Sri Lanka & India: Facing Realities

by B.Raman

India has two roles in Sri Lanka. The first is as a catalyst to promote a political solution to the problems and grievances of the Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims, who are also Tamil-speaking, in a manner which would give the Tamils and Muslims full political rights without weakening the unity of Sri Lanka and without adding to the bitterness between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The second is to ensure that terrorism does not pay and that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) does not become a role model for terrorist organisations elsewhere in the world, including India. The LTTE is acquiring for itself all the defining characteristics of a State actor such as a conventional army, navy and air force and is hoping that if it keeps fighting, the international community will ultimately reconcile itself to its passage from the status of a non-state actor to that of a state actor by recognising its objective of an independent Tamil Eelam.

2. India has also an international obligation under various international conventions relating to counter-terrorism and particularly under the UN Security Resolution No.1373, which was passed after the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. The UNSC Resolution No.1373 applies to all international terrorist organisations and not just to international jihadi terrorist organisations. The LTTE comes under the definition of an international terrorist organisation due to various reasons. Firstly, it had carried out acts of terrorism in Indian soil in the past, including the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Secondly, it has had contacts in the past with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) of Pakistan, which is a founding-member of Osama bin Laden’s International Islamic Front (IIF) and which is behind many acts of jihadi terrorism in Indian territory. Thirdly, it has had contacts in the past with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The arms and ammunition carried by the late Kittu’s ship in 1993 were given by the HUM and were loaded on to the LTTE ship at Karachi with the complicity of the ISI. Fourthly, it has had and continues to have contacts with various terrorist organisations of West Asia such as the Hezbollah of the Lebanon. Fifthly, it runs an international arms smuggling and procurement network with the help of some members of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora abroad. Sixthly, the recent investigations by the Tamil Nadu Police have brought out that though the LTTE has not used the Indian territory for an act of terrorism after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, it continues to use the Indian territory for the procurement of material required for improvised explosive devices. Seventhly, it has set up logistics support sanctuaries in many countries of the world with the help of members of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora as well as others sympathetic to it.

3. These factors oblige India to extend to Sri Lanka two kinds of assistance—-namely, intelligence-sharing and action against the LTTE’s logistics support sanctuaries in Indian territory. India has already been extending such assistance. While intelligence-sharing cannot be public knowledge, the details of the recent actions by the Coast Guard and the Tamil Nadu Police against the LTTE’s procurement activities are evidence of the Indian co-operation.

4. The 9/11 terrorist strikes also brought about a recognition by the international community that terrorism is an absolute evil, whatever be its cause and objective and should not be tolerated. Every State, which is a victim of terrorism, has a right to take all legitimate self-defence measures to protect the lives and property of its nationals. Thus, the Government of Sri Lanka has the right to take all legitimate measures to protect its citizens from acts of terrorism. Such legitimate measures include procurement of the weapons and expertise required for counter-terrorism operations from other countries.

5. It has been exercising this right by procuring arms and ammunition and equipment required for its counter-terrorism operations from countries such as the US, Pakistan and China. Since India says it is not in a position to supply offensive equipment, it has been already getting them from Pakistan and it is now trying to acquire them from China. There is always a quid pro quo for such supply relationship. Taking advantage of India’s reluctance to supply offensive weapons and equipment, Pakistan —-for the last three years— and China now have come forward to supply them at favourable prices in return for Sri Lanka allowing them to increase their intelligence and military presence in Sri Lankan territory. Pakistan and China are acting separately—not yet in tandem— to strengthen their strategic presence and influence in Sri Lanka.

6. This poses legitimate security concerns to India and has caused an impression in New Delhi that the Government of Mahinda Rajapakse in Colombo has not been responsive to India’s security concerns. It was such an impression in the early 1980s that led to the decision of Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, to support the cause of the Sri Lankan Tamils. It would be unrealistic on the part of India to expect that if it continues to adhere to its policy of only limited support of a defensive nature to the Sri Lankan counter-terrorism efforts, the Sri Lankan Government would continue to fight its counter-LTTE campaign with one hand tied in the back due to the Indian opposition to its getting the arms and ammunition and equipment from Pakistan and China. This opposition was expressed by Shri M.K.Narayanan, India’s National Security Adviser, in a talk with pressmen at Chennai on May 31, 2007. His reported views have triggered off much unfavourable comments in Colombo.

