely to be two faces of In­dia’s dis­po­si­tion un­der Modi: one, that will feed off tier-one en­gage­ment for peace and sta­bil­ity built around economic con­tacts with In­dia’s neigh­bors; and the sec­ond that will use the com­bined ex­per­tise of Do­val and Singh at the sub-diplo­matic level, seek­ing fur­ther­ance of its geopo­lit­i­cal agenda through im­pos­ing covert force and ex­ploit­ing ex­ist­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in tar­get na­tions. Pak­istan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, to some ex­tent, stand out as the main con­tenders who will suf­fer from In­dia’s covert de­signs to fos­ter geopo­lit­i­cal div­i­dends.

There is one more fac­tor, again do­mes­tic, that will de­ter­mine Modi’s likely pol­icy to­wards In­dia’s neigh­bors. It has to do with Modi’s ca­pac­ity to gar­ner suf­fi­cient par­lia­men­tary strength that can en­able him to en­act economic and fis­cal re­forms where laws will need to change to en­able re­struc­tur­ing. Modi’s economic plans are tar­geted on growth. He has the cor­po­rate sec­tor on his side to pro­vide the nec­es­sary stim­u­lus to such growth that may then pro­pel the over­all economic out­look re­gen­er­at­ing a stalled econ­omy.

How­ever, mere do­mes­tic in­vest­ment may not be enough when the tar­get area across In­dia is hugely wide. For­eign in­vest­ment too will be needed, as will be an en­vi­ron­ment for such in­vest­ment, in­clu­sive of as­sured in­puts like a steady sup­ply of elec­tric­ity, oil and gas. To make th­ese changes, Modi will need two-thirds ma­jor­ity in the par­lia­ment to go for the nec­es­sary re­forms and re­struc­tur­ing to ini­ti­ate the process of In­dia’s economic re­cov­ery. This is when do­mes­tic de­pen­dence might just be­gin to drive some of his for­eign agenda.

En­ter Tamil Nadu’s Chief Min­is­ter Jay­alalitha, with her party’s hefty pres­ence in the par­lia­ment and hence her rel­e­vance to Modi’s en­deavor to seek a law-mak­ing ma­jor­ity. En­ter, also, Sri Lanka, a neigh­bor that will be­come rel­e­vant with Jay­alalitha’s in­duc­tion into the coali­tion, pulled into the vor­tex of what dy­nam­ics drive In­dia’s in­ter­nal pol­icy.

Tamil Nadu, In­dia’s south­ern-most state of some 63 mil­lion Tamils, has a his­tor­i­cal eth­nic affin­ity with the north­ern stretches of Sri Lanka which too are pop­u­lated with the same eth­nic stock with a sim­i­lar­ity of lan­guage, cul­ture and reli­gion for most on ei­ther side. Sri Lanka’s trade and other links are mostly con­fined to In­dia’s south­ern states across the nar­row strait that di­vides both coun­tries. His­tor­i­cal and re­li­gious fa­bles con­nect the two with a shared cul­tural and re­li­gious his­tory. At its nar­row­est, this strait, nav­i­ga­ble only by small boats and fish­ing ships, is hardly twelve miles. That is the kind of prox­im­ity that per­vades Sri Lankan ap­pre­hen­sions and In­dia’s sense of en­ti­tle­ment.

What be­came sub­se­quently the Lib­er­a­tion Tigers of Tamil Ee­lam (LTTE) was ini­tially a re­ac­tionary re­sponse to the Sin­hal­iza­tion of Sri Lankan so­cio-cul­tural ethos. When the Bri­tish oc­cu­pied Cey­lon, they brought along a large num­ber of Tamils from the south of In­dia to be used as plan­ta­tion la­bor­ers

in their tea es­tates. Th­ese Tamils are called In­dian Tamils while those who be­long to the north­ern and the north­east­ern re­gions of Sri Lanka are na­tive Tamils.

