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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Some strategic security implications of Sri Lanka

By Dimuth Gunawardena

"Our neighbour Sri Lanka too was forced to launch an all-out military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam when protracted negotiations failed to yield any positive results and the latter kept repeatedly violating the ceasefire agreement. After the fall of Kilinochchi which was the de facto capital of LTTE-held territories, the Sri Lanka Army is all set for the "decisive blow" to the Tamil Tigers that will hopefully bring an end to the civil war that has raged for almost 30 years..........Colombo has rightly refused to negotiate with the tigers and give in to Indian and world pressure to hold back military operations."
-General Ashok Mehtra – The Pioneer (New Delhi) -

The visit of Indian Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, to Sri Lanka was said to be "routine in nature". Such description is typical diplomat-speak and if 'true nature' is to be obtained, one needs to analyse the visit in the context of present and future geopolitical configurations and their implications for Sri Lanka subsequent to the now imminent eradication of LTTE terrorism. For example, the recent calls for developing the North with India playing a major role in it can very well indicate an Indian attempt to lure Sri Lanka into that country's financial grip. There is more to it than that of course, so we shall get back to this issue later.

Sri Lanka's victory over terrorism will have far reaching, long term and permanent ramifications on India and for the rest of South Asia in its fight against terrorism. With the exit of the LTTE from the political demographic equation (no matter what RAW propaganda officers may say from their fronts in South Asian Analysis Groups in Chennai) the strategic headaches for the LTTE's creator, India, will be very serious to say the least and merits examination.

The LTTE's lower rung cadres (even some top leaders) and most importantly civilians in the hundreds have begun trickling into to the areas controlled by the Government; a clear affirmation of the trust placed by Tamil civilians in the Sri Lankan armed forces that have operated with fidelity to the maxim "zero tolerance on civilian-casualties". For those who believe otherwise the number of civilian deaths over the past three years may be lesser than 350 civilian deaths and that too including areas outside the North and East of Sri Lanka to quote the most disturbing estimates through 2008. Apart from the victims of terrorist bombings, civilian deaths amount to 50 or so and this too is an allegations pertaining to air strikes; a number that receives perspective only when compared with numbers related to Israeli and US air strikes in Gaza and Afghanistan (one could add Iraq as well). A quick calculation of civilian deaths per air sortie would give a sense of proportion, if you really want to be clinical about such things.

The influx of civilians to areas outside the theatre of operations will no doubt constrain the Government to provide food, medicines and all other essential services on a continuous basis to the IDPs who had been used as human shields by the LTTE in un-cleared areas. The Government has proved equal to the task, all things considered. It is a stark contrast to the manner in which Israel is carrying out its military operations in the Gaza. One notes that Keith Vas, the notorious LTTE mouthpiece, and indeed Gordon Brown, who have on occasion recommended ceasefires in Sri Lanka, are doing the blind-eye number on Gaza, that unhappy land where Israel is perpetrating horrendous crimes against humanity to the tune of over 1000 civilian deaths including the wanton killing of over 300 children. We are yet to hear a proper UN Security Council statement condemning Israel.

Then there is also the matter of 'attacks on the media'. The killing of Sunday Leader editor, Lasantha Wickramatunga has also served to cause fissures in regime stability and indeed is disturbing since voices of dissent are such an essential ingredient and vital part of a healthy democracy. It is for this very reason that they warrant closer scrutiny.

We should not forget that at the height of Sri Lanka's current conflict various international and local groups including INGOs and certain local NGOs such as the ICES (International Centre for Ethnic Studies) and the CPA (Centre for Policy Alternatives) carried out vicious international campaigns to urge imposition of R2P on Sri Lanka to establish a 'peace-keeping' buffer zone between the advancing Sri Lankan troops and the cornered Tigers. The advocates of such intervention obnoxiously patted themselves on the back for successful lobbying against Sri Lanka in her bid for a seat in the UNHRC and were active in lobbying the European Union for removal of the GSP Plus facility. If their machinations had succeeded, Sri Lanka today would have probably ended up like Somalia or Kosovo or Afghanistan or Iraq. Other INGO's such as the NPA whose heavy earth moving equipment were "stolen" by the LTTE leave little for the imagination with regard to how the earth bunds and bunkers were built around Nachchikuda, Kilinochchi and now around Mullativu. Today this very same INGO/NGO lot is leading the fight against the state along with their diplomatic do-gooders like "Jurgen Weerth" and "Robert Blake" who are apparently more worried about our democracy, our right to dissent and our media freedom, than we Sri Lankans are. Today these very same characters light candles and hold vigils for our security when they are not relaxing at some fancy coffee shop or bar in Colombo 7 or attending some cocktail party in Colombo 3.

