The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

27th April 1997




India, Russia in a changing world

By Mervyn de Silva

Last week this column discussed Russian foreign policy and its new emphasis on Asia in the face of NATO’s aggressive thrust eastward, the Soviet “satellites” in the familiar Cold War idiom.

Nehru, not Yugoslavia’s Tito, was the authentic architect of “non-alignment” but Nehru was smart enough to realise that Yugoslavia was on the front-line and Tito was an uncompromising defender of national sovereignty and independence. Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi preferred realpolitik to high ideals whenever India’s long term interests were involved. And of course her country’s place in the world, by virtue of history, culture, population and resources.

Thus, the Indo-Soviet treaty, a special relationship with a superpower and thus a flagrant violation of a doctrine called Non alignment. But India was strong enough to get away with it. In terms of self-interest it made sense. Pakistan had a strategic partnership... the US superpower... and India had a border dispute with its eastern neighbour, China, and the territorial claims had led to border wars.

Afghanistan was the decisive confrontation, albeit a proxy war, although in the final stages Moscow was more knee-deep in the quagmire.

The U. S. used Pakistan.

“As the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat revealed, the US, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have cooperated since early 1980 in funnelling weapons to the (Afghan) resistance through Pakistan.

China has also provided substantial military aid. Most of the weapons being provided are replicas of Soviet weaponry, so the (Afghan) resistance could claim that they were captured from Soviet forces” wrote Selig Harrison, the Carnegie Endowment’s reputed area specialist.

It was the beginning of the end, we could now say, of the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin who ousted the hapless Mikhail Gorbachev, has been restructuring Russian foreign policy to meet the challenges of the post-Cold War world... challenged in Eastern Europe and on the old USSR’s Asian rim; and Islamic rim, we should note.

Meanwhile Yeltsin’s “visit diplomacy” also underlines Moscow’s special interest in the two Asian giants, China and India. These two nations, will surely be major players on the world stage by the next decade. Moscow has made it clear that it will not tolerate a single “world leader dominating world affairs” notes a Chinese analyst in the Beijing Review. “But equally uncompromising is NATO which will admit Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary,” adds Zhang Baoxiang in an article on “deadlocked” NATO-Russia Talks. Deadlocked they may well be, in Russian or Chinese eyes but for NATO, it is business as usual.

Indian options

But where does that leave India and the non-aligned community, still the largest group of countries in the United Nations? That really is the challenge for the new Prime Minister of India, Mr. I. K. Gujral, a foreign minister now elevated to the highest office in the world’s largest democracy. Foreign policy is the least of his problems, however.

Prime Minister Gujral is an enlightened intellectual, but he has to rely on the support of some fifteen parties. He may wait for the first opportunity to have parliament dissolved and pray for a stable majority, or a much less vulnerable Congress when the division bell rings. But better the Bharatiya Janatha Party (B. J. P.) as the main opponent than any other.

Despite what looks to us a rather bleak scene, the consulting editor of the ECONOMIC TIMES, Swaminathan Aiyar, believes there are some encouraging signs too. For instance the activism of the judiciary has ended the cosy understanding between political parties that while they will happily accuse one another of corruption, they will not prosecute one another as each side has too many skeletons in the cupboard.

Corruption will not end in 1997. But it will decline and become more discreet. Bureaucrats who earlier did not dare question dubious ministerial orders will begin to do so.


Nearly half a century ago, Lord Curzon, playing prophet, said that the Congress party was “tottering to its fall.” It has been tottering from Narasimha Rao’s time or more accurately when the Nehru Gandhis, the ruling family in a sub continent governed by dynasties, ran out of a Gandhi to assume command after the assassination of Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. That prompted L. K. Advani, the BJP boss, to describe his party and no other, as one that could offer India “stability”. The newspapers took him so seriously that “Congress RIP?” was quite a popular headline.

