Twenty-six years after the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) took up arms to create a homeland, the Sri Lankan civil war is over with Colombo’s announcement that LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran has been killed. The remnants of the LTTE’s leadership have announced an armistice, while Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa is expected to make a more formal announcement on Tuesday.
No country could be more relieved than India at the thought of peace returning to Sri Lanka. Even if the LTTE hadn’t claimed the lives of an ex-prime minister and hundreds of Indian soldiers, the nearby presence of a fierce combination of repressed nationalism and terrorist tactics represented a grave threat to Indian security. Worse, the bridge between the Sri Lankan civil war and Tamil identity politics, at times, seemed to threaten India’s domestic stability. So, New Delhi needs to keep a watch on the developments in Sri Lanka over the coming months. One level is the humanitarian plight of those Tamils displaced by the fighting. Colombo needs a magnanimous and transparent rehabilitation programme. Another level will be persuading Mr Rajapaksa that a genuine closure to the civil war must include the provision of political devolution for the Tamils. This will be a difficult, but necessary, sell in the euphoria that has enveloped Colombo.
India has much leverage that it can use and can count on the backing of most of the Western world. But the argument that should be made to Mr Rajapaksa is the lesson provided by Prabhakaran’s rise and fall. The Tamil leader rode the beast of militant nationalism but failed to understand when it was time to get off. This brought about Indian military intervention, the loss of all international sympathy and, eventually, the defection of much of his military wing. The Sri Lankan leader needs to impose moderation on Sinhalese anger and vengefulness in exactly the way that Prabhakaran never did — or ever wanted.