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India and Sri Lanka’s internal conflict: Q & A

Paper No. 6381                  Dated 26-May-2018

Col R Hariharan

[This is an extract of unpublished notes used  in a telephone interview  with a civil society social group which aims to “promote pathways for solving the ethnic issue under a federal solution” in Sri Lanka and to address human rights violations committed during the ethnic conflict by both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. Though the interview was conducted in January 2017, its detailed contents remain valid to this day.]

Q1: Former Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon in his recent book, Choices: Inside the Making of India's Foreign Policy, in the book’s chapter on Sri Lanka, Menon said the following: “The way the Sri Lankans fought the war, though criticized for its brutality in the final stages, might have taken a higher toll if delay and stalemate were brought about….Indeed, one must logically ask the question, would an earlier adoption of the more brutal methods of the last thirty months of the war have brought it to an earlier end and actually saved lives and minimized the war’s deleterious effects?  This is a recurrent problem in state craft. It is also the strongest justification for the use of atomic weapons to end World War II.” 

Col. Hariharan, do you believe that an earlier adoption of brutal methods may have brought an end to the war much sooner and saved more lives?The IPKF were largely restrained from going on an all-out offensive against the LTTE in order to avoid civilian casualties due to pressure from Tamil Nadu.  In retrospect, should the IPKF have gone on all-out military offensive (regardless of the opinions   of civilians in Tamil Nadu) to destabilize the LTTE and then work on achieving a political solution?

I have not read Shivshankar Menon’s book, except for some excerpts. So I would not comment on what you are quoting without understanding the context in which it was written. But as one spent most of his service career in operations against nearly two dozen insurgencies in three countries (including Sri Lanka), I shall try to answer your question.

Despite all the romantic notions about the glories of war, there should be no illusion about brutality in war. War is all about eliminating the enemy. So there is no such thing as war without brutality. Most of the time victory comes to the side which kills or maims more soldiers.  Bringing an early end to the war is always used to justify the use of highly lethal weapons that cause mass killings. Americans gave the same excuse to justify their use of atom bombs on densely populated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed thousands of people which led to the surrender of Japan in World War II. That is an example of unparallel act of brutality in war. Perhaps, humanity will continue to debate forever the justification for use of brute force in war as conflict and peace are the two sides or our existence.  

Many countries use regular army in operations to suppress or eliminate insurgencies. So insurgency conflicts are no different from war as far as the troops carrying out the operations are concerned, though they may adopt tactics appropriate to the operation.

As regards the IPKF, we received no instructions to minimise casualties because of political pressure from Tamil Nadu. Indian army operates upon directions from New Delhi not on political pressures of states. So the Ministry of Defence would probably be able to answer this part of the question better.

To win wars against insurgents or regular forces, armies have to use superior force. This is ingrained in every soldier. In spite of this, India army generally uses minimum force against insurgents because of the country’s peculiar national security decision making process. That is why insurgencies in India seem to be never ending; they have even continued for two generations (i.e., Naga and Left Wing extremism). The Indian political system shows immense patience to work out politically acceptable compromises with insurgent groups so that they would join mainstream politics. It treats most of their minor aberrations like extortion and kidnapping merely as a crime. This is how insurgencies in the Northeast have been managed. 

But the system is not without its merit; it reduces collateral damage to ordinary people as well as insurgents. Even though it may not succeed in eradicating the insurgent group, over period of time the group loses its credibility and its popular support slowly withers away. This method does not make military sense, as it prolongs of the agony of the people who bear the brunt of insurgent activity and state’s counter-measures curtailing or restricting public activity.  But it suits the Indian style of laid back and opaque process of decisions making, as well as the national security environment in which political leadership trusts civilian bureaucracy more than the armed forces in its national security decision making process.  

Using maximum force is the accepted practice of the armies the world over.  When the Indian soldier is asked to do contrary to this basic military concept, it confuses him, which can have a detrimental effect on his psyche. But politicians in India care two hoots about such niceties of soldiering; so we soldiers plod along because we are Indian and Asian, who always “manage” to get along with any system.

