INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR: PAPER NO. 525
Can the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) stage a come-back like the Baloch freedom movement did in Balochistan and the Taliban did in Afghanistan?
Unlikely. The late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto could destroy only the cadres of the Baloch freedom movement through his Army and Air Force. He could not destroy the leadership which managed to take sanctuary in Afghanistan and re-built the organization before starting a new phase of their freedom struggle. After re-organising their set-up, the old leadership handed over the leadership of the new organization to a new set of leaders, who are now leading what has come to be known as the Balochs’ third war of independence. The Americans could not destroy either the leadership or the cadre of the Taliban headed by its Amir Mulla Mohammad Omar. The Taliban avoided a frontal confrontation with the US-led forces. The leaders, including the Amir, took sanctuary in Pakistan and the cadres dispersed to their respective villages. After re-organising their set-up, the Neo Taliban as the re-organised Taliban has come to be known has resumed its operations in Afghan territory for the last three years. The Neo Taliban has benefited from the sanctuaries and assistance provided by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In the case of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Armed forces have not only neutralized a large number of its cadres, but they have also decimated the entire ground-based leadership. The LTTE benefited in the 1980s from the sanctuaries in India and from political and moral support provided by the Indian State. Its assassination of former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1991 has ensured that it will not get these benefits again. With its entire leadership gone and denied these benefits of sanctuaries and support from the Indian State, it will be very difficult to revive the LTTE as an insurgent-cum-terrorist organization.
Can the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora play a role in the revival of the LTTE?
The diaspora’s role in the past was limited to fund collection, arms procurement, shipping, lobbying, political consultancy and agitprop activities. After 9/11, fund collection and arms procurement had become increasingly difficult. This became almost impossible after the European Union (EU) countries declared the LTTE a terrorist organization and the US arrested a number of Sri Lankan Tamils and prosecuted them on a charge of attempted arms procurement for the LTTE. As a result, the diaspora may not be able to play the kind of role which it used to play in the past. But if another leader is to emerge and start a new freedom struggle as the Balochs have started, all this expertise in the diaspora will be available to him. Some highly qualified Tamils in the diaspora with access to important moulders of public opinion, non-Governmental organizations and legislators played an important role as political advisers to Prabakaran and as lobbyists for the Tamil Eelam cause. They will still be available to anyone who starts a new freedom movement. But the diaspora can play the same role as it was doing under Prabakaran only if there is the hard-core of an insurgent organization active on the ground in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka. It will take time for such a hard core to emerge. No other Army in the world has destroyed the leadership of an insurgent organisation as completely as the Sri Lankan Army has done except the Russian Army in Chechnya.
Will the end of the LTTE be the end of terrorism in Sri Lanka and against Sri Lankans?
Not necessarily. Individual, self-motivated terrorism could continue in some form or the other. Some of the most serious incidents of violence in the case of Khalistani terrorism took place after the successful attack by the Indian Army in the Golden Temple in June 1984 under Operation Blue Star. Examples: the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, by her own Sikh security guards, the assassination of Gen.V.S.Vaidya, who was the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) at the time of Operation Blue Star at Pune where he was living in retirement, the blowing-up of the Kanishka aircraft of Air India killing all the passengers, the unsuccessful attempt to blow up another Air India plane at Tokyo, the unsuccessful attempt to kill Jule Ribeiro, who was the DG of Police of Punjab, at Bucharest where he was posted as the Ambassador and the kidnapping of Liviu Radu, a Romanian diplomat posted at Delhi. The successful commando raid into the Lal Masjid in Islamabad in July,2007, has been followed by a wave of suicide attacks against the Pakistani Armed Forces, Police and the assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto. Sometimes, it takes years for such anger to subside. In Punjab, it took 11 years. In Pakistan, after two years, it has not subsided.
What will be the attitude of the international community---particularly the West--- to the successful operation by the SL Armed Forces?
No country in the world can criticize the successful action against the LTTE, a terrorist organization, and its leadership. At the same time, there has been considerable disquiet in the West over the reports of large-scale civilian casualties due to the use of air strikes and heavy artillery by the SL Army. The West considerably assisted the SL Army by banning the LTTE and dismantling its arms procurement and fund collection network. It has been greatly upset that the Sri Lankan Government showed total indifference to the concerns and entreaties of the West on the human rights situation and carried on a vilification campaign against Western NGOs and media. The Sri Lankan Government had imposed a total iron curtain in the Tamil areas similar to the iron curtain imposed by Russia in Chechnya. There are already demands in the West for an enquiry into the civilian casualties in order to determine accountability. It remains to be seen whether this demand picks up momentum or dies down now that the war is over.
What will be the next step of the diaspora?
It will concentrate its immediate efforts on getting an enquiry launched into the civilan casualties. After the Second World War, international support for the Jewish people and Israel increased tremendously when the extent of the atrocities suffered by the Jewish population at the hands of the Nazis came to be known. The Tamils in the diaspora are hoping that a similar revelation by an enquiry of the sufferings of the civilian Tamils during the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations could lead to a groundswell of support for the Tamil cause. (19-5-09)
(The writer is the Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )