Rationale for LTTE olive branch missed - paper

[TamilNet, Thursday, 29 June 2006, 10:07 GMT]
The Liberation Tigers’ extension of an olive branch to India has, amid the ensuing media frenzy, been widely misunderstood, the Tamil Guardian newspaper said in its editorial this week. Pointing out that amid rising violence against Tamil civilians, “twenty years [after first doing so], India is again intervening to protect the Tamils from the Sri Lankan state,” the paper said: “securing the island’s Tamils and ensuring their rights are restored and safeguarded is a goal behind which both the LTTE and India are separately, but simultaneously, once again aligned.”

The text of the Tamil Guardian’s editorial follows:

The Liberation Tigers’ call this week for India to put the past behind and to take a fresh approach to the Tamil question in Sri Lanka has understandably sparked a frenzy of media interest and not a little controversy in India and elsewhere. The LTTE’s extending of an olive branch to Delhi comes at a crucial time for Sri Lanka and an anxious one for the region; there is little doubt that Sri Lanka is edging towards a resumption of its bloody decades-long war. There were several key messages in the comments by LTTE’s theoretician and chief negotiator, Mr. Anton Balasingham aired on NDTV this week.

The first, which has drawn the most media focus, is his characterisation of the 1991 assassination of former Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi as “a great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy.” This has, perhaps understandably, dominated headlines and commentary, both in India and elsewhere. Although a reiteration and elaboration of comments made by the LTTE leader, Vellupillai Pirapaharan, in 2002 during his landmark press conference in Kilinochchi, it has been interpreted and misinterpreted by different observers. Some have characterised it as an admission of responsibility. Others have characterised it as an evasion of responsibility. Still others have said it is neither, but a clever ploy to deliberately confuse. A few astute observers have, however, seen it for what it plainly is: a considered and heartfelt expression of regret for a prominent and devastating moment in a long and traumatic period of Tamil-Indian relations, one characterised by thousands of deaths – including Indian soldiers, LTTE fighters and, especially, large numbers of Tamil civilians.

These observers have also grasped the significance of the other messages in Mr. Balasingham’s comments. One is the LTTE’s pledge that “under no circumstances will we act against the interests of the government of India.” The implications of this statement must be considered against a prominent assumption that remains problematically unquestioned: that the LTTE and Tamil political aspirations are inevitably at cross-purposes with India and her national or geopolitical interests. This is not to say that these are identical, but to point out that a just and lasting solution to the Tamil question also equates to regional stability. Another notable LTTE message is for India to get actively involved in resolving the Tamil question. This call for diplomatic and political intervention is a deliberate and radical departure from the uncompromising rejection of Indian involvement that prevailed in the wake of the IPKF fiasco.

Some, observing the developments through the distorting prism of political orthodoxy misunderstood the LTTE’s logic, characterising its olive branch as a desperate measure to curry favour in the wake of the European Union’s ban. This not only unjustifiably gives primacy to a desire for international legitimacy over all other considerations; more importantly, it ignores the LTTE’s own history, that the movement has almost always been internationally alienated. Even the limited contacts of the post-2002 era have more to do with realpolitik (the obvious unavoidability of the LTTE) than with any solidarity with it. The point here is, the LTTE has grown from a handful of fighters to the semi-state it is today despite not having a single international sponsor or ally.

Save one, briefly: India. But as Mr. Balasingham pointed out this week, India’s preparedness in the early 1980s to train LTTE fighters, stemmed primarily from a desire “to protect our people from [Sri Lankan] state oppression.” Now, twenty years later, India is again intervening (albeit diplomatically this time) to protect the Tamils from the Sri Lankan state. In the wake of the extra-judicial and indiscriminate killings of hundreds of civilians, especially in the past few months, a government in Delhi is again pressuring a government in Colombo to restrain its armed forces. Following the killing of a top Sri Lankan General by a suicide bomber this week, there can be no doubt that President Mahinda Rajapakse’s cotorie of Sinhala ultra-nationalists are straining to lash out again with airstrikes and artillery. But they dare not, for fear of antagonising India, which only last week delivered a blunt warning against such violence. It is in this context, where India again has to increasingly intervene in Sri Lanka to restrain a Sinhala government from savaging the island’s Tamils, that the LTTE, explicitly hailing Delhi’s efforts in this regard, has called for a new beginning, one that can lead to a just and lasting solution and stability in the region. In short, securing the island’s Tamils and ensuring their rights are restored and safeguarded is a goal behind which both the LTTE and India are separately, but simultaneously, once again aligned.


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