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Archive for August 13th, 2008

Despite an election looming in India and subsequent comments made by Indian National Security Adviser, M K Narayanan, the International Community, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have all backed the military effort in Sri Lanka.

During a recent visit to Sri Lanka to attend the SAARC Summit, Singh had confidentially given the go-ahead for the war, officials told this site. However, the state of Tamil Nadu is crucial for the ruling party’s win and hence Narayanan’s statement of impartiality. The Defence Advisor has recently said that despite successes, SLA is still to win the war and gain the support of the Tamils.

Despite the latest publicity stunt, India has maintained ongoing military cooperations with Sri Lanka with new training opportunities at prestigious colleges. Sri Lankan officers, including Generals and men are currently undergoing training in United States, UK, China, India, Russia and Pakistan.

Army Majors General undergoing training later in their careers was quite unusual some years back, but now, the Sri Lanka Army is a very young Army in terms of age. Some Generals in the SLA are as young as 47 years now. Major General Milinda Peiris from the Armoured Corp is an example.

These young, experienced and motivated officers were promoted based on merit and not on seniority of age. A few of these Majors General are currently undergoing training in prestigious colleges in the United States’, including the National Defence College and the American War College at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to name a few.

A large number of Battalion Commanders are also undergoing training in Russia, with another batch set to leave in September. Battalion Commanders are also training in China. Many of these officers are from the Major or Captain ranks. China is also the largest exporter of Army to Sri Lanka and the SLA fights primarily with Chinese weapons.

These opportunities demonstrate the confidence placed in the Military by the International Community despite attempts to shame Sri Lanka by some quarters.

(Defence Wire)

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The arrival of over 70,000 Indian Peace Keeping Force troops to Sri Lanka followed the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord on 29 July 1987. Their task was significant for ironically the IPKF was to disarm the very militants that India had provided covert training & arms to. In other words, Indian soldiers were being sent to a foreign land to disarm militants that India had created.

Was the IPKF operation guided politically? If so what have the Indian Government done for the over 2000 IPKF soldiers who laid down their lives for a political exercise? Surely these soldiers deserve better compensation for they come from humble homes & sent to a nation without proper guidance & asked to bring peace without being debriefed or even given a map of the area they were to cover.

There is a Right to Information Act prevalent in India, equally surprising is that no one has yet to demand exactly how much was spent by the Indian Government from Indira Gandhi’s Government onwards towards training & arming & financially supporting the LTTE & other militant groups in Sri Lanka.

The Indian Government spent over USD1000billion for the IPKF operation that lasted little over 2 years. It is the Indian tax payer who has supported the will of the successive Indian Governments, therefore the Indian tax payers deserve to know exactly how much their contribution was towards the creation of a monster that is presently in existence for over 30 years.

So what went wrong in Sri Lanka for the IPKF – their Maldive operation took less than 2 & half days? The problem faced in Sri Lanka is complicated by the presence of a powerful neighbor – one that is sensitive towards its own ambitions to project itself as a global force & be recognized as a powerful nation & one that survives on votes & alliances. It becomes further complicated by the fact that any aspiring Government cannot avoid the Tamil Nadu factor – a very large State that is traditionally the homeland of the Tamil people – though their Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka have very little to share in common apart from the fact that they are called “Tamil”. So whether it is the Congress or the BJP both sides will continue to court the Tamil Nadu politicians who are all too aware of this scenario. The issue of separatism is not confined to Sri Lanka alone, in fact in early fifties Tamil Nadu did flirt with this idea & in fact threatened to separate on the question of language & there was also the “We Tamil Movement” which India silently managed to quell before it gathered much momentum.

From Bouquets to Bricks

To chase away a presumed “devil” the Tamil people garlanded an “angel”…when the “angel” became the “devil”…they looked for another “angel”…& this vicious circle seems to be continuing all because of the “hope” that prevails in the minds of the people. Can they be blamed?

It is well known that the IPKF were ill-prepared for their role in Sri Lanka…it is even claimed that they were provided with only a tourist map of Sri Lanka & makes us wonder exactly what the Indian Government hoped off the IPKF. To this question the most suited to answer are the RAW & India’s Intelligence officers who were the central force behind the decision making of its Prime Minister. To these officers, the LTTE were “their boys”. But the goodwill mission sent by the Indian Government were naturally greeted with garlands & cheering crowds.

