In this undated photo from the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry made available on Feb. 3, 2009, Brigadier Shavendra Silva is seen inspecting belongings believed to have been used by the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Prabhakaran, after the Sri Lankan army captured one of the main LTTE hideouts in Piramanthalkulama, close to Mullaitivu. The captured hideout is believed by the Sri Lankan army to have been used by Prabhakaran as a residential complex. (AP)
The moment of truth appears to have arrived for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Its fall could not have been more dramatic; a few days ago a few thousand people of Jaffna, on whose behalf the LTTE says it is fighting, wanted it to release the civilian population held as a human shield in a small area in the northeastern corner of the Northern Province. Far from saving the lives of over 2.5 lakh Tamils there as it claims to be seeking to do, the LTTE has put them in the line of fire that is directed against itself.
There were two other jolts for the LTTE. In Chennai, Dravida Munnetra Kazagham leader and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi reiterated that he does not support the LTTE that had weakened the Tamil resistance.
The European Union, Japan, Norway, and the U.S., the four co-chairs of the Oslo peace process 2002, called upon the LTTE to lay down weapons and surrender after accepting the amnesty offer put forth by the Sri Lanka government and prevent further loss of civilian life. It is an irony of fate that in 2002 the very same co-chairs had tacitly accepted the LTTE as the spokesman of the Tamil population at peace talks. Unfortunately, instead of vigorously pursuing the objective of getting the best devolution package through the talks, the LTTE focussed on building its armed strength with the trappings of a government — its own police, judiciary and administration. It did not matter that the LTTE had to leave to the Sri Lanka government the tasks of providing health care and supplying essential goods for the people living in areas under LTTE control.
Even while speaking of its own legitimacy to take over the administration of the north and the east under the interim self- governing authority proposal, the LTTE’s pistol groups went around killing scores of people, including Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and a General of the Sri Lanka Army.
When the tsunami came on Boxer Day 2005, thousands of Tamils perished. Their plight touched the whole world and money came pouring in from everywhere. It is true that the Sri Lanka government should share the blame for its failure to implement its agreement with the LTTE with respect to tsunami relief. But even as the LTTE was complaining loudly about that, it was trying to strike deals worth millions of dollars with illegal arms dealers abroad to procure advanced missile systems and other weapons. This came to light during a sting operation carried out by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation a year later.
The LTTE enjoyed an unprecedented level of support and goodwill among the people of Tamil Nadu during 1983. Despite its record of killing Tamil militant leaders of repute such as Sri Sabharatnam of the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and hundreds of cadres of other groups including the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), the Prabakaran mystique persisted and many Tamils ignored his seeming character aberrations.
However, the LTTE started dissipating its goodwill in India when it colluded with its "sworn Sinhala enemy," President Ranasinghe Premadasa, to get the Indian forces off its back and send them out of Sri Lanka. However, the LTTE did not use its newfound bonhomie with the President for the benefit of Tamils. Instead, it killed Premadasa after carrying out a bloodbath of thousands of cadres of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). Their only sin was that unlike the LTTE, they had accepted the Indo-Sri Lanka accord.
The LTTE relentlessly pursued the members of the EPRLF leadership who had taken refuge in India and killed many of them in Chennai. The final act of killing Rajiv Gandhi, the man who had proactively intervened in Sri Lanka to help Tamils, also killed Prabakaran’s equation with India. No amount of political or parochial rhetoric is going to repair the damage done to the LTTE’s image, particularly in Tamil Nadu, by that act.
Its failing fortunes in the present war have pushed the LTTE back to the position in which it was in 1987 — under mortal danger from the Sri Lanka security forces. It was India that rescued the LTTE then. Now that the LTTE is fighting for survival once again, its propaganda machine is asking the people of India to save Tamils in Sri Lanka. There is no sign of contrition on Prabakaran’s part for killing Rajiv Gandhi — which would have been the logical first step for mending fences with India.
But the LTTE, it seems, works on its own logic. Otherwise how do we understand its broadside against India even at this, its hour of need? The pro-LTTE TamilNet quotes an article saying, "It is an open secret that the present Indian Establishment, run by Sonia Congress, is waging its own proxy war in the island of Sri Lanka, concurrent to Colombo’s war against Tamil Nationalism. In its frustration arising from its incapability of achieving anything positively, India is not only heading for maintaining perpetual trouble in Sri Lanka, but also is inviting turmoil to a part of its own country."
Prabakaran seems to have forgotten his own statement on India in his last Heroes Day message wherein he said: "Our people always consider India as our friend. They have great expectations that the Indian superpower will take a positive stand on our national question." Is it all changed now when the LTTE talks of "India inviting turmoil to a part of its own country"?
The LTTE has to come to terms with the reality all over the world now. The world has lost its patience with terrorism. Most nations consider the methods used by organisations like the LTTE to be terror tactics. That was one of the main reasons for the LTTE’s downslide in the present war.
The time has come for the LTTE to give up war. It has to help the people rebuild their lives shattered by 25 years of war. Already hundreds of civilians have died in the artillery bombardment because the LTTE has not made up its mind to end the war that it is not winning. Prabakaran should act now and free them.
The way out for the LTTE is clear: Prabakaran should remove the fetters on the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), its political proxy in the Sri Lankan Parliament, and allow them to make meaningful contributions to bringing about peace. The LTTE probably knows that its final act will be over with an offensive launched by five to six divisions of the Sri Lanka security forces on its redoubt. Before that happens, the LTTE can do one act of goodwill by letting free the hapless population it is holding today.
(Colonel (retd) R. Hariharan served as head of intelligence with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka during the period 1987-1990. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )