India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam
Sri Lanka: Marginalisation of India
Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New
and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai
in International Terrorism Monitor, Paper 157
26 November 2006
Bolstered by Pakistan's continuing military support and
encouraged by the US' diplomatic support to its military operations against the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan Government of President
Mahinda Rajapakse has been increasingly insensitive to India's concerns over the
humanitarian catastrophe facing the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Even while
describing India as Sri Lanka's "best friend"--- Mr. Rajapakse continues with
his policy of targeted killings of innocent Tamil civilians through punitive air
strikes and the use of heavy artillery and has been trying to bring them down to
their knees through a policy of starving them.
2. His lack of concern for the humanitarian catastrophe and his indifference to
India's anxieties in the matter became evident after the meeting of the
representatives of the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors' Conference of 2003 ---
Japan, Norway, the European Union and the US---held in Washington on November
21, 2006.This meeting, while articulating proforma criticisms of the acts of
violence and indiscriminate killing of civilians by the Sri Lankan Government
and the LTTE, came out strongly in support of the Sri Lankan Government and
showed a calculated indifference to the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
3. The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Mr. R. Nicholas Burns,
was particularly forthcoming in support of the Sri Lankan Government during the
joint press briefing by the participants at the meeting. The remarks of Mr.
Burns and others at the press briefing have been interpreted by the hard-liners
in the Sri Lankan Government as amounting to an indirect endorsement of the
methods followed by the security forces in their operations against the LTTE and
as indicating that the Co-Chairs are decreasingly averse to the Sri Lankan
Government's efforts to solve the problem of the Tamils militarily. The
hardliners have come to believe that the Co-Chairs are increasingly inclined to
close their eyes to the brutal suppression of the Tamils.
4. There has been a revival of the pre-1983 interest of the US Navy in acquiring
a presence in Trincomallee and hopes of achieving this with the support of the
Government of Mr. Rajapakse should at least partly account for the growing open
support of the US for Mr. Rajapakse and its disinclination to take a firm stand
against the methods employed by the Sri Lankan security forces against the Tamil
population. Trincomallee has acquired a new importance in the eyes of the US and
the NATO forces presently fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan as an
alternative naval base for logistic support to the NATO operations in
Afghanistan should instability in Pakistan after the next year's general
elections there make the continued use of Karachi untenable.
5. Mr. Burns has showered encomiums on what he described as India's responsible
attitude on Sri Lanka---- which is nothing but an euphemism for its in-activism.
Even while making from time to time proforma statements expressing themselves in
favour of a more active role by India, the US and Sri Lanka seem happy with the
present in-activism of New Delhi.
6. When Mr. Rajapakse talks of the need for Indian activism, what he has in mind
is military activism in support of the operations of his security forces against
the Sri Lankan Tamils and the LTTE----in the form of more training for the Sri
Lankan Police and Security Forces, supply of military equipment,
intelligence-sharing and joint patrolling by the Indian and Sri Lankan Navies to
prevent arms smuggling by the LTTE.
7. He does not want Indian activism in the political and humanitarian fields.
While India has never sought an activist role in the political field, the
initiatives recently taken by our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, for
humanitarian activism under pressure from the Chief Minister, Shri M.
Karunanidhi, and other leaders of Tamil Nadu have been given short shrift by Mr.
Rajapakse. While welcoming the Indian offer of humanitarian supplies, Mr.
Rajapakse is reported to have turned down suggestions that these should be
routed to the Tamils through the International Red Cross and insisted that these
should be sent to the Sri Lankan Government, which would decide how they would
8. The Indian predicament in the face of the strong line taken by Mr. Rajapakse
after the endorsement which he received from the US was obvious during the press
briefing held at Chennai on November 24, 2006, by Shri M. K. Narayanan, our
Prime Minister's National Security Adviser, and Shri Shivshankar Menon, our
Foreign Secretary, after a meeting with Shri Karunanidhi. Shri Menon was on his
way back to New Delhi after meeting Mr. Rajapakse in Colombo and Shri Narayanan
had specially flown from New Delhi for the meeting.
9. Shri Narayanan told the media as reported by "The Hindu" of November 25,2006:
"We will decide if there is a necessity for it (sending humanitarian aid) at
all. And, if so, we will decide what will be the modalities."
10. The "Deccan Chronicle" of November 25,2006, has reported that when our
Foreign Secretary raised the possibility of the humanitarian assistance being
sent through the Red Cross, Mr. Rajapakse "said a big 'no' arguing that such an
action would mean damning his Government as untrustworthy, apart from
interfering with the island's sovereignty." But, at the same time, he has issued
an appeal to all local and international non-governmental organisations to get
involved in the distribution of food.
11. How to address the humanitarian catastrophe which has been facing the Tamils
without seeming to support the present leadership of the LTTE, which was
involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi? That is question of immediate
relevance to India. India should seriously consider organising a meeting of Sri
Lanka, the US, EU, Norway, Japan, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)
and the International Committee of the Red Cross to discuss only the
humanitarian aspects of the present situation in Sri Lanka and find out ways of
assisting the Tamils. India should take over the leadership role in mobilising
the international community on the humanitarian issue.
12. The strong support for the Sri Lankan Government from the
Co-Chairs---particularly from the US--- has had two reactions in the Sri Lankan
Tamil community----desperation and total disillusionment with the international
community on the one side and a trend towards a greater radicalisation of Tamil
opinion and a greater determination to keep up their armed struggle against the
Government on the other. What impact it will have on the ground situation
remains to be seen.