Join our Mailing List

"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

India's interventionist policies in its neighbourhood

October 23, 2008

By Asif Haroon Raja
Asian Tribune
October 22, 2008

'Sri Lanka's ethnic war was like a dragon with its tail in
northeastern Sri Lanka, with its heart in Tamil Nadu and its head in
New Delhi'. -- Prof Sir Richard Clutterbuk

The Brahman Hindus in India have always suffered from megalomania;
they wish to re-establish the fancied grandeur of the old order. They
stubbornly cling to self created myths and legends and perceive that
India in its old form extended from Iran and Afghanistan to
Indonesia. They wish to reunite all lost territories and re-emerge as
great Mahabharata. It is in the backdrop of these mythical beliefs
that they eye all their neighbours with disdain.

 From the time of its independence India has constantly endeavoured
to browbeat them into submission and schemed to undermine them either
through covert means or coercion or use of physical force. Goa and
Sikkim have been absorbed into Indian Union while Pakistan has been
cut to size. Truncated Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal,
Bhutan, Maldives, Burma, Tibet are victims of Indian intrigues.

None is able to do much because of India's huge military, nuclear and
missile power and its strategic partnership with the sole super power
both having commonality of interests. I have already dwelt upon
Indian perverse role in dismembering Pakistan in 1971. I will confine
this write up to Sri Lanka only which is suffering under the weight
of Indian oppressive hegemony. Its ethnic conflict in the northeast
has been transformed into a cruel war which has no end in sight.

Tamil terrorism and quest for separatism is rooted in strained
Sinhalese-Tamil relations since 12th century. Tamils claim Tamil
Eelam as their traditional homeland in the North and East of Sri
Lanka. Sinhalese claim to the rights of settlement in the entire
island as their traditional right. Both maintain their distinct
language, culture, religion and social customs. While Sinhalese have
their roots in Indo-Aryans, Tamils trace their history to Dravidian
civilisation of South India. Sizeable number of Indian origin Tamils
are settled in the upcountry region of Sri Lanka. Tamil nationalism
has its basis in demand for equating Tamil language with Sinhalese
and decentralisation of political power; Mr. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike
however insisted on one language. Denial of these rights turned
political issue into national crisis and gave rise to Tamil militancy in 1970s.

The north-eastern island is contiguous to India's southern state of
Tamil Nadu which also entertains separatist tendencies since long.
After DMK led by M. Karunanidhi came to power in 1967 in Tamil Nadu,
smugglers in Jaffna as well as extremist elements established
contacts with smugglers and extremists in Tamil Nadu and over a
period of time ethnic kinship and political considerations drew them
as well as other politicians closer. The three Tamil parties in Sri
Lanka joined hands in May 1972 and formed an alliance under the
banner of Tamil United Front (TUF) to press for their demands. In
October, a resistance movement was launched and Tamil flag hoisted.
The Tamil Student Federation formed a militant wing called Tamil New
Tigers which was renamed as LTTE in 1975. On May 14, 1976, a
resolution was passed calling for a separate state for Tamils and TUF
was renamed as TULF. The flow of arms and detonators to Jaffna
increased from Tamil Nadu.

In July 1977 elections in Sri Lanka, Jayewardene defeated Mrs.
Bandaranaike and after taking over as PM, he introduced liberal
economic policies. TULF with 17 seats emerged as the most powerful
opposition party. In the following year Jayewardene became president
and Premadasa took over as PM. In 1981, communal politicians began to
encourage the youth to join Tamil militant groups while militant
activities from Tamil Nadu into Sri Lanka continued unabated. Tens of
militant groups numbering 37 like LTTE led by V. Prabhakaran, PLOTE,
EROS, EPRLF, TELA, TELO cropped up in the north-eastern Tamil
dominated regions. Each had links with leftist political parties and
separatist groups in India. These groups began to function as private
armies to destabilise northeastern region in pursuit of their
objective of gaining independence. They established close ties with
DMK's Karunanidhi. Indian leaders somehow got obsessed with an
unwanted fear that its south had become vulnerable because of
strategic port of Trincomalee falling into the hands of forces
inimical to its interests and hence must be protected. It was feared
that creation of a separate Tamil State could have serious
ramifications for India since ethnic affinity between the Tamils
living on both sides of the border in Sri Lanka's northeast and
India's south could lead to establishment of greater Tamil Nadu
(Dravida Desam).

For about a year TULF colluded with the government which estranged
their relations with the militants. But after the ethnic riots in
July 1983 the political leaders of TULF shifted to Tamil Nadu since
they refused to take oath on 6th Amendment in the constitution that
they will not support separatism. Tens of thousands of Tamils also
moved to India as refugees. From August 1983 onwards, intelligence
agencies of India waged a secret war in Sri Lanka. They began to
covertly recruit Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu, trained
them in intelligence gathering and directed them to spy on foreign
naval movements in the Trincomalee harbour and security forces
installations in north-eastern Sri Lanka. Chandrahasan, a son of Late
S.J.V. Chelvanayakam and a lawyer, based in Madras (Chennai) who had
maintained active contacts with all the militant groups was taken on
board to serve RAW's purposes.

