By Izeth Hussain –
It has to be expected that after the Kosgama explosions most Sri Lankans will wonder whether the fell hand of the LTTE was behind them. That might be irresponsible speculation, but not if it is seen in the perspective of what was revealed, prior to the explosions, in the US State Department’s annual Report on terrorism. The crucially significant detail is that the LTTE has continued to get funds from its supporters in the West and elsewhere and has used those funds to purchase weapons. It reported also that LTTE members had been arrested in Malaysia in connection with plotted terrorist activity against the US and Israel in South India. We can assume, however, that the major objective behind the LTTE purchase of weapons would be for possible action in Sri Lanka.
Even if it turns out that the LTTE had absolutely nothing to do with the Kosgama explosions, we still have to consider the significance of those weapons purchases. A possible reason could arise out of the prevailing expectation of an agreement between the Government and the TNA about a political solution. If that materializes, the LTTE could leave behind a very horrible record for posterity: it could come to be seen as the greatest disaster that befell the Tamil people in their millennial history.
First of all, let us consider the credit side of its record. Discrimination against the Tamils reached its apogee with standardization of university entrance in 1971, and State terrorism sank to its worst abysmal depth in 1983. Tamils were burnt alive in the streets of Colombo with total impunity, a demonstration that they could be treated as worse than pariah dogs. When President JR addressed the nation, five days after the commencement of the riots, he horrified the rest of the world by striking a triumphalist note. The Tamils were put in the position of having to fight to affirm their humanity. The LTTE did so on behalf of the Tamils, and put up a performance as a guerilla force that was beyond comparison. That is how most of the rest of the world outside Sri Lanka sees that performance, while not approving of the quest for Eelam.
The debit side of the record began in 1994 with the LTTE rejecting every offer of a political solution, including an offer of federalism. It made the international efforts at mediation look farcical. On the military plane, it swallowed whole the myth of its own invincibility and sank to total defeat in 2009. The death tally was horribly disproportionate: 25,000 on the Sinhalese side and 75,000 on the Tamil side. During the period 2006 to 2009 it was seen that that though the LTTE had enormous prowess on the battle-field it had failed to understand that it could not win a conventional war against the Sri Lankan armed forces. The essential conditions for successful guerilla warfare were not available to it. After the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, South India was no longer available as its hinterland, and the terrain for hit-and-run guerilla warfare was too limited in Sri Lanka, so that it found itself compelled prematurely to fight a conventional war that it could not possibly win. The myth of invincibility – the LTTE’s hubris – was behind its final military failure.
By 2009 the image of the LTTE was far distant from that of a liberating national movement. It had more than a savage streak for that, a savagery shown both towards the non-Tamils and the Tamils. There was for instance the killing of 600 policemen who had surrendered. There was also the expulsion of around 80,000 Muslims from the North, which has been classified as the only act of genocide in the quarter century war. It may be that some Muslims were engaged in espionage as alleged by the LTTE. But why was it necessary to expel 80,000 inclusive of women and children, at the notice of less than 24 hours, and with not much more than the clothes on their backs? More than a touch of savagery is indicated there. It is known that LTTE rule over the Tamils who were at their mercy was absolute and brutal. It is not just that child soldiers were used by the LTTE: the greater horror is that many were kidnapped and forcibly conscripted against the wishes of the parents. I wonder whether there is any parallel in history to the LTTE using around 330,000 fellow Tamils as human shields in the final days of the war. Now details are coming out about instructions given to LTTE cadres to shoot fleeing Tamils on their legs.
So, the LTTE which – for its devotees – began with the image of noble and courageous fighters for justice for an oppressed people ended the war with the image of gory savages who brought unparalleled disaster for that people. It would be understandable therefore if it now wants to redeem its image to the extent that might be possible, and that the weapons purchases have something to do with that. What might be its program? I think that it can be ruled out that the LTTE is so foolhardy as to start another war for Eelam. Its program – assuming for the moment that there is one – could have something to do with the core problem for the hard-line Tamils: to get not just fair and equal treatment for the Tamils but a very wide measure of devolution amounting to a confederal arrangement in lieu of Eelam. That is not something on which a Government in Colombo can ever be expected to deliver. Perhaps the LTTE wants to show – by engaging in hit-and-run destructive forays – that the alternative to a confederal arrangement might be too costly. We have to speculate because we have to try to make sense of the LTTE weapons purchases – while hoping that it’s a temporary aberration with no great significance for the future.
In recent articles I have been stressing the crucial importance of the international dimension of the ethnic problem, in which connection I have argued that Tamil Nadu is the core factor. I must make some clarifications as my argument could be misunderstood. Firstly, it is cold sober undeniable fact that we don’t have a purely indigenous Tamil ethnic problem. If there were no Tamils in Tamil Nadu, if there were no fall-out there from what is done to the Tamils here, there would be no Tamil ethnic problem that concerns the international community. Tamil Nadu is therefore the core problem in that factual sense. Secondly, Tamil Nadu can be more sympathetic towards our Tamils than Delhi because of commonalities of religion, language, and culture. Thirdly – and this is the crucial point – that does not mean that Tamil Nadu will go along with our Tamils on everything. The reason is that the two groups of Tamils are distinct, not identical, which means that their interests may not coincide at every point. I first argued the third point in a seminar paper presented sometime around 1990 – the first attempt at a systematic analysis of the Tamil Nadu factor in our Tamil ethnic problem. I believe that my argument was substantiated by developments after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, and I believe that it remains valid today. I don’t therefore anticipate really substantial support from Tamil Nadu for a recrudescence of violent LTTE militancy. The support from the rest of the international community will be even less. But to ensure that our Governments must be seen to be giving fair and equal treatment to the minorities.