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The Spectre of Stalingrad

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The Battle of Stalingrad is considered the bloodiest battle with the largest battlefield casualties in the history of conventional warfare. Under a carefully worked out plan, the Soviet Army inveigled an advancing and over-confident Nazi Army into Stalingrad and then inflicted severe casualties on the Nazi Army. Many of those Nazi soldiers whom the Soviet Army could not kill were killed by "Gen.Winter". The entire Sixth Army of the Nazis was trapped by the Soviet troops with the help of "Gen.Winter" and destroyed.

As the battle began on July 17, 1942, the Nazi Disinformation machine worked overtime to tell an unsuspecting German people that the fall of Stalingrad and the collapse of the Soviet Army were imminent. The German people waited with bated breath for the news of the fall. "Within two days", they were told. Two days became two weeks. Two weeks became two months. Two months became seven months. The battle ended disastrously for the Nazis on February 2, 1943. This marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi dreams in the Second World War.

Is one seeing a mini version of Stalingrad in the battle for Kilinochchi, the current headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)? It is difficult to say on the basis of the scanty information available from the battle front. From even this scanty information, two things are clear: Firstly, the Sri Lankan Army, which senses victory against the LTTE, has been doing well, but not as well as it claims to be. Secondly, the LTTE has been doing badly, but not as badly as projected to be by the disinformation machine of the Sri Lankan Army . The LTTE has shown that there is still a lot of fight left in it-- and a lot of intelligence and innovative thinking.

But intelligence and innovative thinking alone cannot win wars without resources and the wherewithal. The LTTE is deficient on both counts. But it has shown itself to be as resilient as the Taliban in Afghanistan and as fiercely-motivated. In 2003, the Americans thought and claimed that they had finished the Taliban once and for all. Their facile assumptions proved to be wrong. The Taliban came back--as if it has risen from its much-proclaimed grave-- and has been moving forward relentlessly. Neither air strikes by the most powerful Air Force in the world nor heavy artillery strikes by the most powerful Army in the world have been able to stop its advance. Reluctantly, senior NATO military commanders in Afghanistasn have started admitting that the war against the Taliban is unwinnable and that one has to search for a political solution with neither victory nor defeat for either side. It has not only become unwinnable unless the Taliban commits some serious tactical mistakes, but is also likely to become increasingly unaffordable thanks to the financial and economic melt-down in the US and the rest of the world.

The LTTE is calculating that if it can keep fighting against the Sri Lankan Army for some more months, a prolonged war against the LTTE could become as unwinnable and as unaffordable for the rulers of Sri Lanka as a prolonged war against the Taliban for the NATO powers. The rulers of Sri Lanka are living in a fool's paradise if they think that China and Pakistan would come to their rescue if the government of India stops assisting them under pressure from public opinion in Tamil Nadu. The Pakistani economy is on the verge of a collapse. Even the Chinese were reluctant to help out their time-tested friend as they call Pakistan, as President Asif Ali Zardari found to his dismay when he visited China recently. The Pakistan Army is reeling under one set-back after another inflicted on it by the Taliban.To think that the Pakistan Army would rush to Sri Lanka to spite India would be the height of stupidity.

The Chinese, who are increasingly worried over the impact of the recession in the US on their manufacturing industries, which are heavily dependent on the US market, are hugging tight their foreign exchange holdings. They were reluctant to make any definitive commitment of help to Zardari. They are even showing a decline of interest in further developing the Gwadar port project. In a world beset with the most serious economic crisis it has known since the Great Depression of the 1930s, everybody, including China, is interested in saving every dollar and cent he can. Nobody wants a foreign adventure, which might drain off their depleting resources. If the Sri Lankan Army thinks that China would try to rush in if India stops helping, it is in for a disappointment.

The LTTE is calculating that if it can keep fighting against the Sri Lankan Army for some more weeks, "Gen.Monsoon" and "Gen.Recession" could put an end to the pipedreams of the Sri Lankan Army of a definitive victory over the LTTE.

Will its calculations prove right or will they be belied? Whatever happens, one thing seems likely-- there is going to be no definitive victory or no definitive defeat for either side in the on-going war.


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retired), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi. and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies

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