Indira Gandhi miffed by Colombo's hobnobbing with USA, Britain and
other countries and wanted to keep Sri Lankan leadership under her
thumb. She entrusted RAW to strengthen Sri Lankan Tamil militant
groups and prevent Sri Lankan security forces from achieving a
military victory. She gave a green signal to R.N. Kao to repeat the
success of Bangladesh operation in Sri Lanka, who played a key role
in this gory drama. Indian instructors began to impart training in
various fields to all the six militant groups in real earnest. They
established 30 training centres in Madras and ten other districts of
Tamil Nadu, Dehra Dun, New Delhi and Bombay. Having smelt the rat,
Sri Lanka launched an official protest stating that India was
involved in arming and training Sri Lankan Tamils which India denied.
Jayewardene began to seek equipment and training assistance from
elsewhere to fight the menace of terrorism.

Jayewardene became an eyesore for hawkish Indira, because of
personality clash, his hobnobbing with other powers particularly arch
rival Pakistan, and his refusal to acknowledge India as the leading
regional power. Indira took exception to Colombo's contacts with
other counties and receiving military assistance from China, Israel
and Pakistan and viewed it as a security threat to India.
Establishment of VoA radio station, use of oil tank farm by foreign
ships and harbour facilities at Trincomalee to warships irritated
Indira. In August 1984, India moved its forces from Agra to
Trivandrum, but better sense prevailed and the planned invasion of
Sri Lanka was shelved in September. While playing the role of a
mediator, India kept supporting the militants covertly to create
chaos and weaken its neighbour. As a consequence, the LTTE grew
stronger and established worldwide network in all the geographic
regions to collect funds for the Eelam war.

When Rajiv Gandhi took over after the assassination of his mother in
October 1984, RAW was made the intermediary between the heads of
state of India and Sri Lanka in 1985. Like his mother, Rajiv also
leaned heavily on RAW and allowed it to strengthen LTTE to be able to
withstand military pressure from Sri Lankan security forces. By 1986,
the number of Indian trained, armed and financed militants exceeded
20,000. The LTTE members were given training in host of fields
including use of explosives, RDX and use of surface to air missiles.

In Tamil Nadu, 21 political parties and groups formed an alliance and
pledged solidarity with LTTE. Using Tamil Nadu as a safe sanctuary,
the LTTE used hit and run guerrilla tactics and with military support
from RAW, the militants not only checkmated the Sri Lankan security
forces but also shifted the theatre of war nearer to Colombo by
carrying out massacres in border villages and exploding bombs in the
capital city. India succeeded in systematically destabilising Sri
Lanka. It used the militant factor as a means to pressure Colombo to
change its foreign policy of becoming a pawn into the hands of
outside powers. By early 1987, 2000 LTTE cadres, 8000 PLOTE cadres,
1500 EPRLF cadres, 1250 ERO cadres, 1500 TLO cadres and several other
cadres had been trained in north and south India.

When Colombo launched a powerful offensive supported by air force and
navy against the rebels in Jaffna in mid 1987, India notified Colombo
that it would not allow Jaffna to be captured by its military. Indian
air force violated Sri Lankan air space and started to provide relief
supplies to the entrapped people of Jaffna through air drops.
Subsequently, after signing of controversial Indo-Lanka Accord in
July 1987, Indians began to move in its troops as Indian Peace
Keeping Force (IPKF) and pumped in over 100,000 troops including
tanks, naval vessels and aircraft.

Having created the monster, the LTTE which by then had become a
formidable force as a sequel to large-scale Indian military
assistance, the spill over effects of insurgency had begun to be felt
in Tamil Nadu. A peace accord was signed wherein the LTTE was to
surrender arms in return for general amnesty, release of prisoners
and set up of Administrative Councils to meet the demands of LTTE.
The latter handed over small part of their weapons and hid the rest
and its relations with IPKF remained frosty. Anti-accord forces in
the south led by JVP under Rohana Wijayaweera got activated. On 18
August 1987, Jayewardene and Premadasa survived a grenade attack by
JVP militants in the Parliament. As a sequel to several clashes and
LTTE attacking Indian forces deployed in Sri Lanka, Indian military
declared war against the LTTE on 11 October. Its efforts to capture
Prabhakaran failed.

