The relationship between the LTTE-controlled quasi-state and the Sri Lankan government was complex and in many ways contradictory. Though for the duration of its existence, the quasi-state was subjected to a comprehensive economic embargo which caused great hardship to the civilian population, the north was little disturbed by direct military activity until mid-1995. Moreover, to maintain the fiction that it controlled its entire territory, the Sri Lankan government continued to underwrite the state apparatus in all areas, even those under effective LTTE control. Hence, throughout the period of the LTTE quasi-state, the government paid its employees and maintained state equipment in the north through its own appointed agents, who worked under the effective control of the Tigers.
While clearly unsustainable in the long term, this arrangement contained the seeds of a viable solution to the war, ceding significant control of government resources to parties which could understand and to some extent articulate popular Tamil aspirations. Moreover, the devolution proposals unveiled in August 1995 by the current People's Alliance government were accepted by the constitutional (non-LTTE) Tamil parties as a starting point towards the realisation of Tamil national aspirations. The proposals fell short of offering a rigid federal framework, nor did they envisage an internally sovereign Tamil government within a confederation. The LTTE would have more readily accepted these latter options which would surely have paved a path to peace. Nevertheless, it is possible that the Tamil people, hankering for an end to their horrific tribulations, may have reconciled themselves to the government's compromise.
Simultaneous to the release of their proposals, however, the government sanctioned the military conquest and re-occupation of Jaffna, bringing down the de facto state and assaulting the Ceylon Tamils' gathering sense of self-reliant nationhood. This, and the subsequent bombing of densely-populated Tamil areas, have unleashed renewed waves of virulent resistance. Leading this resistance, the LTTE is disciplined, well-equipped, financed and organised for a lengthy military struggle and the army cannot predict, much less contain, its attacks. With political tensions also rising in the south, the government now faces financial ruin with war spending running well beyond its means.
Constitutional voices in the Tamil national struggle
For various reasons relating to Indian government intervention in the Sri Lankan war, the Tamil national movement fractured in the mid-1980s. Before then, a number of militant organisations had advocated violence in their quest for Tamil self-determination. Between 1987 and 1989, however, all these groups bar the LTTE sought to join the avowedly constitutional Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Sri Lanka's political mainstream.
Since that time, the formerly militant Tamil parties have precariously straddled the space between electoral politics and armed struggle. All except the Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) have maintained a corps of armed and fighting cadres whose activities, particularly regarding the treatment of civilians, have undermined the constitutional credentials of their political leaders. Nevertheless, these leaders have largely assimilated into Sri Lanka's electoral and party politics.
All of the constitutional Tamil parties, including the TULF, began with a vision of an independent Eelam but are now committed to a federal system with substantive, and protected, devolution of power. They were all supportive of the first version of the present government's devolution proposals and TULF MPs advised in its drafting. All voiced doubts about later drafts, however, and all now oppose the government package.
The constitutional Tamil parties are severely critical of the LTTE on two main grounds. The first is the Tigers' lack of democratic practice in the areas they control. The second is the brutal methods employed by the LTTE against perceived government collaborators and other dissenters. In the past, most Tamil groups have lost leaders to LTTE assassination. While working with the Sri Lankan government to promote constitutionalism within Tamil politics, they continue to take huge personal risks.