Tuesday, December 4, 2007

LTTE and Tamil community – Two entities with different goals

What circumstances made it possible for the resolution of the conflicts in Banda Ache and Nepal? In both instances a stage was reached where the rebels realized that more could be gained by decommissioning their weapons of war and participating in the political processes than by continuing to engage in conflict. Could similar conditions be created in Sri Lanka? What conditions should come into play for the LTTE to eschew violence and seek a political solution as it was with the rebels in Nepal and Ache?

The genesis of most conflicts is in felt or perceived grievances by segments of a society. A group within such a segment resorts to violence in the belief that it is only violence that would render them their due entitlements. If they succeed, they become the liberators of their people. However, for such liberators to be accepted by the liberated, they should not resort to violence against their own people. It is the reward of recognition and acceptance as liberators that make them eschew violence and seek political arrangements to address their felt and perceived grievances. Else, the sacrifices made on behalf of the people they represent would have no meaning. In the cases of Nepal and Ache the rebels came to be accepted as liberators, thus becoming vital players in the negotiations as well as in the implementation processes. This was possible because the people on whose behalf the rebels were making sacrifices accepted them as their legitimate saviours.

Thus, recognition as saviours is the reward for most rebels. However, in the case of the LTTE, there is no tangible evidence that the Tamil community would today accept the LTTE as their liberators. Considering the killings and other very serious acts of terrorism they have perpetrated on the Tamil people, this reluctance to freely accept the LTTE as their liberators, is understandable. This has made it necessary for the LTTE to claim for themselves the title of "sole representative", without the legitimacy of popular acclaim. Under the unique circumstances of Sri Lanka’s conflict, what rewards could possibly be offered to the LTTE for them to eschew violence and terrorism?

The LTTE and the non-LTTE Tamil leaders jointly cannot represent Tamil interests because of differences in their respective political horizons. It has to be either/or, but not jointly. This is what makes Sri Lanka’s conflict so different to conflicts in Nepal and Ache. The International Community (IC) has belatedly recognized that the Tamil community and the LTTE are two different entities; Senator Leahy being the most recent to state "that the LTTE should not be equated with the Tamil community"(Sunday Times, November 4, 2007). Under these circumstances, therefore, the solution to Sri Lanka’s national question has to start with reconciling the interests of the Tamil community with the LTTE. It is acceptance of the LTTE by the Tamil people as part of their leadership that would make it worth the while for the LTTE to eschew violence and for interests to merge. Without such acceptance it is violence and terrorism that makes them acquire relevance. Without acceptance or violence the LTTE would be irrelevant.


To reach a stage where interests merge the LTTE would have to make peace with the Tamil community. Whether the Tamil community would be up to such a task is not a foregone conclusion. The social and caste mores endemic within Tamil society in addition to the crimes committed by the LTTE would prove to be a serious obstacle to reconciliation. However, without reconciliation the Tamil people would not be able to benefit from any political solution. The question then becomes: Who makes the first move?

If the first move is to come from the LTTE there has to be a verifiable demonstration that the LTTE would eschew violence by decommissioning, in order to ensure that the Tamil community would be safe from LTTE violence. The response to such a gesture would be for the Tamil community to accept unreservedly the LTTE as part of their leadership. If on the other hand the Tamil people were to take the first step they have to demonstrate convincingly to the LTTE their acceptance of the LTTE as part of the leadership, to which the LTTE must respond by renouncing violence by decommissioning.

The prevailing status quo where the LTTE retains the means to exercise its will on the Tamil people through force is understandable in view of the uncertainty as to its future survival both physically and politically within the Tamil community, in the event the LTTE eschews violence without these guarantees. In short, it is only the Tamil community that can reward the LTTE for transforming itself, by freely accepting the group as part of its political leadership.


Without reconciliation between the Tamil community and the LTTE any political solution formulated would have little or no chance of being implemented, because its very success would isolate and marginalize the LTTE to the point of irrelevance. The LTTE and its supporters in the diaspora are not going to stand by and let that happen. If due to a process of serious weakening of the military capabilities of the LTTE, or even if the high command of the LTTE ceases to exist some fragments are bound to remain with the inclination to disturb peace and security as is taking place with the Basque elements in Spain.

If the potential for such possibilities do not exist, it is vital that the Tamil community takes the initiative to reconcile with the LTTE because at the end of the day it is they who would be reaping the rewards of peace more than any other. It is after all the Tamil community and their leadership who called upon on the Tamil youth to fight for the creation of Tamil Eelam. Even though the LTTE are the sole survivors through a systematic process of ruthless elimination of all other militant groups, the Tamil community has to take the initiative and the responsibility to persuade the LTTE to give up its "thirst for Tamil Eelam" and settle for a more realistic political arrangement that assures prosperity for all, and set aside as unrealistic the dream of fulfilling aspirations through Tamil Eelam.

It seems impractical to expect the present LTTE leadership to transform to a degree that would make a reasonable political arrangement acceptable to them. Reconciliation given such obduracy is unrealistic. Reconciliation would thus probably have to wait another day for the emergence of a more flexible leadership within the LTTE that is pragmatic enough to value the rewards of legitimacy and acceptance by the Tamil community as being greater than the pursuit of an unattainable goal, the realization of which is becoming increasingly beyond reach. Whether it is now or later, the hope for a durable peace for the Tamil community can come only with a process of internal reconciliation within the community.


The need for reconciliation within the Tamil community itself as a prelude to negotiations with the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) is a concept whose significance has not been given the consideration it deserves. Hitherto the approach has been to for the GOSL to negotiate with the LTTE alone. Another approach has been for the GOSL to evolve a Southern consensus through the mechanism of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) on behalf of the All Party Committee (APC). These efforts are in keeping with the concept of evolving a political arrangement acceptable to the "South" as an essential prerequisite to aid negotiations. In this regard, a proposal that has again resurfaced is for the formation of a national government.

These approaches while well meant, are founded on the belief that it is the absence of a viable political solution that is perpetuating the conflict. Proponents of this concept believe in the notion that a political solution based on devolution would appeal to the Tamil community to the point where they would be sufficiently encouraged to withdraw their overt and even covert support to the LTTE. However, even if there is merit in this belief the LTTE would not allow implementation of such arrangements to mature because any such arrangement negotiated without their participation would amount to conceding the LTTE’s irrelevance, both consciously as well as deliberately. This is not going to happen. The LTTE would do everything in its power to prevent and obstruct the implementation of any arrangements that have support from the Tamil community.


The inability of the South to forge a political formulation is being cited as the cause for the perpetuation of the conflict. The delay in evolving such a formulation is attributed to the diversity of opinions regarding the causes of the conflict and the corresponding approaches to address them. Despite such differences of opinion, there is consensus in the South that the Tamil community is an integral part of the Sri Lankan nation. The divergence of Southern opinion is in respect of HOW the Tamil community is to function as part of that Sri Lankan nation.

A similar consensus of being part of the Sri Lankan nation does not exist among the Tamil community. One section represented by the LTTE is for a separate state while the rest would perhaps agree to an arrangement where they are a part of the Sri Lankan nation state with powers devolved to their regions of concentration. This however does not take into consideration the fact that more than half of the Tamil population of Sri Lanka now resides in the South. This divergence is so fundamental that reconciliation within the Tamil community has to be central for any negotiated arrangements to endure. The needed reconciliation is not possible given the inflexibility of the current LTTE leadership. However, the potential for reconciliation exists under a more pragmatic leadership.

Considering the fractures that have emerged within the LTTE in recent times the emergence of such a pragmatic leadership is a possibility. The resolution of Sri Lanka’s national question has to await a paradigm shift in the psyche within the Tamil community that realizes the need to accept a transformed LTTE leadership, or one that is more pragmatic, despite its inbuilt social and caste prejudices. In turn, a leadership must be awaited within the LTTE that values recognition and acceptance by the Tamil community in preference to forced compliance by the latter. Throughout this conflict the Tamil people have placed the entire responsibility for evolving a reasoned political arrangement on successive Sri Lankan governments without taking the responsibility for initiating the conflict by creating unattainable expectations among the Tamil youth. That leadership is responsible for creating expectations that cannot be reconciled.

It was reconciliation between the rebels and the people they represented that hastened the resolution of conflicts in Ache and Nepal. The gulf that exists between the Tamil community and the LTTE in regard to their respective goals, one real and the other unreal, is the obstacle to the resolution of Sri Lanka’s conflict. Either these expectations have to change, or circumstances have to facilitate a change in expectations for final resolution to be possible.

By Neville Ladduwahetty


  1. Thanks Neville for your article! This is one way of viewing the breakdown in negotiations. However, I beg to differ. I do not believe that the LTTE can ever be reconciled with the broader Tamil Community since they espouse fundamentalist ideals. The fault lies with the structure of the political system. A democracy that openly makes discriminative reference to specific racial/religious groups is not a democracy. One may argue that Tamils, Muslims and Christians alike are represented by the system. But I would argue that their autonomy is limited and is constantly threatened. I argue: "why make reference to any racial or religious group at all within the constitution?" In the interests of any capitalistic system (the world is capitalist or will be at the very least) this system harbours inefficiences - may the best man/woman get the job! In this way we establish a common Sri Lankan identity rather than bickering over racial/religious differences.

    But like all things, I do concede that this will work better in theory than in practice (in the long-run at the very least).


  2. I apologise in the last line, I was meant to say - "in the short-run at the very least"