7. What India’s stand amounts to is : We will help you to protect yourself from attacks by the LTTE, but we will not help you in neutralising the terrorism capabilities of the LTTE for which proactive operations might be required. The prevailing confusion in our Sri Lankan policy is due to the inability of the policy-makers in New Delhi to work out a policy mix, which would satisfactorily address the following questions:

How to help the Sri Lankan Tamils in achieving their political aspirations within a united Sri Lanka without unwittingly contributing to a strengthening of the LTTE’s terrorism?
How to help the Government of Sri Lanka in its counter-terrorism operations without getting directly involved on the ground and without allowing it to succeed in its present objective of imposing a dictated peace on the Sri Lankan Tamils by taking advantage of the present international opinion against terrorism?
How to be responsive to the concerns and sensitivities of Tamil public opinion in Tamil Nadu without allowing it to paralyse the evolution of the Sri Lankan policy of the Government of India?
8. Any policy mix has to meet the strategic requirements of India as a major power by keeping its influence strong and benign in Sri Lanka while keeping out those of Pakistan and China and the tactical requirements of meeting public sensitivities in Tamil Nadu provoked by the humanitarian situation in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka.

9. The Government of President Rajapakse has created a negative image of itself by going back on past commitments of its predecessor Governments to find a political solution within a federal model; by undoing the merger of the Eastern and the Northern Provinces; by trying to impose a dictated peace on the Tamils by attempting to restore the status quo ante in 1983 before the Tamils started their militant struggle; by indulging in the disproportionate use of intimidatory and punitive force against the Tamils through air strikes and the use of heavy artillery in its counter-terrorism operations; by causing thereby a serious humanitarian situation; and by creating difficulties in the way of India and other members of the international community responding to the situation by rushing humanitarian relief.

10. Mr.Rajapakse must realise that his credibility is very low in New Delhi as well as other capitals because of the way he has been trying to handle the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. That was why there was a marked lack of solidarity with Sri Lanka when the LTTE brought into action its air capability. A terrorist organisation acquiring an air capability should be a matter of great concern to India and other members of the international community. But yet, their reaction was studiedly low profile because of their disappointment and even annoyance with him over the way he has been handling the Tamil issue since he came to power in November, 2005. “It serves him right”, was the prevailing view in many capitals.

12. India has vital strategic interests in Sri Lanka. It still has friends in all communities in Sri Lanka, who understand India’s interests. Unfortunately, our approach to the situation in Sri Lanka has been tactical and erratic. It lacks strategic clarity and purpose. We are letting ourselves be buffeted along without leadership and initiative in policy-making. We have to do more to help Sri Lanka in its counter-terrorism operations. But that doing more has to be as a quid pro quo to its reverting to its policy of a federal solution. We should help the Sri Lankan Government not only in protecting its citizens from terrorist attacks, but also in neutralising the capabilities of the LTTE’s Air Force and Navy. The neutralisation of the LTTE’s air and sea capabilities is necessary not because of any threat to India, but because of the danger of this leading to emulation by other terrorist organisations. We should not help the Sri Lankan Government in neutralising the LTTE’s ground capabilities. We should interact more vigorously with non-LTTE Tamil organisations and prominent personalities of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. We should be attentive to the views and concerns of Tamil Nadu without letting them come in the way of our national strategic interests.

13. What kind of weapons and equipment we can give to Sri Lanka? Anti-explosive detection and protection devices, radars which would be effective against all contingencies, surface-to-air missiles, which can be used only against flying objects and not against population; naval vessels for coastal patrol; and forensic equipment for the police.

14. What we should not give? Arms and ammunition for the ground forces, artlillery and aircraft for its air force.

15. How to prevent Sri Lanka from going to Pakistan and China for arms and ammunition and equipment, which India is not prepared to give? To encourage it to get them from other sources, which are friendly to India such as Israel and Russia. We can even subsidise purchases from such friendly sources. Again the quid pro quo should be a reversion to a federal solution.

16. What should India do if Mr.Rajapakse refuses to re-adopt the federal model? Let him stew in his own juice. (2-6-07)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )


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