It took little time to see change in sentiments as cases of rape, civilian deaths, looting, theft, destruction of property by IPKF troops escalated. When the Sri Lankan army was in the Jaffna peninsula they were labeled rapists & racists. The IPKF proved far worse & the LTTE no better. The people had no choice but to accept the LTTE & have had to endure them for well over 30 years. It still makes us wonder why their relatives now happily earning foreign incomes, residing in comfortable climes would still wish their brethren to suffer at the hands of these malicious tormentors so that they can buy time to gain their PR status.

But, let us be a little fair by the IPKF. Here we have a group of men…belonging to different states of India, unaware & clueless of what was happening in Sri Lanka, not briefed about anything except shipped off in loads with arms & asked to protect the people….which people, could they identify a tiger from a citizen,…they couldn’t even speak with the people let alone understand them….but from the little they could comprehend they did what they could (mending roads, places of worship, schools etc even to the point of building a highway along the coastal belt from Trincomalee to Jaffna) until the point where the LTTE had had enough of the Indian honeymooners & started to attack them. It was from 10 October 1987, that the IPKF launched a military offensive against the LTTE.

(LTTE) from an ally to an adversary – IPKF psychologically unprepared for the eventuality

The July 83 riots in Sri Lanka naturally invoked the call for help from India & Foreign Minister Narasinha Rao followed by envoy G. Parthasarthy arrived in Sri Lanka for discussions with Sri Lanka’s President Jayawardena. This led eventually to the Indo-Lanka Accord on 29 July 1987, following a series of political dialogues held in Thimpu, Delhi, Bangalore & Colombo. The outcome of the Accord was the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, a devolution package & temporary merger of the North & East creating the North East Provincial Council & the elected provincial government to be set up in Trincomalee. Varadarajah Perumal became its first Chief Minister.

Was the IPKF aware of the type of training provided to the militants by India…if they did they undermined the militants especially the expertise & experience by the time the IPKF did arrive in Sri Lanka?. Thus to the discerning it was to be a quest between Indian training against Indian training (IPKF vs LTTE) & who would end up victor. For a proud & disciplined arm it was easy work for the LTTE to create the mayhem that eventually led to the Tamil people calling for the withdrawal of the troops.

One of the obvious failures of the IPKF in Sri Lanka was that it lacked intelligence, it had little freedom of action to plan & execute its operations & very little logistics support (tanks & APCs were not used, no air cover, even the armed helicopter came much later, the soldiers even lacked proper cooking utensils). On top of all that they had no clue as to who were actually the militants…since everyone looked alike. The RAW was expected to pass on the necessary information to the Indian army but apparently they were too scared for their safety (Colonel John Taylor, officer in the IPKF)

It was obvious that the IPKF & intelligence officers did not see eye to eye. Intelligence officers like Anand Verma was happy to claim “these are our boys, once they have agreed they will not betray” (since LTTE had been trained by Indians since the beginning of the 1980s.)

The IPKF soldiers knew they were fighting Tamil insurgents, the same insurgents who were getting trained and supplied with large quantities of arms and equipment from Tamil Nadu. This had a deleterious effect on the troop morale.

What went wrong for the IPKF?

Before the signing of the Agreement & consequently the arrival of the IPKF we must remember the major Sri Lankan military drive in May 87. The shower of political pressure from India foretold the actual pressure the Sri Lankan military were able to create upon the tigers (Operation Vadamarachchi) & as proof that Indians meant business were several planes over Sri Lankan skies & the drop of dhal supplies to Jaffna on 4 June 1987. If the international community preferred to silently acknowledge India’s interference they were in for another rude shock when IPKF troops proved far worse than the allegations harbored upon the Sri Lankan soldiers.

J .N. Dixit was the High Commissioner to India in Sri Lanka from 1985 to 1989 & he was Rajiv Gandhi’s key man. His reply in an interview with Josey Joseph when asked if India was right to train the LTTE is significant “See, you do not indulge in value judgment, in retrospect, in hindsight. It is unrealistic. When you take a decision, you are in the middle of a situation. Nobody sitting in a chair 10 years later, five years later, is competent to judge whether it was necessary or not. Whether it was necessary or not was decided upon by the then government, then prime minister, on the basis of information and analysis that were available“.

India was fearful of Sri Lanka’s closeness to the West. The Israeli ties & Isareli agencies Mossad & Shin Bet specialized in under-cover operations, the British Keeny Meeny Services providing off-shore training to the Special Task Force & even Pakistani training provided. With a proxy war situation created it was natural that the US would also be involved. It was to this scenario that India found itself involved.

