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Tigers make a new move

Whatever the LTTE says or does is aimed at furthering the cause of breaking up Sri Lanka for good.

india Updated: Jun 28, 2006 18:00 IST

The Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers' bid to shake hands with India and to invite it to play a greater role in the island's virtually dead peace process is another qualitative leap by the insurgent outfit that remains irrevocably wedded to the cause of forming an independent Tamil Eelam state.

Whatever the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) says or does is aimed at furthering the cause of breaking up Sri Lanka for good.

One only has to read a recent editorial of Jaffna's Tamil daily Uthayan to grasp the significance of what Tiger ideologue Anton Balasingham has told an Indian channel.

The newspaper, which often accurately reflects LTTE's thinking, said on June 23 that if war erupted in Sri Lanka again, only two forces were likely to intervene: the UN or India.

It also deduced that New Delhi was unlikely to let the UN play a deep role in an area India considers its own.

So India itself would probably enter Sri Lanka in some form. And so - mark the words - "rajathandira kainagarthalkal" (moving the pawns diplomatically) were needed to deal with the emerging situation.

Balasingham's comments, telecast on Tuesday night, have to be understood in this context.

The Britain-based confidant of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran said nothing dramatically new that the Tigers have not said at some time or the other although he went somewhat out of his way to virtually admit that the Tigers did carry out the cold-blooded assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

When the event took place, Prabhakaran had asserted: "We had nothing to do with the assassination. If Indian police holds us guilty, then the onus is on them to prove this in a court of law."

Balasingham's four key observations are: (1) LTTE is ready for a new understanding with India provided India makes a "positive gesture"; (2) India has to have a new policy towards Sri Lanka and for this a relationship between LTTE and India is vital; (3) LTTE doesn't want military intervention by India in Sri Lanka, only diplomatic; (4) If all this is agreed to, then possibly India can play a role in resolving Sri Lanka's dragging conflict.

These remarks are indeed a qualitative leap simply because they signify the Tigers are changing gears in their long struggle for Tamil Eelam.

After four years of the Norway-brokered ceasefire, the LTTE is now more isolated internationally than ever before, a development that has seriously soured the group's relations with peace facilitator Oslo.

And so, as the LTTE braces for the "final war" in Sri Lanka, it is time to make friends with good old India. But a careful scrutiny of Tiger speak shows the stripes remain the same.

Soon after Indian troops quit Sri Lanka in March 1990, Prabhakaran had declared victory over New Delhi and said much of what Balasingham is saying now: "We are not a hostile force to the Indian government or to Indian people... We do not want India to interfere, politically or militarily, in our problems.

The policy makers in Delhi should realise that the struggle of our people will not in any way contravene the geo-political concerns of India nor will it undermine the internal stability of the Indian state."

Even as these comments were made, the LTTE was to start preparing for Gandhi's assassination!

It also oversaw the birth of an Indian insurgent group, the Tamil National Retrieval Front, made up of young men from Tamil Nadu who, as Indian investigators later found out, were tasked to create mayhem in case Gandhi's killing led to anti-Tamil violence in India.

And while professing love for India, LTTE trained Indian separatists such as ULFA.

As recently as last year, another LTTE leader, B Nadesan, who heads the Tigers police force, told an Indian journalist that India needed to play a "crucial role" if the ethnic conflict had to be resolved.

"We are eager to build a relationship with the government of India. India can pressure Sri Lanka to resolve this question by peaceful means." Nadesan's comments went largely unnoticed.

Gandhi's killing - and Colombo's decision to align with LTTE to oust India - led a disgusted New Delhi to play it cool in Sri Lanka. But it did not, as Balasingham suggests, detach itself from the ethnic conflict. It continued to insist on two crucial points: (1) Sri Lanka must remain united; (2) Colombo has to devolve substantial autonomy to Tamils.

The Tigers now see India as a "vallarasu nadu" (superpower) and want to be on its right side. But it knows that it is only a month earlier that India extended by two more years its ban of LTTE citing continued security threats the group poses.

There is deep distrust in India's security establishment about the Tigers though the LTTE has told Indians visiting its areas in recent times that the Gandhi killing was a tragedy.

At the same time, the LTTE is deeply upset over India's military aid to Sri Lanka and wants this to end.

It will not mind if India does not come to the aid of LTTE but it does not want it to rescue Colombo in any emergency.

It is also unhappy over the attitude of some senior political figures in Tamil Nadu who it feels are not pro-LTTE enough. The bottom line, however, is that the group is wary of India's long-term intentions.

The LTTE will change its tactics depending on the situation but it will never lose sight of its goal: Tamil Eelam.

And for that it will go to any length, even if it means publicly accepting a crime it said it never committed and offering friendship to a country it is not comfortable with but whose overarching influence on Sri Lanka can't be ignored.