There can be little doubt however that region based parties and political organisations have become a fact of life. Mr. P. Chidambaram who led a revolt in Tamilnadu told a group of journalists in Madras that Mr. Narasimha Rao, the veteran Congressman, and his colleagues “should have seen the situation better but because of its air of superiority, it didn’t see the situation, at all”.

This particular disability seems to be quite common to rightwing parties from the Tories in Britain to conservative parties in the Indian sub-continent which were introduced to the system by the British.

But now that Mr. Gujral has accepted the challenge and formed a government, neighbours will be more interested in ‘the Gujral Doctrine’ than in his domestic policies, the economic of course as the most vital. While Pakistan is an exception in many ways, trade, investment and tourism would be the areas on which policy makers and independent analysts will concentrate.

On foreign policy, the ‘Gujral Doctrine’ may be a useful guide.. but guide and no more, I think. To return to my own line of argument, the traditional Indo-Soviet special relationship – some called it the Delhi-Moscow axis - will see its importance rapidly decline.

Last week’s Yeltsin-Jiang Zemin meeting is certain to be the foundation of a radically re-designed relationship between the two countries that were known earlier as the Communist giants.

NATO’s aggressive thrust in eastern Europe has made Moscow nervous. China has no such problem in “the correct handling of contradictions with the sole superpower. China’s response to the US challenge over Taiwan reflects much greater self-assurance than the Yeltsin administration’s reaction to NATO’s aggressive thrust in eastern Europe.

The question of recruitment to the LTTE

The cat, a bell and a few strategists

Continued from last week

By D.Sivaram

The army’s next major step is the establish ment of a Main Supply Route to Jaffna.

If this is possible, the manner in which it is going to be secured (particularly the heavy artillery barrage)and maintained will most probably push the civilian population into the hinterland - which is anyway not too concentrated along the highway now.

Therefore it can reasonably be assumed that there would not be any significant shift in the population level of the territories currently dominated by the LTTE which, as we saw earlier, is at least 950,000.

The political, economic and social conditions which among other things have contributed to the 1.1 percent Military Participation Ratio since 1991 remaining the same as a consequence of the political and military nature of the conflict, the LTTE should be able raise a force of 10,450 from this population.

One has to digress here briefly to consider the question of girls and children. It is said that their high number in the LTTE is a manifestation of a fall in recruitment in the northeast. In 1990 the force raised by the LTTE from scratch was called ‘the baby brigades of Prabhakaran’ on account of the large number of children who had joined up. But that represented a massive spurt in the recruitment ratio - from almost .3 percent to 1.1 percent.

Therefore how valid would it be for one to argue now-seven years later- that the recruitment of children - the impressionistic evidence for which is prejudiced in most cases by extreme political hatred or cultural disdain - is a manifestation of a severe fall in recruitment levels in the north east ?

Is the recruitment of girls a manifestation of problems in recruitment?

Girls have been recruited by the armed Tamil separatist movement since the late seventies. The case of Urmila is well known. The EPRLF began recruiting a large number of women for military training since 1983. This was followed by the PLOTE which in early 1985 established five military training camps for girls in Oraththa Nadu in the district of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu. The LTTE began its first military training program for girls in a camp at Dindigul in Tamil Nadu on March 11, ’85 under Major Selvarajah, a retired Tamil officer of the Indian army. There were ninety girls in this first batch. Their first attack on the army was in July 86' at Vankalai in Mannar. A women’s unit took part in the EPRLF’s abortive attack on the Karainagar navy camp that year. (this was planned and commanded by Douglas Devananda) The EROS also developed a large women’s wing. Selvi was one of the most senior and active members of the PLOTE. (She was arrested by the Tigers in Jaffna in 1991 and is believed to have been killed by them) Now this took place when recruitment to the armed Eelam movement was at its peak. Did this mean that the movement was short of recruits ? The recruitment of women is therefore the effect of a trend which began in the early phase of Tamil militancy and cannot be taken as a manifestation of ‘manpower’ shortages. In fact, if we are to go by the statistics of their dead cadres released officially by the Tigers, the number of girls who have died in action between 1982-96 is 1,079 whereas the male Tigers who died in this period number 8,222. The female recruitment ratio in the LTTE, though high by any standard, is still below the goals which the PLOTE and the EPRLF were trying to achieve in 1985.