It then launched a full-fledged operation codenamed Operation Pawan
against the Tamils in Jaffna and estimated to capture it within 72
hours. It took them 45 days to clear it, but after having used all
its available firepower in most ruthless manner. Mortar and artillery
shells rained for weeks without a stop, killing mostly innocent men,
women and children. Hundreds of Tamil women were raped and most put
to death after satisfying their sexual lust. Most grotesque was the
cold blooded killing of sick and wounded in the Jaffna General
Hospital. While the LTTE losses were very low, the Indians suffered
grievous losses and had to announce a ceasefire on 21 November
unilaterally. When the LTTE demanded withdrawal of Indian troops as a
pre condition for talks, the war resumed. LTTE continued to receive
supplies from Tamil Nadu and the state government of AIADMK led by
the matinee idol M.G.Ramachandran sought withdrawal of IPKF. After
the demise of Ramachandran on December 1987, his wife Janaki
succeeded as Chief Minister and her government lasted only for 24
days and by the end of January 1988, presidential rule was imposed in
Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lanka President Ranatunga Premadasa who succeeded
J.R.Jayawardene, proved to be another tough nut to crack. He invited
the LTTE and JVP for unconditional talks in April 1989 and then
requested Indian forces to halt military operations against the LTTE.
In July Premadasa requested the Indian for to leave Sri Lanka by the
close of the same month or else it would be declared as an occupation
army. In August, RAW created another shadowy organisation called
Tamil National Army (TNA) that would help fill the vacuum created by
the withdrawal of Indian army. RAW was provided Rs. 10 crore to
recruit the youth. By September India suspended operations and agreed
to withdraw by April 1990 in phases. The LTTE was secretly supplied
arms and explosives by government channels to fight the TNA. The
former succeeded in wiping out TNA elements from the northeast except
strategic port of Trincomalee.

The price of military misadventure into Sri Lankan domestic affairs
was heavy for India. Till April 1990, India had lost 1555 soldiers
including 55 officers, 2987 wounded and incurred an expenditure of
Rs. 1000 crore. With its departure, LTTE moved into Trincomalee and
by June the LTTE struck back attacking nine police stations and
killing 600 policemen. With that Eelam War II broke out.
Subsequently, the LTTE eliminated the leadership of all the militant
groups and merged them within its organisation to ensure its
monopoly. In May 1991, on the eve of general elections in India,
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by an LTTE female suicide bomber Dhanu
wearing a belt bomb, which shook India. Indian Tamils were also
behind the incident.

Consequent to RAW's perverse role in East Pakistan and then in
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives, all its neighbours
have become wary and suspicious of India. Sri Lanka burdened with an
externally initiated enemy continues to fight a merciless and lethal
war and the conflict seems to have no end in sight. Sri Lankan forces
have performed admirably well in the face of Indian machinations and
have not only retrieved whole of Eastern Province but also more than
half the districts in Northern Province of Jaffna Peninsula as well.
The army is close to retaking the crucial town of Kilinochchi and the
LTTE has its back against the wall militarily. The balance has tilted
decisively in favour of government forces and the LTTE is on the run.

Alarmed by the debacle faced by the LTTE, the DMK gave a frantic call
given for an all party conference to discuss the security situation
in Sri Lanka. The response was poor and Jayalalitha's AIADMK and
several other parties kept away from the conference. Only the DMK,
the PMK, Communist Party of India and the Tamil Nadu wings of the
Congress attended. The meeting demanded that the UPA government
should ensure a ceasefire in North Sri Lanka within two weeks, or
their MPs would consider resignation en masse from the Lok Sabha.
This was a usual gimmick to blackmail the government but it
boomeranged. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi could at
best give a lukewarm warning to the Lok Sabha for he knew that after
the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, New Delhi had shown little
interest in the affairs of ethnic war in Sri Lanka. It has realised
the folly of dancing with the wolves and had reaped what it had sown.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went through the motions and has
responded to the Tamil MPs' call by stating that civil wars of the
sort that Sri Lanka has suffered since 1983 are not ended by military
victory alone, but through negotiated settlement. He however
expressed concern about the human cost being borne by the 220,000
people displaced by the fighting. There is marked change in Delhi's
attitude and it seems that it does not intend to question Sri Lanka's
sovereign right to end terrorism on its territory; nor should it. It
is hoped that this change is reflected in case of other neighbors
including Pakistan which is presently suffering at the hands of RAW
inspired militancy in Baluchistan and FATA.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has immediately assured that
the current developments in northern Sri Lanka, including the
escalation in the fighting against LTTE, was a "temporary phase" and
that it should not be construed as an offensive against ethnic Tamil
civilians. The fight is against terrorist and not at all against the
Tamil people. He said that Sri Lanka wants a political solution to
the problem and that he was confident this would be best addressed
after defeating the terrorists militarily. He pointed out that there
were not many casualties amongst the civilians who were caught in the
fighting between the LTTE and security forces in northern Sri Lanka.
In the past, the Tigers have called for ceasefires to help them
regroup and re-arm; it is understandable that that the Sri Lankan
military is chary about granting them more.

Asif Haroon Raja is Rawalpindi based defence and political analyst
and writer of several books. He also writes exclusively to Asian Tribune.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank