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Home > Tamil National Forum > Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Prelude to the Indo-LTTE War (1987-90): An Anthology > Part 1 > Part 2 Broiling and Near-toppling of Rajiv Gandhi > Part 3 The Annoyance and Anger of the Sinhalese > Part 4 The Deals of Indian Mandarins of Deception > Part 5 The Rage of Sinhala Buddhist Monks > The Indo-LTTE War (1987-90) - An Anthology. Part 1 > Part 2 > Part 3 > Part 4 > Part 5 > Part 6 > Part 7 > Part 8 > Part 9 > Part 10 > Part 11 > Part 12 > India & Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom
Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
to the Indo-LTTE War (1987-90) - Part 4
Though the three main characters of Ramayana epic are Lord Rama (the hero), his consort Sita (the heroine) and King Ravana (the villain), one cannot be oblivious to the acts/pranks of some additional characters studding the Ramayana epic. These buffoon characters contribute to the subplots, that serve multiple functions, not excluding comic relief. The Indian mandarins of deception, especially the incorrigible Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and their local relays, provide a not-so inappropriate analogy to the buffoon characters of Ramayana epic.
The Indian mandarins of deception also created and manipulated the figurative monkey brigades (consisting of non-LTTE militant groups, those TULF MPs who showed affinity for limelight, and also guys who once belonged to TULF and then parted for some reasons like S.C.Chandrahasan) to taunt Jayewardene. That these monkey brigades stationed in Madras did cause considerable damage to the Eelam cause is an undeniable fact.
One factor which endeared Pirabhakaran to Tamils was his adamant refusal to dance to the tunes of Indian mandarins of deception who deftly handled the grand monkey brigades for their version of Ramayana in defeating Jayewardene the Ravana, while only paying lip service to the hopes of Eelam Tamils.
As a Tamil, I have never subscribed to the political thoughts of arrogant Lalith Athulathmudali, Jayewardene’s then Minister of National Security. But he was right on his mark, when he quipped [‘Once they get their air-conditioned Mecedes Benz, they will forget all about Eelam.’] on the motives of the non-LTTE noise makers. The post-1987 politics of Varadaraja Perumals, Tiruchelvams, Anandasangarees, Devanandas, Siddharthans and Ketheeswarans did prove Athulathmudali’s prophesy to be correct. In addition, though I have been critical of Sinhalese analyst Rohan Gunaratna’s posturing and writings, one of his books entitled ‘Indian Intervention in Sri Lanka: The Role of India’s Intelligence Agencies’ (1993) is a good primer to comprehend the mind set of RAW operatives.
To return to the main plot of Indian involvement in Sri Lanka, contrary to the hype presented in the Indian media that the Rajiv – Jayewardene Accord was to be the panacea to the Eelam Tamils, the reality was that this Accord was forced down the throat of Jayewardene’s then divided Cabinet by Rajiv Gandhi’s mandarins to boost his and Congress Party’s sagging political images, tarnished by the Bofors arms scandal and burdened with electoral defeats in the North Indian states in the first half of 1987 as well as the burning issue of Punjab militancy.
Edward Desmond’s feature entitled, ‘Gandhi’s Garland of Troubles’ (Time, August 3, 1987; see below) had vividly presented this reality. In his defense, Rajiv espoused the ‘foreign hand’ bogey which was geared to destabilize Indian political strategies.
That there was an element of truth in this cliched ‘foreign hand’ bogey cannot be doubted, and Rajiv would have read the files related to the ranking RAW official K.V.Unnikrishnan, who was caught in the honey pot trap set by the ‘foreign hands’. Bare essentials of this honey-pot episode was provided by Salamat Ali (‘Sex for secrets’, Far Eastern Economic Review, Oct. 15, 1987) which brought to limelight how American operatives trapped Unnikrishnan to suck ‘intelligence’ on Eelam Tamil militant groups and passed what they felt relevant to their Colombo clients. That the shuttle diplomacy of Congress Party leader P. Chidambaram (Rajiv Gandhi’s hand-picked operative on the Eelam Tamil issue) suffered setbacks during 1985-87, due to Unnikrishnan’s peccadillos with the Pan Am’s stewardess in Singapore, is certainly an understatement.
And what did the Indian mandarins of deception do, in return? They attempted to needle the CIA, with their version of ‘retaliation’, using the Indian mass media. This inept attempt was exposed, as presented by Kenneth Pierce (‘Spreading the Big Lie Far and Wide’, Time, Sept. 7, 1987).
