Following my brief account of the history of Sri Lanka yesterday, I want to continue and talk about the LTTE. The LTTE stands for the L
igers for T
elam. I must warn you guys, this is going to be a long post !
The very mention of the LTTE polarize people's opinions. The LTTE is either vilified beyond reason as a terrorist organization that kills politicians, recruits children and makes its soldiers soulless. And the other section of people think of the LTTE as a romantic organization to be compared with the likes of Che Guevera and Fidel Castro's organization. What is this organization, that provokes such passionate opinions and feelings ? And what do they stand for ? ... No account of the LTTE can be made before explaining the Dravidian politics of Tamil Nadu first.
I grew up in the state of Tamil Nadu, in India. My state has had a history of dravidian chauvinism with ethnic Tamils (Dravidians) considering themselves oppressed by the invading Northerners (read Brahmins/Aryans). No matter that the Brahmins have been in Tamil Nadu for hundreds of years. This passion for the Dravidian heritage led to the formation of the Dravida Kazhagam (DK) and its progeny, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (ADMK). These parties were started with the fundamental purpose of protecting ethnic Tamil culture from the North. Its interesting that now a Brahmin (Ms. J. Jayalalitha) runs the ADMK !
To some extent, this attitude was probably justified, considering the complete lack of importance given to the Southern States by successive Congress Governments at the federal level.
The leaders of the Dravidian movement included such stalwarts as Periyar and Anna. They succeeded in capturing the people's imagination and movements were made to ban the teaching of Hindi in schools.
Since the inception of Sri Lanka, its premiers surrounded themselves with Buddhist advisors who advised them to marginalize the Tamil minority. This was achieved by making Sinhalese the official language and introducing difficulties for Tamils who wanted to get jobs with the government. This resentment gradually grew to the extent where the minority, in the absence of a political and peaceful alternative, chose the route of violence and militantism, through the formation of the LTTE.
It is no secret that several top politicians of Tamil Nadu have supported the LTTE through the ages, including Mr. Karunanidhi (There were even rumors at one point that MK was behind the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi - Total hogwash in my opinion), Mr. V. Gopalaswamy (MDMK premier who was put behind bars for his speeches in support of the LTTE), Mr. Veeramani etc ...
The formation of the LTTE as an armed organization was inevitable considering the situation Tamils found themselves in.
The LTTE was formed on May 5, 1976, under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran, and is the most lethal, well organised and disciplined terrorist force in the world. Headquartered in the Wanni region, Prabhakaran has established an extensive network of checkpoints and informants to keep track of any outsiders who enter the group's area of control.
The organization has two parts, a military wing and a political wing. Both these wings are overseen by Prabhakaran (henceforth referred to as VP).
The military wing consists of the following units
Air Tigers (Airborne)
Sea Tigers (Amphibious Unit, lead by Soosai)
Elite Unit (Charles Anthony Regiment)
Black Tigers (Suicide Squad)
The political wing is led by Anton Balasingham, LTTE’s ideologue based in Switzerland.
Estimates on cadre strength range from 7,000 (LTTE official numbers) to 18,000 (Sri Lankan government claims). Each cadre is mentally toughened to the extent that they do not fear death. Each of them has a cyanide pill around his or her neck that they consume if there is a chance they would be caught.
The induction of women and children into the fighting force began when the IPKF from India inflicted severe casualties on the male regiments. Most of the children inducted into the war were graduates of a “Tiger Cub” training camp based in Pondicherry. The camp was focused on physical strength training and not military training, which meant that these children were being thrown into war against the highly trained IPKF and Sri Lankan army. Consequently, 60% of the casualties were of children less than 18 years of age.
Women in the LTTE are forced to suppress their femininity and sexuality, which is regarded as a crime and an evil force that could sap their strength. Marriage is not allowed for women cadres up to the age of 25 and for men up to the age of 28.
A typical unit of children was trained for four months in the jungle. Woken at 0500hrs they assembled, fell in line, and their leader raised the LTTE flag. This was followed by two hours of physical training, after which the recruits engaged in weapons training, battle and field craft, and parade drill. During the rest of the afternoon, time was spent both reading LTTE literature and more physical training. Lectures on communications, explosives and intelligence techniques continued into the evening. No contact was permitted between the camp and the children's homes during the training period. Sleep and food were regulated during training to build endurance.
After 1990, when children were pitched into battle against Sri Lankan forces, the LTTE made training tougher. The military office of the LTTE headed by Wedi Dinesh developed a training programme that would make the child fighters even more daring than adults. This included the screening of Rambo-style videos in which the daredevil approach is invariably successful. The trained child fighters were also prepared for battle by attacking unprotected or weakly defended border villages. Several hundred men, women and children have been killed by LTTE child combatants armed with automatic weapons guided by experienced fighters during such 'inoculation attacks'.
The LTTE is funded through three sources, none of which have been clearly documented. The first one is the vast Tamil diaspora around the globe (Especially Switzerland, Scandinavia and Canada). The second one (Never proven) is drug running (cocaine) from Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, southern China, Afghanistan and Pakistan
The LTTE also operates a vast shipping network, which is used to run arms from Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, Burma, Turkey, France, Italy and Ukraine.
The LTTE has almost complete control of the Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka and have set up their own parallel administration with courts, revenue collectors and other administrative units.
So, is the LTTE right in doing what they are doing ?
Its obviously not an easy question to answer. My gut feeling is the VP had his heart in the right place when he started the LTTE, with its armed struggle. However, somewhere along the road, they lost focus. They crossed all limits on what they would accept in order to achieve the goal of Eelam, the separate Tamil State.
Widespread, indiscriminate killing, child soldiers, drug running, arms running, suicide bombing – None of these can be condoned as the means to an end.
In addition, the LTTE is not an organization for the peace time – They are an organization that have been built solely for the purpose of war. And in the last two years, rifts within the organizational structure have been cropping up, one of the consequences of which was the expulsion of Colonel Karuna from the LTTE leading to a split in the LTTE.
The reason for the assassination of Kadirgamar might have been simply to occupy the mind of the LTTE cadres and remind them that their struggle is not over yet.
How will this situation ever be resolved ?
The LTTE has ascendance over a large part of Northern Sri Lanka, but what is the long term plan ?
And if you come to think of it, what is the best case scenario for the LTTE ? Lets assume they get Eelam – Is that the end of all problems ? I would argue that it would be the beginning of a whole series of problems including how to manage LTTE cadres in the peacetime, jumpstarting the economy in the absence of drugs and arms trading, restoring diplomatic contacts with the rest of the world, including, most importantly, India.
The LTTE started off well and had a lot of people rooting for them. However, they have squandered this goodwill through pointless assassinations and killing. And this assassination of Kadirgamar, a decent man is the last straw. Of course, it might have been carried out by a maverick unit within the LTTE, but overall, VP has to take the responsibility for it.
Halfway through their journey, the LTTE started moving in the wrong direction, fed by desperation, passion and maybe pure bravado. Having started down the wrong path, they have put in place elaborate measures to sustain that flawed approach, including the arms/drugs etc that were discussed. Until the LTTE moves backwards until they get to the cross roads where they made a wrong turn, this problem will never get solved.
There is nothing romantic about death and murder.
All in all, this tiger is getting old, and can't hunt.
And it might become a man eater real soon.