Nothing better exposes this hypocrisy than the manner in which the Tamil people of Jaffna celebrated the fall of Pooneryn, Paranthan and how the Tamil people in the South privately expressed their happiness the day Paranthan fell or the A9 was cleared. The fact that over 100,000 people attended the "Minds of Jaffna" held in Jaffna is ample proof of the categorical rejection of the diabolical ideologies these suspect creatures attempt to disseminate.

Sri Lanka has been unfortunate that it has had to face pressures from foreign governments both during LTTE terrorism as well as when the terror is almost over. The present predicament is that India is now demanding the extradition of Prabhakaran and Pottu Amman for their role in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. The unconfirmed rumours (subject to verification) say that Pottu Amman, intelligence wing leader and former second in command of the LTTE, surrendered to a SLA Special Forces unit at an undisclosed location. The Indian intelligence outfit, RAW, is known to be having intense consultations with SLA Military Intelligence to extradite Pottu Amman to face criminal proceedings for his role in Rajiv Gandhi's murder on the insistence of the Singh government.

Thus the timing of Menon's visit should be viewed in the backdrop of these developments. The issue is further compounded by rumours circulating that 'Col' Soosai is also preparing to surrender with a large number of cadre loyal to him amidst the 'arrest' of one of the LTTE's 'military spokesman' Illanthiran while attempting to escape to Govt controlled areas. On the other hand there were also intelligence reports that came to the NSC about RAW plans to spirit away Prabakaran and his son Charles Anthony (apparently treated for injuries in India by the RAW some months back) mostly likely off the coast of Mullativu using a naval submarine.

While Menon asks for Prabakaran via 'diplomatic channels' the RAW plans to spirit away Prabakaran, should be viewed as irregularities in the Indian policy on terrorism.

South Asia's dilemmas thus need to be critically analysed from different perspectives in order to assess the extent of the victory over the LTTE. For these corollaries it is essential to understand the political landscape of India post 11/26 (Mumbai terror attack).

According to the terror experts the Mumbai terror attack bore similar hallmarks of previous attacks in Kashmir and Columbine or Virginia Tech in USA. Analysing the modus operandi of detailed planning, coordination, multiplicity of targets, killing of innocent in a mass scale in a major city, the motive probably seems to be an Islamic fundamentalist response to the US-India Strategic Alliance.

What is interesting in the milieu of 11/26 was that the US had passed intelligence warnings to Indian officials or attacks on Mumbai and attacks via sea. The RAW had even intercepted satellite-telephone conversations 10 days prior to 11/26 again of a seaborne attack on Mumbai. Some of the targets had even been identified. This is arguably close to the best early warning one can get of a looming terror attack. This was ample generic threat intelligence though it may be specifically insufficient to pre-empt such an attack. The way intelligence is collected, processed, and acted upon highlights serious deficiencies within the Indian intelligence, security apparatus and capabilities. Terrorist intelligence is assessed and disseminated within the system by the JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee). However serious problems between the IB (domestic Intelligence Bureau) and the notorious RAW (who prefer to deal directly with their political masters than providing inputs to the JIC) have rendered the JIC ineffective in its response to internally and externally emanated terror threats against India. An unbelievable feature was how the NSG (National Security Guard) took over 8 hours to reach Mumbai for lack of air transportation in a country said to have the 2nd largest military (although it is the unit that was designed for nationwide fast response) due to lack of aviation and they had to improvise, they had no strategy in dealing with such attacks, went in intelligence blind, there was no cordoning off of the sites under attack nor the flow of information to media who made theatrics for their own TV rating out of the whole tragedy. The Indian media perfected a US media version of the Mumbai attack though the Indian public assembled to lodge their displeasure upon the Maharashtra Government and the Central Government (both Congress controlled) for not securing the country against terror.

Finally their responses were done in a manner which almost ensured no survivors in certain points of attacks like the Jewish centre. It took 3 days to flush out 10 terrorists from the different points of attacks. Thus new agencies like the NIA (National Investigating Agency) should utilise certain expertise that countries like Sri Lanka has acquired over years of combating such terrorist threats. No wonder then Menon appreciation of Sri Lanka's contribution in combating regional terrorism and the call for bilateral cooperation for future anti-terror work.

The Mumbai attack resulted in upstaging the radical forces and further exacerbating Hindu-Muslim tensions - a likely strategy of those who were instrumental in plotting the carnage. Both the Muslims and the Hindus have today become extremely radicalised.

In a post 11/26 India, organisations like the Hindu ultra nationalist RSS (which form the ideological fountainhead of India's main opposition party BJP) with 45,000 branches and seven million volunteers are fanning communal flames across India. The dangers of electing the BJP and broadening a radical India will spew into its SAARC neighbours to cause greater damage than is being done presently.

