Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Eelam War I: Emergence of Indian destabilisation plot

War on terror revisited : Part 89

By Shamindra Ferdinando

One-time UN bigwig as well as head of Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala’s submissions before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on Aug. 25, 2010 as regards accountability on the part of the international community should be considered against the backdrop of observations made by Jyotindra Nath Dixit (1985-1989) India’s High Commissioner in Colombo in his memoirs, Makers of India’s Foreign Policy.

The LLRC was inquiring into the eelam conflict in the wake of the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009.

Dhanapala dealt with countries promoting terrorism (using non-state actors) to undermine other countries. Dhanapala, in his submissions said: "Now I think it is important for us to expand that concept to bring in the culpability of those members of the international community who have subscribed to the situation that has caused injury to the civilians of a nation. I talk about the way in which terrorist groups are given sanctuary; are harboured; are supplied with arms and training by some countries with regard to their neighbours or with regard to other countries. We know that in our case this has happened, and I don’t want to name countries, but even countries who have allowed their financial procedures and systems to be abused in such a way that money can flow from their countries in order to buy arms and ammunition that cause the deaths, the maiming and the destruction of property in Sri Lanka are to blame and there is therefore a responsibility to protect our civilians and the civilians of other nations from that kind of behaviour on the part of members of the international community. And I think this is something that will echo within many countries in the Non-Aligned Movement, where Sri Lanka has a much respected position and where I hope we will be able to raise this issue."

Dixit launched Makers of India’s Foreign Policy in 2004 during his tenure as India’s National Security Advisor, having excelled as Foreign Secretary.

India G’s foreign policy blunders

In a chapter titled An Indocentric Practitioner of Realpolitik, Dixit didn’t mince his words when he discussed the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s foreign policy blunders. Dixit faulted Premier Gandhi for two foreign policy decisions, namely India’s ambiguous response to the then Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan in Dec 1979 and active support to terrorists (Dixit called them Tamil militants), during the tenure of the then President JRJ.

The writer received a copy of Makers of India’s Foreign Policy courtesy India’s External Affairs Ministry during a visit to New Delhi in 2006. Dixit asserts that Premier Gandhi couldn’t have antagonised the Soviet Union due to India’s dependence on defence supplies and technologies. Commenting on her decision to destabilise Sri Lanka, Dixit, having alleged nearly five decades of Sinhalese discrimination against Tamils, admits that particular operation was prompted by domestic security concerns. He says: "Similarly, she could not afford the emergence of Tamil separatism in India by refusing to support the aspirations of Sri Lankan Tamils."

Dixit gives another reason for the Indian destabilisation operation targeting the JRJ administration. He asserts that Sri Lanka’s emerging security relationship with the US, Pakistan and Israel threatened India. Chinese and Pakistani ‘operations’ in Nepal and Bangladesh, too, contributed to India’s anxiety, Dixit alleges. The US and Pakistan, according to Dixit, created a ‘politico-strategic’ pressure point in Sri Lanka against India.

India’s response to US-Pak-Israel alliance

Obviously, India’s decision to subvert Sri Lanka was part of her overall security and political strategy in the wake of the growing threat posed by the US-Pakistan and Israel alliance. Although China was not aligned with the alliance, Dixit argues that China worked closely with Pakistan to undermine India in response to Indian backing for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. India made the destabilisation of Sri Lanka an integral part of a security project to safeguard Indian national interests.

The TULF and Tamil armed groups were nothing but mere tools in the hands of Indian officials who spearheaded a campaign of death and destruction. Tamil groups would never have had an opportunity to gain expertise in the art of war without Indian help.

Contrary to the general belief that India intervened in the wake of the Black July 1983 riots, Indian military/intelligence agencies provided material assistance to one of the Tamil groups, the LTTE, to mount an unprecedented attack on Sri Lanka’s ceremonial army. The troops went on the rampage in the Jaffna peninsula in the immediate aftermath of the loss of 13 personnel in an ambush at Tinnaveli, Jaffna close to midnight on July 1983. The army also encouraged mob attacks on innocent Tamil speaking people in Colombo, while the JRJ administration turned a blind eye to what was going on. A section of the Tamil media propagated the theory that the LTTE had targeted the army patrol launched from Gurunagar army camp to avenge the death of Charles Anthony aka Seelan killed in a chance encounter on July 15, 1983. Even if the LTTE had wanted to retaliate it couldn’t have confronted a mobile army patrol without a proper plan and armaments. The LTTE fired guns and threw hand grenades at the patrol comprising two vehicles carrying 15 personnel after exploding a landmine. The army lost 13 men, including the Second Lieutenant leading the patrol. The Tinnaveli operation was meant to trigger a massive backlash which would create an environment conducive for Indian intervention. The July 1983 riots had the desired impact as envisaged by those spearheading the destabilisation plot targeting Sri Lanka.

The Tinnaveli operation and subsequent developments paved the way for India to intensify its anti-Sri Lanka project. India encouraged Sri Lankan Tamils to cross the Palk Straits in fishing craft. The India media accused Sri Lanka of indiscriminate attacks on civilians. While thousands of families sought refuge in camps in Tamil Nadu, the youth were transferred to training facilities. The stage was set for a large scale destabilisation project. At the same time, India also stepped up diplomatic efforts to bring the Sri Lankan government, the TULF and Tamil terrorist groups to the negotiating table.

LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, in an interview with Anita Pratap on March 11, 1984, rejected the assumption that the Tinnaveli attack had caused riots. Anti-Tamil riots had taken place on several occasions and it wouldn’t be right to say that the Tinnaveli attack triggered the massacre of Tamils, he argued.

Western powers ignore Sri Lanka’s plight

Western powers turned a blind eye to what was happening in Sri Lanka and across the Palk Strait. The army was not geared to fight a well trained enemy with access to a range of arms, ammunition and equipment. At the behest of Indian instructors, militant groups effectively used landmines and anti-personnel mines against security forces and the police. Within months after the Black July riots, Tamil groups were in control in the Northern Province, whereas in the Eastern Province they still maintained a low profile. The JRJ administration experienced severe difficulties in obtaining required arms, ammunition, equipment as well as training for expanding the army. The US and UK turned their back on Sri Lanka, though under the auspices of the Reagan administration, Israel threw its weight behind Sri Lanka. The Israeli government remained a major arms supplier throughout the eelam conflict. China and Pakistan, too, provided valuable support during the conflict. Sri Lanka secured ‘Buffel’ armoured personnel carriers from South Africa at the onset of counter-insurgency operations. At an early stage of the conflict, Sri Lanka acquired Italian and Argentine built attack aircraft––they cannot be considered attack aircraft by today’s standards––and transport aircraft from China. Security forces struggled to meet the LTTE threat against tremendous odds. Although troops mounted many operations, Tamil groups always had an edge over them during the 1983-late 1985 period. The militants mastered the landmine technology, whereas troops remained committed to conventional operations. At the onset of the campaign, the army was no match for Tamil groups, though by early 1987 it was ready to liberate Jaffna. The army could have succeeded if not for India coming to the rescue of terrorist groups.

Multi-pronged strategy

India recruited, trained and deployed five terrorist groups, which carried out attacks in line with their overall strategy. Simultaneously, India mediated between JRJ and terrorist groups. To facilitate their strategy, India blocked Sri Lanka’s efforts to strengthen its armed forces. Having experienced severe difficulties in meeting rapidly growing requirements, JRJ was compelled to obtain the services of former British Special Air Services (SAS) personnel to train troops in special operations. India also used the TULF to exert pressure on JRJ, thereby interfering with military operations as well as counter insurgency action, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula.

Gen. Cyril Ranatunga in his memoirs titled, From peace to war, insurgency to terrorism, reveals how the then US government offered to sell armoured cars without guns while the British declined to supply ammunition for Saladin armoured cars brought from them.

India also facilitated a major propaganda effort against Sri Lanka. Retired Brigadier H. F. Rupesinghe discussed India’s role in the propaganda blitz during the 80s in an interview with The Island during eelam war IV. "I received information about the ‘media operation’ directed from Chennai way back in 1986. I was the senior officer in charge of Jaffna at that time and had to deal with foreign correspondents. It is quite apparent that the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi threw his weight behind the LTTE at the behest of the LTTE’s Chennai-based Advisory Committee, which functioned as the headquarters for the LTTE and a key agency for the Tamil Diaspora in quest of a nation for the Tamils the world over. During a conversation with an American journalist, I expressed shock and regret over an influential section of the international media being biased towards Tamil terrorist groups, while being critical of the Sri Lankan security forces. The American revealed the existence of the Chennai-based Advisory Committee of the LTTE and its monthly meetings with the participation of many correspondents of various print and electronic media, including the wire services. The American admitted that he participated in two meetings in Chennai, where they discussed an anti-Sri Lanka propaganda campaign. The American revealed that the LTTE looked after the journalists well."

Asked whether the then government allowed foreign journalists to visit Jaffna in the pre-IPKF period, Rupesinghe said: "It wasn’t long after the American’s visit, that a BBC correspondent accompanied by an Australian, who was introduced to me as the BBC man’s understudy, arrived in Jaffna. They contacted the Jaffna Command and inquired whether the Security Forces Commander in Jaffna wanted to meet them. They were told that I wasn’t interested in meeting them, unless they wanted a meeting. That was part of their strategy to step up pressure on the government. I knew they represented the interests of the LTTE. As the BBC correspondent was setting his voice recorder, I inquired from the Australian whether he had been to Chennai recently. The Australian blushed and turned towards the BBC correspondent, who grudgingly admitted their sojourn in Chennai 10 days ago."

Rupasinghe said that the then government had never realised the importance of countering the propaganda war. For want of a cohesive strategy, influential international media networks justified terrorism on the basis of atrocities committed by the police and the military. They portrayed terrorists as freedom fighters taking on the undisciplined Sri Lankan army. Recalling prompt Indian military assistance to quell the April 1971 JVP insurgency, Rupesinghe said that if India had not intervened here, Tamil groups would never have been the means to challenge the government.

Dixit’s India’s Foreign Policy Makers is proof that bloodshed in Sri Lanka over three decades was caused by New Delhi’s response to threat the emanating from the US in the battle for supremacy between Western powers and the Soviet Union.