by Col. R. Hariharan
Sri Lanka appears to be following Hindu philosophy’s four ways of dealing with people - Sama, Dana, Bheda and Dand - in defusing the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora’s potential to incubate separatist militancy of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) kind.
While Sama uses logical reasoning and common sense to explain one’s position, Dana is the classical carrot ploy of offering incentives – as Americans say ‘if you can’t win them, buy them.’ Bheda the third option is the one that politicians indulge all the time – create a split to win over a section. Dand, the last resort is to use force (or the stick, the other half of the proverbial carrot ploy).
The recent high profile public projection of the former LTTE international affairs representative and a high security prisoner Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) is apparently a part of Sri Lanka’s Bheda strategy. It fits in well with the larger Sri Lankan game plan to handle the Tamil Diaspora. Already it seems to have worked as a few known personalities of the Tamil Diaspora (who had supported the LTTE in the past) have agreed to join hands with KP and participate in the reconstruction process in the North.
KP had confirmed this in a series of media interviews recently. According to him his newly formed NGO outfit ‘The North-East Rehabilitation and Development Organisation' (NERDO) located in Vavuniya, was preparing to play a key role in the rehabilitation, reconstruction and resettlement processes. With years of overseas exposure in his LTTE days, KP had built influential Diaspora connections. While all of them may not join KP’s efforts, he seems to have thrown a spanner in the works of sections of the Diaspora to rebuild a unified organisation to carry forward the LTTE cause. Of course, hard boiled LTTE acolytes would now find justification to call him a quisling.
Justifying his action to collaborate with the government, KP said it was essential for Tamils to realise the ground realities in a post-LTTE era in the island nation and review its strategy to meet the new challenges. His said he was only “concerned about the welfare of the people, particularly children, though some seek fresh funding to cause mayhem. People are fed up with war and every effort should be made to alleviate their suffering without playing politics with a purely humanitarian motive.” This is so true. Logical reasoning with LTTE supporters had never worked successfully in the past when the LTTE’s flag was flying high. But words coming from a senior leader like KP in times of adversity would definitely create at least second thoughts in their minds.
In his interview, KP comes out as a man of sound common sense and pragmatism. He attributed the defeat of the LTTE to the change in global political leaders’ attitude to the LTTE after the 9/11 al Qaeda attack and the US led war on Jihadi terrorism in its wake. Prabhakaran did not realise the urgent need to change the LTTE strategy to suit the new environment. KP’s observation “there is a new world order today, which does not tolerate armed campaigns and that is the hard reality,” showed a realism much needed by those still voicing LTTE slogans.
The increasing public projection of KP in spite of his detention has caused uneasiness among Tamil politicians who consider it as Rajapaksa’s ploy to destabilise them. This fear is probably justified as KP is no ordinary prisoner. Normally as a member of the inner cabinet of Prabhakaran he should be cooling his heels in the Sri Lankan version of the Guantanamo Bay, where his former colleagues are awaiting prosecution. His arrest in Malaysia and rendition was the biggest story of the year after the defeat of the LTTE.
But even before KP completed his first year of imprisonment, rumours are thick that the elusive former chief arms procurer of the LTTE, may rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of Tamil militancy to join the political mainstream. And if the media space he is already hogging, even as a prisoner, is any indication the process for his political anointment has already started. It fits in well with a series of stories that started with his much publicised visit to Vanni in the company of Tamil Diaspora leaders to look at the state of rehabilitation and the formation of a NGO for canalising contributions from the Diaspora thereafter.
KP’s candid interviews bearing his views not only on the LTTE’s defeat and Tamils suffering but also his favourable comments on the Defence Secretary and the President came as icing on the cake of his publicity blitz. There is no doubt that KP’s privileged public access is part of a Sri Lankan game plan. However, his political rehabilitation may come through only after his evidence as a crown witness is fully milked during the prosecution of 737 LTTE hard core cadres in custody. This process could take a year to complete unless special courts are set up. If this surmise is correct, probably KP is slated to occupy a place in the political firmament in 2011.
Even before the war, Sri Lanka had embarked upon an effort to make it difficult for LTTE to retain its foothold in many countries. The President, prime minister, and the foreign minister in the past had stressed this aspect in their international visits and appearances. Apart from these efforts, Sri Lanka said it was launching with the help of INTERPOL a coordinated effort to dismantle LTTE’s international network. These efforts got a big push when Sri Lankan military intelligence recently unearthed highly classified documents and diaries of Castro, former head of the LTTE's international wing, at Viswamadu. These documents have provided details of LTTE international activists engaged in human trafficking, arms smuggling and financial bases in East Asia, Western Europe, Canada and Africa.
In this context it is interesting to note that the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa touched upon this aspect while addressing the Galle dialogue on maritime security conference over the week end. He said, “no matter how powerful we are individually, so long as we act in isolation, we will be ineffective against threats arising from the trans-national operations of non-state actors.”
Can Sri Lanka wean over the Tamil Diaspora from the Eelam cause and support to resurrection of Tamil militancy?
To answer yes to this question would be oversimplifying a complex problem compounded by uneven composition of the Diaspora. And it would also be ignoring the historical realities of how the Tamil Diaspora became the main supporters of Tamil militancy. The Tamil Diaspora is neither uniform nor clearly segmented in their support to the Eelam cause. Basically they act in two planes. One is on the emotional plane based upon their own bitter experience over the years, having lost their kith and kin. Their inability to directly go the aid of their kin when they are still suffering makes them angry now. Swayed by emotions on happenings in Sri Lanka the majority probably belong to this category. The Sri Lankan strategies aided by KP would probably work on this segment, provided political initiatives are also taken in tandem.
The other segment has a much deeper ideological belief in preserving the Tamil identity and creation the Tamil Eelam as the only process to do it. This segment has its origins even before the LTTE was born. This segment is deeply suspicious of majority Sinhalese’s political intentions due to historical experience. And it had been the fountainhead of separatism. It would probably be never wholly won over by the reasoning of the type KP dispenses. However, he may make a dent in its system of beliefs.
This segment needs political solutions to disprove their ingrained beliefs. These have not been forthcoming for the last three decades from successive Sri Lankan governments. And even now little has been done, other than talking about implementing even a half way house solution like the 13th amendment to the constitution.
Prof Rohan Gunaratne, Sri Lanka’s own high profile terrorism analyst of international repute, touched upon this home truth while speaking on post war challenges of Sri Lanka in Colombo last week. He said “failure of Sri Lankan leaders to govern a multi-ethnic and a multi-religious society since independence precipitated Sri Lanka’s ethno-political conflict. Sri Lanka ’s political masters compromised Sri Lanka’s long term national and strategic interests for short term political gain. Unless Sri Lankan politicians build the understanding to never again to play ethnic and religious based politics, poison the ground by radicalizing its youth, and reinforce ethnic and religious divisions, the country is likely to suffer a repetition of its unfortunate past.” The Sri Lanka government and the national leadership would do well to heed his words of caution as there is no indication they are attending to this vital aspect of political confidence building.
Unless this is attended to mere Machiavellian strategies in handling the Diaspora would not provide a satisfactory solution.
(Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Blog: www.colhariharan.org)