This particular exercise of deception described by Pierce did not specifically touch the Eelam Tamil issue, since it was a shady exercise of Cold War era politicking to project India’s buddy status with the then politically-rotting Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, it deserves highlight since its subtext on the ‘news plant’ industry promoted by India’s intelligence agencies is relevant to Tamils who naively believed on the non-existing sincerity of ‘Mother India’.
It was also a harbinger for the malicious, disinformation campaigns the Indian mandarins of deception would engage repeatedly (specifically using their journalist relays in India and Sri Lanka) for the next two decades to cause confusion among the Eelam Tamils and LTTE.
Even the recent half-baked ‘news plants’ relating to the “detention/arrest” of LTTE’s top arms dealer in Bangkok as well as Pirabhakaran’s preference for his son to take over LTTE leadership after him, indicate the inks and stamps of deception desks of Indian agencies.
Following the signing of the Rajiv-Jayewardene Accord on July 29, 1987, the Indian agencies of deception, as per their wont, aimed and promoted discord between LTTE and other Tamil militant groups that had been then marginalized in Eelam.
As the Economist magazine’s correspondent had noted, “Tamil groups who returned from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu with old scores to settle, like the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), ambushed members and sympathisers of the Tigers, and were counter-attacked in their turn.” [Economist, Sept. 19, 1987].
There was another RAW-sponsored group, concocted from the disgruntled elements of three non-LTTE groups, that made waves for the first time in Sept 1987 – the Three Stars, “which the Tigers said had been formed by members of three competing Tamil factions, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF).” [Newsweek, Sept. 28, 1987], according to a report of William Burger and Mervyn de Silva. The following seven newsreports/commentaries which appeared during August and October 1987, present a birds-eye-view on the roles played by India’s mandarins of deception, that precipitated the Indo-LTTE war.
(1) Edward W. Desmond: Gandhi’s Garland of Troubles. Time, August 3, 1987, pp.14-15.
(2) Kenneth M. Pierce: Spreading the Big Lie Far and Wide. Time, Sept. 7, 1987, p. 14.
(3) A Correspondent: Not All the Guns were Handed In. Economist, Sept.19, 1987, pp.30-31.
(4) Anonymous Correspondent: After the Flowers & Kisses, Friction. Asiaweek (Hongkong), Sept.20, 1987, p.18.
(5) William Burger and Mervyn de Silva: Sri Lanka’s Feuding Tamils. Newsweek, Sept.28, 1987, p.27.
(6) Anonymous Correspondent: Death Vigil. Asiaweek (Hongkong), Oct. 2, 1987, p.14.
(7) Salamat Ali: Sex for secrets – An Indian Official is caught in the Leaking Act. Far Eastern Economic Review (Hongkong), Oct. 15, 1987, p.40.
Please note that the texts are presented in full and reflect the opinions of the contributors and their respective publishers. The words/phrases in italics or within parentheses and dots (where ever they appear) are as in the originals.
Garland of Troubles by Edward W.Desmond
The crowds gathering outside Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi last week were reminders of better times. Undeterred by 100o heat and suffocating humidity, thousands of supporters gathered each morning on the sprawling lawns of the Prime Minister’s home on Race Course Road. Gandhi mixed with the crowd, shaking hands as well-wishers draped garlands of yellow marigolds around his neck. Just a few months ago, the occasions would have been demonstrations of Gandhi’s popularity.
Last week’s rallies, however, signalled not triumph but crisis. They were stage-managed affairs aimed at improving Gandhi’s image via the evening news on government-controlled television. Rather than innocent admirers, the participants were Congress (I) Party activists who had been bused to the residence.
Facing charges of ineptitude and corruption, Gandhi is in the midst of his toughest political trial. His popularity has dropped sharply, and criticism from within his party has become increasingly vocal. Seeking to quiet his critics, Gandhi in recent weeks has expelled from the Congress Party four once close advisers on charges of ‘antiparty’ activity. Now some of those former allies are openly maneuvering against him. Said V.C.Shukla, a former Minister of State whom Gandhi ousted from Congress two weeks ago: ‘Unless Mr. Rajiv Gandhi goes, the Congress will be ruined.’
The Prime Minister still commands loyalty among the majority of the more than 400 Congress legislators in the 544-seat Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. But the expelled dissidents are rapidly finding allies in their fight with Gandhi. The movement centers of V.P. Singh, a former Finance Minister and Defence Minister and a victim of Gandhi’s purge. The popular former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has been receiving a steady stream of visitors, mostly Congress party members and opposition figures, at his home just a few hundred yards from Gandhi’s. Singh has attacked the government’s failure to root out party corruption but has yet to call for Gandhi’s resignation. Did Singh plan to take that final step? Last week he told TIME, ‘You are asking that question too early.’