The Tigers have officially claimed that 9,301 of their cadres have died between 1982 and 1996.(according to an official statement released by the Political Committee of the Liberation Tigers on Jan.3, 1997)

At least six thousand of these died between 1990 and 1996.

The LTTE on the average has lost one thousand members every year if we are to go by this account. To this we have to add those who retire, are sacked and who drop out, which means that the LTTE should be able to find at least two thousand new recruits annually to replenish its ranks to sustain its Optimum Force Level.

Can the Tigers annually recruit this number?

The districts and areas which are dominated by the LTTE today have some of the highest population growth rates in the country. The annual growth rate in the Mullaithivu district in 1981 was 6.0 and that of Vavuniya 4.9. A foot note in a recent unofficial Census Dept. report on the Vanni observes that the growth rate of the region is very much higher than the national growth rate because of the large number of people who moved in from the hill country following the anti-Tamil riots of 1983. This, however, is not the whole explanation. The imposition of draconian economic restrictions on the Vanni and the hinterlands of the east has contributed in no small measure to a great expansion of subsistence level farming which promotes large households. Many of these have provided more than one recruit to the LTTE. (The annual population growth rate of Jaffna, in contrast,is the lowest in the country.)

A brief socioeconomic survey of the Batticaloa district would reveal to some degree that the conditions that are partly responsible for the high recruitment rate here would change little until there is complete peace and some form of substantial regional autonomy which alone can redress these problems. The majority of the observations I have made on this district apply to the other four districts which are currently dominated by the LTTE in the north. Many conditions in fact are worse in the Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu districts .

I have chosen this district because its recent official statistics are available and accessible.

And also because it was possible to conduct a sample survey of recruitment patterns in a certain part of the hinterland dominated by the Tigers. The district is divided into 12 D.S divisions. Four of these and more than ninety percent of the land areas of two more D.S divisions lie in LTTE dominated areas. Tiger recruitment centres which cover these six divisions average at least one girl or boy per day for each division.(this is a minimum figure because I am ignoring the fact that it is extremely rare for a girl to come alone to join up. Girls generally come in pairs or small groups.)

Local Grama Sevakas say that there are more recruits in the month of December when farming households are under a lot of economic pressure.

Let us assume for the moment that there are no recruits to the Tigers from the other three Tamil majority D.S divisions. Hence we get a monthly figure of 180 for the whole district. Annually this means 2,160 recruits from Batticaloa. If we allow for a five percent drop out rate during the training period, there would be at least 2,000. This is about one percent of the rural population which lives in the LTTE dominated parts of the district. To get the correct picture, however, we have to add the number of boys and girls who join the Tigers from the other D.S divisions which are partly or fully controlled by the army or the STF. Some senior school teachers in these areas estimate that at least a thousand run away annually to the LTTE.

However, it is difficult to determine an approximate figure mainly because people in these parts are scared to speak about it. The parents of a boy or a girl who has run away to join the LTTE from an area that is dominated by the army, and more particularly the STF, lodge a complaint as a rule with the local Police or report to the STF camp in the village that their child has been forcibly taken as a recruit by the LTTE. This is done to avoid harassment or punishment, particularly in areas dominated by the STF. Parents whose children have run away are sometimes beaten up by soldiers or by local paramilitary personnel. Some discreetly move out of the village, giving the impression that the child has been sent outstation for education. The majority of parents do try their best to get their son or daughter out of the organization. They go from pillar to post worrying all the time that the village, and hence possibly the local STF, might come to know. This is what mainly gives rise to the general impression that children are being conscripted by the LTTE. There was only one attempt at conscription in the history of the Tamil separatist movement. The EPRLF which, instigated by India’s external intelligence establishment, foolishly dragooned a large number of children into the ill-fated Tamil National Army, is still paying dearly for the sin.

