Prabhakaran’s Tigers and Mandela’s Spears – Part 1

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As for the LTTE’s three “most influential members”, the choice of Tjamanabalsingham (the authors couldn’t get the Tamil name Thanabalasingham, alias Chetti, correctly) and Colonel Karuna are as laughable, if one offers an answer to the ‘most influential members’ among early Christians as Jesus, Pontius Pilate and Judas!…

What is seriously missing in this theory of dark network resilience, is a proper control group.

The good news is that two researchers (Rene M.Bakker and Jorg Raab) from Netherlands and one from USA (H. Brinton Milward) think that the LTTE can be compared with Mandela’s Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). Their study, entitled ‘A Preliminary Theory of Dark Network Resilience’ appeared recently in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. MK was established in November 1961; thus, last month marked its 50th anniversary of birth.Bakker et al A Preliminary Theory of Dark Network Resilience 2011 LTTE

The bad news is that the published study by Bakker and his colleagues is error prone in facts and interpretation. To be fair to these researchers, in the penultimate section of their paper, they do include a section entitled, ‘Limitations’, in which they do acknowledge that “this study has several limitations” and mention six items. Unfortunately, they have failed to recognize what the main limitation was. It is stated in their acknowledgments clearly. They state, “We would like to thank Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) in Singapore for providing valuable information on the Tamil Tigers (LTTE).”

Relying on Rohan Gunaratna for facts about the LTTE, is like asking Churchill’s cook for information on Indian freedom fighters like Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose. I used ‘cook’ as a metaphor specifically, because in Tamil the word ‘madaiyan’ (i.e., cook) is used pejoratively to a fool.Rohan Gunaratne first book 1987 cover

Abstract and the Six Propositions of the Study

Before proceeding further, I provide the abstract and the six propositions of this study. The abstract states:

“A crucial contemporary policy question for governments across the globe is how to cope with international crime and terrorist networks. Many such ‘dark’ networks – that is, networks that operate covertly and illegally – display a remarkable level of resilience when faced with shocks and attacks. Based on an in-depth study of three cases (MK, the armed wing of the African National Congress in South Africa during apartheid; FARC, the Marxist guerrilla movement in Colombia; and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, in Sri Lanka), we present a set of propositions to outline how shocks impact dark network characteristics (resources and legitimacy) and networked capabilities (replacing actors, linkages, balancing integration and differentiation) and how these in turn affect a dark network’s resilience over time. We discuss the implications of our findings for policy makers.”

The six propositions formulated by  Bakker et al. are as follows:

Proposition 1: Resources have a positive effect on a dark network’s capabilities (replacing nodes and linkages and balancing integration.differentiation).

Proposition 2: Internal and external legitimacy have a positive impact on two out of three networked capabilities (replacing nodes and replacing linkages).

Proposition 3: The greater the ability of a dark network to maintain and replace nodes and linkages, the higher its level of operational activity.

Proposition 4: The better a dark network is able to balance differentiation and integration given a certain level of uncertainty, the higher its level of operational activity.

Proposition 5: Centralization moderates between a shock and the impact on network characteristics: When a network is centralized, the shock’s impact on network characteristics is likely to be larger than for decentralized networks.

Proposition 6: Network motivation moderates the relation between network characteristics (legitimacy and resources) and two out of three network capabilities (replacing nodes and replacing linkages, but not balancing integration and differentiation): For grievance-driven networks, the effect of a change in legitimacy will be stronger than for greed-driven networks, while the reverse is true for a change in resources.

Comparison between Spears and Tigers

I have re-formatted the information provided in Table 1, by Bakker et al., by omitting details on FARC of Colombia, and comparing MK with LTTE. The nine criteria presented are as follows:

  • Period of Existence

MK: 29 years (1961 to 1990)

LTTE: 37 years (1972 to 2009)

  • Region of operational activity

MK: mainly South Africa, also Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola.

LTTE: Sri Lanka.

  • Goals

MK: overthrow apartheid regime, found new government based on Freedom Charter

LTTE: independent Tamil Eelam (homeland), Tamil nationality and right to self determination.

  • Strength

MK: 23,000 at its peak.

LTTE: estimated strength around 20,000 at its peak in 2003; 6,000 in 2006; 7,500 in 2009.

  • Operational activity

MK: sabotage of infrastructure, mass protests, assassinations of non-civilian targets, international lobby for legitimacy.

LTTE: sucide bombing, fighting war, attacking Sinhalese property, assassinations, robberies, assaults, arson, and destruction of buildings, occupying Sri Lankan grounds and cities, recruiting Tamils, indoctrinating Tamil citizens, marine attacks.

