At the outset, the rise of the LTTE to their original might of running a proto-state comprising about 15,000 sq kms looks highly unrealistic. Its top leadership including its supremo Prabhakaran has been wiped out; most of its cadres are dead, some surrendered and the remaining scattered.
At the same time, rag-tag existence of the Tigers cannot be ruled out. According to the LTTE, about 1500 armed cadres are still hiding in Sri Lankan jungles to rekindle their armed struggle. They may make use of large quantities of arms buried in the jungles of northeast. They are also awaiting the resettlement of the displaced to mix-up with civilians. The LTTE is supposed to have set up a headquarters in an undisclosed location. It also claims to have put in place “sector-based working groups” and an “executive committee” to take the struggle forward “vigorously”. The remnant LTTE keeps alive the objective of attaining a separate homeland for Tamils i.e. Eelam. However, it is unclear what it means by “take the struggle forward vigorously.” Does this imply the use of armed means? Not long ago the LTTE declared that it had “silenced the guns” and would pursue its goals through non-violent means. Even in the recent statement, the Tigers, while reminding Tamils of their “historic duty” to rise up and fight for their “legitimate” rights, said, “like all liberation struggles, the LTTE had decided to ‘modify’ the form and strategies of the struggle according to the times and the exigencies of the situation.” The LTTE, however, has not clarified the form of struggle.
Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias ‘KP’ has recently been appointed as the chief of the militant group. ‘KP’ was earlier the head of all-important and crucial International Relations wing of the LTTE. Pathmanathan’s contribution in building the LTTE’s might was immense in terms of arms procurement, lobbying and fund raising. Pathmanathan is supposed to lead the Sri Lankan Tamil community “into the next steps of our freedom struggle according to the vision of our esteemed Leader [Prabhakaran].” However, in the absence of a strong leadership on the island, it is doubtful whether the LTTE will be able to advance its goal through a reclusive leader who has just been arrested and deported.
It is true that Tamils are sick and tired of continuous conflict for over three decades. In this mindset it is doubtful whether they come forward to support another innings of militancy. Recognising this fact, the LTTE observed that “The Eelam Tamil people are in the midst of a critical and sorrowful period in the history of the struggle for freedom of our nation, Tamil Eelam. No one can deny the fact that we have experienced massive and irreparable losses, losses we would not accept even in our worst dreams.” At the same time, the Tigers warned that “If the Sinhala nation and those countries which support it consider that the Tamil peoples’ freedom struggle has been defeated through the capture of the historical homeland areas of the Tamil people and the massacre of thousands of Tamil civilians, we shall consider that an illusion.” They want to “demonstrate to the world through our actions, that the fire of freedom awakened by our great leader V Pirabakaran continues to burn in the hearts of all Tamils, and only a free Tamil nation has the power to extinguish it.”
A million-strong Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora spread across all over the world is a crucial factor for any revival of the LTTE. However, the diaspora is divided on core issues like the end goal of Eelam and the means to achieve it. The majority of diaspora does not prefer a separate state but dignity of Tamils. And a chunk of them also oppose revival of armed means. Reconciling these differences is not going to be an easy task given the fact that Tamils in Sri Lanka are also not united on the future course of action in realizing a political settlement to the ethnic issue.
The government of Sri Lanka has to take all these factors into consideration in its approach to the ethnic question. Apart from treating the displaced well, the government has to speed up the resettlement process and also make sure that livelihood of the resettled is taken care of. The lasting political settlement to the ethnic issue should meet the sentiments of Tamils apart from healing their prolonged suffering due to war and destruction. Dignified rehabilitation of all surrendered LTTE cadres will convert them to non-fighters once and for all.