The drop out rate among male school children in the Batticaloa district is 8.2.

The national rate for male dropouts is only 4.4. The female drop out rate of 6.9 is also much higher than the national rate which is 3.5. The school drop out rates in the four districts of the Vanni is much higher than this, although no exact figures are available. The latest situation reports by the Government Agents of these districts would give one an idea of the conditions. Harsh government policy on the closure or occupation of schools has also aggravated the problem. Those who filled the ranks of the armed Tamil movement from 72 - 83 were A.L students who had been denied university admission due to standardization. The aggreived students today are largely from rural primary schools which have been most affected by the government’s war policy. This mainly accounts for the minors in the LTTE. Five schools in the uncleared areas of Batticaloa have been closed down by the authorities following the attack on the Vavunathivu camp. No alternative arrangements have been made for the education of the thousands of children who were schooling there. Schools in Vakarai have been completely destroyed by the Air Force. Nothing has been repaired or rebuilt. Things are much worse in the Wanni. In a monthly situation report, the G.A of Kilinochchi recently gave a statistical overview of the dire conditions in which school children in his district carry on with their education. In conclusion he prudently states “If the adverse condition continues, it is feared, that the student population are inclined (sic) out of frustration, mental agony, deprivation etc., to detract themselves from merit, value, excellence etc., that are essential to the discipline of the society.”

The per capita income of Batticaloa was 221.50 USD in 1986 (Central Bank statistics) when its economic condition was fairly stable. But this was the lowest per capita in the country at that time (the highest was 712.53 of Gampaha) The economic condition tremendously deteriorated since then as a consequence of Indian army operations, Tamil - Muslim violence, the activities of the army in the initial phase of Eelam War II, the counter-insurgency program between 1991 and 1994 and the current military restrictions on agriculture and fishing. More than 65 percent of the district lives below the poverty line and there are more than ten thousand young widows with children.

All this is most manifest in the severe under-nourishment among children and teenagers in the district. Batticaloa has the highest prevalence of concurrent, acute and chronic under-nutrition (the severest form of under-nutrition) in Sri Lanka among pre-school children. 4.5 percent of the primary school children in the region are under nourished and 15 percent are in a state of “concurrent, acute and chronic under-nutrition. A report by the chief secretary’s office of the northeast provincial council notes, “The prevailing conflict situation caused further deterioration in the status of protein energy malnutrition in the district”. This is the reason why some teenagers among the Tigers look much smaller then their actual age.

The LTTE, however, says that recruits from the district have performed exceptionally well in the battlefields of the north, particularly the pitched battle in the Nithikaikulam jungle with the elite Gurkha commandos of the Indian army in 1988. (The Gurkhas were routed in close combat. Very few managed to escape, leaving behind the body of Major Bakshi who was their commander).

Does this mean that poverty plays a key role in impelling boys and girls to join the Tigers ?

In this connection I did a survey in the village of K in the Pattipalai DS division which lies in the uncleared western hinterland of the Batticaloa district to determine the various economic and social backgrounds from which Tiger recruits are drawn. (K was once a PLOTE stronghold.) Out of the nine who had joined the Tigers recently from K, seven were from middle level farming households. Only two were from families of agricultural labourers. These are formal recruits. On the other hand, however, the deteriorating economic and social condition of the region is definitely one of the causes for indirect recruitment - by which I mean the process whereby a boy becomes a helper and eventually evolves into a full time fighter. The very high-school drop rate is also a primary factor in indirect recruitment. But more importantly, we cannot ignore the fact that the condition of the district induced by the war and deliberate government policy contribute to the overall sense of grievance and further entrench the perception of the state as an inveterate enemy bent on doing harm to the Tamil population and who, therefore, has to be defeated. Another general condition which impels recruitment is the silent hostility nurtured by sizeable sections of the Tamil population in areas controlled by the army and police remain silently hostile due to the harassment and abuse encountered almost daily at checkpoints, forced labour (sometimes youth are taken as far as Ampara to chop firewood for some camps), extortion in cash and kind - all of which are further exacerbated by the population’s ignorance of the Sinhala language - ban on cultivation in some areas and the nefarious activities of the paramilitary groups.

