Dealing with India’s Taliban - LTTE

A US think-tank has said in a report that the LTTE is India's Taliban, as much out of its control as are the Taliban in Pakistan. There is, however, one big difference. True, New Delhi trained and armed the LTTE to protect the Tamils in Sri Lanka, increasingly marginalized.

But India jettisoned the force in no time when it discovered that the LTTE had developed an ambition to carve out a territory from Sri Lanka to have an independent state of Eelam. New Delhi's purpose was to put pressure on Colombo to make it treat the Tamils on par with the majority, the Sinhalese. New Delhi never supported the LTTE's plan to carve out the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka to constitute an independent country. In fact, India supplied arms to Sri Lanka to make amends for the mistake of propping up the LTTE at one time.

Pakistan, on the other hand, owned and lionised the Taliban even when they took over Afghanistan after polluting the atmosphere with fundamentalism. It gave the Taliban government recognition straightaway. Islamabad did not realise that it had released a genie from the bottle until it began hurting the country. Pakistan army started action only after America put pressure and opened the tap for aid both for military and civil purposes. There are reports that the ISI still assists the Taliban and want them to capture Afghanistan to give Pakistan its "strategic depth."

One thing sure is that the LTTE, like the Taliban in Pakistan, is going to harass and hound Sri Lanka for a long time to come. The LTTE may go back to the guerilla warfare which Colombo had faced when the LTTE had begun its operations for the first time in the eighties. It may penetrate the Tamil population all over Sri Lanka. The military defeat is not enough, the LTTE has to be repulsed politically. In fact, the reverse of the LTTE had begun when the eastern province was wrested from its hands some four years ago. The rest was a matter of time.

It is unfortunate that both the DMK and the AIADMK, the two main parties in Tamil Nadu, have never sought a solution to the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka. The two have used it for their electoral purpose. They have now backed the demand for Eelam, without even thinking how embarrassingly dangerous it can be for their own country. How would they react if some foreign country were to say that it would like certain parts of India to be independent so as to accommodate one ethnic group or the other?

Understandably, the demand by DMK leader Karunanidhi and AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa is election rhetoric... But the effect on the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka has been devastating. The battle for votes may cost India dear.

LTTE cadres at training: New Delhi never supported the LTTE's plan to carve out the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka to constitute an independent country.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has somewhat saved the situation by criticizing the demand as inconceivable. He has rightly debunked the cry raised to have a Bangladeshi-type operation to establish Eelam in Sri Lanka because it was out of place and out of any norms. The new government at New Delhi should take the first opportunity to assure Sri Lanka, as has been done in the past, that as far as India was concerned it stood behind the united Sri Lanka.

This does not, however, mean that the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka has come to an end. Tamils, both in Sri Lanka and in Tamil Nadu, feel emotionally close to each other. But their aspirations are different. Tamils in Sri Lanka are loyal to it. Their only grievance is that they are not equal citizens in their own country. On the other hand, Tamils in India do not want Sri Lankan Tamils to feel that they have been abandoned. They want them well in their own country. But for that they must denounce the LTTE, a group of fanatics which is not possible when the stake is getting electoral support.

The sympathy which the people in Tamil Nadu have for the Tamils in Sri Lanka may go once Colombo finds a way to give the Tamils the feeling of equal citizens. I recall when the 13th Amendment was discussed in Colombo to decentralize power, the then President, Jayewardene, was very forthcoming. He told me that there was no discrimination against the Tamils and cited the example of Sri Lanka's Chief Justice at that time. He was a Tamil. Yet, such individual examples do not mean that the ethnic minorities enjoy the best of facilities in a state. It all depends on the majority. It has to make them feel that they are in no way inferior to members of the majority.

An agreement to transfer power to northern and eastern provinces, where the Tamils were in a majority, was signed in 1987. The 13th Amendment is all about it. But when it came to the implementation, very little was done. Even the moderate Tamils were thrown into the lap of the LTTE. Once again such an opportunity has come in the way of Colombo. It can retrieve the Tamils by empowering them.

Colombo itself concedes that the Tamils' problem is a political one. It should take the initiative to decentralise power and transfer it to the different provinces so that the country becomes a federation in the real sense. New Delhi will find it increasingly difficult to contain Tamils within India if Sri Lanka does not shed its military-like posture and does not think on the lines of converting the government it has into a federal structure.

At present a huge tragedy is being enacted in northern Sri Lanka, once the stronghold of the LTTE. Tens of thousands of civilians are caught between the advancing military and Tamil Tigers are using them as a human shield. The shocking pictures have reached the people all over the world through satellite. The UN has called it a "blood bath." Colombo does add to its jaded image by deporting British journalists who, however overzealous, were doing their professional job. The Sri Lanka media itself is under pressure. Colombo has had the world's support so far. It should not fritter it away by indulging in such things or violating human rights, the stories of which are in abundance.

The writer is a veteran Indian journalist and one-time Rajya Sabha member. He was also a fomrer diplomat.

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