There are many reasons for the India’s operation in Sri Lanka to fail. The most important of these is that there were two divergent views expressed by Indian intelligence & the Indian military. On the one hand RAW officers like Ananda Verma considered LTTE as “our boys” & Army Chief Gen. Sundarji was confident of disarming the LTTE within 3 weeks……….no one Rajiv Gandhi had confidence in his men. However, set against this was Maj. Gen. Harikat Singh the first senior commander to be sent to Sri Lanka who eventually criticized J N Dixit, RAW & Gen. Sundarji because his men were sent ill-prepared.

IPKF sent ill-armed, ill-equipped totally unaware of what they were heading for or what they really had to do, not debriefed on their enemy & even the commanders denied free rein & having to wait for “orders from Delhi”….it was clear that the Indian Government either underpinned the LTTE or did not want the IPKF to be fully equipped to actually succeed in the clause signed under the Indo-Lanka Agreement – to disarm the LTTE

The failure of the Accord was further heightened by the successors of the 2 Governments in the form of Premadasa & V P Singh, both opposing the Accord. R Premadasa took credit for the chasing away of a foreign peace keeping force it was the VP Singh Governments & I K Gujral’s decision (actually taking political mileage to prove Rajiv Gandhi’s decision was wrong) that actually led to the IPKF withdrawal – they could have played the real bad brother & refused…what a scenario that would have led to.

In conclusion

Sri Lanka is having a problem – it is a terrorist problem that initially set out covering itself under an “ethnic” label to provide legitimacy to its cause & acceptance worldwide. The “ethnicity” label shadows heavily upon India when Tamil Nadu state is brought into the equation & LTTE’s ethnic tag is to provide “liberation” to the Tamils which itself has a secessionist history wanting to create its own homeland. Thus, we should not be surprised over India’s concerns of troubles brewing in Sri Lanka especially one’s that involve the Tamil community. If India is concerned it is as a result of fear of what is likely to happen to its own state of Tamil Nadu. What is intriguing in the Indo role in Sri Lanka is if the Indians do not want Tamil Nadu to separate why have they sponsored a Tamil militant group that harbors separatism?

Where India’s insincerity lay was in not so much the initiation of an Accord that would provide substantial devolution to the Tamils but also to simultaneously embark upon a program to train Sri Lanka’s militants in the eventuality that the peace Accord fails. This is where India has failed a country & more importantly the Tamil community of that country for the people of the North has continued to suffer LTTE atrocities for over 30 years & many are too scared to even say so fearing their lives.

With elections looming in India, it immediately warrants a barrage of attacks by India’s Central Government upon Sri Lanka…whether it is regarding an Indian fisherman or some other feeble excuse pressure is exerted upon the Sri Lanka Government to show the Tamil Nadu politicos that they can vouchsafe stern action against the Sri Lankan authorities.

Tamil Nadu politicos know too well their importance & they in turn have used the LTTE adequately to their advantage as well. Senior members of the militant groups were actually residing in Tamil Nadu, they were even hosts of Tamil Nadu politicians, Uma Maheshwaran & Prabakaran was moving amongst the elite of South India….Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister late M G Ramachandran gave £3 million to the L.T.T.E. and £1 million to the E.R.O.S. for “refugee work” soon after the Sri Lankan Government’s “Operation Liberation”.

While India will continue its molly coddling role we can equally be certain that India will not allow separatism unless of course it is to the advantage of India’s Central Government…it is in this scenario that Sri Lanka needs to be concerned about.

Needless to say, the present crisis in Sri Lanka will be remembered for 2 strategic error committed by 2 of its 3 protagonists – India for arming the LTTE & LTTE for killing Rajiv Gandhi. Sri Lanka who has to appease its mighty neighbor & be told “there is no military solution” while in the same breath we see US troops forcefully arrive in Iraq, Afghanistan, NATO troops take over Serbia eventually creating an independent Kosovo…& in Sri Lanka’s case many peace talks, many ceasefires, many peace facilitators & despite it all many more gruesome attacks by LTTE.

(Asian Tribune)

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The devolution debate has been sharpened by the highly interesting and significant results of the public opinion poll recently conducted in Tamil Nadu, with regard to Sri Lanka’s ethnic issue and its internal arrangements.

The poll has had the effect of strengthening both pro and anti-devolution camps in their chosen opinions.