When in 1970, the move­ment to re­assert Sin­hala supremacy be­gan it un­leashed mi­nor­ity ap­pre­hen­sions in the Tamils and the Mus­lims of Sri Lanka. The Tamil re­sponse grad­u­ally be­came more or­ga­nized and took on a mil­i­tant hue. The LTTE, as a sep­a­rately rec­og­niz­able group with a mil­i­taris­tic ap­proach to re­gain­ing Tamil rights in Sri Lanka, was rec­og­nized in 1983 with Velupil­lai Prab­hakaran as its leader. That is also when it be­gan an in­sur­gency against the Sri Lankan state to carve out a sep­a­rate Tamil Ee­lam con­sist­ing of the north­ern and north-east­ern re­gions of Sri Lanka.

The move­ment was sup­ported po­lit­i­cally, fi­nan­cially and ma­te­ri­ally by an 80 mil­lion strong Tamil Di­as­pora, in­clud­ing the 63 mil­lion from Tamil Nadu in In­dia. The pre­mier in­tel­li­gence agency of In­dia, RAW, trained, equipped and sup­ported LTTE op­er­a­tions against the Sri Lankan state. In an ironic twist, when In­dia chose to phys­i­cally in­ter­vene in the Tamil strug­gle, it in­tro­duced its forces un­der the In­dian Peace-Keep­ing Forces (IPKF) ban­ner.

Ex­cept that, soon the IPKF was also fight­ing the LTTE be­cause it would not fall in line with In­dian as­pi­ra­tions. The IPKF was forced to with­draw af­ter a rather bad ex­pe­ri­ence, but did con­clude an agree­ment that was in­cor­po­rated as the 13th Amend­ment in the Sri Lankan Con­sti­tu­tion that sought equal rights for Tamils. In­ter­na­tion­ally, Euro­pean na­tions which car­ried size­able Tamil pop­u­la­tions and Canada which too had Tamils in rea­son­able num­bers ini­ti­ated a peace process that seemed skewed in fa­vor of the Tamils in the eyes of most Sri Lankans. As a re­sult, nu­mer­ous rounds did not de­liver peace. While the IPKF fought the Tamils, there were re­ports that RAW con­tin­ued to sup­port the LTTE. Among the many con­tra­dic­tions of this war, this was per­haps the most glar­ing.

What sus­tained the LTTE then in all its years of ex­is­tence: a sense of alien­ation and de­pri­va­tion? The sen­ti­ment still per­sists based on sup­port from a wide Di­as­pora and still re­mains vi­able. Tamil Nadu’s re­li­gious and cul­tural affin­ity re­mains vi­brant and In­dia’s ap­pre­hen­sion of a grow­ing Chi­nese in­flu­ence in Sri Lanka, a re­al­ity. In fact, lit­tle can be done about it as Sri Lanka is on its way to re­cov­ery from the war years.

What is dif­fer­ent? The ab­sence of some­one as charis­matic as Prab­hakaran to lead an­other LTTE. The likely re­liance of In­dia on a tier-two en­gage­ment will dwell on in­creased covert in­flu­ence un­der a changed se­cu­rity team of mil­i­tant minds. In­ter­nal dy­nam­ics will force In­dia to be more ag­gres­sive in Sri Lanka as it as­serts its supremacy in what it con­sid­ers its own back­yard.

Will the LTTE reemerge? Per­haps not, sim­ply be­cause nei­ther it has the lead­er­ship nor is there the time for it to de­velop an or­ga­ni­za­tion as ef­fi­cient as it once was. What might en­sue will be an In­dian as­sertive­ness un­der Modi that will ex­ploit the guile of its covert forces as they at­tempt at neu­tral­iz­ing China’s pres­ence in Sri Lanka. The writer is a re­tired Air Vice Mar­shal of the Pak­istan Air Force and served as its Deputy Chief of Staff.

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