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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2402

Pakistan's increased role against Tamil Tigers angers India: Both set for a proxy war in Sri Lanka?

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

Pakistan is playing an increased role in Sri Lanka's counter-insurgency operations against the Tamil Tigers -- and this new development is worrying India.

Indian intelligence sources claim that a group of Pakistani officers were drawing up plans jointly with the Sri Lankan Air Force for "a decapitation strike from the air, with bunker-buster bombs, to kill Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran."

This explains why the Tamil Tigers aimed to assassinate Col (retd) Bashir Wali Mohammed, the last High Commissioner (ambassador) to Sri Lanka, when he was on his way back to his residence in Colombo on August 14, 2006 The bomb planted in a trishaw killed four commandos escorting Mohammed who narrowly escaped the explosion. Col. Wali Mohammed is a former Director of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau. He is the first diplomat to be targeted by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

Col. Mohammed was also reported to be working closely with the Muslims of the east who were being targeted ruthlessly by the Tamil Tigers. In the latest attack launched in Mutur the Tamil Tigers succeeded in ethnically cleansing the area by driving out the Muslims, accusing them of being anti-LTTE and pro-government.

Pakistani newspapers reported that the unseen hand of India was behind this attack.

Analysts are concerned that Eelam IV, which was postponed by Prabhakaran due to the unexpected tsunami that hit the eastern coast, would develop into a proxy war between India and Pakistan.

The Tamil Tigers are now whipping up the humanitarian issue as a sympathy card to drag India on to their side. India which has been dithering on this issue may not enter into it openly but could play its hand discreetly by supplying arms and ammunition as a counter-weight to Pakistan's open support to Sri Lanka.

India also views Col. Mohammed's successor Air Vice-Marshal Shehzad Azlam Chaudhry of the Pakistani Air Force suspiciously.

This new appointment is significant in the light of the Sri Lankan Air Force playing a critical role in attacking key Tamil Tiger targets. B. Raman, former additional secretary at the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) - the Indian intelligence agency that trained, armed, financed and provided diplomatic cover to the Tamil Tigers – states in an article written on August 18, 2006: "About 12 to 15 members of the Pakistani Armed Forces, including four or five from the Pakistan Air Force, are stationed in Colombo to guide the Sri Lankan security forces in their counter-insurgency operations.

"The Pakistan Air Force officers have reportedly been guiding the SLAF officers in effectively carrying out air-mounted operations against the LTTE," he said.

He added: "Pakistan, which has already been playing a discreet role in assisting the Sri Lankan security forces in their operations against the LTTE even before Mr. [Mahinda] Rajapakse became the President, has further increased its involvement in the counter-insurgency operations" [since November 2005].

"Of all the three [Sri Lankan] services, the SLAF has the closest relations with its Pakistani counterpart," Raman says.

Technical personnel of the PAF play an important role in the repairs and maintenance of the aircraft and other equipment of the SLAF. Sri Lankan aircraft have been sent to Pakistan for overhauling.

"The posting of Air Vice-Marshal Shehzad Chaudhry, who had in the past handled air-mounted operations against the Baloch freedom-fighters, is expected to further step up the Pakistani involvement in [Sri Lanka's] use of air strikes to subdue the LTTE and intimidate the Tamil population," Mr. Raman says.

"While India cannot justifiably object to it, the increasing involvement of Pakistan in the counter-insurgency operations is a matter of serious concern from the point of view of India's national security," Mr. Raman says.

"The clandestine co-operation between the armed forces of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which has been there even in the past, picked up momentum after an unpublicised visit by Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, then Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, to Colombo in September 2003.

India had never objected in the past to the close military-military relations between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but Gen. Aziz Khan's secret visit upset Delhi, according to Raman.

Analysts conclude that India is concerned because Gen. Aziz Khan had been instrumental in Pakistan's clandestine operations to occupy the disputed territory in Kargil.

India destabilised Sri Lanka when Mrs. Indira Gandhi was allied to the Soviet Union. She opposed Sri Lanka moving closer to USA under J. R. Jayewardene. Will India do it once again because Sri Lanka is getting closer to its old enemy, Pakistan? Is all this going to take the Sri Lankan crisis to a new level? Above all, is South Asia about to burst into a huge conflagration with the two nuclear giants of the region testing their nerves and strengths in Sri Lanka?

Analysts believe that India will not make the same mistake twice of tying up with the Tamil Tigers, particularly with the Indian mood running against the Tigers who has admitted to the killing of Rajiv Gandhi. At the same time, if India feels threatened by Pakistan getting closer to Sri Lanka then there is a possibility of India using the Tigers to beat Pakistan in Sri Lanka.

"Looking at the new development from any angle there is no doubt that India has to take the blame for Sri Lanka's slide towards Pakistan," said a leading sociologist. "It is India's failure to take a firm stand against separatist terrorism in Sri Lanka that has opened the space for Pakistan to enter. India's interventions in the region -- from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka -- have been a disaster for India in particular and SAARC in general. If India decides to go with the Tamil Tigers the repercussions will be disastrous. India can afford to lose the support of the last remaining 4% Tamils in Sri Lanka. But it can't afford to lose the 80% Sinhalese who are there to stay unlike the Tamils prefer to run away from the raging violence," he added.

- Asian Tribune -

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