  • Command Structure

MK: from centralized decision making (MK’s high command) to fragmented guerrilla army structure (revolutionary council), to revolutionary army, integrated with the ANC political wing (political-military council).

LTTE: centralized decision making through leader Prabhakaran.

MK (ANC's militant wing) bombings TIME June 6 1983

  • Shock

MK: Rivonia Raid (1963): entire high command is captured by police.

LTTE: Declaration of total war by Sri Lankan government (2006/2008).

  • Pattern of operational activity

MK: rebounding

LTTE: non-resilient

  • Most influential member(s)

MK: Nelson Mandela

LTTE: Velupillai Prabhakaran; Tjamanabalsingham (spelling as in the original!); Colonel Karuna.

Now, let me pick on the details on final and the 9th criteria listed by Bakker et al. which indicates sloppy research. For MK, they mention only Mandela’s name as the most influential member, but not others who played a significant role for MK activity, after Mandela was arrested in August 1962. Then, for the LTTE, the two names, mentioned by Bakker et al. other than Prabhakaran should be a joke, based on Rohan Gunaratna’s dubious information! Bakker et al. do cite Mandela’s autobiography (Long Walk to Freedom) as one entry in their reference section. But, it seems they have never read it in depth. I quote one paragraph from this autobiography.

“Although the executive of the ANC did not allow white members, MK was not thus constrained. I immediately recruited Joe Slovo and along with Walter Sisulu, we formed the High Command with myself as chairman. Through Joe, I enlisted the efforts of white Communist Party members who had resolved on a course of violence and had already executed acts of sabotage like cutting government telephone and communication lines. We recruited Jack Hodgson, who had fought in World War II and was a member of the Springbok Legion, and Rusty Bernstein, both party members. Jack became our first demolition expert. Our mandate was to wage acts of violence against the state – precisely what form those acts would take was yet to be decided. Our intention was to begin with what was least violent to individuals but most damage to the state.”

Then, there was Oliver Tambo, who was the de-jure president of ANC (see the scanned Time magazine’s report of June 6, 1983), whose name has been omitted.

As for the LTTE’s three “most influential members”, the choice of Tjamanabalsingham (the authors couldn’t get the Tamil name Thanabalasingham, alias Chetti, correctly) and Colonel Karuna are as laughable, if one offers an answer to the ‘most influential members’ among early Christians as Jesus, Pontius Pilate and Judas! Or, if one offers an answer to the ‘most influential members’ among the patriots of American revolutionary war as George Washington, Crispus Attucks and Benedict Arnold!

That Bakker et al. had swallowed completely the facts  offered by Rohan Gunaratna on the LTTE, is distinctly visible, when one reads Gunaratna’s first book (War & Peace in Sri Lanka) published in 1987. On page 19, he had noted, “In 1975 Prabakaran who was a member of this group formed the Tamil New Tigers (TNT) under the leadership of Chetti Thanabalasingham. Later Prabhakaran assassinated his leader and took over the leadership.” Whether it was Prabhakaran or was it Kuttimani who killed Thanabalasingham on March 15, 1981, has not been clarified. M.R.Narayan Swamy in his book ‘Tigers of Lanka’ had noted that it was Kuttimani (page 42). The reason: Chetti was functioning as a key police informant.

What is significant is that, in his slender book (total of 84 pages, with the text material amounting to 73 pages), Rohan Gunaratna began his brief ‘Author’s note’ with a confession, as follows: “This report is neither an in depth analysis of Sri Lanka’s national question nor is it a scholarly work on the background to the Sinhala-Tamil crisis. This report reflect the personal views and the experiences of the author…” Then, with chutzpah, he had peddled his garbled LTTE history as an authentic material to analysts like Bakker  et al.Model of LTTE's resilience over time LTTE activity graph Bakke et al 2011

LTTE’s Activity Graph

Bakker et al. had provided an activity graph (‘operational activity’ in Y axis, with time in X axis), which I provide as a scan. It should be noted, that relevant units (such as number killed and maimed, or number of desertions in rival camp) are not clearly demarcated in this graph. LTTE aficionados will treat this graph as a joke! First, LTTE’s military activity peaked during 2000-2001, which has been muted in the graph. Secondly, the LTTE’s engagement with the Indian Army (IPKF) during 1987-90 has been omitted.

Lack of Optimal Controls

What is seriously missing in this theory of dark network resilience, is a proper control group. I, for one, would like to use the activities of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as an optimal control group. This is because, the operational activities attributed to MK and LTTE (such as sabotage of infrastructure, fighting war, assassinations, indoctrination and drug trafficking) have been recorded for CIA as well. (to be continued).

by Sachi Sri Kantha, December 5, 2011

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