NEVILLE DE SILVA
Selvarasa Pathmanathan set about consolidating his leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam against the backdrop of a hostile environment. He created enemies among sections of the LTTE in the Tamil diaspora, who disagreed with both KP as leader and where he was trying to steer the LTTE, apparently leading to his downfall, writes NEVILLE DE SILVA
AT a time when reports were circulating of the deaths of a Taliban leader in Pakistan and suspected perpetrators of terrorist bombings in Indonesia, the arrest of Sri Lankan Selvarasa Pathmanathan alias "KP" made news far beyond Asia.
It is not just because Pathmanathan had somehow muscled his way to the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan separatist group, as successor to Velupillai Prabhakaran, killed in May by the Sri Lankan forces.
Before Pathmanathan entered the public arena six months ago, anointed by Prabhakaran as the LTTE's international spokesman, he had been a shadowy figure, a man of many faces, names and passports flitting across national frontiers, concluding arms deals and shipping the sophisticated armaments to the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka.
More than any other individual, it was KP who transformed the LTTE into "Tigers Inc", a vast financial empire structured on legitimate and illegitimate business that fuelled Prabhakaran's dreams for an independent Tamil state carved out of Sri Lanka's north and east.
Pathmanathan's role as chief arms procurer, narcotics dealer, money launderer and genuine shipping agent, as well as the information and intelligence he gathered over the years about people and places, makes him a prize catch for Sri Lanka's security services.
Now that he is under lock and key (and apparently singing like a canary, according to some Sri Lanka media sources), this must be a happy day for Sri Lanka, which three months ago decimated the LTTE as a conventional force after a conflict that had dragged on for more than 30 years.
If Colombo's intelligence services are milking Pathmanathan, there must also be many around the world who have benefited from KP's millions, collected from the worldwide Tamil diaspora, who must surely wonder if their names and connections with the LTTE and its clandestine deals will be revealed.
They would include those in the international arms trade, non-governmental organisations, officials and uniformed services personnel in different countries, and foreign diplomats -- Pathmanathan was known to have made a wide array of contacts during his heyday as the LTTE's clandestine figure abroad.
Where and how Pathmanathan came to be arrested and taken to Sri Lanka remains wrapped in secrecy. The stories range from fanciful accounts of a Mossad-style operation of the sort by which the Israelis netted Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, to a "sting" operation by a Southeast Asian intelligence service following a tip-off from a South Asian agency.
Right now, it would appear from media reports and conversations with Southeast Asian journalists that Sri Lanka had the political and administrative support of countries in the Asean region, to successfully conclude "Operation KP".
This could not have happened without the sustained diplomatic engagement Sri Lanka has maintained with the Asean countries in the last two or three years.
In recent years, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in particular have spent time in the Asean region briefing their counterparts, the media and the public on the dangers of the LTTE either having or planning to set up cells in their countries, and infiltrating dissident and extremist groups by offering them LTTE "expertise" in raising funds.
In Bogollagama's several bilateral discussions with the foreign ministers of Asean countries, as well as those outside Asean, his call was for closer collaboration between them and Sri Lanka in the war against terrorism.
This was a theme taken up by Rajapaksa at meetings with defence officials at regional conferences, where he urged a more structured exchange of intelligence. Dr Kohona, meanwhile, addressed academic institutions on the dangers of modern terrorism.
Two months ago, Bogollagama delivered an aide memoire to several Asian countries, including Malaysia, calling on them for help in apprehending Pathmanathan, who was wanted by Interpol, and pointing out that the LTTE's military defeat had not eliminated it as a source of danger to Sri Lanka and the region.
This diplomatic offensive, coupled with Pathmanathan's assumption of his new role as the international spokesman of the LTTE and very recently as the immediate leader of the group, contributed to his downfall.
The once-shadowy KP transmogrified into a kind of public persona, issuing media statements, granting TV interviews and using his mobile phone frequently, thus exposing himself to sophisticated surveillance.
Pathmanathan's ambition to take over the mantle of leadership led him to meet more people and expand his network of contacts, but he overreached himself by dictating the new direction of the LTTE.
In doing so, he created enemies among sections of the LTTE in the Tamil diaspora, who disagreed with both KP as leader and where he was trying to steer the LTTE.
There is strong speculation that intelligence agencies were tipped off to Pathmanathan's whereabouts by those who opposed him and wanted him out of the way. In this world of intrigue, double-cross and triple-cross, who can really tell?
The writer is a veteran Sri Lanka journalist