Gandhi’s response to the growing challenge has been to blame foreign conspiracies for his troubles, a strategy his critics say he borrowed from his mother and predecessor, Indira Gandhi. In a speech last week he denounced a ‘systematic campaign against India’ and said, ‘We have to finish the forces of destabilization and disintegration that have their roots abroad.’ The Prime Minister implied that he was a target of unnamed foreign powers because he championed the world’s poor and opposed the arms race. Though Gandhi did not name names, his most vocal defender, K.K. Tewari, a member of the Lok Sabha, blames the US, China and Pakistan. He has accused Singh of working for the US Central Intelligence Agency and told TIME, ‘I have no doubt that [Singh] is a plant of traditional India baiters, of imperialists.’
Should Singh challenge Gandhi openly, he and his fellow Congress dissidents will have ample ammunition. When the Prime Minister took the oath of office in October 1984 after his mother’s assassination, he promised to liberalize the economy, cut back India’s bureaucratic thicket, weed out corruption in his party, and resolve ethnic and religious problems in Punjab and other states. In foreign policy, he aimed to improve relations with the US and Pakistan. Impressed with his agenda and commanding personality, Indian voters gave Congress a record 49% of the vote in national elections.
But since last year, much of his program has unraveled – along with his support. The bureaucracy stifled economic reforms that would have reduced their power to extract questionable payments from businessmen, and Gandhi was unable to clean up the party. In Punjab, Gandhi’s accord with the Sikh-dominated Akali Dal fell apart. The failures led to Congress defeats in six of seven recent state elections, including a disastrous loss last month in Haryana.
In addition to the political reversals, Gandhi’s peremptory and high-handed treatment of government officials has cost him support. He has shaken up his Cabinet ten times in less than three years. In a well-publicized incident last January, the Prime Minister dismissed Foreign Secretary A.P. Venkateswaran at a press conference, without warning. The move incensed senior government bureaucrats. Gandhi also humiliated President Giani Zail Singh by allegedly failing to brief him on important state matters. Says Arif Mohammed Khan, a former Minister of State expelled from the party: ‘Gandhi is a political weathercock. If anyone applies pressure on him, he gives way. Nothing matters to him except his survival.’
Corruption charges have perhaps been the heaviest blow, because Gandhi once enjoyed the reputation of being Mr. Clean. Late last year, V.P. Singh, then Finance Minister, launched probes into the foreign exchange violations of major businessmen. One investigation reportedly concerned the alleged illegal funneling of funds to Switzerland by Ajitabh Bachchan, a businessman, and his brother Amitabh, a close friend of Gandhi’s as well as India’s top screen star and a Member of Parliament. Gandhi stymied the investigation by transferring Singh to the Defense post. Two weeks ago, however, the Indian Express published evidence to back up the charges against Ajitabh Bachchan, forcing his brother to resign from Parliament. Gandhi is not implicated in a legal sense, but many Indians have the impression that he shielded his friend.
After Singh was switched from Finance to Defense, he launched another inquiry, this time into kickbacks paid by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, a West German firm that had sold four submarines to India. The move, which Singh did not discuss with Gandhi before announcing it to the public, infuriated party members; amid the uproar, Singh resigned last April. His critics accused him of having ambitions to unseat Gandhi, though Singh declared, ‘To nail this lie, I will hereby declare that I will not hold office in the government in the future.’
The week V.P. Singh resigned, a news report on Swedish radio claimed that Bofors, the large Swedish armsmaker, had paid kickbacks to Indian officials in connection with a $1.3 billion contract to sell artillery pieces to the Indian army. Gandhi had held the Defense portfolio at the time of the deal, but at first vehemently denied that any middlemen or payoffs were involved. Arun Singh, Gandhi’s close friend and a Member of Parliament, took the lead in defending the Prime Minister against attacks in the Lok Sabha. Early this month, Bofors offered to send representatives to India with evidence showing where the money went. Arun Singh accepted, but Gandhi refused. Singh subsequently resigned his post as a Minister of State, and the Bofors scandal continues to hang over Gandhi’s head.