Generally, Indian army does not use heavy weapons including artillery and tanks in insurgency operations. Even in Jammu and Kashmir, artillery has been used on Pakistan troops supporting infiltration of Jihadi terrorists. But if the operational situation warrants, the army will use all available forces including tanks and artillery to achieve its aim.  Even the IPKF had used tanks and gunships in Jaffna operations for shock effect or in critical situations i.e., to extricate its troops when encircled by the LTTE.  

When insurgents fight as conventional forces supported by artillery as the LTTE did in the Eelam War, use of maximum force by the army is inevitable.  There is no point in comparing the methods of India and Sri Lanka in fighting the LTTE because they had different strategic objectives and operational mandates.

The IPKF had a limited task to disarm Tamil militant groups as per the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The LTTE refused to comply with this and used its weapons against civilians and other Tamil militant groups which had surrendered their weapons. So the IPKF’s military action was limited to disarm the LTTE, so that its ability to interfere with the normal life of citizens is curtailed. That was how IPKF managed to restore normal life in North and East. It was Indian army that facilitated restoration of electric supply, telecom facilities, normal functioning of banks and opening of railway link to Colombo. After IPKF successfully broke the LTTE’s back, Prbhakaran and his cadres took refuge in the Alampil jungles in Wanni. A desperate Prabhakaran even decided to collaborate with the sworn enemy of Tamil militancy President Premadasa to get Indian troops off his back.

Sri Lanka forces were fighting against the LTTE because it had challenged the sovereignty and unity of Sri Lanka. The LTTE effectively neutralized any chances of Tamil and Sinhala polity peacefully resolving their differences. The LTTE’s armed separatist struggle was indirectly aided by Sri Lanka’s confused leadership which for long had looked for only for band aid solutions.  However, President Rajapaksa changed the narrative forever to defeat the LTTE.

Much as one may malign Rajapaksa’s methods in the Eelam War, it was his single minded focus on eliminating the LTTE that freed the nation from the coercive threat of the LTTE - an extra-constitutional force that had drained the nation’s energies for two and a half decades.

Q2 (a) On July 29th 1987, the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed with an understanding that the Sri Lankan government would devolve powers on the Indian model to a new merged Northern and Eastern province, to be called the North-East Province, granting official status to the Tamil language through the 13th Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution. In your opinion, what do you believe are mistakes Rajiv Gandhi made in his execution of the Indo-Lanka accord?  

We have the advantage of hindsight in analyzing the Indo-Sri Lanka affairs of 90s. At that time some many believed that Rajiv Gandhi had an understanding with JR Jayawardane to devolve powers to the provinces based upon the Indian model. The Varadaraja Perumal government of the merged northeastern province had repeatedly projected this request to New Delhi without positive response. He is the right person to answer this question. The TULF, which was politically savvy but wasted time nitpicking on the sidelines at that time, also might be able to answer this question.  

The Accord was flawed in many ways. It showed Rajvi Gandhi’s good intentions alone were enough in evolving solutions. Perhaps, he was in a hurry to produce results than think through problems. Of course, he lacked political experience to deal with a wily and astute leader like JR Jayawardane who was past master in the art of political survival.    Basically, India’s approach to signing an accord with Sri Lanka to underwrite a solution on Sri Lanka’s internal issue of Sri Lanka outside its control was flawed.  This was pointed out to Rajiv Gandhi by the late Narasimha Rao (who was then the HRD minister) when he was shown the draft Agreement.  

Before the Accord was signed, India did make efforts to help work out a political solution of their own. It brought Sri Lanka government and Tamil separatists to the table at Thimpu to hammer out an agreement. All such efforts failed because none of the Sri Lankan stakeholders were willing to go the extra mile to resolve the issue. JR Jayawardane refused to see the big picture because it did not suit him. The TULF played political dicks and drakes with India because Prabhakaran had rendered it impotent. As always Prabhakaran wanted to be the cock of the heap, accountable only to himself.  Thus Sri Lanka missed an opportunity to work out a solution without bloodshed. (I had said so to the late TULF leader Amirthalingam at one of the many meetings I had with him. He was not amused.) This was not the only occasion when the Tamil and Sri Lanka political grandstanding came in the way of evolving a peaceful solution. Their collective failure to approve President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s 2000 Constitutional draft is another case in point. 

In my view, India’s attempt to use the Tamil issue and the Accord as tools to achieve its strategic goal to keep Americans from gaining a foothold in Sri Lanka (probably to help out Soviet Union) clouded its genuine desire to help Tamils get their just rights within a united Sri Lanka. It confused India’s priorities and distracted its attention resulting to ensure the end game in Sri Lanka after the IPKF was inducted. In addition to this, India had to oblige JR’s request to send troops to save him from a possible coup which further added to the strategic confusion.

Q2 (b): Prabhakaran, for example, stated that whether or not the LTTE accepted the Indo-Lanka Accord, the Indian government was determined to put it into effect. Was Rajiv Gandhi’s biggest blunder not giving the LTTE, the Tamil community, and the Sinhalese (the parties who would be affected by the Accord) direct input when drafting the Indo-Lanka accord?

I do not understand the rationale of this question. India and Sri Lanka are sovereign nations in their own right to sign and enforce any agreement they want. Where does Prabhakaran come in this? He was neither a party to the agreement nor one who promoted it. He was as we say in Hindi “Kebab me haddi” (bone in the kebab). His standing at that time was only as the leader of the LTTE, one of the four powerful Tamil militant groups among the 33 that sprang up in the wake of 1983 pogrom. It is for Tamil leaders and the Sri Lanka’s elected government to explain the Accord to the Sri Lankan people. Rajiv Gandhi had no business to do this as he was accountable only to his own people on this count; so there was no question of providing “direct input when drafting” the Accord.

The Accord was a product of Indian and Sri Lankan diplomatic initiative at work; it was not a matter to be trolled on Twitter for the benefit of the public. However, I agree the whole process was rushed through, cloaked in needless secrecy which gave rise to avoidable suspicions and created political backlash in both countries.

Q3: Mr. Menon then stated, “The strategist Edward Luttwak argues that there are situations in which one should give war a chance. Was Sri Lanka one of them, where peace building efforts and international mediation only prolonged and worsened the agony?” Menon asks and concludes by saying: “These are difficult counterfactuals that go against the grain of liberal thinking, but they do seem appropriate to the Sri Lankan case.” Do you believe Sri Lanka was a case where international mediation only prolonged and worsened the agony?

I agree with Mr Shivshankar Menon’s reasoning about international mediation. Norwegian-led mediation failed because it was idealistic and lacked pragmatism to succeed in the South Asian social environment. Even otherwise, talks between warring sides merely on the premise that it was better to talk peace than go to war does not work, except to cool down the overheated environment so that both sides are ready, optimistically, to talk peace. But usually it does not follow the script and they go for another round of war.

In Sri Lanka, the conflict that preceded the peace talks had led to a lot of bloodletting by both sides and the raw emotions and trauma kindled by it had not healed the wounds. The traumatic experience could not be papered over by the financial incentives offered by the backers to coolly sit across the table to talk peace. A neutral force to separate the two adversaries to ensure both sides comply with the ceasefire terms was not there. On the one side, we had Sri Lanka government, an accountable entity, which followed international norms of conduct. On the other side, the LTTE an insurgent group which was a law unto itself, fighting the state to destroy it, wanted to be treated as equal, which it was not.

If only the LTTE had deposited their arms to a neutral custodian who guaranteed their security, perhaps the insurgent group might have behaved differently. This has been tried in many nations including Indonesia, India and Nepal with moderate success. In Nepal and Nagaland in India, chances for peace increased as the insurgent groups agreed to talk peace even without a neutral force. Without that such a structural framework the 2002 peace move was bound to fail because the LTTE behaved like a loose cannon, violating the ceasefire with impunity. This was made easy as the government in “cohabitation” mode was paralysed in taking the peace talks forward due to the cold war between the President Chandrika and the Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. This emboldened the LTTE to take full advantage of the situation to import arms to build its conventional military capability and win at propaganda war, cocking a snoot at the frustrated government, effectively sidelining the Norweagian peace mission.

Q4: India and Sri Lanka also signed an agreement that brought the Indian Peacekeeping Forces into Sri Lanka to accept the surrender of arms by Tamil militants as part of a general cease-fire.   Prabhakaran had reportedly stated that he was “not keen to give up all [the LTTE’s] weapons but hand over some and see the Accord being implemented.” To your knowledge, was this true? And if so, was this an unreasonable demand on the part of Prabhakaran to agree to give up some of the weapons and then gradually give up more of the weapons as parts of the Accord are implemented?