Similarly hate-derived terror from those like Hafiz Saeed founder of Lashar-e-Taiba further bolsters the brewing conflict in South Asia. Their acts of brutal terror are no match for a weak democratic government's efforts to eradicate this menace, under severe international pressure.

The "brinkmanship" that is taking place between India and Pakistan in this post 11/26 should also be viewed by their neighbours with concern.

"26/11" was the zenith of attacks that took place through 2008 in Kashmir, Ahmadabad, Bangalore, New Delhi, Guwahati and Jaipur. This is besides India's other conflicts taking place in Nanaigram, Singur, Chattisgarh, Jharhand, and Orissa.

An alert Sri Lanka should also be aware of the Sino-Indo relationship, view China's phenomenal growth economically and militarily and the improvements both nations are having as a result of their strategically strengthened partnership streaming from a series of high level summits and trade between the nations which stood at US$ 37 billion in 2007.

China is however aware that India aspires to build a blue-water navy (145 ocean going surface ships by 2015) that can operate beyond the Indian Ocean while using the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to block the Malacca Straits, gain control over the entire Bay of Bengal and thus control the arteries of the global economy. At the same time Pakistan's "All weather" strategic alliance with China along with her "string of pearls" geopolitical sphere of influence in Indian Ocean littorals, while China reading with suspicion India's "Look East Policy" still continue to be irritant between the bilateral relationship and are of "lingering concerns" that other nations in the region like Sri Lanka should be aware of. It is prudent to remember that China, India, and Pakistan are all nuclear armed nations with their own ambitions.

It has been to India's advantage that the Awami League's Sheikh Hasina has secured power in Bangladesh. India now has a very close ally enabling India to obtain Bangladesh gas for a pittance in exchange for Indian strategic tools of control to supply electricity there. The Bangladesh alliance will nullify any fears of a "Red-Green Alliance" of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and China. Nepal's power crisis has effectively enabled its total economic dependency on India while Bhutan is virtually just another Indian state (Indian Protectorate). Sri Lankans would do well to recall the recent call by an opposition leader for India's direct interference in Sri Lanka's terrorist problem before the fall of Kilinochchi.

With the elimination of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, it is very likely that a separatist movement will spring up again in Tamil Nadu; a scenario Dravidian thinkers have nursed since independence. Their ultimate aim is to create a Dravidian kingdom with economies similar to that of Singapore or Malaysia.

The germs in the system are still there, be it the South Indian Movement for Independence (SIMI) or the much publicised Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Both SIMI's will be ruthlessly crushed in India's war on terror no doubt.

Taking the South Asian region as a whole it is poignant to ask whether countries of the region should succumb to these pressures by India and in Sri Lanka's case not only pressures by India's Central Government but also from Tamil Nadu separatists like Karunanadhi, Vaiko, Ramadoss, Viduthaikal Katchi..etc.

Sri Lanka's effective port development programme in Colombo South harbour expansion and Hambanthota will gradually enable her to effectively capture the container trade to the east and the west. The large post-panamax deep draft vessels plying between the Suez Canal and Malaccan Straits can easily be attracted to call Colombo South Harbour and Hambantota to handle the liner cargo lying in a straight line of travel, once the LTTE naval and terrorist threat is neutralised. This will give Sri Lanka certain degree of control over this vital business.

The Sethusamudram Canal (SSCP) (beside its strategic naval significance and the environmental catastrophe to the northern province of Sri Lanka all of which I have dealt before) is designed economically to move such cargo through the Palk Straits which will make Sri Lanka's ports run dry. Deep water ports such as Wallapadam in the west coast of India can attract the transhipment traffic away from Colombo and the SSCP will give the coastal vessels a direct passage. The economic fallout of such an eventuality for a country such as Sri Lanka coming out of prolonged conflict would be economically devastating. Furthermore, the environmental pollution to the west coast of Sri Lanka and especially to the sea coast, North of Puttalam up to Jaffna Peninsula where fisher folks have to be resettled, will have a major setback due to siltation if India proceeds with the Sethusamuthuram development project. In view of the stay order obtained by Hindu extremists, DMK Chief and Tamilnadu CM Karunanidhi went to the extent of saying "Rama is a fictitious creation and might not have existed". Why would he go so far as to antagonise the beliefs of the majority of the Hindus of India and specially the Shiv Sena against the Dravidian nationalist movement at this crucial juncture? Whoever comes to power in India next, whichever the new government of India will be, it will have to steam roll the Sethusamudram project to keep Tamil Nadu separatists forces happy.

