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Home > Tamil National ForumSelected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki) > India will not court regional instability by taking on Tigers

Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

India will not court regional instability by taking on Tigers

29 May 2004

The political change in India was greeted in Colombo primarily on the basis that it would mean bad times for the LTTE leader. When Delhi extended the ban on the Tigers on May 13 it was considered further proof that the Tigers were getting into a real spot, as it were.

Opinions on the relevance of the Indian election results to Sri Lanka in English and Sinhala were based on reasoning that can be paraphrased thus:

'India wants Pirapaharan extradited for ordering the killing of Sonia Gandhi's husband. Sonia has won the Indian elections. She would do the needful as to avenge her husband's death. Therefore the LTTE would be in deep trouble. It is good for Sri Lanka if Sonia starts gunning for Pirapaharan. The extension of the ban is a good start'.

One gets the impression that the geopolitical naivet� that informs many discussions in Colombo on India's role in Sri Lanka is somewhat incorrigible. They are ultimately based on the emotive proposition that 'India does not like the LTTE. We too hate the LTTE. Therefore India's actions would naturally be detrimental to the Tigers'.

Things have not changed much since the early eighties when J.R Jayewardene thought that courting the Americans would be the simple logical solution to counter what he saw as India's hegemonic designs on Sri Lanka.

India's so called 'hatred' for the LTTE stand on two pillars - the extensions of the ban and the extradition order. The Tigers were banned in India in 1992. In what manner I pray has this ban affected the LTTE?

Let us, for argument's sake, assume that the Congress government in India gets down to the job of extraditing Pirapaharan. What would it mean?

Delhi has to either compel Colombo to arrest him on its own or provide substantive assistance to Colombo for doing the job or go for him directly. All three options mean large scale war. Period. India, whether under BJP rule or Congress Party rule, does not want war. New Delhi's oft-stated position on Sri Lanka's conflict is that both parties should stick to the peace process.

If anyone bothers to study Delhi's foreign policy since Dr. Manmohan Singh initiated economic reforms in 1991, he or she would find it has been largely based on the need to create a secure, conflict free regional environment in which India could rise peacefully as a global economic power.

Hence India has been consistently pursuing a policy of de-escalation and disengagement from conflicts in the region. The policy led to a thaw in Delhi's relations with old enemies China and Myanmar; and since 2000, India's relations with the two countries have improved greatly.

Most importantly Delhi has established a d�tente with archenemy Pakistan as part of the process to stabilize the region for generating rapid economic growth - an approach that has paid off China tremendously in Central Asia and in the Pacific Rim. One of the first promises the Congress Party made when it was elected to power earlier this month was that it would continue to build on the d�tente with Pakistan. On the home front too, India has stuck to the policy of de-escalation of, and disengagement from, long running insurgencies through dialogue. The longest and most brutal insurgency in India, the Nagaland separatist movement, has been locked in talks amidst a fairly stable ceasefire with Delhi since 1997.

India's efforts to contain Islamic militancy and stabilise the Kashmir Valley have been stymied to some extent by the covert backing Muslim separatists in the state get from Pakistan. Policy makers in Delhi appear to believe that the d�tente with Islamabad might eventually help scale down violence in Kashmir and politically stabilise the troubled state.

In one of his first policy statements, Dr. Manmohan Singh said that his government is prepared to talk to all parties concerned to settle the Kashmir problem. Disengaging from conflicts and avoiding them is integral to the Indian strategy for rising as a world economic power. The pattern has been obvious many years.

The only exception is Nepal which signed the Access and Cross Servicing Agreement with the US in 1999. Delhi appears to think the ban on the LTTE helps check militant Tamil nationalist sentiments in Tamil Nadu. The extradition order on Pirapaharan may serve the same purpose. That's all.

In 2000 May when the Tigers were ramming the doors of Jaffna town and Colombo sought its assistance to pull out the besieged troops, India wanted to make sure that the evacuation would not in anyway pose the danger of unwittingly getting drawn into a confrontation with the LTTE even by accident. In 2001 when the Sri Lankan air force launched heavy bombing raids in the north following the failure of Op. Agni-Khiela, India issued a statement cautioning Colombo against escalating the war. So the bottom line is India does not want war in Sri Lanka. So no one in his/her senses in Delhi would order a military adventure to capture Pirapaharan.

Actually, as long as the Tigers do not declare a separate sovereign state, India would not bother to destabilise them either by limited military intervention or through covert operations carried out by its commandos and ex Tamil militants.

India can fund and run large-scale covert operations against the LTTE in the northeast with or without the assistance of the Sri Lankan government. After all if the Sri Lankan army can do deep penetration attacks against the Tigers, why can't the Indian military do it, given its vast resources?

While it is true that the Tigers had neutralised most of their opponents who India would have necessarily required to carry out such operations, one can vouch for the fact that since 1993 Delhi has not had anything on its agenda for Sri Lanka designed specifically to destabilise the LTTE.

Practically there are good reasons for India to feel that fragmenting the LTTE would not be to its advantage, particularly in the context of Delhi's recent concerns about the intentions of the US and its close allies in Sri Lanka.

Let's assume that India succeeds in fragmenting the Tiger movement. This would leave very a large mass of small arms and a thousands of battle hardened fighters in state of unmonitored flux less than 50 kilometres from South India.

There would be no unifying political direction for the scattered Tigers except inveterate hatred towards India, which would mean that the destabilised and fragmented Tiger movement in the north could become an ideal fishing ground for recruiting well trained infiltrators, spies, saboteurs, agent provocateurs, explosives experts etc., to promote terrorism and instability in south India.

Persistent instability in northern Sri Lanka is bad for south India's security. It is a fact that the escalation of the conflict provided an excuse for the regular visits by foreign military personnel to Jaffna.

Delhi believes that Pakistan treats Sri Lanka as an ideal staging ground for targeting its soft but strategically important southern underbelly. It has become fairly clear that the LTTE was not acting on behalf of any foreign power inimical to India's interests when it assassinated Rajiv Gandhi.

It is also obvious that no western power has been able to manipulate the Tigers despite the presence of large Tamil Diaspora communities in the developed countries.

The lesson that Colombo refuses to learn from the Indian intervention in 1983-87 is that Delhi's primary concern in Sri Lanka is to preclude outside powers from strategically positioning themselves on this island in a manner detrimental to its interests here.

Therefore as long as the LTTE does not actively promote separatist sentiments in Tamil Nadu and as long as the LTTE refuses to become a pawn in the hands of outside powers, India may not find reasons compelling enough to do what many southern politicians and opinion makers would want it to do against the Tigers.


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