LTTE lost the war by refusing to see post-Cold War realities

The ultimate question in Sri Lanka’s civil war is this: why did the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) lose the war? Was it because the Sri Lankan Army adopted a no-holds-barred, fight-to-the-finish strategy that didn’t bother too much about civilian casualties, or was it because of the LTTE’s own mistakes?

The LTTE preferred to remain blind to Cold War realities. AFP made

Captured LTTE leader Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP), who gave VK Shashikumar of Mediagrove his first videographed interview ever, believes that the LTTE misread the situation after 9/11, when the world lost patience with militant groups that mindlessly killed people in the name of liberation struggle. The fact that India was no longer willing to support the LTTE proved crucial.

According to him, there is no point reopening old wounds like war crimes. The UN report on the subject, he says, will not help the reconciliation efforts now underway. “Past is past. The two parties, as the UN report says, have made mistakes. This report wouldn’t help (with) any reconciliation. It is disturbing. It disturbs reconciliation. No one will get any benefit from this report.” (See video)

Analysing the reasons for the LTTE’s defeat, KP says: “Our armed struggle was late. That is an important reason (for its failure) because the world (wanted people) to be united. After the Second World War and until the Cold War, the world was separated (by ideology - capitalism and communism). That was the time when new countries were born. Separatism was part of this Cold War order.”

But the New World Order after the end of the Cold War “was against all separatist struggles. If you recall in 2006, when Prabhakaran appealed to the world community to accept the freedom struggle (the armed movement of the LTTE), not a single country stepped out to give support.”

India’s retreat from support to opposition after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi also played a critical role in the LTTE’s defeat. Says KP: “India is our big brother. Without India’s support (we) cannot achieve anything. When LTTE had a conflict with India, that was (another reason for) failure…”

The last, and underlying reason for the LTTE’s final defeat was that it had lost the support of its own people. KP says that “as an organisation (engaged in) a liberation struggle, we lost the people’s support on the ground. It was a lengthy war, more than 35 years. People were fed up. Moreover there were lots of casualties. People paid a high price.”

KP says that the LTTE under Prabhakaran was obstinate in its refusal of all peace offerings. “Even after 2001, after 9/11, the world gave us a chance for a peaceful settlement. They (the world community) did not give this kind of chance to Hamas, this opportunity (for arriving at a peace settlement with the Sri Lankan government). The international community gave us this opportunity for a peaceful settlement. You know Germany, Norway, America, Canada, Japan - these countries tried so much to bring about a peaceful solution to the (ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka). But the LTTE was not ready to negotiate or have a flexible policy. They continued to have a strict (stance) on their goal of separation.”

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