An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 06 December 2006  

The cease fire in Sri Lanka has broken down as the LTTE were let down by Karuna –– who is acting as the Mukhiti Bahaini did in India's Bangladesh war. We had anticipated that the Sri Lanka Army would use air power and India is watching as Viako and others go on a day's fast. In his annual speech Prabhakaran disowned the Cease Fire and Rajapakse asked the Indian Navy to cooperate in patrols to keep LTTE from getting arms from the sea. This is a task the Indian Navy's should perform. It is the PM’s and EAM 's duty to force the LTTE leader to say what sort of federalism he wants to join the election process or does India want to break Sri Lanka into two? India cannot stand aside and watch.

In any case in India there is no C-in-C and so who minds the store? During Kargil conflict we saw what a mess command and control was, as NSA Brajesh Misra and then EAM Jaswant Singh both asked for a status quo as revealed in ACM A Y Tipnis’ book. Both are not in the chain of command but even today maybe the NSA and EAM are dictating policy and we will watch the results of President Rajapakse's visit.

We do not agree with Mr B Raman who loves a wait and watch policy.


By B. Raman

I receive a large number of letters from readers relating to my recent articles on the counter-terrorism operations of the Sri Lankan Government against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

2. A common theme of the letters is: "You used to write so strongly against the LTTE as the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world. Why have you become so soft? You used to be critical of the Ranil Wickemasinghe Government which you felt was being soft to the LTTE, but now you are criticising the Mahinda Rajapakse Government for being tough in its operations against the LTTE. How can you make allegations that the Rajapakse Government is deliberately targeting the Tamil community when you know that the deaths of the Tamil civilians are nothing but unfortunate collateral damage as a result of the strong action taken by the Government against the LTTE?"

3. Let me first make clear what is my understanding of the expression "collateral damage”, a term often misused by security agencies to cover up the deaths of innocent civilians. In my understanding, collateral damage is unintended damage caused as a result of a pin-pointed action taken by the security forces, who did not expect any civilian casualties, but which took place all the same due to circumstances beyond their control. We have many such examples in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).The terrorists open fire on a security forces patrol in an inhabited area. They return the fire in exercise of their law-given right of self-defence. Some passers-by are killed or injured. That is genuine collateral damage.

4. When you consciously order a punitive air strike, you cannot take excuse under the pretext that you did not expect the bombs dropped from the air to kill innocent civilians. When a stray bullet fired by you kills a passer-by during an exchange of fire, you can legitimately defend yourself by saying that you did not expect the bullet to kill an innocent civilian. You cannot take the same excuse when you drop bombs from the air on an inhabited area. The world is yet to discover a precision bomb which, when dropped from the air, will identify and kill only the terrorists.  It will kill everybody in the vicinity of the area where the bomb dropped.  There may be circumstances when an air strike may become unavoidable. For example, when the terrorists surround a large number of civilians and threaten to massacre them if their demands are not accepted.  One has not come across such instances in Sri Lanka.  There have been instances even in Sri Lanka when one could not have found fault with the Sri Lankan Government for using its Air Force---for example, to go to the rescue of its naval boats in the sea when they were surrounded by LTTE boats.  There was no danger of civilian casualties in such cases.

5.  One of the reasons why there is so much anger against the Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq is because of their indiscriminate use of air strikes against suspected terrorists on the ground. It is difficult to get accurate statistics, but sources in whom I have confidence estimate that since 9/11 the US has killed about 5,000 suspected or confirmed terrorists, but over 200,000 innocent civilians due to its policy of indiscriminate use of force from the air and through heavy artillery during its counter-terrorism operations. You cannot just dismiss these deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians as unavoidable collateral damage.

6.  In spite of this, I will say two things to the credit of the Americans: First, whenever the death of innocent civilians appears shocking, their immediate reflux is not to deny them. They do order an enquiry and in some cases take action against the guilty officers. Second, I have not heard of any instance---either in Afghanistan or in Iraq or in the Lebanon---where the Americans or the Israelis deliberately stopped the flow of food, medicines and other essential articles to the civilian population.

7.  In Sri Lanka, under Mr. Rajapakse, the immediate reflex of the Government and its spokesmen is to deny any wrong-doing by the security forces. I am yet to come across a single instance where any action has been taken by the Rajapakse Government against the security forces for excesses against innocent civilians.

8.  Like the British used to do in Malaya while fighting the communist insurgency, the Rajapakse Government has been using the stoppage of the flow of food, medicines and other essential supplies to the Tamil population as a weapon of intimidation in order to prevent the Tamil population from supporting the LTTE.

9. While in service and subsequently too, I have always believed it as an article of faith that the counter-terrorism agencies must make a clear distinction between the terrorists and the community from which they have arisen and should not punish the community from which the terrorists have arisen. Many of the actions of the Rajapakse Government tend to punish the Tamil community in order to intimidate it into not supporting the LTTE. That is why I find it difficult to support the manner in which it has been conducting its counter-terrorism operations.

10.  In 1993, jihadi terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir occupied the holy Hazratbal shrine. After the termination of the occupation, the security forces let the terrorists escape to Pakistan instead of engaging them in an exchange of fire since they were worried that an exchange of fire might result in large civilian casualties.  There are many other such instances in J&K where the security forces have deliberately avoided an exchange of fire in an inhabited area in order to avoid civilian casualties. That is sophisticated counter-terrorism.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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