The U.S. early flirtation with Tamil militancy: A CIA Disclosure
The United States Embassy, Colombo, Sri Lanka reported – way back in 1984 – that the ethnic minority Tamils were convinced that they should have an autonomous homeland with total control over security forces and economic affairs.
The embassy believed that the (JR) Jayewardene administration’s failure to meet moderate Tamil demands has led to the demand for political autonomy.
American diplomats in Colombo believed – in 1984 – that the Government of Sri Lanka “has pushed the Tamils into a political corner.”
The Colombo-accredited U.S. foreign service officers (FSOs) and Washington thus conclude that “in our view, have fostered the growth of radicalism, terrorism, and violence.”
Above were the observations of a recently declassified ‘Intelligence Assessment’ jointly compiled by the United States Department of State’s office of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (NESA) and (US) Directorate of Intelligence in a June 1984 report.
Prior to 1992, the State Department had a Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, which covered parts of today’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The Bureau of South Asian Affairs was established as dictated by the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1992.
The same legislation authorized the appointment of an Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. In 2006, the Bureau of South Asian Affairs absorbed the Office of Central Asian Affairs, which had been part of the State Department’s Europe and Eurasia bureau, creating the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
These Washington observations and conclusions – once classified as secret – are identical to the narration this writer-authored book - Tamil Tigers’ Debt To America- disclosed based on his professional engagement as a political specialist employed by the state department at the American Embassy in Sri Lanka.
The perspective of the June 1984 ‘Intelligence Assessment’ can be well linked to the official pronouncements made by State Department Assistant Secretary Mike Owens on 6 May 2009 in Washington media briefing – twelve days before the Tamil Tigers were militarily defeated – well noted and analyzed in the book.
The analyzes given in the book was: On May 6, 2009, twelve days before the war ended, with the total defeat of the LTTE with all the leaders killed, the State Department convened a special media event in Washington, presenting its deputy assistant secretary of State for South Asia—not the spokesman who customarily conducts daily press events—to make significant announcements about the crucial developments in Sri Lanka. While announcing the measures taken by the USG toward the surrender of LTTE cadre and the protection of the unarmed civilians within the battle zone, the deputy assistant secretary Mike Owens made the following significant pronouncements for the GSL to hear loud and clear:
We, of course, have designated the LTTE as a terrorist organization, and we certainly have no sympathy for some of the things that they’ve carried out, but I think you do have to ask a very legitimate question: Why did they have a following in the beginning? And I think it’s because some in the Tamil community do have legitimate grievances, and we need to find—I think it’s imperative for Sri Lankans to find a way to give everyone in the community, all Sri Lankans a legitimate voice in their government.
The initial – June 1984 – (developing) mind-set connects well to Washington’s (established) mind-set of 06 May 2009 analyzed in the book as: What Mike Owens spelled out were clear policy planks: that the LTTE clearly represented the grievances of the 11 percent minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka, and that the USG clearly believed that those grievances gave birth to the movement. Despite the USG designating it a terrorist movement, the insinuation was that it was unable to allow such an organization, which represents the Tamil voice be totally silenced. It is in this context that the GSL was warned not to use its fire power to harm the unarmed civilians; if it did, it would negate Washington’s effort to find out “what to do about the leadership of the Tigers.”
In fact, Deputy Secretary of State Armitage addressing the Washington think tank, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on February 14, 2003—the period he was seriously involved in Sri Lankan issues—declared, “the United States government is encouraged by the vision of the LTTE as a genuine political entity.”
Washington always wanted to distance itself with a Sri Lankan administration that, in its opinion, was engaged in militarily combating Tamil separatism. In Washington’s understanding and views of the FSOs accredited to its diplomatic mission in Colombo, the emergence of the LTTE was the result of unsolved Tamil grievances.
The June 1984 classified ‘intelligence assessment’ expressed fear that if Washington was seen associating with a regime that battles a minority group it could “damage the U.S. prestige in the region and in parts of the Third World and that highly politicized Tamil minority in Sri Lanka might even turn to the Soviet Union for support.”
The direct quote is: “Increased identification with Jayewardene at this time could damage US prestige in the region and in parts of the Third World. It could be perceived by other small ethnic groups as acceptance by the United States of the use of repression against minorities. Moreover, elements of the highly politicized Tamil minority in Sri Lanka might even turn to the Soviet Union for support.”
The June 1984 ‘Intelligence Assessment’ jointly drafted by the state department and (CIA) Directorate of Intelligence declares “Tamil demands probably would be satisfied by a federal structure that would guarantee Tamils control over security and economic development where they comprise the majority of the population” – meaning the North-East region of Sri Lanka.
The document opined that Washington believed “the Tamils have become convinced that they should have an autonomous homeland with economic and security control.”
