Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2522

Sri Lanka & India’s Insecurity?

BY Shenali Waduge

Is India insecure by nature or should India have reasons to be insecure even after expansions in its military, diplomatic & economic energies far beyond Nehru’s Non-Aligned times? It is this aspect of insecurity that necessitates a closer review of India’s role in Sri Lanka. Does India need to be insecure of Sri Lanka? Or is it that India wishes to see Sri Lanka wriggling with "uncertainties" that will eternally leave a "vulnerable" country to which India can always remain bound to as "big brother" so that no other nation can or should touch (an indirect silent colony of India)? Is suspicion aroused purely because India sees itself engulfed in the bosom of western diplomacy over the more lack-luster Eastern ensemble? Possibly India may not be aware of exactly what is making India insecure…but insecure it certainly is.

The risk to India’s security vis a vis the LTTE factor must be answered not by Sri Lanka but by India alone for it cannot shirk its responsibility for arming, training, equipping & supporting the LTTE. Turning a rebel group with a xenophobic leader marshalling brainwashed cadres into an international terrorist network with side revenues coming from drugs, narcotics, human smuggling, scams & distortion, India cannot whine over LTTE threats on Indian territory….least of all when the leaders of Tamil Nadu are tolerant of LTTE presence in their state & use the “Tamil” factor as a manipulative tool against India’s Central Government no sooner elections come into focus. India should first fix the problem back home before interfering into the affairs of another country.

Understandably the geo-political importance of Sri Lanka has been oft quoted as being the primary source for any country to be involved in Sri Lanka. Notwithstanding this important geographical factor, there are obviously more players to contend with, more problems bigger than regional supremacy & India’s role in Sri Lanka cannot be assessed without considering other players & the other reasons for the interests of those players in Sri Lanka. It is indeed a very complicated scenario.

Political ambitions or Economic ambitions

It is apparent that India’s “ambitiousness” is at the center of countries alluring India’s allegiance. The path India is taking is a far cry from the status quo of post-independence, policy of non-alignment & a force that stood out from other countries who also experienced decolonization.

It was Sri Lanka’s closeness with the US that spearheaded India’s insecurity at a time when India took a pro-East policy. Now with the dependence on military power India needs to seek US assistance. Alongside this remains a need to be recognized as a global super power – for a large country with a booming economy India still has not been accepted into the UN Security Council. The US-Sino ties is unlikely to be jeopardized by any allegiance with India it is most likely that the nuclear deal is to purely balance the scales of power in the Asian region. But India’s hob nobbing with the Western world has increased its insecurity & the US is seeking mileage of this. We can be certain that if India has been inspired to entertain any ambition & ambitious intentions….the region is doomed to see plenty of turmoil internally & externally within the region.

As a threesome we can but hesitate to wonder what is likely to take place in a region domineering with weapons. The competition between China & India is undeniable interchanging their supremacy economically. If China is leading…we can be certain that India wants to take over or at least catch up. We must also note the presence of Russia & Japan.

Do we see a US-inspired ambitious India roving to take supremacy?

For the US, it would be in its best interest to have India & China at loggerheads. The important question that China & India need to answer is whether the two wish to follow a route of India plus China or India against China. This is not to imply that India & China together should work against the US because let us not forget the pros & cons of globalization & that China does eventually have to depend on US economically…. the recent claims on Chinese toys falling below standards & being removed from shelves also signals that US is always ready to change & challenge any status quo. The US too depends on China. Presently the US is in a sensitive situation with their home economy being affected drastically the US supremacy is being challenged without a doubt.

Whether the decision to align with US & sign a nuclear deal (one recalls the embargo on India following nuclear tests in 1998) was taken pragmatically or ideologically is unknown but it has brought trade improvements, foreign direct investments etc. Walmart, Tesco, Carrefour are all planning to enter India & India is likely to see many more drastic changes. India is now the largest trading partner in the EU accounting for 25% of both India’s imports & exports. Microsoft’s only overseas facility is in Hyderabad India. Domestic India however feels otherwise & we may possibly see a change in government. Could this be an alignment trap? As Brajesh Mishra put it: "One either changes the policy to suit the environment or changes the environment to suit the policy. The nuclear tests helped us change the environment."

