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Is the LTTE in Decline, and what comes after?

I had commented earlier that HLD Mahindapala has of late been writing obituaries of the LTTE. His latest effort is in the article given below in which he repeats this in a very definitive way, in addition to many other points that he has already made. I sincerely hope that he is correct about this claim about the decline of the LTTE. While the exit of the LTTE (q.v) from the political scene in Sri Lanka is welcome there is no ground to assume that what will succeed this, with the non-LTTE Tamils in charge, is necessarily an improvement from the perspective of the long-term interests of Sri Lanka. However the immediate problem is to examine HLD's claim that the LTTE is in irreversible decline.

HLD says that the "Tigers have lost their commanding grip on the Tamil people". What I am interested in is the evidence for this statement. HLD mentions the proliferation of anti-Tiger websites but this is no real indicator as websites can be easily set up. The publicly declared opponents of the Tigers like Sangaree, Karuna, Devananda, etc. were there even when the LTTE had their commanding grip. Tamils fleeing the Vanni may not indicate disenchantment with the LTTE but only a reflection that living conditions have become intolerable for a variety of reasons. It does not necessarily show a "vote of no-confidence on the prestige, the power and the image of the Tigers". The fact is that even if we have a referendum amongst the Tamils, and it shows a majority against Prabhakaran, this itself may not prove anything, given the proverbial deviousness of the Tamils.

HLD quotes as proof of the decline of the LTTE the evidence that many Tamils are defying LTTE orders. For instance it is said that many Tamils use Navy provided ferries for travel between Jaffna and Trincomalee. This may well be true, but even those defying the LTTE in this regard may not necessarily be averse to the LTTE. They may have to undertake this journey and the LTTE is not providing the means of transport so they use the services provided by the Navy. What it shows is that their need to travel is greater than following LTTE rules but they may still believe that only the LTTE can secure the Tamil homeland.

One objective indicator of LTTE decline is their recent loss of territory. A string of military reverses from Mavil Aru to Thoppigala have shrunk the territory under LTTE control. But this has taken place in the East where the split between Prabhakaran and Karuna has turned the tide against the LTTE even without GOSL (q.v) intervention. If GOSL had marched in the opposite direction towards Killinochchi, Mullaitivu and Elephant Pass, and made significant gains, then we could have considered it a serious "decline" for the LTTE. This may still happen, but until it does it may be premature to start writing the LTTE obituary.

Suppose that the LTTE declines and declines and declines, as HLD says, until it vanishes from the political scene altogether. Does this mean that the separatist problem is solved? We must remember that the separatist problem started with Chelvanayakam and his demand for a "Tamil Arasu" or Tamil state. Even after his demise the TULF, as the successor to Chelvnayakam's Federal Party, reiterated its demand for a Tamil homeland in its so-called Vadukkodai resolution. In fact the TULF took a more extreme position than the Federal Party of Chelvanayakam. So if the LTTE were to vanish from the scene we will still be left with the TULF, and others like Karuna, Devananda etc. whose position does not appear to be different on the Tamil homeland question. We must remember that Sangaree has opposed the Supreme Court decision declaring that the union of the Northern and Eastern Provinces to be unconstitutional. Moreover they will get even more backing from the International Community than the LTTE was able to secure. So HLD celebration of the decline and decline of the LTTE is somewhat premature if we realize that the problem for Sri Lanka is not merely defeating the LTTE but defeating separatism itself.

I find it surprising that HLD like most of the patriot lobby (q.v) condemn the Chandrika-RanilW regime for negotiating the CFA (q.v) which gave the de facto Eelaam to the LTTE but not the MahindaR regime which has continued to "uphold" the CFA and shows no sign if nullifying it by the simple expedient of giving two weeks notice to the SLMM (q.v) to terminate the agreement. The UNP regime of RanilW is now history, and many stalwarts of the UNP have joined the MahindaR government. In fact the MahindaR regime is fact inheriting all the previous political position of he defunct UNP regime.

There is no doubt that the LTTE is now facing serious difficulties, but these are not necessarily due to the doings of GOSL, but of the War on (Islamic) Terror launched by George Bush and his allies. While not directed specifically at the LTTE the new atmosphere of anti-terrorism has been a serious impediment to the LTTE, as they have got caught up with the new anti-terror laws and rules against money laundering etc. But despite this the LTTE seems to have weathered the new anti-Terrorist climate quite well. It is still operating even in those countries that has banned it, and of course it is not banned in Sri Lanka.