This initially (1984) developed mind-set became established Washington policy plank in this manner described in the book i>Tamil Tigers’ Debt to America:
(Begin Excerpt) Almost two years before Boucher and Blake brought pressure on the GSL to halt the final offensive, encouraging a dialogue between the two warring factions, the former, in Colombo on June 1, 2006, paved the way for Liberation Tigers to achieve the role of sole representative and legitimize their claim of Tamil homeland. This significant achievement of the Liberation Tigers can well be attributed to the “settled mind-set” of the American diplomatic corps.
When Richard Boucher recognized the “homeland concept” and “traditionally inhabited” areas, the right to “govern themselves in their homeland,” and inalienable right to “control their own lives,” he was giving legitimacy to the claims of an organization designated by his own administration as a foreign terrorist organization.
The long-term effect of the Boucher sentiment, which formed the core element of the State Department policy, was that it gave fillip to the LTTE rump operating within the Tamil diaspora to successfully launch a global diplomatic offensive against the GSL in the postwar era with a passive US nod. (End Excerpt)
What the June 1984 document says about the United States refusal to extend military assistance to the (American-friendly) Jayewardene regime’s request to combat the LTTE terrorism and its total blocking of the supply of military gear to the subsequent Rajapaksa regime during (2006-2009) its military offensive against the separatist movement led to Washington’s strict belief that such military equipment could be used for “repressive measures against the Tamils.”.
The document justifying Washington’s refusal to provide military assistance says “some of these weapons would have been useful beyond immediate internal security needs.”
Here are some excerpts from the book:
(Begin) In early 1987, Sri Lanka’s National Security Council (NSC) was in session, chaired by President J.R. Jayewardene. Apart from permanent members of the council, there were military experts summoned to attend the session. When the discussion turned to the Northern military operation against the Tamil Tigers, National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali took the podium with extreme rage.
He turned to the availability of the military hardware the GSL possessed in its fight with the Tigers. It was at this stage that Minister Athulathmudali burst out with extreme fury. He condemned and denounced the attitude of the United States toward Sri Lanka’s counter-terrorist operation. He went on full blast against the United States, accusing it of undermining the operation against the Tamil Tigers.
He informed the National Security Council that Sri Lanka’s legitimate purchase of military equipment from American arms manufacturers had been blocked by the US Department of Defense.
The national security minister denounced the United States and questioned its motives in barring Sri Lanka from purchasing military equipment from private American arms manufacturers, which could be used in the counter-terrorism operation against the Tamil Tigers: the question of national security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity arose. (End)
Fast-forward to 2008 when the GSL military commenced its battle with intensity never seen before with the Tamil Tigers, the US Congress in its Consolidated Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2008 (September 2007–September 2008) under Section 699G, withheld foreign military financing (FMF) from Sri Lanka, with the exception of technology or equipment related to maritime and air surveillance and communications.
Following are relevant conclusions of the June 1984 ‘Intelligence Assessment’ which motivated Washington to enforce a blockade on military equipment to Sri Lanka. The June 1983 violence against the Tamil minority guided Washington’s subsequent actions.
“Jayewardene has made only halfhearted efforts to achieve communal reconciliation and increasing has shown himself ready to take repressive measures against the Tamils.
“Gandhi wants to forestall intervention in Sri Lanka by the superpowers. Indian officials reacted with dismay last summer after hearing of Sri Lanka’s thinly veiled pleas for security help from several countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Within days of the outbreak of violence, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister had asked for US support for the Jayewardene government, including weapons, training in anti-guerrilla techniques, and a show of force by the US Navy. Each of these suggestions was rejected by Washington.
“Jayewardene has been trying to embroil the United States in Sri Lanka’s affairs. During last summer’s riots Colombo requested US security assistance, including weapons small river craft, and advisers. Some of these weapons would have been useful beyond immediate internal security needs.”
In conclusion, the June 1984 report declares the invincibility of the separatist movement in this manner:
“Understaffed and ill equipped, we judge that the Sri Lankan forces will be hard pressed to cope with increasing Tamil separatist attacks in the north. Even given the strategic advantages of home terrain, population sympathy, and perhaps even initial numerical advantage, the Sri Lankan forces are no match for an invasion by a modern force.”
The June 1984 document – now declassified – clearly shows Washington’s developing perspective toward Sri Lanka’s national issues which was consolidated over the years. At the initial stage, Washington was merely flirting with the Tamil militancy, and just before the LTTE was defeated in May 2009 and since the defeat Washington was on the trajectory creating a conducive global atmosphere to allow the operative-professional-organizations within the Tamil Diaspora to become the spokespersons of the 11% minority Tamils in Sri Lanka pushing for a federal/autonomous structure in the north-east region and accountability to bring military and civilian leaders who defeated the LTTE for war crimes.
- Asian Tribune -