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 Post subject: Fight the Tigers, arm Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Thu Jul 13, 2006 1:20 am 
Fight the Tigers, arm Sri Lanka

Thursday, July 13, 2006
@ Daily Pioneer India
By Asok K Mehta

The story of the Government's firefighting action in Nepal is instructive. While the crisis was brewing, BJP leader Jaswant Singh was invited to Kathmandu by King Gyanendra. A special RNA aircraft was to take him there. He informed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and requested for a briefing on Nepal. This spurred the Government into looking for its own emissary. Celebrating Baisakhi in Jammu, another Maharaja, Dr Karan Singh, was hurriedly recalled to Delhi and put on the first plane to Kathmandu to preempt any non-Government initiative. Yet, CPI(M)'s Sitaram Yechury outside the Government is now the visible face of India's Nepal policy.

India's Sri Lanka policy has its moorings - you guessed right - in Chennai. The escalation during May and June in violence - a combination of Claymore mines and suicide attacks by LTTE and air and artillery 'deterrent retaliation' by Sri Lankan Security Forces (SLSF) - in Sri Lanka led to a steady stream of refugees into Tamil Nadu. A joint but mild resolution by the ruling DPA alliance asked Delhi to "take necessary steps to ensure peace in Sri Lanka". The DPA was seeking protection for Sri Lankan Tamils including their human rights, safety of fishermen and freeze on supply of weapons to SLSF. It had objected to the sale of two low-level radars for deterrence against LTTE's fleet of six light aircraft which could be used on a possible kamikaze mission to Colombo. Manmohan Singh sent National Security Advisor MK Narayanan to Chennai to assuage southern Indian concerns and had M Karunanidhi saying his policy on Sri Lanka was the same as the Government of India's.

Earlier, India's High Commissioner in Colombo, Ms Nirupama Rao, was summoned to Delhi and was one of the four persons who met the Prime Minister while he was convalescing after a wrist operation. She brought a set of options on what India could and should not do. Remember, the new Sri Lankan President, Mr Mahinda Rajapakse, had pleaded for India to be more proactively involved in Sri Lanka. One of the 'dos' recommended by Ms Rao was the provision of defensive weapons only to SLSF whereas they had been asking for tanks and aircraft.

In a worse crisis than the present in April 2000 the NDA Government not only refused to supply any weapons it also ignored a request to evacuate the Sri Lankan garrison in case LTTE had overwhelmed Jaffna peninsula. Today, Sri Lankans recall that the Pakistan-supplied Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers saved Jaffna. On his first visit to India earlier this year, Mr Rajapakse had given Mr Manmohan Singh a list of military needs and followed it up with a polite reminder. Later he sent his brother, Defence Secretary Col Gothabaye Rajapakse, to prod Indian officials on his request but apparently while they were very positive, nothing happened. One more effort was made last month when Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera arrived on a sudden visit to brief Mr Manmohan Singh on the evolving situation in Sri Lanka and also handed over a letter from Mr Rajapakse requesting military supplies.

Mr Manmohan Singh's message for Samaraweera was clear - the need for a political solution, the first time India had publicly done some plain speaking. The assassination of General Parami Kulatunge in Colombo on June 26 drew an uncharacteristically strong response from Ms Rao but, conspicuously, mention of LTTE was absent. While emphasising the importance of the political solution, the statement contained the standard "upholding the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka".

Days later, the politically cornered LTTE fielded its chief ideologue Anton Balasingham to express regret over the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi which was clarified by the outfit's spokesperson Thaya Master as "not owning responsibility for the killing". The Congress went into a tizzy. Its party in Chennai plastered posters demanding a ban on anti-national parties like AIADMK and its allies MDMK and DPI. If Delhi is to be more effective in the peace process, it has to reopen lines to the LTTE.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran's visit to Colombo last week was the high point in the current trajectory of India's revived self-interest in Sri Lanka. The gloves are not quite off but after the fiasco in Nepal, Delhi wants to ensure it is not caught napping with another Elephant Pass. Mr Saran told his interlocutors that violence must end and "we will do whatever we can to bring down tension". This is significant. Even more significant is "our security cooperation is aimed at building deterrence of SLSF". No Indian official has ever said this before. If one is to build an effective deterrence, one has to gauge its current operational capacity. SLSF is poor and low in this and also completely demoralised compared to an upbeat LTTE celebrating the 19th anniversary of Black Tigers Day, an awesome reminder of Prabhakaran's glorification of the ultimate act. Last week, he was shown blessing his flock of self-destructive bombers with an aircraft painted in camouflage colours in the background.

If India is serious about enhancing deterrence, it has to intensify defence cooperation and provide or enable SLSF with more than just defensive weapons. Mr Rajapakse's list of needs has to be scrutinised and minimum requirements met before Pakistan and China, waiting in the wings, step in. Is it UPA or DPA that is making policy, especially after Mr Karunanidhi has said his policy is the same as the Government of India's?

Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, Commander of Sri Lankan Navy, is in Delhi and yesterday thanked the Coast Guard for transferring one of its vessels to SLN. He said he needed another offshore patrol boat. The SLN has faced the worst onslaught of the Sea Tigers recently. Karannagoda would like the Indian Navy's patrolling the Eastern Coast of Sri Lanka to be more intimately coordinated with SLN. Our Integrated Defence Staff has declared the Sea Tigers as a threat to India too.

It is worth recalling that the origin of the ongoing crisis in Sri Lanka was the change in President and Army High Command at the same time. While Mr Rajapakse announced a reversal from federal to unitary polity, Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, an assassin's bomb shrapnel still inside him, adopted a more proactive approach, replacing the 'live and let live' policy. Last year, Prabhakaran had warned the President about coming up with a political package in a reasonable time frame or 'face the consequences'.

After India perked up so has the political process towards a devolution package in Colombo. Der aaye lekin durust aaye. Now Delhi has to match its words with deeds or 'face the consequences'.

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