Actually, I never believed Prabhakaran. Whatever he said about his intentions to see the Accord in action, I don’t think he would have surrendered the arms. Even my contacts in the LTTE told me so and they were unhappy about it as they thought the Tamil Tigers should not fight India. Anyone who had dealt with Prabhakaran would tell you that he would never give up his dream of creating an Independent Eelam. His aim was to establish himself as the sole arbiter to liberate Tamils; so he never accepted India or Sri Lanka equating LTTE along with PLOTE, TELO and EPRLF. He firmly believed it was his destiny to lead the Tamils’ fight for independence and never factored any peaceful method that fell short of independence. Premadasa, who gave the LTTE a lease of life by arming it against the IPKF, ensured the IPKF was packed off from island and ignored the LTTE’s slaughter of hundreds of policemen, could not pressurize the LTTE to talk peace. Ultimately, the LTTE killed him to have its way because he was the President of Sri Lanka just as they killed Rajiv Gandhi. These killings showed the true nature of Prabhakaran’s leadership.  

The LTTE accepted Norwegian peace proposal only after Norway arm-twisted Sri Lanka to accept LTTE as the sole representative of Tamils at the talks. So I consider any talk of LTTE gradually giving up arms to ensure the Accord is at best a joke, though in reality it was a lot of hogwash.

Q4: At what specific point in time, after the IPKF were dispatched in Sri Lanka, did the LTTE turn violent? 

I had already answered about the role of IPKF as to ensure the implementation of the Accord by both Sri Lanka government and the Tamil militants to satisfy all the stakeholders. So a token force was initially sent the night after the Accord was signed; more troops were inducted subsequently to cover the two provinces. The LTTE failed to surrender the arms as required by the Accord. While it was dragging its feet, two events that happened that indicated the LTTE was nearing the point of no return. The first was the death of the LTTE leader Thileepan who was fasting to force India to comply with the LTTE demands. Prabhakaran was bitter with India’s laid back response to his coercive tactics.

The touch of point came when Sri Lankan Navy apprehended a boat in Sri Lankan waters carrying 12 frontline armed LTTE leaders returning from India; in contravention to the Accord they were carrying arms. President Jayawardane refused to release them in spite of India’s request. The IPKF did not intervene as per orders received from New Delhi. When Sri Lanka army tried to fly them to Colombo for further interrogation, they committed suicide. Both the events came as a shock to Sri Lanka Tamils who had high expectations from India. The two events were also a big loss of face for Prabhakaran, who firmly believed he was the master of Tamil destiny. I remember when Sri Lankan army handed over the 12 bodies to the LTTE under the benign watch of IPKF, I told Mahathiya not to push Indian army to fight using this as a pretext, because the Indian army could go on fighting forever. I gave the example of the fifty-year long operations against Naga insurgents. He sneered at me and said for every dead LTTE leader, Indian army would pay with 1200 lives (surprisingly at end IPKF suffered 1250 dead) for the loss of 12 LTTE men. That triggered the LTTE’s war against India and as a corollary the IPKF.

Q5: What was the relationship between the IPKF and anti-LTTE groups, namely, EPRLF, ENDLF, and TELO?  Why wasn’t the IPKF able to influence these three rebel groups to destabilize the LTTE?

We had good functional relations with EPRLF, TELO and ENDLF. They had supported the Accord as the best option for Tamils and surrendered their arms. (PLOTE was sulking under Uma Maheswaran for its own reasons because it was mending its relations with the Sri Lanka army). Qualitatively, they differed from the LTTE which was ruthless and highly secretive and paranoid about its security. This probably insulated the LTTE from penetration by other groups. The friendly Tamil militant groups assisted our troops in the operations.  MI operated using sources within the LTTE; they were cadres and leaders unhappy over the confrontation with Indian forces helped us. I was not privy to special operations of the kind you speak. Special Forces must have planned and carried out such operations.

