– by Shenali Waduge –
The arrival of over 70,000 Indian Peace Keeping Force troops to Sri Lanka followed the signing of the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord on 29 July 1987. Their task was significant for ironically the IPKF was to disarm the very militants that India had provided covert training & arms to. In other words, Indian soldiers were being sent to a foreign land to disarm militants that India had created.
Was the IPKF operation guided politically? If so what have the Indian Government done for the over 2000 IPKF soldiers who laid down their lives for a political exercise? Surely these soldiers deserve better compensation for they come from humble homes & sent to a nation without proper guidance & asked to bring peace without being debriefed or even given a map of the area they were to cover.
There is a Right to Information Act prevalent in India, equally surprising is that no one has yet to demand exactly how much was spent by the Indian Government from Indira Gandhi’s Government onwards towards training & arming & financially supporting the LTTE & other militant groups in Sri Lanka.
The Indian Government spent over USD1000billion for the IPKF operation that lasted little over 2 years. It is the Indian tax payer who has supported the will of the successive Indian Governments, therefore the Indian tax payers deserve to know exactly how much their contribution was towards the creation of a monster that is presently in existence for over 30 years.
So what went wrong in Sri Lanka for the IPKF – their Maldive operation took less than 2 & half days? The problem faced in Sri Lanka is complicated by the presence of a powerful neighbor – one that is sensitive towards its own ambitions to project itself as a global force & be recognized as a powerful nation & one that survives on votes & alliances. It becomes further complicated by the fact that any aspiring Government cannot avoid the Tamil Nadu factor – a very large State that is traditionally the homeland of the Tamil people – though their Tamil brethren in Sri Lanka have very little to share in common apart from the fact that they are called “Tamil”. So whether it is the Congress or the BJP both sides will continue to court the Tamil Nadu politicians who are all too aware of this scenario. The issue of separatism is not confined to Sri Lanka alone, in fact in early fifties Tamil Nadu did flirt with this idea & in fact threatened to separate on the question of language & there was also the “We Tamil Movement” which India silently managed to quell before it gathered much momentum.
From Bouquets to Bricks
To chase away a presumed “devil” the Tamil people garlanded an “angel”…when the “angel” became the “devil”…they looked for another “angel”…& this vicious circle seems to be continuing all because of the “hope” that prevails in the minds of the people. Can they be blamed?
It is well known that the IPKF were ill-prepared for their role in Sri Lanka…it is even claimed that they were provided with only a tourist map of Sri Lanka & makes us wonder exactly what the Indian Government hoped off the IPKF. To this question the most suited to answer are the RAW & India’s Intelligence officers who were the central force behind the decision making of its Prime Minister. To these officers, the LTTE were “their boys”. But the goodwill mission sent by the Indian Government were naturally greeted with garlands & cheering crowds.
It took little time to see change in sentiments as cases of rape, civilian deaths, looting, theft, destruction of property by IPKF troops escalated. When the Sri Lankan army was in the Jaffna peninsula they were labeled rapists & racists. The IPKF proved far worse & the LTTE no better. The people had no choice but to accept the LTTE & have had to endure them for well over 30 years. It still makes us wonder why their relatives now happily earning foreign incomes, residing in comfortable climes would still wish their brethren to suffer at the hands of these malicious tormentors so that they can buy time to gain their PR status.
But, let us be a little fair by the IPKF. Here we have a group of men…belonging to different states of India, unaware & clueless of what was happening in Sri Lanka, not briefed about anything except shipped off in loads with arms & asked to protect the people….which people, could they identify a tiger from a citizen,…they couldn’t even speak with the people let alone understand them….but from the little they could comprehend they did what they could (mending roads, places of worship, schools etc even to the point of building a highway along the coastal belt from Trincomalee to Jaffna) until the point where the LTTE had had enough of the Indian honeymooners & started to attack them. It was from 10 October 1987, that the IPKF launched a military offensive against the LTTE.
(LTTE) from an ally to an adversary – IPKF psychologically unprepared for the eventuality
The July 83 riots in Sri Lanka naturally invoked the call for help from India & Foreign Minister Narasinha Rao followed by envoy G. Parthasarthy arrived in Sri Lanka for discussions with Sri Lanka’s President Jayawardena. This led eventually to the Indo-Lanka Accord on 29 July 1987, following a series of political dialogues held in Thimpu, Delhi, Bangalore & Colombo. The outcome of the Accord was the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, a devolution package & temporary merger of the North & East creating the North East Provincial Council & the elected provincial government to be set up in Trincomalee. Varadarajah Perumal became its first Chief Minister.
Was the IPKF aware of the type of training provided to the militants by India…if they did they undermined the militants especially the expertise & experience by the time the IPKF did arrive in Sri Lanka?. Thus to the discerning it was to be a quest between Indian training against Indian training (IPKF vs LTTE) & who would end up victor. For a proud & disciplined arm it was easy work for the LTTE to create the mayhem that eventually led to the Tamil people calling for the withdrawal of the troops.
One of the obvious failures of the IPKF in Sri Lanka was that it lacked intelligence, it had little freedom of action to plan & execute its operations & very little logistics support (tanks & APCs were not used, no air cover, even the armed helicopter came much later, the soldiers even lacked proper cooking utensils). On top of all that they had no clue as to who were actually the militants…since everyone looked alike. The RAW was expected to pass on the necessary information to the Indian army but apparently they were too scared for their safety (Colonel John Taylor, officer in the IPKF)
It was obvious that the IPKF & intelligence officers did not see eye to eye. Intelligence officers like Anand Verma was happy to claim “these are our boys, once they have agreed they will not betray” (since LTTE had been trained by Indians since the beginning of the 1980s.)
