Any Indian Pressure Must be Matched with Closer Defence Ties with Pakistan and China

Dilrook Kannangara

India is trying to do what Russia did in Georgia. Signs are up in the horizon that an Indian military or political invasion is possible. Military drills in July this year would have given them a good knack of what to expect. This type of bullish behaviour by a regional superpower must be contained else it can lead to the plunder of smaller countries. However, India has a bigger stake in Sri Lanka's war. India trained, armed, finances and nursed the LTTE in its infant stages. Whenever the Lankan government got close to destroying the LTTE in 1986 and 1987, India intervened and saved the LTTE and its leaders. Again in 1990 Indians overstepped their rights by not withdrawing from Lanka despite strong protests by the Premadasa regime. It even compelled Lanka to consider withdrawal from a SAARC summit to get the message across.

India can put pressure in a number of ways. It can support even engineer a government change and expect that the new government would stop the ongoing military campaign. Alternatively it can broker a ceasefire deal between Sri Lanka and the LTTE most likely through a different party. Another form of interference would be to lay down specific conditions to protect civilians, tone down military operations, set time frames for military action, force Lanka adopt a political solution (full implementation of the 13th amendment) and/or otherwise ensure civilian welfare. Violating the Sri Lankan air space even for humanitarian acts would amount to a direct intervention. India may team up with the EU and/or the donor community. Lanka values India's helping maintaining security along the northern seas. However, India's recent conduct casts doubt upon its genuineness. Further, Indian authorities have done scant little to stop Tamil Nadu fishermen fishing in Lankan waters.

When the war font moves closer and closer to last tiger bastions, civilian casualties are going to increase because LTTE is unlikely to release civilians in such an eventuality. The only practical way to avoid it is by stopping military operations. Stopping military operations would spell total disaster for Sri Lanka. It will be in total disarray if it gives in. India might show its presence in the island nation to secure a lasting deal. This would be the repetition of 1987. IPKF was responsible for most infrastructure damages in the North and its violent military campaign supported by torture, very wide spread sexual abuses and total disregard of human rights and fundamental rights still haunts people who lived in the north at that time. Sri Lanka has no option but to let the Northerners suffer the same this time as well if India with the stated concern of saving the Northerners launch into Lanka. The natural outcome of it would be a Sri Lanka-LTTE tie-up to chase away the Indians as in 1990. But when operations commenced in mid 1990, security forces had to start from a very disadvantageous position than they were in July 1987.

The present window of opportunity may be the last one for Sri Lanka to retain its unitary status. If the present military operations shouldn't be stopped, Sri Lanka needs the assistance of others to help sustain it. India which is a significant arms provider will be replaced by China and Pakistan much to its dismay. Possibly Pakistani and/or Chinese military presence in Lanka may be required to keep India at bay. It may also lead up to the creation of a multi-player tournament of war-games in the North. In that case India's concerns over the present humanitarian tragedy in the North will be totally ridiculed. Sri Lankan authorities must immediately and firmly request Chinese warships to dock in Lankan ports to ward-off any possible Indian intervention. It has proven historically that whenever the blessing of the sole Asian superpower was invoked in the south Asian region, India has always collapsed. Good examples are Kashmir, Nepal, Tibet and Burma. Just a couple of years back when the Nepali crisis broke out, India did everything in its dirty hands to retain the king in power but when faced with Chinese pressure, it collapsed and Chinese-backed Maoist rebels eventually grabbed power. India would have had a walkover in Kashmir against Pakistan had China not intervened. Today there is what an Indian defence expert had calls a necklace of beads around India. All the neighbours of the largest democracy have teamed up with China except Sri Lanka on defence matters. Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, Laos, Thailand and Indonesia have all teamed up with the Asian superpower.

Rebel groups within India have close links to some of India's neighbours. As an example, take the case of Maoist rebels in India who are active in 15 out of 29 states. Then there are Islamic terror groups active mostly in the western sector possibly with links to neighbouring countries. Isolation of Lanka exposes it to unwarranted nonsense from one of the world's most unwanted neighbours.

What makes it more interesting is that Pakistan and Bangladesh have always stood by Sri Lanka at times of need and defence-wise they are in one unofficial team. They never poked their fingers into Lankan affairs stating human rights and whatnot.

Devising a political solution in a hurry to please India is not going to help. That political solution is already there and it was created with a lot of Indian input in 1987-88! If India still chooses to go against Sri Lankan interests, the Indian sponsored thirteenth amendment should be annulled in response. In most likelihood this unwanted piece of law was forced upon local legislators with the sole intention of benefitting India, obviously not Lanka. The project which started from financing/arming/training the LTTE in the late 1970s to the point of bailing it out in 1987, India always upheld its own interests above everyone else's. Nothing different can be expected this time. According to estimates, there are over half a million illegal immigrants, mostly south Indians, are staying in Sri Lanka. They must be despatched immediately.

These measures will dissuade India and Tamil Nadu politicians from interfering in Lankan affairs in the future. If either India or Sri Lanka gives into Tamil Nadu demands this time, LTTE will continue to make demands until Tamil Elam is established. Sri Lanka's sovereignty should not rest on Indian petty politics. A single Chinese warship in Sri Lanka can scare away Indians. Given the importance of trade routes passing close to Lanka, China will eventually want to have a navel presence here. So why not have a prelude? Also any and all Indian navel movements must take place in the Indian Ocean around Sri Lanka and the only way to keep its navel prowess under check is by having a permanent navel/reconnaissance base in the island nation.

Sri Lanka is strategically important to many other nations and if threatened with any form of invasive action, the tiny island nation must tap into the capabilities of these nations. After all, exterminating the LTTE will mostly benefit India in the long run. It must be done with or without India.

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