Q5: Also, why wasn’t the IPKF able to stop Prabhakaran from killing off leaders in rival factions? For example, the elimination of the PLOTE leadership in Batticaloa by the LTTE. 

During its existence, the LTTE had killed top Tamil political and leaders of rival militant groups like Sri Sabaratnam of TELO (ignoring the plea of his friend – the DMK leader Karunanidhi - to spare his life) and the TULF leader Amirthalingam. This struck fear among leaders who opposed his approach; those who stood firmly against him went on exile or were eliminated. Thus it was an occupational risk for anyone who opposed Prabhakaran’s writ. And the leaders of other militant groups and Tamil political leaders who supported the Accord were prepared to run this risk because they believed in it and the presence of IPKF reassured them to an extent. On a few occasions I had passed on information about LTTE dispatching people to kill specific leaders to the affected leaders in advance. While some took precautions and survived while some leaders like Padmanabha were stoic about it, accepting it as part of the bargain for their beliefs.

Intelligence was not involved in organizing personal protection. Probably the Operations branch or formations responded to specific requests. So I would not be able to comment on it, as we had our hands full. However, during the hot war, MI had ensured security and protection by way of advance information to local non-LTTE Tamil militant leaders trapped in the operational area.

Q6: It was a common belief of the Sri Lankan army security forces that the IPKF did not take an interest in protecting the Sinhala villages bordering Tamil areas. For example, when the LTTE was planning to strike the Morawewa village on March 3rd 1988, Sri Lankan intelligence had intercepted the LTTE communications and passed this information to the IPKF. But no action had been taken by the IPKF, and the LTTE killed 15 civilians and injured 10.  Why was the IPKF largely reluctant to protect Sinhala villages—wouldn’t you agree that a failure to do so allowed Prabhakaran to ethnically cleanse LTTE territory from Muslims and Sinhalese?

I have always admired Sri Lankans ability to blame Indians for all the things that happens in Sri Lanka (to this day this persists).The IPKF was fighting the LTTE to disarm them as per our mandate; we were not deployed to protect all Sri Lankans at all times. This was Sri Lanka government’s responsibility as they were ruling the country.

I fear I have no knowledge of the specific instance of LTTE attack on Morawewa village. The village was among a few others located just outside the Northern Province boundary which had faced the ire of LTTE because local Tamils associate them with the Sinhala migration carried out by the Sri Lanka government. Even during the 2002 Peace Process, the LTTE had attacked the village. In any case it was for Sri Lanka government to provide protection to the village as it was outside our jurisdiction.

Q7: Did you have any relationship with Jyotindra Nath Dixit? It is stated that Dixit was hated by both the IPKF and RAW operatives alike.  Why? Dixit was also hated by most people in Sri Lanka as many Sri Lankans believed it was Dixit’s manipulating which forced Jayewardene to sign the Accord as well as induct a foreign army in Sri Lanka.

Of course, I have met Ambassador Dixit a number of times; on occasions I have briefed him on my perspectives of Tamil militancy. There was no question of IPKF or RAW operatives hating him; we operated under different channels of command and leadership. It was for the respective leaderships to put across their differences in opinion with the Ambassador either directly or through the ministry at appropriate level. 

To this day, Indian high commissioners always have been having good relations with the Sri Lankan president, the prime minister and many of the political leaders of all hues. This is mainly due to the close affinity between the two nations and the umbilical links they have. Ambassador Dixit enjoyed very close rapport with JR. I thought they got along well because both of them were astute and canny persons in their own right. You are underestimating JR, if you think Dixit’s “manipulation” was behind the Sri Lankan President signing of the Accord. Sri Lankan politics is strewn with evidence of JR’s superior manipulative skills.  JR probably made up his mind to come to terms with India after Americans failed to intervene in favour of Sri Lanka after Operation Poomalai. When Rajiv Gandhi was amenable to the idea, he signed the Accord. I would go along with many Sri Lankans who say JR saw the advantage of having Indian forces on Sri Lanka soil to do the dirty job of disarming LTTE as per the Accord. JR also had internal compulsions; he probably wanted to be ready to save himself from a possible coup attempt by army as some sections were unhappy when their Jaffna operation was halted when they were poised to round up Prabhakaran. So at his request Indian warships were kept in readiness to ensure his protection off Colombo coast. In any case, Sri Lanka forces and police proved they were quite capable and absolutely ruthless in suppressing the JVP militants. 