The Prime Minister last week seemed to have few explanations for the troubles except his slender charge of ‘foreign conspiracies’. Many of the country’s newspapers have turned against him. Said a commentary in the fortnightly India Today: ‘Rajiv Gandhi is not just in crisis. He is the crisis.’ The country’s elite, meanwhile, has taken to calling him ‘the boy’ in clubby circles, and one cartoon last week had him crying for his ‘Mummy’. The Prime Minister’s supporters were reduced to saying he just needed time to prove himself. When asked what successes Gandhi could point to, Tewari responded, ‘Even three years is not enough time to judge the strength of a leader.’
The four party members Gandhi expelled – Singh, Arif, Shukla and Arun Nehru, the Prime Minister’s cousin and onetime personal adviser – plainly hope to provoke defections among Congress legislators by showing that Gandhi’s support is slipping around the country. Singh is starting at the state level, politicking on friendly ground on his old political turf, the Congress-controlled state of Uttar Pradesh. Major defections there would greatly unsettle Gandhi. Singh is also getting opposition help. He has accepted invitations to visit the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, both in the hands of other parties. The two biggest Communist parties called on him to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections.
As his political battering continues, Gandhi’s one strength may be the widespread belief that only the Congress Party and the Gandhi mystique can keep India from fracturing. Could the country endure a split in the party, or a new leader at its helm? ‘I am frightened for my country’, said a worried Indian advertising executive last week. “If [Gandhi] falls, things could be much worse. Without ‘the family’ and without Congress, I don’t know if India could hold together.” [Reported by Ross.H. Munro/ New Delhi].
Spreading the Big Lie Far and Wide by Kenneth M. Pierce
The claim was both sensational and preposterous. At a recent stormy session of the Indian Parliament, supporters of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi declared that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was responsible for a recent spate of corruption charges leveled against high government figures. Their evidence: copies of a letter, purportedly written last year by the late CIA director William Casey, encouraging an ‘avalanche of accusations against Rajiv’s inner circle and later against Rajiv himself.’
US officials in New Delhi branded the letter a crude forgery and immediately issued a three-page analysis of its flaws. For example, the CIA letterhead at the top was more ‘fuzzy’ than the letter’s text, an indication that the document was a cut-and-paste job. The salutation of the letter, which was addressed to Edwin Feulner Jr., president of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, was incorrect. Those who know Feulner personally, as Casey did, call him Ed, not Edwin. In addition, the date was typed in the British form used in India – ’10 December 1986’ – rather than the American-style ‘December 10, 1986’.
No less suspect was the newspaper in which the letter first appeared – the sensationalist Bombay weekly Blitz, whose editor, R.K. Karanjia, 74, has admitted writing fictionalized accounts in the past. Yet Karanjia last week told TIME’s Amrita Shah, ‘I would not have published it without getting it tested and okayed by the responsible intelligence agencies of my own country.’
That claim lent support to the suspicion of many Indian journalists that Rajiv or his supporters had promoted the forgery in an attempt to distract political problems ranging from electoral defeats and regional unrest to charges of accepting kickbacks from a Swedish arms manufacturer. The suspicions were hardly diminished by repeated statements from the Prime Minister suggesting that he believed the letter was authentic even after the US embassy had assured him it was a ‘total and complete forgery’. The letter was not taken seriously by most Indian newspapers. Said one relieved US official: ‘Fortunately, it was a bad forgery. If it had been slick, we would have been in bad trouble.’
The episode is a prime example of the sort of disinformation that is becoming increasingly common in India. In contrast to conventional propaganda, disinformation occurs when false items are planted – often by government intelligence agencies – in supposedly factual news reports. With 16 languages and 20,000 newspapers, India has become in the words of one New Delhi press watcher, ‘probably the most fertile country in the world for disinformation.’ Indian businessmen and bureaucrats frequently spread false news stories about their rivals, says Arun Shourie, editor of the influential daily Indian Express, who keeps a folder of such tales, which he calls ‘plants’. Quips Shourie: “I plan to write a piece titled ‘Living with Plants.’”
US Astronaut Neil Armstrong was the subject of a particularly bizarre and tenacious piece of disinformation that appeared in many Urdu-language newspapers in India and in the Islamic press elsewhere. While walking on the moon, the story went, Armstrong had heard mysterious voices that he later identified as the Azan, the Islamic call to prayer. The experience led Armstrong to convert to Islam, the story maintained, an act that supposedly caused the US Government to persecute the astronaut. In 1983, A.H. Rizvi, an influential Muslim editor, asked the US embassy in New Delhi if the story was true. The embassy arranged a telephone news conference in 1983 between Armstrong, at home in Lebanon, Ohio, and Rizvi. Armstrong denied the story and said he had always been a Christian. That put an end to the item’s popularity in the Muslim press.