India’s modernization plans have had disastrous affects on rural India – more than 10,000 farmers have committed suicide in 2005 unable to meet debts, more than 50% children are malnourished, 40% can neither read or write. India ranks 126th on the UN Human Development index, well below China in 81st place. There is greater divide between the upper classes – 5-6% of the population (60-70 million people) is almost in par with the living standards of Europe. An estimated 350-400 million out of its 1 billion inhabitants are still below the poverty line.

But, India cannot & should not forget it is an Asian country – it is the second largest demographically & geographically.

The other players

India does have conflicts with its neighbors – China continues to claim part of Arunachal Pradesh (North East India) while India claims Aksai Chin (North West). India recognizes China’s sovereignty over Tibet since 2003 though the US & China are at loggerheads regarding Tibet. The Kashmir issue between Pakistan & India has been dragging far too long marked by China’s unconditional support for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. Then there is the Maoist (Naxalite) problem in Nepal, uncertainties in Bangladesh & the problems in Sri Lanka

China is also establishing its presence with the construction of a deep sea port in Gwadar, Pakistan near the Persian Gulf, funding Mynamar navy (Southeast of India) funding the development of the Hambantota harbor in Sri Lanka…the Iran-India pipeline & Pakistan’s role all these raise the question of encirclement & obviously draws India’s suspicion.

India has always viewed Pakistan as being the epicenter of terrorism. India is of the opinion that Al-Qaeda could not have become such a potent force if not for the assistance of Pakistan. India wishes the international community to correctly analyze the situation in Pakistan …it sounds very much like what the Sri Lankan people are asking of the international community especially India in relation to the LTTE. If the Al-Qaeda & Taliban are knowingly using Pakistan then this is exactly what the LTTE is doing in Tamil Nadu. Yet, the US is hardly likely to allow India to dictate its policy of Pakistan.

India is also concerned about stability in Central Asia – a region that has begun to figure significantly in view of its geo-political & geo-economic interest following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The countries of Central Asia face the menace of Islamic fundamentalism & terrorism which is the focus of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (a force to match NATO) which occasions both Pakistan & Afghanistan to function as “moderate” instead of “fundamental”.

The role of Russia should also not be forgotten. India does have technical & military cooperations with Russia – India buying most of Russia’s weapons. One can see how the energy factor becomes another source of importance where Russian- Indo relations are concerned.

If one gives the CIA credit for a possible alliance between India, China & the US then the Shanghai Cooperation Organization which forges alliances between China, Russia, & India alongside Pakistan & Iran is showing its face & influence in the region.

This leads us back home in Sri Lanka to wonder what significance we have for India.

Sri Lanka

For Sri Lanka it is best to be alert at all times & remember at all times that there are no permanent friends but permanent interests. Gone are the days that anyone or any country for that matter does anything “free” without expecting or asking for something in return!

The visit of a top Indian delegation comprising M K Narayan (National Security Advisor), Shri Vijay Singh (Defense Secretary) & Shivsankar Menon (Foreign Secretary) has given rise to many speculations as to the reasons for their visit – it was certainly not to discuss SAARC security arrangements. For in arming, training, supporting & financing the LTTE India is in a better position to ensure its Premier is unharmed ….but then India should also remember that the LTTE eliminated another prime minister on Indian soil in 1991. India should not have to worry about the LTTE at all since India has oft times then not made sure that the Sri Lanka security forces does not capture or eliminate LTTE leadership…the Vaddamarachchi operation & possibly the winding up operation in Mullaitivu is a case in point. In any case, the Sri Lankan people are highly unlikely to buy the security risk factor for the Indian premier as any reason for the 3 star visit ahead of the SAARC summit. If security is the risk shouldn’t India be concerned that the LTTE & Tamil Nadu leaders may join together & demand separation from India to make it a greater Eelam?

Doubting India

India has given no reason for Sri Lanka not to doubt its intentions & even a cordial visit is likely to be construed as a move to undermine the territorial integrity of the country. Presently we hear of the officials “instructing” Sri Lanka not to purchase military weapons without explicit approvals from India, not to allow any Pakistani intelligence personnel into Sri Lanka without clearance from India….is Sri Lanka a sovereign nation or not? Is this the sort of relationship that India wishes to nurture…especially when there are many who recall the times of sound cultural ties between India & Sri Lanka?