Q8: It has long been reported that the Indian Peacekeeping Forces committed egregious human rights violations in Sri Lanka—such as rape and torture of civilians in the North, shelling, mass killing by the IPKF in hospitals, etc. At the same time, it has been asserted that a lot of these allegations were largely exaggerated by the LTTE as a propaganda tool to organize resistance against the IPKF. What is your response to the human rights violations having been committed by the Indian Peacekeeping Forces against Tamils in the North?   To what extent do you believe the IPKF committed atrocities in Sri Lanka?

 

I am not surprised at this question, which is a hardy perennial in interviews, though I had not come across a single media person or anyone asking this question to the LTTE leaders when they were alive and kicking.

I have written and spoken about this a number of times; so I have no hesitation in answering this question. I have already given my views on human rights violations inherent in prosecuting war in my answer to Question 1. India Army had always considered such despicable acts as violations of good order and discipline even before human rights became a political rallying point. So it does not condone such acts which are breaches of discipline.

During Indian army operations whenever a complaint is received we do take follow up action to investigate and punish the guilty. But such actions have their own limitations during active operations. Under traumatic conditions civilians are either unaware of their rights or reluctant for fear of reprisals to pursue their grievances by producing evidence and witnesses, which are essential to court martial the culprits. Many of them also moved out of the location due to the compulsions of war. Wherever such evidences are produced action was taken to investigate and prosecute the culprits. The basic problem is both civilian population and the troops come from societies where denial of basic rights is accepted as part of life. So during army training, we do explain the human rights and how their conduct during war and peace should respect them. But there are limitations to such approach, which is largely rooted in maintaining discipline. Despite these limitations, the army is progressively succeeding human rights record of soldiers. It has also carried out improvement the mechanism for handling complaints of violations.  

In 1971 War, I have seen a few brigadiers and colonels hauled up for violations after the war in Bangladesh. In Jammu and Kashmir also, Indian army takes such action. There were a few rights violations during IPKF operations by a few black sheep. But the way LTTE painted the instances was black propaganda. However, this does not excuse such heinous acts by soldiers. The legal aspect of prosecuting IPKF’s conduct is also vague as civilian areas were under the control of Sri Lanka government and it could have taken action suo moto.

I had always felt at least in two incidents - the killings in Jaffna Teaching Hospital and the Indian troops’ violent reaction in the aftermath LTTE ambush in Valvettiturai – the army should have carried out a more thorough and convincing investigation. But it was 1987-90 when neither nationally nor internationally human rights enjoyed the global attention now it has. Often some of the Sri Lankans, known to needle India, have argued that if Sri Lanka was to be investigated for gross human rights violations, why not the IPKF be investigated. I have told them well why not? Please go ahead if one has the time and energy to pursue it 29 years after the events.   

Q9: In 2009, during the final stages of the war, the LTTE used civilians as human shields. However, not known to many, the LTTE also used civilians as human shields during their battle with the IPKF.  During their battle with the IPKF, can you talk about what techniques the LTTE employed in order to use civilians as human shields and how did the IPKF respond to such actions by the LTTE? 

To my knowledge, during our time in IPKF, LTTE did not have the coercive capabilities to push large bodies of civilian population as human shields during operations as in the last Eelam War. But it usually used civilians nearby, even children, as a shield to make a getaway, say after throwing a grenade or firing at an Indian patrol. This is an operational detail; so I will not be able to provide more details.

Q10: Both JR Jayawardene and Premadasa, had negative sentiments of India’s direct involvement in Sri Lanka, but they reacted to the IPKF in two different ways. JR Jayawardene used the IPKF to fight the LTTE in the north and east, freeing up his own forces to take on the JVP insurgency in the south. Whereas, Premadasa wanted to get rid of the foreign military presence in Sri Lanka and when he was President he began secretly providing weapons to Prabhakaran to fight the IPKF.  How did the Indian government respond when it received intelligence that Premadasa was covertly providing weapons to the LTTE to attack the IPKF?

