Sri Lanka : likely Scenarios

By B.Raman


(May 20, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian)No reason to doubt the statement of the Sri Lankan Army about the death of Prabakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ( LTTE), and other leaders of the LTTE. Doubts about the circumstances relating to their death will remain. These doubts will have no impact on the ground situation. Pointless wasting time and space analyzing the doubts.

Almost the entire Northern component of the LTTE, including the leadership and a large number of cadres, wiped out. The Northern component specialized in terrorism and in air and naval action. Its capability for conventional military operations on land was low.

The Eastern component of the LTTE, which had the largest number of well-trained conventional fighters, led by Karuna split from the LTTE leadership in March 2004. They accused Prabakaran of looking down upon the Eastern Tamils and discriminating against them. About 5,000 well-trained and competent conventional fighters from the Eastern Province under Karuna deserted from the LTTE and helped the SLA in re-capturing the territory controlled by the LTTE in the Eastern Province.

Differences developed in the Eastern component itself between a group of conventional fighters led by Karuna and another led by Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan. Without taking sides, the Government kept both the groups on its side. It made Pillaiyan the Chief Minister of the Eastern Province and Karuna a member of the Central Cabinet in Colombo. Pillaiyan and Karuna don’t get along well with each other.

There is a fourth group led by Douglas Devananda, which has also been collaborating with the Government. It is alleged that Devananda himself was trained in the past by the Popular Front For the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) of George Habash in the Lebanon. Devananda is also a member of the central Cabinet . He is reportedly hoping that President Mahinda Rajapaksa will make him the Chief Minister of the Northern Province.

It is estimated that there are about 5,500 well-trained Tamil fighters in the Eastern Province--- 5,000 of them from the two groups supporting Karuna and Pillaiyan and about 500, who did not desert with Karuna and remained loyal to Prabakaran. When Prabakaran lost control of the Eastern Province, he asked these 500 Easterners loyal to him to stay behind in the Eastern Province to keep harassing the SLA and the followers of Karuna and Pillaiyan. One does not know how many followers Devananda has and from which province.

It is likely that some of the Northern cadres of the LTTE have evaded capture by the security forces and have merged with the population. Difficult to quantify them.

The Tamil diaspora in the West and Australia is predominantly from the Northern Province ---- affluent, intelligent, well-educated, articulate and good in networking. It was fiercely loyal to Prabakaran and hated Karuna, Pillaiyan and Devananda. The SL Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu are predominantly from the Easteren Province---- poor, form the economically deprived classes, not well-educated, not accepted by the northerners and the diaspora in the West as their social and intellectual equals. More sympathetic to Karuna and Pillaiyan. There are hardly any supporters for Devananda either in the West or in India.

Post-Prabakaran, President Rajapaksa will implement at least some of his promises to the Tamils. He will try to have elections in the Northern Province and appoint a Tamil as the Chief Minister. He will not merge the Northern and Eastern Provinces and will not change the present unitary status of the country into a genuine federal state. He will keep certain important powers relating to Defence, internal security, the police, communications and taxation in the hands of the central government and devolve other powers to the constituent States. He will seek to make Sri Lanka a union of equally empowered States, but not a federation. The constituent States will be equally empowered among themselves, but not vis-à-vis the centre, which will occupy the commanding heights. These measures should be acceptable to the Tamils even though they will fall short of their expectations.

In addition, he will be under pressure from the Army to take two more steps. Firstly, re-settle the internally displaced Tamils in the Sinhalese majority areas and not to allow them to re-settle in the Tamil areas. Secondly, re-settle the Sinhalese soldiers, who will be retrenched from the army now that the fight against the LTTE is over, in the Northern and Eastern provinces by giving them land or by recruiting them to the police. The Army calculates that these measures are necessary to prevent a recrudescence of insurgency and terrorism. He will be similarly under pressure from Pakistan, which had helped the Armed Forces in their operations against the LTTE, to divide the Eastern Province in order to create a separate Muslim majority province.

The Govt. and the Army had given considerable importance to Karuna, Pillaiyan and Devananda and the Eastern deserters. They played an important role in helping the Army against the LTTE. Now that the war is over, there will be a temptation in the Government and the Armed Forces to downgrade their importance. In the event of Rajapaksa taking the steps discussed in sub-paras 10 and 11, the divide between the Sinhalese and Tamils will get aggravated. This could give rise to a fresh spell of insurgency. The insurgency-cum-terrorism under Prabakaran started in the North and spread to the East. If there is a fresh insurgency, it will most probably start in the East.

How successful will be such insurgency? Will it have the support of the diaspora in the West and Australia? Without such support, it cannot gain momentum. For the moment, the diaspora is not inclined to support a fresh insurgency. It feels disappointed by the attitude of India. Many leaders of the diaspora are voicing the view that the Tamil cause can succeed only with the support of the West. The West will not support any resort to a fresh insurgency, but will be prepared to keep pressure on the SL Government to meet the political aspirations of the Tamils. It will use SL’s difficult economic situation as a pressure point. It will also use threats of an international enquiry into the deaths of a large number of civilians during the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. India has mishandled the Sri Lanka situation so badly that it finds itself without any pressure point or stick.

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )
-Sri Lanka Guardian