In a briefing I heard in the late 1990s, an intelligence analyst "credited" the LTTE with "inventing modern suicide terrorism." The claim is debatable, but the analyst's larger point is beyond dispute: The LTTE used suicide fanaticism as a demonstration of political will.
Terror, however, can backfire. Al-Qaida has learned that. In 1991, an LTTE suicide bomb assassin killed former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi. India had been torn by Sri Lanka's strife. Many Indian Tamils supported the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. Other Indians, however, were concerned about a violent secessionist movement establishing a precedent for ethnic separatism in South Asia.
Ghandi's murder, however, hardened Indian opposition to the LTTE, and it banned the LTTE as a terrorist organization. In 2006, a senior leader of LTTE apologized for Ghandi's murder. The apology was possibly a diplomatic appeal to New Delhi, with the goal of involving India in an effort to end the war. The apology sparked controversy within the LTTE. LTTE hardliners still regard Ghandi's murder as justified.
Now the LTTE is calling for "external intervention." No one seems interested. In the 1980s, India deployed a peacekeeping force in Sri Lanka, and it failed.
Jim Dunnigan, editor of StrategyPage.com, has been writing about the war since it began. According to Dunnigan, the government has pursued a "fight and talk" strategy with the LTTE, but it is now fed up. Over the last 20 months, the Sri Lankan military has chipped away at LTTE territory, and the LTTE is losing. "The LTTE has had to use coercion to maintain support from Tamils," Dunnigan notes. "It has had to shoot its own fighters to discourage desertion. People are tired of the violence."
When the government takes the last patch of LTTE territory, Dunnigan says, the guerrilla war will end, but some violence will continue. "The LTTE will linger as a terrorist organization, but one with little political support."
In this aftermath, the Sri Lankan government must act with compassion. Emergency relief, reconstruction aid and the inclusion of new Tamil leaders in a unity government are vital.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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