Follow the Tiger

by Tisaranee Gunasekara

"The Stars are setting and the Caravan

Starts for the Dawn of Nothing –

Oh, make haste!"

Omar Khayyam (Rubaiyat)

Given its phenomenal success in such a short time (from international pariah to state-in-waiting in less than two years) the LTTE is eminently worthy of being emulated. The Tigers are poised to checkmate the Sri Lankan state and our only chance of reducing the magnitude of that defeat is to take a leaf from the LTTE’s own book.

The world can ignore a threat to the unity and territorial integrity of a small third world nation of no particular strategic value; it can even tell us that bifurcation is the price we have to pay for our inability/unwillingness to ensure the security of our minorities. But the world cannot ignore, cannot be seen to ignore the handing over of near absolute power to an entity which has not eschewed terrorism, abducts children, trains suicide bombers and murders political opponents.

That is why the anti-LTTE campaign we should wage in the coming weeks and months must focus not on the LTTE’s separatism, but on its continued use of terrorism, anti-democratic conduct and obvious unwillingness to play by the rules.

Throughout the ongoing peace process the Tigers have displayed a remarkable facility for projecting an image that is totally at variance with the reality by hiding their terrorism, maximalism and extremism behind a compellingly attractive veneer of civility, moderation and tractability. When it comes to creating mirages of peace amidst a martial and bloody reality the LTTE seems almost as good as the Nazis.

This yawning gap between propaganda and actuality, public image and reality is both the LTTE’s path to statehood and the main stumbling block along that path. If a serious, concerted and above all intelligent effort is made to expose this chasm, to reveal the Tigers to the world in their true form, then it might be possible to impede the LTTE’s forward march to some degree.

So, let’s learn from the Tigers. They, in the ongoing politico-propaganda war against the Lankan state have decided to focus on what they know to be their strongest point, given the perceptions, beliefs and biases of the international community - their status as a/the representative of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka. They have been superlative at hiding their own fascistic agenda behind a lot of words about devolution, autonomy, minority rights and the need for a political settlement that will provide a degree of self-rule and security to the people they claim to represent.

Weakest Link

Just as the Tigers are targeting their politico-propaganda attacks on our weakest and most vulnerable flank, we too should respond to the LTTE’s proposals in a way that will harm rather than help the LTTE. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and that is something all of us who do not wish to see the division of this country should bear in mind.

In our propaganda we should be able to differentiate what is achievable and what is not, what can be changed and what cannot. We cannot convince the international community that there is no ethnic problem or that July 83 riots did not happen (or that it was justified) - and we should not even try. At best the world will think that we are obdurate, at worst barbaric. We should not even try to argue the merits and de-merits, validity or otherwise of devolution, autonomy and power sharing in general or the LTTE’s proposals in particular. That is what the Tigers would want us to do, because they, with their knowledge of the world, understand that that is an argument we cannot win and they cannot lose.

Its time we learnt from the Tigers and focused our own politico-propaganda efforts on the LTTE’s weakest point. The Tigers’ Achilles heel is not their adherence to separatism (or as some would have it federalism or con-federalism); it is their continual adherence to terror tactics, their refusal to abide by democratic norms, their violation of basic human rights of the very people they purport to represent. That is why suicide bombers and child soldiers rather than the concept of homeland and historical records should form the main components of any successful anti-Tiger campaign.

Why did the US renew its ban on the LTTE? Not because the LTTE wants an interim administration or a federal solution or even a separate state. It is because the Tigers have continued to engage in terroristic and anti-democratic practices. As the press release of the US embassy clearly states, the ban was renewed because of "increased LTTE recruitment in Sri Lanka’s north and east, including of children, as well as kidnapping and extortion, especially of Muslims `85 and continued smuggling of weapons `85"

For the US and for the West, the war against terrorism is still a priority. As the US embassy press release points out " In the current international context, however, in which terrorism is being condemned in more and more countries, the LTTE should be especially vigilant about observing the terms of the ceasefire accord. If it does not, it will increase its international isolation `85" If we want to throw a spanner in the LTTE’s Eelam works, we should prove to the world that the LTTE while paying lip service to peace and democracy still engages in terror and anti-democratic activities. Let us remember that according to international law and norms separatism in not a crime but terrorism is.