Last week US officials were trying to refute another bit of disinformation concerning a controversial grant from the US to India for vaccine development. In a story on the $9.6 million project, the nation’s leading wire service stated that the research had ‘potential use to biological warfare specialists’ in the US. The dispatch also falsely suggested that the program might somehow increase the danger of AIDS in India.
That was not the first Indian attempt to link the US with the worldwide spread of AIDS. A 1983 article in the pro-Communist Patriot claimed that the AIDS virus had been synthesized by scientists at Fort Detrick, MD, as part of a US effort to develop new biological weapons. The newspaper said it had got its information from a ‘well-known American scientist and anthropologist…who wants to remain anonymous.’ The Patriot story was then cited by the Soviet weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta in a 1985 article. Last year Sovietskaya Rossiya repeated the claim, this time attributing it to a ‘retired East German biophysicist’. Variants of the story have been printed in Mexico and Egypt as well as India, but Soviet editors seem especially fond of it: this year alone, the Soviet press has carried the story at least 32 times. US officials believe it is the handiwork of the KGB.
Washington also attempts to sway foreign opinion, of course, but US officials insist that they generally limit their efforts to factual reports supporting their policy objectives. Recent examples of stories thought to be inspired by the US include Indian press articles on Soviet activities in Afghanistan and on Soviet naval movements in the Indian Ocean. The US intelligence services have been accused of far more blatant overseas disinformation efforts in the past, especially in wartime. But in the Indian propaganda wars, at least, Moscow has the US outgunned: some 85 Soviet staffers are currently assigned to the Soviet Union’s Press, Information and Cultural operations in India, compared with 28 employees of the US Information Service. In addition to that numerical advantage, Moscow’s disinformation planters appear to have found exceptionally fertile soil in the troubled regime of Rajiv Gandhi. [reported by Ross H. Munro/ New Delhi]
A month ago it was Sinhalese extremists who tried to blow apart the Sri Lankan peace agreement by tossing two hand grenades at the president and his senior cabinet ministers. This week the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam demonstrated that for them peace takes second place to maintaining their supremacy over other Tamil gurrilla groups.
Over the past few weeks the Tigers have been challenged outside their heartland, the Jaffna peninsula, by other militant groups. In the Northern province the challenge was violent as well as political – a violence made possible by the fact that the guerrillas had surrendered far less than all their arms to the Indian soldiers brought into Sri Lanka to keep the peace. Tamil groups who returned from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu with old scores to settle, like the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), ambushed members and sympathisers of the Tigers, and were counter-attacked in their turn. Some 30 people died, including a pastor of the Assembly of God and three colleagues, who were gunned down in the Jaffna peninsula, apparently by mistake.
What happened next in the Eastern Province was far nastier. For some weeks PLOTE and another of the Tigers’ rivals, the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), have been opening offices, raising their flags and holding public meetings in an open political challenge to the Tigers. They had some success in winning public sympathy. For the Tigers, who are accustomed to having their orders obeyed without question and have no idea how to play politics, this challenge was too much to ignore.
On September 13th parties of Tiger gunmen began ambushing and kidnapping unarmed members of rival groups. Within 36 hours, at least 50 members of PLOTE had been slaughtered in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts, while the EPRLF said they had lost 15 men. A number of civilians were also killed.
The Tigers’ outburst threw down a gauntlet to the Indian peacekeeping force, and indeed presented a dangerous threat to the entire peace agreement. It sapped the credibility of the force in the eyes of ordinary Tamils, who had welcomed the Indians as the gurantors of their safety. The Tigers’ display of armed strength also undermined India’s claim that the militant groups had surrendered most of their weapons. With plenty of Sinhalese only too willing to exploit delays and failings in the peace accord, the Indians could hardly afford to carry on with their low-key policy of using ‘patience and persuasion’ to recover the arms.
At the end of the week India seemed on the verge of ordering its troops to disarm the militants, using force if necessary. The Indians had fired on a group of Tamils earlier in the week, possibly as warning of toughness to come. The Indians need to make clear that they mean to enforce the peace and guarantee a return to normal politics. This should hasten the formation of the Interim Administrative Council in the north and east which the Tigers have been obstructing. It should also enable the Indians to be firmer with the government. Tamils entirely unconnected with the terrorist movement have complained about Sinhalese colonisation of traditional Tamil lands in border areas, and the delay in releasing Tamil detainees.