I suggest that a realist reading should result in a more nuanced approach to devolution, which escapes the trap of overreaction in either direction, namely allergic rejection and imitative appeasement. With or without the new data from Tamil Nadu, the debate on devolution in Sri Lanka reveals roughly seven and possibly eight points of view or “lines”. These are:

  1. Zero or small unit devolution: Abolition of the 13th amendment and Provincial Councils, replacement with District level devolution, if at all.
  2. 13th amendment Minus or Provincial Councils Lite: Retention of Provincial Councils, but deduction or non-implementation of even those powers granted by the 13th amendment.
  3. 13th amendment Classic: The full and speediest possible implementation of the existing 13th amendment, meaning the full devolution of those powers already granted by the 13th amendment.
  4. 13th amendment Plus: the enhancement of the powers of the 13th amendment by relocating or partially redistributing the powers of the Concurrent list. This position subdivides between those who are willing to risk a constitutional amendment and those who seek only that which is possible without one.
  5. The Indian model: quasi-federalism; powers no less than those of an Indian state.
  6. Full or classic federalism.
  7. ISGA/Confederation of two states.
  8. No ethnic based federalism or two unit model; a radical reform of the state, citizenship and identity, reflecting hybridity, secularism and pluralism.

Positions 1-7 are present to varying degrees in the political domain, national and international (including the twin Diasporas) while the last arises from within the civil society intelligentsia (Prof Nira Wickremesingha in Open Democracy).

While administrative decentralisation is needed for purposes of development, devolution or transfer of some measure of power from centre to second order units at the periphery, is needed as a bridge between the North and South, the Tamils and the Sinhalese.

Therefore any and all devolution proposals must pass the test of enjoying the support of some segment of both communities. It must at the least, be at the interface of the two “sets”, namely Sinhala and Tamil opinion.

No sustainable solution can be unilaterally imposed upon either the Sinhalese or the Tamils.

Positions 1 & 2 (abolish or weaken Provincial Councils) have no takers outside the Sinhala community, and therefore fails the test of acceptability by at least some Tamils.

The international and regional blowback of any such move (which would have many powerful opponents and no supporters whatsoever outside the island), would be disastrous for our military efforts and our overall stability and security.

Similarly, Positions 6 and 7 (federalism, con-federalism) have no takers among the Sinhalese, going by public opinion polls, the results of which, ranging from the 1997 polling by Research International Pvt Ltd, up to today’s CPA polls, have been remarkably consistent.

Position 5 that of Indian model quasi federalism, enjoys, according to the CPA (and much to its regret) 5% support among the majority Sinhala community- that’s 5% of 74%. No mainstream political party or candidate in a competitive electoral democracy (and that includes Senator Obama) would treat as anything other than radioactive, a position that was so hopelessly unpopular. And yet, otherwise sensible Tamil politicians expect the two main Southern parties to agree on this. If there were any such possibility, President Kumaratunga’s 1995and 1997 “union of regions” packages, or her admirable August 2000 draft Constitution would have obtained bipartisan support, instead of suffering the highly visible fates they did.

The new argument, basing itself on the Ananda Vikatan opinion poll, is that Sri Lanka can best protect itself from pro-Tamil Eelam sentiment by adopting the Indian model of quasi-federalism.

This argument runs up against several counter-considerations.

Firstly, by the same logic, Cuba can best protect itself from the extreme anti-Cuban Revolution sentiments of Florida-and by extension Washington DC, since Florida has a significant influence on American elections– by adopting an economic and political model such as that which prevails in the USA. Any self -respecting Cuban, and there is an island full of them, would reject that argument with the contempt it deserves.

Secondly, by what logic do 50 million ethnic Tamils in Tamil Nadu and a tiny fraction of that number in Sri Lanka require the same quantum and therefore model of devolution?

Thirdly, by what measure is the opinion of the citizens of Tamil Nadu of greater validity with regard to the internal arrangements of Sri Lanka, than those of over 95 % of Sinhalese citizens of this country, comprising 74% of the population, who oppose Indian model quasi-federalism?

Fourthly, this pro-Tamil separatist opinion in Tamil Nadu is a news flash? It would not have been so to generations of Sinhalese going back millennia, into antiquity. The anti-Sri Lankan and anti-Sinhala sentiment in Tamil Nadu represents an existential threat of long historical duration, which we must permanently protect ourselves against.

The new polling data must neither be ignored and brushed aside as irrelevant, nor appeased by mimicry of models.

Many Tamil politicians and liberal commentators forget Sri Lanka’s bitter experience with the Vardharajaperumal administration (from which I had resigned a year before, alarmed at the trends behind the scene), which made an Unilateral Declaration of Independence but could not be instantly dissolved by the Government without first bringing amending legislation which made that possible.

