Sunday, May 31, 2009

SRI LANKA: INDIA'S ROLE

B. Raman

Many Sri Lankan Tamils were killed during the anti-Tamil riots in Colombo in 1983. In their anxiety to suppress details of the exact number of fatalities from being known to the international community, the Sri Lankan authorities allegedly decided to secretly burn the dead bodies of the Tamils killed in mass cremations without informing the relatives. Much before any agency of the Government of India, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, came to know about it and took action to stop it.

2. Her information came from Tamil families in Tamil Nadu with links or contacts with Tamils in Sri Lanka, I am mentioning this to underline that if there is any large-scale massacre of Tamils in Sri Lanka by State agencies, Tamil families in Tamil Nadu would generally come to know about it much before anybody else in India or in the rest of the world. The fact that there has been no such tom-toming across Tamil Nadu of independent stories----- and not stories disseminated by Western sources--- about large-scale massacre of Tamil civilians in the Northern Province by the Sri Lankan security forces would underline the need for caution in accepting stories being disseminated by Western media and human rights organisations about the alleged massacre of nearly 20,000 Tamils during the final weeks of the Sri Lankan Army's counter-insurgency operations against the LTTE.

3. Had there been really such massacres as alleged by Western sources on the basis of purported leaks from unidentified members of the junior staff of the United Nations, people in Tamil Nadu would have come to know of these alleged massacres long before anybody else. Yes, there was concern over the use of air strikes and heavy artillery by the Sri Lankan security forces. These concerns were voiced by political and non-political elements in Tamil Nadu. There was equally a feeling in Tamil Nadu that the number of casualties suffered by the civilians during the final days of the fighting must have been more than the figures given by the Sri Lankan Government. In counter-insurgency situations, it happens often that the authorities tend to underestimate civilian casualties. We saw it in Iraq and we have been seeing it in Afghanistan. The debate regarding the number of civilian fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan goes on without anybody being to establish the exact figure. But nobody accuses the US-led forces in Iraq and Afghanistan of deliberately indulging in large-scale massacres of civilians. Nobody is asking for an international tribunal to try those in charge of operations in those two countries.

4. A campaign has been started in the West to embarrass the Sri Lankan Government and to put its senior officers, who were in charge of counter-insurgency, in the dock by disseminating unauthenticated high figures of civilian fatalities in the Northern Province. India should keep away from this campaign, which seems to be motivated not necessarily by wholly humanitarian considerations. India is uniquely placed in having a better and more objective idea of what happened in the Northern Province and should act according to its judgement without being influenced by the anti-Colombo campaign mounted in the West.

5. Now that the LTTE's insurgency is over, three issues have acquired priority. The first priority is relief and rehabilitation of the Tamil civilians affected by the counter-insurgency operations. The second is post-conflict economic reconstruction in Sri Lanka as a whole and in the Tamil areas in particular. The third is addressing the Tamil anger through an appropriate political package. The LTTE may be gone, but not the Tamil anger.

6. Since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and more particularly since 2002, India has been playing second fiddle in Sri Lanka. It has left it to Western powers such as Norway and the US as well as to Japan to play an activist role in helping Sri Lanka. The time has come for India to once again play an activist role in respect of all the priorities cited above. India should assume the leadership role in helping Sri Lanka in its relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction tasks.

7. The goodwill for India in Sri Lanka has never been higher than it is after the defeat of the LTTE. It is not because India played any active role in its defeat. It is because India did not try to hamper the counter-insurgency operations of the Sri Lankan security forces. This was interpreted by them as India's moral support for their operations. Many Sri Lankans with whom I have interacted in recent weeks have frankly admitted that India's moral support was much more crucial than any material support from Pakistan or China in their counter-insurgency operations.

8. India should try to build up on this goodwill and strengthen it further by taking the leadership role in international efforts to help Sri Lanka after the conflict. If this goodwill is not frittered away and is strengthened further, that could give India a moral authority to nudge the Sri Lankan Government towards a politicasl solution which would be meaningful to the Tamils and acceptable to the Sinhalese.

9. In many articles in the past, I had expressed my fears that once the SL security forces win against the LTTE, the SL Government would try to impose a dictated peace on the Tamils. Those fears remain. All the more reason for India to play the leadership role to ensure that these fears are belied. These fears, even if valid, should not be allowed to inhibit our initiatives in Sri Lanka.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)

3 comments:

Shaan said...