According to HLD the de facto Eelaam has been made into a "Terroristan" with its inhabitants yearning to be liberated by GOSL. But what GOSL is doing is not "liberating" them, as they so dearly wish, but trying to engage in negotiations with their oppressor Prabhakaran, the "Sun God"! Instead of engaging in this kind of wishful thinking what needs to be done is to consider what will happen if HLD's fervent wish for the downfall of Prabhakaran and his LTTE were to come to pass. It is to this question that we have endeavoured to shift attention as no clue regarding it can be found in HLD's writing.

Victor Gunasekara

Decline & Decline of the Tamil Tigers

by H. L. D. Mahindapala

Asian Tribune : 2007-03-18

The increasing anti-Tiger forces within the Tamil community make one thing very clear: the Tamil Tigers have lost their commanding grip on the Tamil people. Even in the Tamil diaspora where the Tigers have their strongest base a plethora of anti-Tiger websites and organizations have cropped up to undermine the dominant voice of Tiger activists. The available evidence confirms that the monolith of the Tigers has fragmented and it is not confined to V. Anandasangaree, Douglas Devananda and Karuna Amman. It has percolated down to the grassroots making the politico-military perch of the Tigers rather precarious.

They are no longer sure as they were once because of the unsettling undercurrents operating in their own backyard. For instance, in the north the Tigers have imposed a ban threatening the Tamils not to go on board Sri Lankan vessels transporting civilians from Jaffna to Trincomalee. S. P. Thamilselvan, LTTE Political Head, warned that "the civilians travelling by boats between the North and East would become a legitimate military target if they were suspected of carrying Sri Lankan troops." But the Daily Mirror (March 13, 2007) reported that "a large number of civilians are waiting to travel using the sea route between Jaffna and Trincomalee despite the LTTE warning that they should not use it." Quoting a military official it said that during the week, "about 1,000 civilians including women and children travelled from Kankesanthurai to Trincomalee using the sea route by the Passenger Ferry, 'Jetliner' ". "Civilians are not ready to listen to LTTE threats anymore and they continue to use the sea route under the Navy's security," said the military official.

Clearly, the Tamil civilians are thumbing their noses at Thamilselvan. His voice has less power to control the people of Jaffna than the power and the ability of the Sri Lankan Navy to give what the people of Jaffna need. According to official figures, 11,086 civilians from Jaffna have been transported in Sri Lanka Navy vessels. Thamilselvan is bent on keeping Jaffna under siege conditions for the Tigers to exercise their power and impress the Western diplomats that the Tamils are behind them en masse and, therefore, they can dictate terms to the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government. But the Jaffna Tamils are sending another message: they are telling Thamilselvan to go to hell.

These acts of defiance are proliferating which would effectively diminish and undermine the power and authority wielded by the Tigers in the past. The Daily Mirror also reported that on a tip off given by a Tamil civilian troops recovered one suicide jacket, six hand grenades, two T-56 weapons, four magazines with seventy ammunition, one cyanide capsule and two military type uniforms from KUPPILAN area in JAFFNA – the heartland of the Tamils. (March 12, 2007). This confirms what Maj-Gen. Janaka Perera, the commander who threw the Tigers out of Jaffna in 1995, told me. He said that he could have not driven the Tigers out nor held Jaffna for long if the Tamil people were not with the Sri Lankan forces, albeit covertly and silently.

The situation is far worse for the Tigers in the east. The Karuna factor, combined with the rising people's pressure in the east, has made the Tiger presence in the east untenable. Perhaps, more than the Karuna factor, the fall of Vaharai, can be attributed to Tamil people abandoning the Tigers and defiantly crossing over to the government-controlled areas. The Tamil exodus is a demonstrable vote of no-confidence on the prestige, the power and the image of the Tigers who have been parading as "the sole representative of the Tamils".

The exodus in the east signifies that the Tamil civilians are no longer enamoured of Prabhakaran's war which is supposed to be waged on behalf of the Tamils. By marching out they have demonstrated that they are only too willing to abandon the Tigers at the first available opportunity. The Tigers put maximum pressure on the Tamil civilians to retain them as human shields but the mounting pressure of the Tamil civilians was greater and the Tiger had to let them go eventually. It is an ominous sign for the Tigers whose hit-and-run terror tactics depend primarily on the consent of the people.

In addition to these ground realities, the ideological and the political waves on which the Tigers rose to power have waned considerably. Prabhakaran who was riding these waves have not yet realized that these waves peaked on February 22, 2002 with the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) – an instrument of political power which was handed over by Ranil Wickremesinghe, the then Prime Minister, to legitimize Velupillai Prabhakaran's one-man regime in Vanni. In return Prabhakaran rewarded him by doing what the voters of Sri Lankan were rather reluctant to do: drive Wickremesinghe into the political wilderness which is likely to be his permanent address in the foreseeable future.

