The third and final part of a series on the war in Lanka and its implications for India
India's diplomatic moves did not trigger any panic in Sri Lanka. On October 7 Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama made use of the opportunity provided by the tragic assassination of a senior former army general and UNP leader, Janaka Perera, by a suspected LTTE woman suicide bomber in Anuradhapura town to issue a detailed response to the Indian move.
His message to India was clear, do not mistake the Tigers for Tamilians. 'While our security forces are engaged in their present humanitarian operation to free our people from the fascist and dictatorial control of the LTTE terrorists, who are now confined to their last strongholds in parts of the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts, critics of Sri Lanka and sympathisers of the LTTE are attempting to portray a misleading and totally false notion that the government is opting for a military solution to address the problems of the minorities. It is unfortunate that some of our friends too have been influenced by this malicious propaganda,' he told Parliament in a suo motu statement.
The sting was in the tail. 'It is very important that all those who are concerned about Sri Lanka including the welfare of the Tamil community, should perceive the marginalisation of the LTTE in the correct light. The LTTE does not represent the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. Therefore, military action against the LTTE should never be perceived as action against our brethren, the Tamil community. We are concerned about them and will work with them to ensure their welfare, security and aspirations since they are our fellow citizens,' it read.
On the same day Sri Lankan President Mahindra Rajapaksa met Indian High Commissioner Alok Prasad to discuss India's concerns and assured him of all possible measures to allay New Delhi's apprehensions. He followed it up with a meeting of the All Party Representative Conference on October 11 in a bid to send out the signal that the 'political process' in the quest to find a solution to the ethnic conflict acceptable to all was very much alive if not kicking. At the meeting he reiterated the call to the LTTE to lay down arms, surrender and enter the political mainstream.
In its interim report submitted early in January, the APRC had recommended steps for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, made to the Constitution in the aftermath of the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987, holding of elections to the Eastern Provincial Council and an interim political setup in the north as a prelude to holding of elections to the Northern Provincial Council.
With the main opposition, the United National Party and the Janatha Vimukthi Permuna staying out of the APRC, the body is reduced to all government parties' conference. The Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal led by rebel LTTE leader, 'Col' Karuna is the new entrant to the APRC. "However difficult it may be, it is my belief that the efforts to find political solutions to political issues should be continued. It is my belief that there are no military solutions to political questions. The people have elected us to realise their aims and aspirations. It is our duty to ensure to the Tamil people of the North the same democratic rights as enjoyed by the people min all other parts of the country. Military operations have become necessary to eradicate terrorism from the country and enthrone democracy throughout the land,' Rajapaksa was at pains to emphasise.
Little wonder, the sudden upsurge of 'public opinion' in Tamil Nadu on the fate of the Lankan Tamils is seen as a desperate attempt to bail out a beleaguered LTTE. There is consensus among defence analysts that the relentless military campaign by the Rajapaksa regime has substantially weakened the LTTE's military capabilities. The situation in military and humanitarian stand of view has remarkable semblance to 1987 which led to the Indian intervention. Alas, for a variety of reasons, today New Delhi is a staunch ally of the Rajapaksa regime in its war against the LTTE/terrorism.
But India has little or no say in the conflict management related issues. Its role is reduced to that of a supplier of weapons and provider of material and moral support as its repeated pleas for meaningful simultaneous political initiatives along with no holds barred fight against the Tigers for resolution of the ethnic conflict have fallen on deaf ears. With the verdict of the Sri Lanka Supreme Court in October 2006 de-merging the north and east and the refusal of the government to make any move towards re-merger, the fig leaf of Indian factor in the form of the 1987 accord vanished into thin air.
With the election to the eastern province in May 2008, the Indo-Lanka 1987 accord went into the dustbin. The Sri Lankan government has defied the polite Indian request to re-open the A-9 highway sealed off since the second week of August 2006. The highway is the only link to the Jaffna peninsula, home to an estimated 6.5 lakh Tamils.
The geo-strategic interests of New Delhi, one of the key factors which drove India's Lanka policy, are at maximum stake since the island nation gained independence in 1948. China and Pakistan are developing constituencies in Sri Lanka at a pace which has left India worried. India quietly acquiesced when Colombo in March 2007 signed on the dotted lines of the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement authored by Washington. The ACSA allows US war and civilian's ships and planes re-fuelling facilities in the island nation. It is true that the US has similar pacts with 90 other countries and New Delhi itself is expected sooner than later to join the ACSA club. It must be said to the credit of the all-powerful Sri Lanka president that he and his government have mastered the art of pitting one world capital against the other.
When he wants the attention of New Delhi, the president or his administration dials Beijing and Islamabad and vice versa. So petrified is New Delhi at the prospect of Beijing or Islamabad consolidating its grip on the island nation that in the last two years India has given in to every whim and fancy of the Rajapaksa government.
The two Indian technicians who were injured in the recent aerial attack on Sri Lanka Air Force's Vavunia air base, best illustrate the point. The technicians, part of a team deployed by India to help Sri Lanka guard its skies from the newly acquired Tiger aerial nuisance value, are on deputation to service and maintain the radar gifted by India. Despite the gesture, the theme song of the Sri Lanka defense establishment since the Tiger air wing surfaced in March 2007 is that New Delhi is responsible for the Tigers' aerial attacks as it has prevented the island nation from acquiring a superior 3-D radar system from China!
The response of New Delhi to the virtual encirclement of India by China and its allies are knee-jerk. It was best exemplified on June 1 when the Indian national security advisor, foreign secretary and defence secretary descended in Colombo on an unannounced visit and spent two days meeting all those who matter. The ostensible reason for the high-powered delegation visit was 'security arrangements' for the prime minister at the SAARC summit scheduled on August 1 and 2.
The real reason for the mission became evident later when India took charge of Lanka's airspace and positioned two warships in the Lankan territorial waters in the name of security during the stay of Dr Manmohan Singh in Colombo. The move could have been aimed at Beijing and Islamabad, an assertion of India's `natural right' over Sri Lanka and a rather loud message to all concerned to tread cautiously in Sri Lankan territory.