Nowadays, some Sri Lankans are referring to their country as India’s 26th state. Often, they are speaking only half in jest, for the island’s northern Jaffna peninsula indeed seems to be overrun by its giant neighbour. In addition to 15,000 troops, India has helicopter gunships, main battle tanks, artillery and about 4,000 land vehicles in Jaffna and nearby Eastern Province. They are there in accordance with an Indo-Sri Lankan agreement aimed at ending the seven-year ethnic conflict between Tamil Hindu separatists and the nation’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority. Soon after the pact was signed July 29, Indian forces moved in to keep peace in the north and east. Six weeks later, the soldiers are still there – and they look as though they mean to stay quite a while longer.
Their welcome, however, appears to be wearing thin. As Sinniah Ratnasabapathy, a retired school teacher in Jaffna, puts it: ‘At first the Indians were greeted with flowers and kisses. But now the situation has changed. They have not kept to their promise of impartiality and they have failed to provide us with security.’ Concurrs Sinniah Gurunathan, a journalist working with the Jaffna-based Tamil daily, Udayan: ‘They are not acting like a peacekeeping force. It’s more peace by aggression than peace by persuasion.’
Of late, some Jaffna citizens have even accused the Indian Army of being as oppressive as the Sri Lankan soldiers who used to be stationed there. Fumes Rajeswary Kandasamy, a university lecturer in mathematics: ‘Some of the soldiers have been asking our girls not to ride bicycles [while] wearing skirts. They have asked them to be more modest and wear saris as Indian girls do. What right do they have to judge our morals?’ Complains Ratnasabapathy: ‘They [Indian soldiers] are rude and arrogant. They expect us to be subservient. The only relief is that we are not living in constant fear of being killed by army shelling or air force aerial strafing. But we weel this is only a temporary respite.’
He may well be right. Last Monday, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the largest Tamil militant group in Sri Lanka, launched a massive mortar attack against rivals from the People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam. The assault on PLOT’s camp in Mannar on the north-west coast was apparently in retaliation for the recent killings of more than 20 Tigers, allegedly by the ‘Three Stars’ group.
Besides PLOT members, the ‘Three Stars’ consists of militants from the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO) and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), a Colombo-based intelligence official told Asiaweek. Over the years the Tigers have decimated all three rivals, killing more than 1,700 militants. The heaviest losses were suffered in May 1986 by TELO. It lost 700 fighters, including its leader, ‘Tall Sri’ Sabaratnam.
Seven months after that clash, the Tigers’ military commander in Jaffna, Sathasivam Krishnakumar, alias Major Kiddu, told Asiaweek that ‘TELO was being controlled by a third party.’ At the time, Kiddu did not openly accuse the Research & Analysis Wing, India’s intelligence agency. But since then, RAW’s links to TELO and EPRLF – both pro-Soviet Marxist groups – have surfaced in Sri Lankan intelligence reports. An aide to the leader of the Tigers’ political wing claims the Indians are still helping the Three Stars ‘either by omission or by commission’.
According to him, the Tigers have relinquished 80% of their arms to the Indian forces, but their rivals have been holding back. ‘What they gave in was rubbish – unusable, old weapons,’ he grumbles. ‘Ask them what happened to the self-loading rifles, the light machine guns and mortar launchers they got from RAW.’ A clause in the Indo-Sri Lankan peace treaty calls for the militants to turn in all their arms. But as one senior Sri Lankan Army officer points out: ‘The ferocity of the LTTE attack [on PLOT’s Mannar camp] belies their claim that they have surrendered all their weapons.’
The internecine warfare that threatens to tear apart the already flimsy peace pact is not Colombo’s only worry. The government is no closer to solving last month’s grenade attack in Parliament on President Junius Jayewardene and ruling party members. Prime suspect Ajith Kumara, a 28 year-old sweeper who cleaned the committee room b efore the fateful parliamentary meeting, has disappeared. Investigators claim that in his university days Kumara had been a member of the outlawed Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna party, which is taught to be behind the grenade blasts.
Local resentment notwithstanding, official relations with India are cordial at present. New Delhi seems anxious to assist its tiny neighbour in rising phoenix-like from the devastations of war. At a meeting of the Indo-Sri Lankan joint commission last week, New Delhi offered $31 million for reconstruction work in the island’s battered north and east. More than half the sum is to be in the form of a grant, while the remainder is a loan to be repaid over fifteen years. Colombo’s total repair bill is expected to reach at least $500 million. The meeting in the Indian capital was itself an indication of warm bilateral ties. Since it was formed in 1968, the group has met just four times. The latest conference came after an eleven-year hiatus.