The IPKF soldiers knew they were fighting Tamil insurgents, the same insurgents who were getting trained and supplied with large quantities of arms and equipment from Tamil Nadu. This had a deleterious effect on the troop morale.
What went wrong for the IPKF?
Before the signing of the Agreement & consequently the arrival of the IPKF we must remember the major Sri Lankan military drive in May 87. The shower of political pressure from India foretold the actual pressure the Sri Lankan military were able to create upon the tigers (Operation Vadamarachchi) & as proof that Indians meant business were several planes over Sri Lankan skies & the drop of dhal supplies to Jaffna on 4 June 1987. If the international community preferred to silently acknowledge India’s interference they were in for another rude shock when IPKF troops proved far worse than the allegations harbored upon the Sri Lankan soldiers.
J .N. Dixit was the High Commissioner to India in Sri Lanka from 1985 to 1989 & he was Rajiv Gandhi’s key man. His reply in an interview with Josey Joseph when asked if India was right to train the LTTE is significant “See, you do not indulge in value judgment, in retrospect, in hindsight. It is unrealistic. When you take a decision, you are in the middle of a situation. Nobody sitting in a chair 10 years later, five years later, is competent to judge whether it was necessary or not. Whether it was necessary or not was decided upon by the then government, then prime minister, on the basis of information and analysis that were available“.
India was fearful of Sri Lanka’s closeness to the West. The Israeli ties & Isareli agencies Mossad & Shin Bet specialized in under-cover operations, the British Keeny Meeny Services providing off-shore training to the Special Task Force & even Pakistani training provided. With a proxy war situation created it was natural that the US would also be involved. It was to this scenario that India found itself involved.
There are many reasons for the India’s operation in Sri Lanka to fail. The most important of these is that there were two divergent views expressed by Indian intelligence & the Indian military. On the one hand RAW officers like Ananda Verma considered LTTE as “our boys” & Army Chief Gen. Sundarji was confident of disarming the LTTE within 3 weeks……….no one Rajiv Gandhi had confidence in his men. However, set against this was Maj. Gen. Harikat Singh the first senior commander to be sent to Sri Lanka who eventually criticized J N Dixit, RAW & Gen. Sundarji because his men were sent ill-prepared.
IPKF sent ill-armed, ill-equipped totally unaware of what they were heading for or what they really had to do, not debriefed on their enemy & even the commanders denied free rein & having to wait for “orders from Delhi”….it was clear that the Indian Government either underpinned the LTTE or did not want the IPKF to be fully equipped to actually succeed in the clause signed under the Indo-Lanka Agreement – to disarm the LTTE
The failure of the Accord was further heightened by the successors of the 2 Governments in the form of Premadasa & V P Singh, both opposing the Accord. R Premadasa took credit for the chasing away of a foreign peace keeping force it was the VP Singh Governments & I K Gujral’s decision (actually taking political mileage to prove Rajiv Gandhi’s decision was wrong) that actually led to the IPKF withdrawal – they could have played the real bad brother & refused…what a scenario that would have led to.
Sri Lanka is having a problem – it is a terrorist problem that initially set out covering itself under an “ethnic” label to provide legitimacy to its cause & acceptance worldwide. The “ethnicity” label shadows heavily upon India when Tamil Nadu state is brought into the equation & LTTE’s ethnic tag is to provide “liberation” to the Tamils which itself has a secessionist history wanting to create its own homeland. Thus, we should not be surprised over India’s concerns of troubles brewing in Sri Lanka especially one’s that involve the Tamil community. If India is concerned it is as a result of fear of what is likely to happen to its own state of Tamil Nadu. What is intriguing in the Indo role in Sri Lanka is if the Indians do not want Tamil Nadu to separate why have they sponsored a Tamil militant group that harbors separatism?
Where India’s insincerity lay was in not so much the initiation of an Accord that would provide substantial devolution to the Tamils but also to simultaneously embark upon a program to train Sri Lanka’s militants in the eventuality that the peace Accord fails. This is where India has failed a country & more importantly the Tamil community of that country for the people of the North has continued to suffer LTTE atrocities for over 30 years & many are too scared to even say so fearing their lives.
With elections looming in India, it immediately warrants a barrage of attacks by India’s Central Government upon Sri Lanka…whether it is regarding an Indian fisherman or some other feeble excuse pressure is exerted upon the Sri Lanka Government to show the Tamil Nadu politicos that they can vouchsafe stern action against the Sri Lankan authorities.
Tamil Nadu politicos know too well their importance & they in turn have used the LTTE adequately to their advantage as well. Senior members of the militant groups were actually residing in Tamil Nadu, they were even hosts of Tamil Nadu politicians, Uma Maheshwaran & Prabakaran was moving amongst the elite of South India….Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister late M G Ramachandran gave £3 million to the L.T.T.E. and £1 million to the E.R.O.S. for “refugee work” soon after the Sri Lankan Government’s “Operation Liberation”.
While India will continue its molly coddling role we can equally be certain that India will not allow separatism unless of course it is to the advantage of India’s Central Government…it is in this scenario that Sri Lanka needs to be concerned about.
Needless to say, the present crisis in Sri Lanka will be remembered for 2 strategic error committed by 2 of its 3 protagonists – India for arming the LTTE & LTTE for killing Rajiv Gandhi. Sri Lanka who has to appease its mighty neighbor & be told “there is no military solution” while in the same breath we see US troops forcefully arrive in Iraq, Afghanistan, NATO troops take over Serbia eventually creating an independent Kosovo…& in Sri Lanka’s case many peace talks, many ceasefires, many peace facilitators & despite it all many more gruesome attacks by LTTE.