After Prabhakaran: Will Sri Lanka finally have peace? (Comment)

May 21st, 2009 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

By C. Uday Bhaskar
The dramatic albeit gory footage of a dead Velupillai Prabhakaran with a bullet hole through his forehead marks the end of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a feared terrorist organisation.

The triumphal mood of the Rajapaksa government is understandable, but the fervent hope that this marks the beginning of a new dawn of peace in the long troubled island nation will depend on the manner in which this emphatic military victory is interpreted. Does the government in Sri Lanka have the perspicacity to extend an olive branch to the Tamil minority and be magnanimous in victory? Or will the traditional triumphalism of Sinhala majoritarianism get the better of them?

Over 70,000 people have been killed in this three-decade conflict that pitted the LTTE against the armed forces over appropriate devolution to the Tamil population. Regrettably, the death of Prabhakaran and his cadres may not advance the political cause of the Tamils in a meaningful way.

What is more urgent is the need for a sincere effort at providing sustained aid for the thousands who have been displaced. This should be the immediate priority for Colombo and this would have to be complemented by opening a dialogue with the Tamil population and their representatives to agree on a devolution package - whose contours were already identified in 1987. Rehabilitation of the refugees, reconstruction of the ravaged Tamil areas and reconciliation between the Sinhala-Tamil political representatives constitute the long-term agenda that Colombo needs to pursue.

There have been reports from within the Tamil diaspora that Colombo will now embark upon a phased programme of altering the demographic profile of the Tamil majority areas in the north of the island and such a move could well ignite latent minority fears. Sri Lanka’s cultural and linguistic divide has been exacerbated over the decades. If the island nation which has some of the highest human security indicators in South Asia is to put the trauma of this long and bitter civil war behind it, then this colossal loss of life - among both the Tamils and the Sinhalese - should not be in vain.

However, if Colombo is unable or unwilling to assuage this minority sentiment of persecution and intimidation, the possibility that latent Tamil militancy and extremism — whether under the LTTE banner or by another name — being ignited cannot be ruled out. Even now, it is likely that there will be sporadic acts of violence by those cadres of the LTTE who may have escaped the last phase of the military operations that resulted in Prabahkaran’s death.

For India, the fact that news about Prabhakaran’s death came after Tamil Nadu went to the polls is fortuitous - though the fate of pro-Eelam candidates like Vaiko would suggest that the emotional outbursts seen over the LTTE and Prabhakaran were transient. But the scale of the humanitarian tragedy in Sri Lanka warrants that India provide whatever aid and assistance that it can.

India needs to carry out an objective review of its Sri Lanka policies - from endorsing Prabhakaran at one time, through the IPKF deployment where nearly 1,200 Indian lives were lost and hundreds injured to the reality of today’s images of the lifeless LTTE chief.

One can only hope that this marks the end of Sri Lanka’s long tryst with terror and the realisation of that elusive Sinhalese-Tamil harmony.

(21.05.2009-C. Uday Bhaskar is a well-known strategic analyst. He can be reached at

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