If there is one weapon that Kumaran Pathmanathan now says he has faith in, it is education. “If only I had taken education more seriously, I would have acquired the ability to think and analyse issues independently,” he says, leaning back on his chair, at his office in Senchcholai Children Care Home –Kilinochchi.
Arms procurement wing
This is the man who headed the arms procurement wing and ‘international secretariat’ of the LTTE. KP travelled all over the world to buy guns and other military hardware for the Tigers.
He moved from one sea port to another undetected and was responsible for ensuring that the weapons reached the LTTE.
Popularly known as KP, he was, for long, on Interpol’s wanted list, charged with arms smuggling and criminal conspiracy and was also wanted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.
After the war ended, KP was arrested in Malaysia in August 2009. He was detained in a ministerial bungalow in Colombo and released in late 2012.
At that time, however, the Sri Lankan government said: “Kumaran Pathmanathan, who is under special protection, was permitted to engage in his NGO work and not released as claimed by media.”
Now, four years after the war, says KP, the arms struggle was a mistake.
Running this home for war-affected children, he talks only about education. The home is located near an army camp now, fuelling speculation about his proximity to the government. It has a few rooms, dormitories and an assembly hall.
Funding, says KP, comes from the Tamil diaspora.
Attired in a white cotton shirt and grey trousers, KP (nearly 60) looks back at his country’s past with what seems like regret.
Attributing the violence — spurred by the arms struggle — to the lack of adequate education in the country, he says: “The last 30 years of war have pushed us educationally further behind.”
Pausing for a few seconds, he fixes his gaze on a group of children playing about five metres away from where we are seated.
“Many of them lost their parents during the war, and some of them are injured or disabled. If they have to come out of this trauma, education is the only means and that is my vision now.”
As many as 300 children stay at the home and go to a nearby school.The home offers additional tuitions in the evening to help children who had dropped out of school during the war.
“This is a community that had given up all hope over the years. Reviving that hope and instilling confidence is the greatest challenge at the moment,” he says. Observing that, in the 1970s, Tamil politicians brainwashed youngsters like him into joining the Tamil cause, he says the recent student protests in Tamil Nadu brought back those memories.
“Students should be left to study. Politicians there [TN] make it an emotional issue. They cannot do anything on their own for us, so they have to work with the Centre in India and help Sri Lanka.” Terming the attack on Buddhists monks in India “uncivil” and “inhuman”, he says such responses will only do more damage than good to the Sri Lankan Tamils.KP is not short of suggestions on the means to achieve peace and reconciliation: “The army’s presence enhances safety at one level, but also intimidates people.”In KP’s opinion, reducing the army presence in the area and introducing civil administration would help improve the living conditions of the people there. “Tamil politicians are obsessed with Jaffna and hardly engage with the people of the Vanni who are the real victims.”