The Tiger tendency to overrate their actions and underestimate the reactions has cost them dearly. They hoped to reap political benefits by passing a political death sentence on Wickremesinghe. But it boomeranged on them in much the same way as the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. These two events stand out as the two biggest blunders in Tiger politics. However, hardly anyone is complaining about what happened to Wickremesinghe because Prabhakaran and Wickremesinghe deserve each other. Their political rivals would readily agree that they should be allowed to stew in their own political juices.

Embracing bogus theories of "confidence-building" Wickremesinghe became a willing signatory to the CFA promoted by his NGO "catchers", principally Bradman Weerakoon, his secretary, who draws his pay cheque (when he is not in government service) from the anti-Sinhala-Buddhist and pro-Tamil ICES founded by Neelan Tiruchelvam. Moral: If you want to know where your leader is going just take a close look at the direction from which his secretary is coming!

Prabhakaran too misread the CFA. He thought it gave him the international licence to take the law into his hands and defy both national and international norms which were standing in his way to achieve his ultimate goal of Eelam. With his blinkered vision he went all out to undermine the instrument that gave him the power that he never had before. Between the two of them they worked for each other's decline. Wickremesinghe was ousted by Chandrika, his childhood mate who used the CFA to hit him hard on his head. Prabhakaran too was undone by the CFA when he used it as a stepping stone to unleash his escalated violence to further expand his territorial and political power with the connivance of Erik Solheim, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Had he operated within the parameters of the CFA he would not have been in this position today, banned by the international community, plagued by desertions and splits, abandoned by disillusioned Tamil people and struggling desperately to reclaim the power and the territory that was handed to him on a CFA platter and lost subsequently due to his own arrogant, unrelenting violence. India, Norway and his other assorted allies in the NGOs who have rushed to rescue him with various formulas and agreements have failed and will fail because Prabhakaran is his worst enemy. Prabhakaran has gone beyond the optimum will of the Tamil people into a demonic black hole of his own creation which demands insatiable blood sacrifices from the dwindling Tamil population.

More than anything else, Prabhakaran is now seen as the embodiment of just not Tamil fascism – there has always been a strain of fascism in peninsular politics, starting from the upper-caste fascism of the feudal age to the low-caste fascism of Prabhakaran – but also that of the dehumanizing politics rejected by the civilized world down the ages. The cruel concentration camps hidden in the Vanni, the abduction of children, the persecution of Tamil adults, the elimination of Tamil dissidents make Pol Pot look like a later day saint. After anointing himself as "Sun God" he has turned the Vanni into a mass slave camp where the Tamils are forced to dance to his drumbeat.

All the conceivable evils of Jaffna jingoism that went horribly wrong are concentrated in the essence of Prabhakaran's violent politics. Through his intransigent politics he has descended to such low depths that he is incapable of taking any remedial measures to save himself or the Tamil people. He has dragged the Tamil people to depths of despair with no promise of relief except more blood, death and destruction. The Tamils who were shrewd enough to understand that their salvation was in economic growth – and they were very successful in going down that path – were misled by their misguided leaders down an unattainable political path that has ruined their image, deprived them of their rights, and their gains of the past. The Tamils today are floundering in this failed political experiment not knowing how to get out of it.

Worst still, they are in the grip of a political Frankenstein. The Tamils had never faced a grim and humiliating situation of this magnitude under what they called "the Sinhala-dominated government". In his over-ambitious drive to be "the sole representative of the Tamils", which means eliminating all other Tamil rivals, Prabhakaran has never hesitated to wear the iron fist and the jackboots to keep the Tamils in line. Unlike the Tamils, the "Sinhala-dominated governments" (their phrase) have resisted both Sinhala and Tamil forces threatening illegal grabs for power from peripheral forces using violence. And this has been achieved without turning the state into an authoritarian regime. Even under extreme violent conditions, facing right-wing coups, left-wing uprisings and separatist ethnic violence, "the Sinhala-dominated governments" have maintained a democratic balance which, by any standards, is remarkable for a Third World country.

But in the very first experiment of Tamils running their own administration under their own leadership they have failed to maintain the elementary civic decencies prevailing even in primitive societies. They set out to establish their ideal state which they said could not be attained under a "Sinhala-dominated government". The deluded Tamils in the diaspora invested millions in what they call a "de facto state" which has turned into a political nightmare for the Tamils. This de facto state (a euphemism for the first Sri Lankan concentration camp) is in a pathetic condition unable to even provide an aspirin or a grain of rice to the Tamils. But they neverfail to raise a howl if the "the Sinhala-dominated government" fails to provide the basic essentials to the Tamils in the "de facto state".