In the last 22 months, the LTTE was able to move from success to success partly, because we in our cowardice and folly failed to effectively and consistently expose the glaring contradictions between LTTE’s peaceful and moderate words and its violent and terroristic deeds. If we continue to act in this manner, we will only help the Tigers to move towards their own state, faster, irrespective of whether we are peaceniks or anti-appeasement, whether we support or oppose the Tiger proposals.

Just as the Tigers have very cleverly and very successfully shifted the focus away from themselves and their activities to Tamil people and their rights and grievances, we, if we are to avoid disaster, have to shift the focus away from devolution and power sharing to the LTTE and its doings. The issue should not be the interim council or this or that form of power sharing; the issue should be the LTTE and whether the Tigers, given their continued violation of human and democratic rights should be granted legitimate power over the people of the North and East. That is the terrain on which the battle against the LTTE proposals should be fought.

The LTTE is still training suicide bombers; it has refused to disband the Black Tigers. The Sea Tiger chief Mr. Soosai in an interview with BBC’s Frances Harrison not only justified the use of suicide bombers but also boasted how the Black Sea Tigers have become an example to other terror groups including those who blew up USS Cole off Yemen. LTTE’s former spokesperson Doktor Balasingham publicly refused to accede to the US request to eschew violence. These undoubtedly are some of the factors which made the US renew its ban on the LTTE, thereby dealing the Tigers a severe blow. And these are some of the issues we should focus on and highlight in the coming weeks and months.

LTTE and not Devolution

So instead of opposing this or that power sharing agreement (or devolution in any or all forms), we should oppose the granting of power to an entity which still trains and harbours suicide bombers, abducts children and murders its political opponents. If such an entity is granted more power and money under some autonomy package, it is bound to use them to train more suicide bombers, abduct more children, buy more weapons and persecute and kill more political opponents. We should oppose the LTTE proposals on the basis that the power and legitimacy granted to the LTTE will be used to violate and not promote peace and democratic and human rights. Just as no sane person would agree to handover a kindergarten to a convicted child abuser who still engages in child abuse.

So we should move our anti-LTTE campaign from the general to the specific, from the abstract to the concrete, from the desirability or otherwise of devolution to the advisability of offering more power to an organization, which has not eschewed the use of terror tactics. That is a terrain that is structurally favourable to us and structurally unfavourable to the LTTE. Consequently that is the terrain on which we should wage the necessary struggle to prevent the bifurcation of this country.

The anti-LTTE campaign should thus concentrate not on political demands the LTTE is likely to make but on what the LTTE is actually doing on the ground, while making those demands. Like the fact that the very day after the Tigers ‘released’ 49 child soldiers amidst much fanfare they abducted more children from the Eastern province. That episode is symptomatic of what the LTTE is, the sadistic mockery with which it treats its undertakings and promises. And it can be used to prove the dangers of acceding to the LTTE’s demands for legitimate power - not because the interim council would amount to a de facto Eelam; but because it would hand over the people of the North and the East to an entity which is both fascistic and barbaric, which would persecute them and enslave their children in the name of liberty. So if we really want to hurt the Tigers, damage their credibility and counter their growing legitimacy we should ensure that there is maximum media exposure for the protesting parents of the abducted children - if necessary bring them to Colombo, organize press conferences, arrange for them to meet the diplomatic community.

The fact that the US decided to renew the ban on the LTTE demonstrates the existence of the potential to win the support of the international community for a certain type of anti-LTTE campaign. That campaign should have as its two prongs the LTTE’s terroristic and anti-democratic conduct. For example, one of its main demands can be the immediate disbanding of the Black Tigers. Such a demand would seem reasonable to the international community; even the pro-LTTE elements in the West would find it hard to oppose. Attention should also be focused on the LTTE’s abduction of children, killing of political rivals, and attacks on the Muslims in the East. Every abduction, ever killing, every attack should be highlighted and the parents of abducted children, anti-LTTE Tamil parties and Muslim community leader in the East should be provided with the facilities to present their case to the international community.

Such a campaign will put the LTTE on the defensive. It will expose the terroristic and anti-democratic nature of the LTTE by compelling the Tigers to reject requests which would seem reasonable to the world - such as the disbanding of Black Tigers. The resulting international condemnation and isolation can be the beginning of the end of the Tigers.