If the people of Sri Lanka do in any way doubt & question India’s role in Sri Lanka, India really has only itself to blame. Indira Gandhi saw to it that a rebel entity in Sri Lanka was created to force Sri Lanka to be “dependent” on India….”eternally” …even now India demands that Sri Lanka buys arms from only India. If creating a rebel group was not enough India forced consent to have its peace keepers in Sri Lanka – men who were clueless about what they came to do & ended up with the deaths of over 2000 IPKF soldiers, Sri Lankan women raped, shooting & killing the innocent ….finally to be asked by the Sri Lankan Government & surprisingly even the rebels to leave. Yet to be fair by the IPKF they did surround Prabakaran but instructions from Delhi were to release him. It was never investigated who gave the instructions & why? Would India wish to make this same mistake despite the hyped up calls for a new terminology in UN circles called “military intervention”? The IPKF troops in Sri Lanka & their failure in just under 2 years of presence does provide Sri Lanka to boldly denounce any calls for military intervention on the grounds that it proved a futile exercise leaving not only deaths of innocent Sri Lankan civilians but a large number of deaths to the peace troopers….the rebels remained unarmed & eventually ended up running off with the weapons of the peace keepers! Military intervention for Sri Lanka would be like jumping from the stove to the fire!

The Indians were also responsible for the Provincial Council system a devolution package hurriedly passed through with the 13th amendment & Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court declaring a referendum was not necessary. Can we still challenge this decision in the light of its importance being denied to the people of the country???

The next “intervention” by India incidentally or rather evidently came through an India-approved Norway role as peace facilitators invited by the then President Kumaratunga….making many to wonder who else was on RAW payrolls! Dr. Subramaniam Swamy registered a case against Sonia Gandhi claiming she is on KGB payroll & smuggling ancient antiques out of India. Even Japan which volunteered to facilitate in the peace process was specifically told by India to direct their support only by way of aid. Thus, we can see that the Norway-US connection & the India connection does raise a multitude of interest as to what they all “proposed” to do with regard to Sri Lanka & whether the Government of Sri Lanka had any “say” in this scenario at all – were our soldiers to be treated as mere pawns to a larger & greater plan? It does make us wonder how that penniless-rebel movement that doctrinated itself on the “Sinhala discrimination” tag soon copied Norway’s’ tag of “self-determination” & the right to a separate state & rose to greater fete than even the Al Qaeda.

India is concerned about the movements & actions of the present Government - the purported closeness which Sri Lanka is portrayed as having with China. India not only has to worry about China, Pakistan & the US, in all probability India must be concerned about the Rajapakse tactics on courting Iran which is likely to embark into retail oil sector that the Indian Oil Corporation presently occupies, Saudi Arabia to balance the relationship with Iran & Malaysia which has become the largest foreign investor in Sri Lanka. All these “developments” are likely to shrink India’s influence over Sri Lanka. However, let us hope that Sri Lanka does not end up another Myanmar.

At a time when international terrorism is being presented as the most important problem facing the international community & one to be tackled on a priority basis & dealt with even if these terrors are pro-western or anti-western, pro-eastern or anti-eastern. Yet there certainly are double standards. Should terrorism not exist in only western climes? Is it OK for terrorism to prevail in nations such as ours?

Despite it all why does Sri Lanka continue to receive mixed signals from India?

If the Indian Central Government continues to dance to the tune of the Tamil Nadu Government it purely showcases the ease with which votes can be manipulated. This aspect must have been taken into consideration by the Bush administration to push through the nuclear deal while Congress was in power. Who would have thought the Congress Government whose Chairperson was made widow as a result of the LTTE would opt for power over the annihilation of a group that was fostered by her mother-in-law?
Some problems offer mandate for India’s interference & the Tamil’s fleeing to Tamil Nadu gives room for the Indian Government to use as an excuse to pressure Sri Lanka & force its will upon our nation.

The slip of the tongue by McCain’s advisor’s that another 9/11 type attack would help McCain become the next President served only to confirm theories that emerged that the Bush administration was well aware of the attacks but decided to use it as a tool to bolster the declining internal support of Bush.

Thus there will come a day when India’s own follies & misadventures will also emerge.

So what does India really want?

