( Written exclusively for the online journal of a US university at their request. Cannot be reproduced till they publish it—B.Raman, 9-2-09)
The success of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces in inflicting a series of defeats on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since the middle of 2006 and in restoring the writ of the State over 95 per cent of the territory in the Tamil majority Eastern and Northern provinces, which was under the control of the LTTE, has been greeted in India with a mix of satisfaction and concern.
The satisfaction arises from the expected total defeat of the LTTE’s insurgent force, which had succeeded in virtually establishing a State within a State with its paraphernalia of an administrative structure and a so-called Army, Navy and Air Force. Its naval and air capabilities posed a threat not only to the national security of Sri Lanka, but also to the security of India and the region as a whole.
India’s concerns over the naval and air capabilities of the LTTE were magnified after the terrorist attack in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008, by a group of 10 sea-borne terrorists from Pakistan belonging to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). The success of the LET terrorists in Mumbai brought to India’s mind the similar success of a group of sea-borne terrorists of the LTTE who clandestinely landed in India’s southern coast in 1991, found their way to Chennai and assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, at the venue of an election meeting In May ,1991.
Whatever ambivalence might have been there in India’s policy-making circles over the advisability of openly supporting the counter-insurgency operations of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces was removed after the Mumbai terrorist attack. There was a realization that terrorism in any form by any group for any reason should not be tolerated and that double standards in dealing with terrorism would only play into the hands of the terrorists. When India was demanding that Pakistan should act strongly against terrorists operating from its territory, it could not have criticized the counter-insurgency operations of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces against the LTTE.
No tears have been shed in India over the defeat of the LTTE as an insurgent force. Even before the Mumbai terrorist attack, India had been quietly helping the Sri Lankan Armed Forces by supplying defensive equipment such as radars and by training Sri Lankan personnel in the use of this equipment. Indian intelligence, which has a long history of co-operation with its Sri Lankan counterpart since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, stepped up this co-operation further since 2006 and willingly shared with the Sri Lankan authorities intelligence of value in dealing with the LTTE. The Sri Lankan Armed Forces should be the first to acknowledge that their success in severely damaging, if not destroying, the commercial shipping capability of the LTTE was to a considerable extent facilitated by precise intelligence from India. One of the reasons for the defeat of the LTTE was its inability to replenish its stocks of arms and ammunition through clandestine shipments from abroad. Intelligence supplied by India contributed significantly to disrupting these clandestine shipments.
Indian policy-makers have no reasons to regret such limited assistance provided by them. This assistance was in mutual interest. India, which has itself faced serious insurgent situations in its North-East and in Jammu & Kashmir and has dealt with them strongly and effectively, could not have viewed with equanimity the success of a dreaded insurgent-cum-terrorist force such as the LTTE in its neighbourhood. The LTTE is now a dying horse, but not yet a dead horse. Its final demise as an insurgent-cum-terrorist organization, when it comes about, should be a matter of satisfaction to all those opposed to terrorism.
India’s concerns are not over the impending demise of the LTTE. They are over what next. Many questions ought to be bothering the minds of Indian policy-makers. It has been India’s experience since its independence in 1947 that whenever any Government in Colombo felt itself strong enough not to need Indian assistance in any matter, it has shown a troubling insensitivity to India’s security concerns. One saw this before and after the Sino-Indian war of 1962. While pretending to take a neutral stand in the border dispute between India and China, it took a position which was perceived in India as more sympathetic to China than India. In the months preceding the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971, which facilitated the birth of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi, in retaliation for the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane to Lahore by two Pakistan-instigated terrorists from J&K, banned all Pakistani flights to the then East Pakistan over Indian territory. Sri Lanka went to the help of Pakistan by allowing Pakistan Air Force planes carrying troops and equipment to East Pakistan to refuel at the Katunayake airport. A furious Indira Gandhi warned the Sri Lankan Government that she considered this an unfriendly act and threatened to retaliate against Sri Lanka. It was only after this that Sri Lanka stopped the refueling of the PAF planes. After the Indian nuclear test of 1974, India was concerned over a reported move of the US to set up a huge set-up of the Voice of America in Sri Lankan territory. Indian intelligence had told her that the US intelligence agency, which is responsible for technical intelligence, would have a presence in the VOA set-up to collect intelligence about India’s nuclear and space establishments in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. When the Sri Lankan Government repeatedly ignored Indian concerns on this subject, Indira Gandhi decided to teach it a lesson by extending political, moral and diplomatic support to the Sri Lankan Tamils.
In recent years, successive Sri Lankan Governments have been showing sensitivity to India’s security and strategic concerns because they had been rendered weak by the success of the LTTE in establishing its control over large parts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Now that they are on the verge of defeating the LTTE after re-establishing their writ over the Tamil areas, will they continue to show the same sensitivity in future or will they go back to their past reflexes of playing India against Pakistan and China, whenever it suited them. Even during its present counter-insurgency operations, the Sri Lankan Government has expanded its economic and military supply relations with Pakistan and China. This trend could pick up momentum after they succeed totally in their operations against the LTTE.
The other Indian concern arises from the emotional dimension of the problem. Tamils constitute the overwhelming majority of Tamil Nadu, the southern coastal province of India. Ethnically, linguistically and culturally, they are close to the Sri Lankan Tamils. The political aspirations of the Sri Lankan Tamils and their difficulties in the unitary state that Sri Lanka is have an echo in Tamil Nadu. India had never supported the LTTE’s objective of an independent Tamil State in the Northern and Eastern Provinces to be called Tamil Eelam, but it has strongly favoured since 1987 the transformation of Sri Lanka into a genuine federal State with a separate State for the Tamils with considerable political and economic powers similar to the powers enjoyed by the States in the Indian Federation.
Successive Sri Lankan Governments have repeatedly assured their own Tamils as well as India of their intention for the devolution of powers to the Tamil provinces and to grant the Tamils the same status as enjoyed by the majority Sinhalese community with no discrimination on ethnic grounds. Will the Government in Colombo honour this promise once it feels it has destroyed the LTTE once and for all. The LTTE was the strongest of the Tamil political movements. Other Tamil political organizations, which are presently collaborating with the Government against the LTTE, are weak with limited following. Presently, the Government is giving them importance as proof of its intention to treat the Tamils as equals of the Sinhalese in all respects. Will it continue to do so once it succeeds in defeating the LTTE?
Policy-makers in India also ought to be concerned over the already evident signs of the recrudescence of Sinhalese extremism and intolerance not only in the civil society, but even in the Government and the Armed Forces. The intemperate remarks of Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka,the army commander, highlighting the Sinhalese character of the State (though denied subsequently), the attacks on journalists, who criticize the military operations and the criticism of humanitarian relief organizations which highlight the plight of the Tamil civilians are disturbing indicators of the revival of Sinhalese extremism as the Armed Forces near their final victory over the LTTE. This does not bode well for the future.
India is keeping its fingers crossed as it awaits the final defeat of the LTTE.
(The writer served as an analyst in the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s external intelligence agency, from 1968 to 1994 and in the National Security Advisory Board of the Govt. of India from 2000 to end-2002. He is presently Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. He is the author of four books---- “Intelligence---Past, Present and Future” published in 2001, “ A Terrorist State as A Frontline Ally” published in 2001, “The Kaoboys of R&AW---Down Memory Lane” published in 2007 and “Terrorism--- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” published in 2008. All the four have been published by the Lancer Publishers of Delhi---www.lancerpublishers.com . E-mail: email@example.com )