It is the primary duty of a state – de facto or de jure – to care for the people and to protect them from persecution, oppression and fascist jackboots. If they claim it is a de facto state then they must accept all the responsibilities and the duties of a state. After all a de facto state should be as good as a de jure state when it wields power in caring for the people. It should be held responsible in the same way as a de jure state. If the pro-Vanni propagandists and the NGO pundits accept Prabhakaran's one-man regime as a de facto state then they cannot pass the buck to the de jurestate and absolve the de facto state from the responsibility of serving the needs of the Tamil people.

Besides, if they state that it is responsibility of thede jure state to care for the people of the de facto state then they must accept its corollary that the jurisdiction of the de jure state should reign supreme over the mythical de facto state. Having said that, it must also be recognized that the Tamils, wherever they are, remain as citizens of the Sri Lankan government and it is the responsibility of this de jure government to care for them. And despite many obstacles thrown in its path it has seldom failed to honour its responsibilities.

UN experts on civil wars in other regions have commended the Sri Lankan governments for being unique in caring for those held in rebel-held territories. Whatever the changing criteria of a successful / failed state may be the bottom line is that a state which cannot provide security or the basic necessities of its citizens does not have a right to exist, be it de facto or de jure. Those pundits who describe or accept the Vanni regime as ade facto state has never condemned it as a failed (de facto) state.

But the democratically elected state which provides free education free health services, free social services etc., is condemned as a failed state. If so why is it that the vast majority of the Tamils (and all the NGO pundits) prefer to live in the "failed state" and not in the successful de facto state? These pundits are like those who praised the states in the Soviet bloc as the ideal states while condemning the states of the Western bloc as failed political entities, though, of course, none of them ever dared to live in the successful socialist states of the Soviet bloc. For instance, Picasso, a card-carrying member of the Communist Party painting doves for the Soviet Union, lived happily in Paris!

This is where the politics of "the Sinhala-dominated government", with all its faults, is morally superior to the perverse politics of the de facto state of the Tamil propagandists. Their de facto state is not only incapable and/or refusing to the supply the essentials to its people but also obstructing the supplies of goods and services sent by the de jure government to the Tamil people. In any case, the fallacies of all the arguments of the de facto state stand exposed when Daya Master of the Tiger hierarchy is rushed by "the Sinhala-dominated government" for urgent medical treatment.

The "Sinhala-dominated government" is also superior in that it is fighting tenaciously to remove the road blocs put up by Terroristan so that the supplies of the goods and the services can be delivered to the Tamil people. Besides, the humanitarian crises that the diplomats, the Churches and the NGO cry about are creations of the Tamil Terroristan. The Vanni de facto Terroristan creates the crises to reap political and military gains and when the de jure state moves to overcome these crises they are blamed for not appeasing the obstructionists in the Vanni.

To the credit of the "Sinhala-dominated governments" it must recorded that they have never gone to the extent of denying the fundamental rights as in the Terroristan of the Tigers in the Vanni which prohibits the ownership of even a telephone, or the right of a child to go to school instead of attending Tiger camps. It is the iron fist and the jackboots of Prabhakaran that have made "the Sinhala-dominated government" more acceptable to the oppressed Tamils agonizing under a pseudo-Eelamist experiment that has crushed them like insects pinned by Prabhakaran when he was conducting his experiments in killing as a school boy. Unlike other revolutionary leaders Prabhakaran did not embrace violence through an ideology. He was born violent, according to his Indian biographer. Nor is he endowed with a democratic personality to accept dissent and liberal politics. He is an authoritarian figure who must live by the sword and, if the Biblical prophesy is correct, die by the sword.

There isn't a more telling symbol that embodies his authoritarian politics of violence than the flag he designed with an Indian street artist in a street in Chennai, S. India. His stunted imagination could only conceive of a tiger roaring like the MGM lion through a ring of 33 bullets, crossed over head with two guns fixed with bayonets. The abject poverty of his intellect and imagination is expressed in these stark and brutal images without any accompanying humane symbols. Is this the flag that the Tamils are going to wrap round them as their ultimate expression of civilized human beings? Undoubtedly, the Tiger flag is truly representative of Prabhakaran and all what he represents. But is it representative of the Tamils who like to parade, from time to time, as Gandhians? Can the Tamils follow a man who has designed a crude flag only for violence?

The Tamils today are stranded on the ruins and ashes of the failed political experiment symbolized in their crude flag.