Your article makes sense. It is the right time for India to act. Also, the Sri Lankan govt now is in a better position to bring change than ever before because of its recent victory. But are they willing to do it, that is the question. No indicator seems to be pointing in that direction. Why is there no visible step towards devolution?

You yourself has mentioned in previous articles that the majority of the Tamil refugees in India are from the eastern region. But the latest war was taking place in the north and there was not any significant refugee inflow into India even during the war. The Sri Lankan navy was successful in apprehending many people who tried to travel to India and sent them to camps. In this situation how do you expect information to come from Tamil refugees in India? I don't understand. However, India cannot publicly humiliate Sri Lanka like western nations because we have our own strategic needs. But Sri Lanka invited criticism on itself by calling most of the Western leaders as terrorists or terrorist supporters. They don't seem to realize that western support was crucial in breaking the financial and arms procurement network of the LTTE.

In recent days we are seeing many 'thank you' parades in Sri Lanka, thanking Pakistan, China and even Russia. But I did not come across any news of 'thank you' parade thanking India. More than the ill treatment of Tamils I am worried about the Sri Lankan mindset that makes them ill treat Tamils. Recently I read an article in DNAIndia by a person who had been to the Kadhirkamam temple in Sri Lanka. He has mentioned that inside the temple it is written "this Hindu god is the slave of the Buddha". This mindset is the reason they always looked upon India with suspicion. I don't think it will change easily and that too in victory. At present Sri Lanka is the most militarized state in South Asia. Step by step India must try to demilitarize it and also curb its strategic cooperation with China and Pakistan. Sri Lankans are master manipulators. The reported incident of a RAW official being charged of having contact with a Chinese agent and his subsequent vindication, and the uncovering of the involvement of the Sri Lankan Defense Secratary in making up the whole thing only shows how low the high level people in Sri Lanka will stoop. Its good to let Sri Lanka grow but only as a bonsai.

Winnowed said...

Brilliant article. Yes, India ought to act now. And fast.

My only grumble is that you refer to Norway as a western 'power'. Since when did busybody Norway become a 'power', western or otherwise?

Wizardy said...

Dear Raman,

I am afraid I have to disagree with you on many of your views. There is so much misinformation and it is definitely not due to naiviety, I am surprised it is coming from an expert like you.

First of all, you have used the term "alleged" so often. There is no allegation here, if there is anyone followed the series of events would know the number would easily add up to that, if not more. You portrayed India as a saintly nation, let's face it, we did a play a big part in massacre. We may not have stabbed with our own arm, but waited until the carnage is over. We could have stopped or at least reduced the civilian casualties, but we didn't.

India played her part very well (i) we needed strategic place in SL, and not letting China or Pak in our next door, (ii) Cong. party may have some scores to settle, though that is just an opinion (iii) SL is our arms buyer(past, present and future); there are ample evidences we provided strategic radar and satellite infomation to SL army. (iv) and general trading partner.


You talked about 20,000 dead, what about the quarter million displaced people now stranded between the barbed wires with no food or shelter or no one to care, missing their family and seeing their brothers and sisters dying in front of them. Did you mention at least a word of this?

SL army have just taken away youngsters (male and femalte) about 10000 of them on "suspicion", do you think the would ever return?

The timescale that the civilians would enslave between the barbed wires are put between 6 to 18 months. Any thoughts?

The west or the UN would not play any big role in SL. And, SL wouldn't listen. We all know this. The only (or one of the) country SL would have listened to is India, (just like N.Korea to China or Israel to US) but we kept quiet. Just like we are keeping quiet for all the attrocities in Burma. We carried million articles about our IPL and even a petty news like John Abraham broke his finger, etc., not a paragraph about Aung San Suu Kyi. I am just mentioning this to say, India is not a saintly nation, we play our strategic game and look for our best interest. We should have played a bigger role in stopping civilian casualties. I am no way defending LTTE, they are a terrorist organisation. They might have had a goal but that is irrelevant, the method they used is wrong. But, the civilian casualties should have been kept low. India should have a played a big part in that aspect, and we failed miserably.

You wrote about rebuilding, India would go to Sri lanka, but with full of commercial and strategic interests (both military and infra projects). We will say few words about their internal policies but just on the surface. As long as they remain our strategic and business partners we wouldn't care.

West and UN always condemn. Condemning does nothing. Sudan, Zimbabwe, recently Israel's use of phosporous bombs, Burma, and the list is too long, you know it. SL would have listened to India, China, and possibly Russia and Pak.

I am totally surprised such an article is coming from an expert like you. I hope you would write a sequel or follow-up on similar topic.