"In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."
- Franklin D. Roosevelt -

Sri Lanka should be wary of its own sanctimonious humbugs posing as foreign policy pundits trying to influence policy. It should be noted that they were responsible in part for putting Sri Lanka in its current predicament. With ludicrous statements and public pronouncements like "Sri Lanka for its part is of no strategic significance to any other country than India"." We have no strategic resources either and size-wise our country is smaller than all but six of her 28 states" and then publicly call for the revival of "the Defence Cooperation Agreement with India" of a failed era! Such a defence agreement might have made sense when the LTTE gained in strength under the CFA, but why now? It defies all logic. How about the other powers who helped Sri Lanka when India was helping the terrorists working against Sri Lanka's interest in the international arena? Should Sri Lanka tie up her strategic options?

Looking at the instability and alignment of political forces within Sri Lanka one cannot rule out the handwork of some foreign intelligence agencies destabilisation efforts. The presidency of Ranasinghe Premadasa perhaps stands in good example where the RAW which carried out an effective destabilisation programme in Sri Lanka against a President, much disliked by the policymaker of New Delhi, it was done so effectively that by the time of they got Lalith Athulathmudhali assassinated the strong populist Premadasa regime was virtually begging on its knees. The ultimate opportunity that arose to remove Premadasa himself from the landscape that was only just another bonus in their greater scheme of things.

What we can see is an emergence of key federalist separatist political figures and forces emerging from the main opposition backed by NGO/INGOs and errant EU diplomats is that their united grand scheme to create strikes, dissent, hit squads, attacks on media etc similar to the situation that arose during the 2nd reading of the 2007 budget in Sri Lanka. The LTTE who did their dirty work is crippled and these players are likely to seek a change in allegiance. Thus it is up to the pseudo intellectual upper class and middle classes to decide whether they wish to continue to pursue their selfish objective or save the nation from the strictures of foreign forces similar to CIA's "Operation Pliers" in Venezuela to dislodge Hugo Chavez. One does not have to have divine powers to see their grand plan of things.

Sri Lankans can so easily lose its hard fought peace at hand.

These foreign forces have been able to deduce the type of mentality that pervades a majority Sri Lanka's middle and upper classes. They know what excites them emotionally and therefore it is extremely important that the people of Sri Lanka be alert at all times, without falling into the pocket of foreign forces. There are after all many who enjoy being "foreign" in Sri Lanka and many who for sterling pounds or US dollars enjoy creating and promoting 'causes' such as human rights, media rights or democracy.

Instead Sri Lanka must rapidly set about the task of rebuilding a battered nation with all the progressive political forces that have emerged within the country. This requires persons of proven competence placed in charge of the govt.'s finances and continuity of democratic structures.

The majority community has a duty to reach out to the minorities in more ways than that has or is. They have to come terms and address the identified grievances of minorities and ensure political empowerment, while the Tamil community on the other hand needs from within them to emerge a more acceptable credible political leadership. Minority communities should be given greater stakes in committees and councils of policy to have greater participation in decision-making. The religious bigotry and activities against the GOSL and its armed forces by certain major religious leaders now need find their inner peace as they come to terms with the situation in the country, in silent prayer and confession.

The post conflict journey is long hard and difficult one but would be the only chance this country will have for peace in a long long time to come; the wounds of 30 years conflict are deep and will take a long time to heal.

Sri Lanka's desperate need of the hour is a very strong government that does not compromise the national interests to the grand designs of any regional or global hegemonic power who maybe driven purely by its own domestic political and selfish strategic compulsions. We also need a government that can tolerate the voice of dissent within its opposition forces but is also able to ensure the security for those voices that do not agree. The Government should not let itself be dragged down the pathways chosen by its enemies. The last thing that Sri Lanka needs at this hour is repetitions of Lasantha Wickrematunga-style assassinations be it political figures, media personalities or judicial figures, regardless of their culpability in the trials and tribulations the people have had to face in the recent past.

Menon as a Former High Commissioner in Sri Lanka has a clear grasp of these factors and elements that constrain the development of an even stronger closer bilateral relationship necessary for India in its fight and efforts to forge a stronger regional response to combat the scourge of terrorism. He should understand and make the political leadership in Delhi understand that countries like Sri Lanka should and will strive hard to travel the difficult road in building a truly tolerant pluralistic multiracial multi-religious showcase cosmopolitan society with a strong national identity and cherish the peace that has come at a heavy price. India can help. Interfering (directly or indirectly) however is not a synonym for support and is indeed incongruous given 11/26.

Perhaps the following words would be inspirational at this historic juncture:

"Who so writes the history of his own time must expect to be attacked for everything he has said, and for everything he has not said; but those little draw backs should not discourage a man who loves the truth and liberty, expects nothing, fears nothing, asks nothing,........."

- Francois Marie Arouet de Voltaire-

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