What is needed by way of response is neither a model that is so tightly closed and claustrophobic that it generates irredentist sentiment, nor one that is so carelessly open that it permits irredentism.

This brings us to positions 3, 4 and 8. The last is probably the most attractive but seems unrealistic at the moment. The lamentable fate of the Equal Rights Bill presented by President Kumaratunga in 2000, withdrawn in the face of agitation by alumni of certain leading (boys and girls) schools in Colombo and the JVP run Inter University Students and Bhikku Federations, shows how far we are from that level of enlightened consciousness. As Mr Anandasangaree correctly reminds us, the easy abolition of Section 29, the anti-discrimination clause of the Soulbury Constitution, gives the minorities no reason to trust a solution devoid of political space and some measure of self governance.

That leaves Positions 3 and 4: 13th amendment Classic and 13th amendment Plus.

Position 3 and possibly 4 are the only ones with significant support from the Sinhala public and some support from some Tamils (both North and East). Thus 13th amendment Classic passes the test. (Arguably, so does 4, but this is a stretch).

Most recently at the SAARC summit, President Rajapakse has rightly re-iterated his government’s commitment to Position 3, “the comprehensive implementation of the 13th amendment“, drawing attention to the Eastern process with its elected Chief Minister and expressing his belief that the Northern Province will similarly possess a Chief Minister. Given that the Sri Lankan armed forces have gained the strategic initiative and are on the strategic offensive, this is a prospect for the foreseeable future. In his remarks the President also left room for submissions by the APRC.

Recent retrospectives surrounding the Karadzic trial regarding the events in former Yugoslavia recall the disaster of the holding of a referendum in Bosnia in 1992, with the Serbs abstaining and the Bosnian Muslims voting in favour. This was the schism that resulted in civil war. Bosnia shows the absolute imperative on avoiding a referendum in an ethnically or ethno-religiously polarised society, and therefore the imperative of avoiding any proposals that require a referendum.

This is why the only man with a roadmap, Douglas Devananda, has embraced President Rajapakse’s “comprehensive implementation of the 13th amendment” as the  only feasible start, while placing the 13th amendment Plus, and even consideration of the Indian model, as subsequent stages of political evolution. Between the various stages of his gradualist formula lie periods of the broadening of consensus and the building up of trust between the communities over time and through practical experience.

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A majority of people in Tamil Nadu continue to support the LTTE, despite being aware the organisation was behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, a survey conducted by a leading Tamil weekly in Tamil Nadu revealed.

The results of the survey were published in this week’s Ananda Vikadan, which tops the circulation among weeklies in Tamil Nadu.

The survey revealed that 54.25 per cent of the respondents said they had always supported the LTTE and its goal of a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka.

It is well known that support for the LTTE is rising in Tamil Nadu as seen from the large crowds, especially youths attending meetings addressed by pro-Tiger leaders like Mr. Vaiko. But it was quite stunning to read the level of support for the banned outfit as revealed in the survey conducted by a media group, which is respected for its neutrality and the fact that the magazine chose to publish the results showing support for a banned organisation is itself surprising.

To a question on continuing the ban on the LTTE, 47.65 per cent respondents wanted the ban to be lifted, while 27.43 wanted it continued. The rest of the respondents said the Centre should wait for some time before thinking of lifting the ban.

Interestingly, 83 per cent of the respondents held LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran responsible for the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. However, 50 per cent of those convinced of LTTE’s hand in the brutal assassination, felt that Mr. Prabhakaran should be pardoned, the survey said.

To a question on the growth of LTTE as an organisation with air capabilities, 46.24 per cent of the people felt it was a matter of pride for Tamils, while 18.59 per cent said it was dangerous for India’s security. The rest did not have any opinion. Only 17.4 per cent of those surveyed said they were always opposed to the organisation. The survey also revealed that the Tigers had lost some of their support in Tamil Nadu after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, with 28.34 per cent of the respondents saying they had supported the Tigers till that time.

While 55.44 per cent favoured a separate Tamil homeland for Sri Lankan Tamils as the only solution for the conflict in the island while 34.63 per cent of respondents said an autonomous state for Tamils within a federal structure was the solution.

Opinion was divided on LTTE’s killing of members of rival Tamil outfits, with 43.14 per cent saying it could not be condoned, while 25.95 per cent of them said it was inevitable.

The rest said they could not comment since they did not know the ground realities that led to the killings. Some 62.60 per cent, favoured India’s intervention in the conflict with an overwhelming majority of 79.28 per cent favouring the release of Nalini, convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

(daily Mirror)

(more…)

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