Battle for top Tiger spot begins
By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - With the entire top brass of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) eliminated in the final stages of the Sri Lankan government's military
offensive last month, a succession struggle for the leadership of the LTTE is
underway among Tigers abroad. The LTTE's chief of international relations,
Selvarasa Pathmanathan, believed to be the senior-most Tiger alive, is the
frontrunner for the top job.
It was Pathmanathan who, in the days preceding the military defeat of the LTTE,
was "begging the international community to shed its cloak of indifference and
save the hapless Tamil civilians on the brink of extinction". As the Sri Lankan
troops closed in on LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, Pathmanathan was
negotiating with Western diplomats for an "honorable exit" for his beleaguered
boss. It was Pathmanathan who confirmed the death of Prabhakaran two weeks ago,
after initially denying it. Incidentally, the LTTE's intelligence wing rejected
reports of Prabhakaran's
death and claimed on the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet that the "LTTE leadership is
safe and will re-emerge when the right time comes".
While it was only in January that Pathmanathan became the LTTE's international
relations chief, his association with the organization goes back several
Pathmanathan also goes by the names Tharmalingam Shanmughan and Kumaran
Pathmanathan - better known as "KP". He was formerly in charge of the LTTE's
international network. From the mid-1980s he was its arms procurer and
international fundraiser and built its shipping network. He was responsible too
for supervising the administration of the LTTE's overseas branches and front
organizations. Pathmanathan was "the most powerful and influential Tiger
abroad", D B S Jeyaraj, a Toronto-based Sri Lankan Tamil who is an expert on
the LTTE, told Asia Times Online.
Following the Sri Lankan government-LTTE ceasefire in 2002, the LTTE was
restructured. KP was relieved of his duties around this time. Ill health (he is
a diabetic and suffers from hypertension) was coming in the way of the travel
that his work required. Besides, he was becoming too well known and was wanted
by Interpol. Furthermore, "reports of his mismanagement of the LTTE's finances
and his sexual improprieties" had reached Prabhakaran's ears. KP was "put to
pasture" thereafter, Jeyaraj said.
While KP's role diminished somewhat after 2002, he continued to advise the LTTE
on arms purchases. Early this year, with territory under his control
diminishing rapidly and defeat staring at the LTTE, Prabhakaran turned to KP.
"KP was given the post ‘head of international relations', a euphemism for
‘international chief' of the LTTE," Jeyaraj said.
"With that appointment, KP became Pathmanathan and emerged from the shadows,"
said an official of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India's external
intelligence agency. "Pathmanathan's fortunes, which began improving earlier
this year, seem to have brightened remarkably since the death of Prabhakaran
The LTTE top brass has been wiped out in Sri Lanka. And although the bodies of
some senior Tigers like intelligence chief Pottu Amman and Sea Tiger chief
Soosai are yet to be found, the chances of them having escaped the final stages
of the military offensive are dim, according to Sri Lankan defense officials.
This means that KP is the senior-most Tiger alive and therefore best positioned
to assume leadership of the organization.
However, "his taking over the mantle of the LTTE is not going to go
unchallenged. Sections in the overseas LTTE are opposed to him," observed the
When Pathmanathan was relieved of his duties in 2002, "Castro"
[Veerakulasingham Manivannan] was put in charge of overseas administration. The
latter lost no time in replacing those appointed by KP with his own men.
"Relations between Pathmanathan and Castro and their respective loyalists -
bitter at the best of times - worsened with Pathmanathan's elevation as
international relations chief early this year. His role carried more weight
than that of Castro which was in comparison largely ceremonial," the RAW
Castro's men refused to co-operate with Pathmanathan.
"This resistance continues to date, although Castro himself is believed to be
dead," Jeyaraj said. The LTTE's overseas structure remains opposed to
Pathmanathan. His position has worsened after Prabhakaran's death.
"Pathmanathan derived his authority from Prabhakaran" and with that gone, he is
Pathmanathan appears to be adopting a more pragmatic approach than some others
in the LTTE. He told the BBC in a telephonic interview that the LTTE had "given
up violence" and would "enter the democratic process" to achieve
self-determination for Tamils. His steering the post-Prabhakaran LTTE towards a
democratic path has not gone down well with hardliners in the organization and
among the Tamil diaspora.
Besides this, the opposition to his taking over has to do with financial issues
"Several Tigers, especially Castro appointees, fear that Pathmanathan will
strip them of their fundraising roles," said the RAW official. The LTTE might
be militarily defeated, but its war chest is in sound health.
Those opposed to Pathmanathan have started a "vicious campaign maligning him as
a traitor and being in the pay of RAW or the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]
or the Sri Lankan government. He is accused of having even betrayed
Prabhakaran," said Jeyaraj.
Ironically, this section that accuses Pathmanathan of delivering the Tiger
chief to the Sri Lankan army in return for his own amnesty from the government
also claims that Prabhakaran is not dead.
How strong are those who are resisting Pathmanathan's leadership? Jeyaraj said
the opposition to him is "a loose coalition of forces, not organized as a
cohesive body. There is no organized leadership or single leader challenging
Pathmanathan openly now. Generally, key figures in various LTTE structures in
overseas offices are ganging up against Pathmanathan."
Despite the resistance he is facing, Pathmanathan is likely to overcome the
obstacles. "There is no single person capable of replacing Pathmanathan at
present," says Jeyaraj. “Slowly with the help of his old loyalists,
Pathmanathan is quietly reasserting himself. He is trying to win over the
overseas LTTE activists through discussion and persuasion. As time progresses,
he is likely to gradually consolidate his leadership position.
Indian intelligence officials are cautious in their assessment of
Pathmanathan's future. They draw attention to the fact that many senior Tigers
like Pottu Amman are yet to be accounted for. If there are challenges from
Tigers still alive on the island, Pathmanathan could find his strategy of
adopting the democratic path coming under fire.
For decades Pathmanathan has switched names, identities and passports as he
slipped from one country to another with ease. He switched from his old
identity as "KP", the arms procurer, to Pathmanathan, the LTTE's interlocutor
with the international community without too much of a problem. But will he be
able to make the transition to democratic politics as easily?
He is wanted in Sri Lanka and India, as well as by Interpol. The Sri Lankan
government has already initiated action to prosecute Pathmanathan and others.
Pathmanathan's dreams of a soft landing in Tamil politics could remain just
It is said that Pathmanathan used to be called kazhuthai, or donkey, by
Prabhakaran. "This was an affectionate reference to the heavy load and huge
responsibilities he carried on his shoulders for the LTTE overseas," said the
Pathmanathan will need more than the qualities of a donkey in the months ahead.
He will have to fight like a tiger to keep rivals and opponents from taking
control of the LTTE and its war chest.
Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in