I think there are limitations in judging the actions of the two presidents in the present environment. We should understand the two presidents were lonely men looked upon by most of the people to take wise decisions, when the nation was under tremendous political pressure. They had to manage popular emotions, while acting upon logical course of action considered best at that moment. So I would be a little cautious in judging their actions now.

In earlier questions I have already explained my perception on why JR decided to get the IPKF to Sri Lanka. Many Sri Lankans seem to believe that JR’s action was a devious plan to let Indian troops engage the LTTE to free the Sri Lanka army to take on JVP insurgents in the South. I don’t think that was the sole intention; while his primary motive in signing Accord was probably to be on the right side of India to ensure Indians do not arm Tamil militants, while the purpose in inviting the Indian troops might be to let them handle the nettlesome LTTE. This could also help him to be free to manage the backlash generated after the Accord. It also had the advantage of freeing Sri Lanka Army to take on the JVP insurgents in the South. In fact during the first JVP insurrection also an Indian battalion was flown in to assist Sri Lanka fight the JVP. In any case 1988-89, Sri Lanka showed it was quite capable of suppressing JVP ruthlessly with its own forces. In fact, it left the JVP in shambles to resurrect back as a political party, sanitized of its revolutionary fervor, retaining “Vimukthi” only in the name now.

As far Premadasa was concerned, I think he genuinely felt inviting foreign forces to operate on Sri Lankan soil was shameful. I can understand this feeling as any nationalist would feel the same. As far as Premadasa’s help to the LTTE was concerned, I have myself provided copies of conversations relating to arms supply from his office to the LTTE contact person in Sri Lanka army. We had photographed the transfer of weapons also. Actually, we played tapes during a meeting with the Sri Lanka defence minister, much to his discomfort.  I personally feel the LTTE outsmarted Premadasa, who was gullible to its overtures. He probably believed he could cover himself with glory if he could succeed in bringing the war to a close. And he was not the first politician to be conned by the LTTE. To me Premadasa’s unforgivable action was allowing the LTTE to disarm and massacre hundreds of innocent policemen in eastern province after the Indian forces left. It was a shameful act that only emboldened the LTTE.

In India, the opposition had captured power and it was already cam-paigning for withdrawal of Indian forces from Sri Lanka. So Premadasa’s collusion was the last straw for it to push the decision to withdraw the IPKF.

Q11: On March 24, 1990—the last IPKF soldier left Sri Lanka. What was the ultimate breaking point which resulted in the complete withdrawal of the Indian Peacekeeping Forces?

Withdrawal of the IPKF was Indian leadership’s decision. So there was no breaking point as such. The VP Singh government in New Delhi and President Premadasa were on the same page on the recall of IPKF. It was on 24 March 1990 the last landing craft carrying Indian Peace Keeping Force commander and his operations group left Trincomalee harbour to Chennai.  My regret was with this action that both the governments had saved the LTTE from annihilation. The IPKF had already cut it down to size, reducing the overblown self image of Prabhakaran to the realistic proportion of an insurgent leader hiding in the jungle. He knew he was fighting with his back to the wall; he had already lost eight batches of LTTE leadership. In any case, after Premadasa started helping the LTTE, which had decided to collude with him as a survival tactics and political expediency, I felt there was no point in staying on in Sri Lanka, particularly when the results of the Accord were half baked and the leadership in both countries decided to forget about it.  

Q12: Col.Hariharan, you have stated that you heard the LTTE order the killing of Rajiv Gandhi.  In what manner did you receive this information, and upon receiving this information, what actions did you take in order to try to prevent the killing of Rajiv Gandhi?

In 1990 after pulling out from Sri Lanka, IPKF headquarters in Chennai was shedding its troops. Subordinate formations were returning to their respective bases. The intelligence unit was disbanded. The radio interception units which had regularly provided extracts of LTTE transmissions were also being pulled out. One of the last units recorded a conversation of one of the LTTE networks operating from somewhere in Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. I was startled to hear conversation in the Jaffna Tamil dialect ordering the “dumping” of Rajiv Gandhi. I do not remember the exact wording now but “dumping” was there for sure. “Dumping” is he LTTE term for killing (and dumping the body, I presume). During the Jaffna ops we had recovered LTTE “courts” documentation of judgements ordering dumping of 102 men and women in Jaffna, who were shot dead, for criminal offences.