Two months ago Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed a landmark peace accord they hoped would end Sri Lanka’s four year civil war. To enforce the pact, Gandhi sent in 8,000 Indian peacekeeping troops and ordered them to disarm the island’s ethnic Tamil rebels. For a while the plan seemed to work. In Tamil strongholds to the north, Tamil separatists turned in truckloads of mortars, machine guns and other weapons, while in the south the Sinhalese majority could feel safe walking the streets. Across the island, refugees returned to their homes, religious festivals attracted huge crowds and the shattered economy began to show signs of recovery. But violence has broken out anew, and once again Sri Lanka’s peace looked to be a fragile hope.
The battle this time is between rival Tamil groups struggling to gain political control over the separatist cause. In a spate of ambushes earlier this month, terrorists killed more than 20 members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the largest and most rabidly nationalistic of Sri Lanka’s separatist groups. The Tigers blamed the attacks on a shadowy organization called Three Stars, which the Tigers said had been formed by members of three competing Tamil factions, the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) and the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). Last week the Tigers retaliated in force. LTTE fighters staged a series of brutal attacks on homes, camps, offices and buses. As many as 145 people – many of them unarmed civilians – may have died in the LTTE raids. Hundreds of Tamils have sought the protection of the Indian troops and Sri Lankan Army.
The feuding Tamils have a long history of infighting. In recent years the Tigers have waged a vicious – and successful - campaign to take control of the Tamil movement and push its rivals off the predominantly Tamil Jaffna peninsula. Hundreds of Tamils died during the power struggle. Since the peace accord, however, the groups have had even more to fight about. LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran reluctantly acceded to the plan only after he was pressured by Indian officials in New Delhi. But the other Tamil groups have supported the Jayewardene – Gandhi agreement enthusiastically because it gives them a chance to regain their lost influence by political means. In recent weeks, to LTTE’s dismay, the three moderate Tamil groups had begun opening offices in the Eastern Province in order to attract public support before an interim government is appointed and elections are held before the end of this year.
The massacre clearly showed that India’s peacekeeping force has been less than effective in disarming the Tigers. Until last week Delhi has refused to order its troops to go out of their way to disarm any Tamils for fear of angering the huge Tamil population in southern India, where the separatist movement in Sri Lanka has enjoyed considerable support. Late in the week, however, the peacekeepers were ordered to go after the Tigers, and there were several reports of shooting between armed Tamils and Indian soldiers. At the weekend Prabakaran was believed to be hiding on the Jaffna peninsula. No one knew if he planned to keep pressing his cause, but it was all too clear that there can be no lasting peace until the Tigers are disarmed.
Inside a spartan operations room at Palali in Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna district, a handful of Indian army officers have for days been keeping a death vigil. The soldiers, part of the peacekeeping force in the island’s north and east, are connected by radio to a mobile command post in Nallur village, 32 km away. There, on a straw mat spread in front of a Hindu temple, a bespectacled young man has been on a fast unto death since Sept. 15. Last week, Amirthalingam Thileepan, 23, slipped into a coma, but his comrades from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the strongest Tamil separatist group in Sri Lanka, would not allow him to be fed intravenously.
Thileepan is fasting to drum up support for Tiger demands. Among other things, they want police stations set up after the July 29 signing of the Indo-Sri Lankan peace accord to be shut down. A Colombo-based intelligence analyst told Asiaweek that the Tigers were also using Thileepan’s non-violent protest ‘to focus attention away from the massacres they are committing…to gain supremacy among the Tamil militant groups.’ The Tigers have accused the Indians of aiding their rivals.
Last week, New Delhi announced it would take ‘stern action’ if the militants did not desist from violence. According to sources, three high-ranking Indian army officers issued a similar warning to top Tiger leaders at a meeting in Jaffna. But the Tigers seemed unwilling to sheathe their claws. That same evening, they attacked a rival camp in Vavuniya district in the north. The next day, India sent an additional 1,200 troops to Jaffna, bringing their forces in Sri Lanka to 16,200.
Sex for Secrets: An Indian Official is Caught in the Leaking Act by Salamat Ali [Courtesy: Far Eastern Economic Review (Hongkong), Oct. 15, 1987, p.40]
For the second time in three years, the Indian intelligence community has been rocked by a spy scandal. A senior official in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) – the country’s external intelligence agency – has confessed that he passed on sensitive security information to a foreign power.
Although the foreign power has not been officially identified, 47 year-old K.V.Unnikrishnan, a deputy inspector-general of police on secondment to RAW, had allegedly leaked secrets of India’s dealings with Sri Lankan Tamil insurgents to a US agent.