The brief socioeconomic survey of the Batticaloa district shows very clearly that the Tamil population there is living under the most trying and adverse circumstances. The Eelam War has mercilessly taken its toll in four phases since 1983. A large number of innocent civilians were massacred here during Eelam War II. Friction with Muslims has left many villages partially destroyed. Entire populations were moved out by the army from certain parts in the interior where forty four camps were actively involved in systematic counterinsurgency operations. The Indian army was here for three years trying to crush the Tigers. The EPRLF’s Tamil National Army wreaked havoc before the Indians moved out. And in Eelam War III the interior is being regularly shelled and bombed.

Now all this, in theory, should ‘naturally’ induce war weariness in the Tamil population of the district - and it appears that that is exactly what the government is trying to do both in the north as well as the east. War weariness in turn is supposed to turn the local population away from the guerrillas and thereby lead to a severe shortfall in the recruitment rate.

Many governments have systematically and successfully induced war weariness among hostile or restless peoples as the basic condition for suppressing rebel organisations. India did it in its northeastern region. The US did it in many parts of South America. The term ‘counter insurgency operation’ is often a technical euphemism which stands for inducing war fatigue in a target population. And as such it goes hand -in- hand with bloody massacres, torture of vigilantes, mass displacement, destruction of agriculture etc., The thesis that the LTTE would eventually run out of recruits is essentially underpinned by the inclination on the part of India and some western countries which back the government’s war effort to believe that war fatigue can be induced in the northeast over the years.

But it is very obvious from our analysis of recruitment patterns in the district of Batticaloa that the current MPR in the uncleared parts of the region is higher than one percent - which alone is enough to annually replenish the LTTE’s Optimum Force Level.

Furthermore, as we saw earlier, at the end of both ‘Indian Peace Keeping Force War’ and Eelam War II during which the district population saw much blood letting and was subjected to severe and unprecedented hardship, recruitment to the Tigers in the region shot up.

Does this mean that the Tamil population of the district is immune to war weariness ?

Here I have to touch on the current thinking among some of the leading military theorists in the west such as Van Creveld and John Keegan. The nature of the small wars of the post cold war world has contributed in no small measure to the line of thinking advanced by them. They aver that war making differs in nature from population to population due to a number of historical and cultural reasons and that war does not conform universally to the Clausewitzian paradigm. The corollary of this which has been developed at length by Keegan is that some cultures are better attuned to chronic war than others. The Afghans, Chechens, Somalis and Serbs come to mind in the post cold war world. In other words, the strategy of inducing war weariness and thereby a proportionate decline in the intensity of conflict does not work for some populations. For example the Tamil separatist movement which was heavily battered and substantially crushed by the overwhelming strength of the Indian army emerged in a more virulent form characterized by the suicidal Black Tigers as soon as an opening was made available. This would not have been possible if the population had been truly hit by war fatigue at any stage.

In conclusion the following observations can be made on the question recruitment to the Liberation Tigers.

a) The minimum number required to maintain the LTTE’s current military power can be recruited indefinitely.

b) The basic conditions for raising and maintaining the LTTE’s Optimum Force Level such as financial resources, administrative efficiency, political cohesion, logistical capability, the extent of safe terrain available for training and stationing troops in secrecy remain largely intact despite the heavy investments made by the government in the war effort since 1995. Of these, the extent of safe terrain available to the Tigers for training and stationing troops has in fact expanded by almost 2500 square kilometres in the east.

c) Tamil Nadu remains a potential recruitment ground. A large number of recruits, as we mentioned earlier, were available there in the mid eighties.

d) War fatigue in the Tamil population cannot be taken as a long term factor in bringing down recruitment to the LTTE in the north and east .

This study is only a further assertion of the fact that the Eelam War is not a military textbook cake walk that many, including some western defense specialists think it has to be. - Concluded

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