Clearly India does not want to see a “divided” Sri Lanka. The arrival of the three high-profile Indian officials with elections in the air was not to appease the Sri Lankan Tamils but to appease the Tamil Nadu leaders who have been of late breathing down the Central Government to take action against the GOSL. The significance of R. Sampathan’s comment that the Sri Lankan Tamils did not get anything despite the Indian’s getting Trincomalee is important in this context. Sampanthan seems to be confused by the “lease” element associated with the Trincomalee harbor.

Why should India be cautious of the LTTE? When India has & still provides safe haven for LTTErs fleeing from the North of Sri Lanka & supplies still very much coming in from Tamil Nadu. A few arrests to appease diplomatic ties is hardly likely to change the status quo. There is a saying that what goes round comes round & India’s manipulations are not likely to run its course. There is bound to come a time when India will soon face the very problems they helped create.

Currently, “those supporting” the LTTE are facing a crisis…with the ongoing military successes the bargaining power of the LTTE certainly diminishes & the non-LTTE Tamils are likely to raise the need for a negotiated political settlement before the GOSL takes the upper hand – this is where people like Mr. Anandasangaree will come into action. Are we to presume that the man who took on a nation & saddled many other nations to support his endeavor is likely to see a humiliating defeat? Most unlikely, are we then to presume that these “support bases” may “interfere” again & ensure that he is turned into a “Idi Amin” ….most likely! With a death penalty over the LTTE leader’s head, India may provide safe passage only but we can wonder which nation is likely to provide “safe haven” for this formidable leader?

If the much hyped security factor is of significance for India’s territorial integrity they should have dealt with the LTTE & the Tamil Nadu leaders. Prabakaran guilty of the death of Rajiv Gandhi is a proclaimed offender – Tamil Nadu leaders can be questioned by the state for acquiescence & support of the LTTE.

With the SAARC summit to be hosted by Sri Lanka later on in the month, is it more embarrassing to have Sri Lanka’s integrity humiliated by the presence of 3000 Indian military personnel, armed trucks, Sri Lanka under radar surveillance, the Indian air force guarding the skies of Colombo just for a person’s whose very portfolio is likely to be in jeopardy following the looming elections to be held in India or to politely ask the Indian Premier to remain at home where he is bound to be “safe” – for a terrorist unit to have gone to India & masterminded the attack on Rajiv Gandhi it is likely to be peanuts to undertake another assassination if they so desired.

India may well be reminded of the fact that the powerful & highly controversial Iranian President was also in Sri Lanka recently & there was no fuss by the Iranians over security matters.The presence of such a large contingent of Indians is hardly likely to change anything other than showing Sri Lanka & its Government that India is able to call the shots at any time….SAARC hasn’t been a fruitful endeavor so why should Sri Lanka have to be humiliated with foreign presence?

But India can look at options – it is now nuclear enabled, it has a standing army & it is cultivating bilateral & multilateral relations with neighbors & allies.

To Madeleine Albright, the US was the world’s “indispensable nation”. To Sri Lanka, India becomes an “unavoidable nation”.

Tamil Nadu has been used as a base to not only supply but also provide shelter to the LTTE for its attacks on Sri Lanka. Has India every thought that there may come a time if the LTTE is allowed to legitimize their struggle that the North of Sri Lanka may be used as a safe haven for terror tactics to take place in India & for Tamil Nadu to relaunch the “We Tamil” slogan which was squashed by the RAW before it took root. Tamil Nadu is the real homeland of the 400 million Tamils of the world & there real desire for a separate homeland is likely to start in Tamil Nadu. Prabakaran is likely to be just a tool in that exercise much like the case of Ben Bella of Algeria… the greater Eelaam may just take place with or without Prabakaran.

It is really poignant for India to first examine its geographical positioning…its strength & most of all the need to nurture good ties instead of making the nations that it surrounds hostile to it. This is where real supremacy comes about. The “insecurity” factor is a factor that is created in the ‘mind” of the Indian Governments because of their “selfish” & “self-centered” actions…no wonder it has not been accepted as a global power…India certainly has a lot to mature.

While it may be easy to blame foreign nations it is also prudent for the past & present Governments to take accountability for their actions that have made Sri Lanka a stooge on International platforms & be humiliated into accepting actions as a result of the wrong policy decisions they have taken. If as a nation we have to face humility & loose our dignity none other than our own leaders must shoulder that blame for their role in over 25 years turning our armed forces into cannon-fodder & not putting the nation first to ensure peace, stability & development.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this