Prabha’s history from Daily Mirror, view larger
I was reading this biography of Prabhakaran and I was struck by how often he was bailed out, either by or because of India. The LTTE was constantly able to retreat to India, to train there, collect funds, and be supported directly by the Indian government and RAW. It seems to take just hours to cross to Tamil Nadu by boat. At crucial points in the process India poured fuel on the fire then, trying to douse, it got burnt by Premadasa. Then Premadasa in turn got burnt. The only thing unchanging was Prabhakaran in his committment to a separate state of Tamil Eelam. Until everyone learnt they were getting played and he ended up alone.
I always knew India was involved, but I was struck as to how deep. Tamil Nadu politicians were always sympathetic to the LTTE, MGR even donating two crores and appearing publicly with the fellows. They also had support from Indira Gandhi, who Prabhakaran referred to as a mother and directly from RAW. The LTTE was initially trained and armed by Indian intelligence to mess with Sri Lanka. Also, there were numerous points where India could have stopped Prabhakaran but they didn’t.
He was arrested for a street shoot-out in Tamil Nadu when he was 27 but they let him out. Can you imagine how different things would have been if the law had just been followed in India? If he’d been extradited for killing the mayor of Jaffna and all the murders and robberies he was wanted for in SL? Then Tamil Nadu police seized LTTE communications equipment in 1986 and Prabha went on a hunger strike. Rather than, say, letting him go hungry, MGR released the equipment and some bonus arms.
When India finally lost its patience, however, Sri Lankan President Premadasa supplied the LTTE with arms to fight them, with the end result being the preservation of Prabhakaran. This is why it’s so good that Malaysia gave up KP, the new (now former) head of the LTTE. Tigers are not domesticated animals. They will bite the hand that feeds them
Perhaps because it’s written by an Indian, but ‘Inside An Elusive Mind: Prabhakaran’ (local/Amazon) gives me a sense that Indian intervention was crucial to building the LTTE and keeping it alive. In many ways, India might still be intervening, except that the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was a bridge too far. This time, while there were protests, there was no escape to Tamil Nadu nor airlifts of relief from India.
All the real politicians finally figured out that Prabhakaran wasn’t playing real politics, he was focused on his Tamil Eelam not as a bargaining chip but as a non-negotiable goal. When his benefactors figured that out he was playing them he was pretty much on his own, and that’s where he ended.
It strikes me also that insurgencies don’t seem to be able to survive without outside help, and thus end up flung by the winds of politics in unpredictable ways. Al Qaeda operated with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hezbollah operates with Iranian and Syrian backing, Hamas is backed by the Saudis, etc. I suspect that the JVP insurrections of the eighties, with external backing, might have gone the way of the Khmer Rouge. The latter was supplied by China via Thailand and even trained by western intelligence agencies, enabling it to take over and totally (actually) genocide Cambodia.
In the same way, the violent and repressive LTTE could have actually ripped its own facist corner of Sri Lanka off with continued backing from India. India, thankfully, pulled back from that brink and is now supporting a united Sri Lanka with rights for all races. They should continue to push for more consideration of the Tamil people, but thank god they’re not supportin the LTTE any more. Anyways, the geopolitics is interesting.