Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Discussing Tamil National Interest

By Sasi, April 8, 2010

If we can discuss the above five questions, we will be clear on why India and West went against the LTTE. The same reasons may be responsible for the lack of shift in attitude even post-LTTE.

Discussing Tamil National Interest

Recent, spontaneous discussions on the Sangam website show that there is a wide array of opinions about the pursuit of Tamil National Interest (TNI).

Firstly, what exactly is TNI? TNI hinges around the physical and economic security of the Tamil nation. Of foremost importance is for the Eelam Tamils, as a nation, to be able to exercise their right to self- determination in their historic homeland. Amongst the diaspora, this has wide acceptance as a priority, as has been demonstrated by the overwhelming mandate given for the Vaddukodai Resolution in elections of 2009-10.

Next question is how do we cooperate with or exploit external actors to best serve our national interest? Here, states have a huge advantage: they have established foreign service departments and trained career diplomats to communicate with external actors, which includes apex bodies like the UN, rights groups and aid agencies, as well as foreign governments.

For many years Tamils assumed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had this area covered. The Department for Diaspora Affairs (DDA) did a good job of coordinating diaspora activists, but it clearly wasn't able to articulate interests- based arguments to external actors. Instead, the protests and marches indicated that the diaspora had assumed foreign policies of countries such as the UK to be acts of philanthropy. So, we had cries of "There's a genocide, please help stop it." No one ever bothered to tell anyone in the UK why Tamils' lives and livelihoods should matter to that country. By the time the LTTE established a department for international affairs it was too late and the appointed head of that department was later abducted.

Now, in the post-May 18 world, we are flirting in an era of democratised struggle. An old saying goes, in a democracy agreement is not always essential, but participation is. This discussion requires the participation of a broad set of people in exploring key issues.

Attitudes toward the LTTE

Everyone knows that the Sinhalese were able to capture the Tamil Homeland with the support of external actors. The question is which actors? Who are the countries that strengthened the Sri Lankan military and weakened the LTTE? There are rumours that China and Russia even fought the war on Sri Lanka's behalf.

But, so far, the only evidence that has been presented suggests all the advanced weapons were provided by the EU and the US, as well as some from India. Sri Lanka's elite Special Forces were also trained by the US and are identified by their use of US-supplied rifles. It was also Western countries, and to an extent India, that banned the LTTE, arrested suspected members and stopped all fund raising.

*Question 1: Do you agree that Sri Lanka was only able to capture the Tamil
homeland because of the West's provision of weapons and training, and pro-active efforts to weaken the LTTE? *

Some of those who say the West enabled recent events argue that it was natural
given the events of September 2001.

But, the US banned the LTTE and even TRO long before 2001. Israel, a country that is widely accepted as front for the US, sold Kfir supersonic bomber jets and Dvora fast attack crafts to Sri Lanka in the late '90s. Those two Hebrew words are now widely used by Tamils to refer to bomber jets and navy boats.

*Question 2: Do you agree that the West's, particularly the US's, pro-Sri Lanka
stance is unrelated to 9/11 and the subsequent 'war on terror'? *

India's role is justified by reference to the murder of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Ghandi. But, India fought a war against the LTTE while Rajiv was still alive. The two had, thus, become enemies even before the Rajiv incident.

*Question 3: Why did India, which trained the LTTE to fight for Tamil Eelam,
turn against the notion? *

The difficult part is to identify reasons for why the West went pro-Sri Lanka after Chandrika came to power. Prior to that, the LTTE even had its head offices in London and was able to operate freely across all Western states, despite its use of suicide bombers and teenage fighters.

*Question 4: What explains that shift in Western attitude? *

Attitudes Post-LTTE

Those who viewed Western and Indian support for Sri Lanka assumed it to be part of India's revenge for Rajiv Ghandi's murder and the West's war against terror. But, to the dismay of many, even after May 18, both the West and India continue to support Sri Lanka. One example: the manner in which the EU is dragging its feet on GSP+ benefits. Tamils are always told that the benefits will be suspended 'soon', but in practice, Sri Lanka remains the only country in Asia to benefit from them.

*Question 5: Are there any indications of the West and India shifting their attitude towards the conflict? *

Conclusion

If we can discuss the above five questions, we will be clear on why India and West went against the LTTE. The same reasons may be responsible for the lack of shift in attitude even post-LTTE.

If we are clear about the block to Tamil National Interests, we can then begin discussing ways to move that block or, even better, use it as a step for the benefit of TNI. What we cannot afford to do, however, is close our eyes, pretend that there is no block, walk into it repeatedly and have our noses broken.