Unnikrishnan’s activities were revealed shortly before New Delhi and Colombo signed a peace accord on 29 July to end the Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka. Since then the RAW leadership has been engaged in changing its secret codes and communications procedures, in addition to reviewing all other aspects of its work which have been compromised.
Before his arrest, Unnikrishnan headed the RAW’s operation in Madras and was directly in charge of Indian dealings with Sri Lankan Tamil militants based in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Although he was not part of the decision-making apparatus, as field coordinator of Tamil militants he was privy to most of the details of the secret negotiations involving New Delhi, Colombo and the militant Tamil groups.
Authorities began to suspect a major leak in the RAW set-up when Indian negotiators were repeatedly disconcerted during their talks with Sri Lankan officials, who seemed to know in advance details of New Delhi’s discussions with the Madras-based Tamil rebels. New Delhi was also surprised that Colombo had detailed knowledge of clandestine arms shipments received by the insurgents and all the weapons India had confiscated from the Tamil guerrillas.
In mid-1985, when India brought Colombo and the militants together for peace talks in the Bhutanese capital of Thimphu, it discovered that the militants’ negotiating strategy and the Indian view of it had been leaked to Sri Lanka. Last year, Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi appointed P. Chidambaram, a junior minister, as his special representative for talks with Colombo. Shuttling from New Delhi to Madras and Colombo, Chidambaram began a series of talks. What had transpired between him and the militants in Madras was usually known to the Sri Lankans by the time Chidambaram reached Colombo.
One pointer to the likely source of the leaks was the Tamil militants’ complaint that Unnikrishnan was playing a divisive role by carrying tales between their various Madras-based groups, wondering loudly if he was truly acting on New Delhi’s policies as they understood them.
Unnerved by the leaks and unsure of their source, the RAW leadership mounted a massive counter-intelligence operation. It placed almost the entire senior strata of the Tamil Nadu police force and other related Madras-based officials, including Unnikrishnan, under surveillance. For months, these officials’ offices and homes were bugged, their telephones were tapped and their movements monitored.
The documents, photographs and other material gathered in the counter-espionage operation narrowed the search to Unnikrishnan by mid-year. Ironically, by then his name had been recommended to the Prime Minister’s Office for promotion. Earlier, he had turned down an option to join the regular cadre of the RAW, preferring to remain in his parent police service while on deputation to the intelligence outfit. By the mid-1980s, he was the RAW’s top field officer in Madras coordinating Sri Lankan affairs.
Confronted with the incriminating evidence, Unnikrishnan is said to have confessed his spying activities. During a tenure in Colombo as the RAW’s representative six years ago, he had become friendly with an unnamed US consular official and, together with him, engaged in several extra-marital affairs with unidentified women. Despite these sexual escapades, he was apparently a hen-pecked husband and his alleged American contact knew that Unnikrishnan was mortally afraid of his wife.
After his return to India, he was briefly stationed in New Delhi before moving to Madras. Sometime in 1985, a woman describing herself as a stewardess with Pan American Airways telephoned him from Bombay to say that his American consular friend had told her to contact him if she felt lonely. Unnikrishnan flew from Madras to Bombay and a liaison developed between the two. During 1985-86, she gave him complimentary air tickets to fly to Singapore. During those jaunts in Singapore, compromising photographs of the stewardess and her lover were taken.
Sometime early last year, an American official based in New Delhi flew to Madras and confronted Unnikrishnan with the photographs. The RAW man was trapped and is known to have agreed to cooperate with the American, who later made Madras his own base of operations.
According to the authoritative fortnightly magazine India Today, the American quietly slipped out of India when Unnikrishnan failed to show up for two pre-arranged meetings – after he was arrested in Madras some time in the middle of the year. Although official sources have asserted that Unnikrishnan’s controller was an American diplomat, it is not clear to which US agency he belonged. The implication of the revelations so far is that the Americans were passing on Unnikrishnan’s information to Colombo for about 18 months preceding his arrest.
As a civil servant, Unnikrishnan could not be sacked or demoted without an open legal hearing. But New Delhi invoked Article 311 of the Indian Constitution to dispense with the legal requirements on the grounds that national security was involved. An open trial would have brought to light more than India is prepared to admit in respect to the insurgency in Sri Lanka. As in the cases of other spies, his trial would be in camera, possibly at the high-security Tihar Jail in the capital. And no details of the trial proceedings are likely to be made public except the sentence passed.