I went with the cassette to the IPKF Force Commander who asked me not to “touch it.” We were winding up and had no operational responsibility any more. So as he advised I handed it to the IB Joint Director. He was a Tamil known to me for a number of years. He pooh poohed the idea of LTTE planning to kill; he thought it was all brave talk. It did not stand to logic after the Indian troops were withdrawn. He reasoned. I did not agree but he was the man responsible for taking a decision. So honestly, I could not take any action beyond that. The rest is history.  

Q13: What consequences do you believe the Rajiv Gandhi assassination had on the LTTE as it pertains to the ability for Sri Lanka to reach a peaceful end to the war?

The question is not clear; I presume it is about the impact of Rajiv Gandhi assassination on Sri Lanka’s ability to peacefully resolve the war with the LTTE. In fact, the assassination alienated Indians and Indian government from supporting Tamil militants. In fact, for next 15 years the Sri Lanka Tamil issue vanished from the menu of mainstream parties in Tamil Nadu. This strengthened Sri Lanka’s ability to bargain with the LTTE as Tamil Nadu had ceased to be its vocal supporter.  

Q14: On July 29th 1999 (exactly twelve years to the day that the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed) the LTTE killed Dr.Neelan Tiruchelvam. Col.Hariharan, in an e-mail you told me that you met Neelan Tiruchelvam. What do you believe is the legacy of Dr.Neelan Tiruchelvam?  Dr.Neelan Tiruchelvam had become a victim of Sri Lanka’s party politics. Can you talk about how Tiruchelvam became a victim of Sri Lanka’s party politics and how does that party politics in Sri Lanka still continue to this day?

I had met Dr Tiruchelvam twice and the constitutional impasse after 13th Amendment came up as topic in our discussion but was not discussed in detail. He was one person among all leaders (both Tamil and Sinhala), who had the perspicacity of mind to resolve the complex issue of ethnic conflict. It is a pity President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s 1995 constitutional reform and devolution plan, which Dr Tiruchelvam authored along with Prof GL Peiris, that went beyond the 13th amendment, providing for federalism in all but name, was shot down by both Sinhala nationalists and Tamil militants. It was UNP-SLFP rivalry and TULF’s lack of vision that stymied the process; its implementation could have saved over 100,000 lives in the wasteful wars that followed.

Q14: I have often made the argument that every political assassination the LTTE carried out would help seal the LTTE’s fate. I actually make the same argument in the case of Neelan Tiruchelvam and I would like to know if you agree with my opinion.  During the Norway brokered peace talks,Chandrika’s dismissal of the LTTE’s Interim Self Governing Authority proposal (ISGA proposal), aside from her rivalry to Wickremesinghe, was a direct consequence of Prabhakaran’s political decision to assassinate Neelan Tiruchelvam. I believe an underlying reason for Chandrika having dismissed the ISGA proposals was because there was no longer any senior Tamil politician within Chandrika’s ranks to convince her of the necessity to negotiate with the LTTE’s ISGA proposal. However, in the mid to late 1990s, Neelan Tiruchelvam (an internationally renowned constitutional lawyer) was one of Chandrika’s senior political advisors. Tiruchelvam, a man who constantly advocated engaging in negotiations with the LTTE, would have insisted that Chandrika consider the ISGA proposals. However, by killing Tiruchelvam, there was effectively no one to convince Chandrika of the necessity to negotiate with the LTTE’s proposals.

You are absolutely correct because Neelan had the ears of not only Chandrika, but other national and international leaders on his own merit. At the same time we should not ignore the damage done by the LTTE’s assassination of other seasoned Tamil leaders like Amirthalingam and Yogeswaran, who had the political acumen that could have come in handy in negotiations. The problem was Prabhakaran was anti-inellectual and paranoid about Tamil intellectuals outsmarting him to steal the thunder.

Q15: Do you believe the intervention of India into Sri Lanka’s civil war, overall, was a positive or negative contribution to gaining greater rights for minorities in Sri Lanka?  

Indian intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987 had both positive and negative effects on the quest for minority rights there. On the positive side, the signing of the Accord made clear to both the majority and minorities that India supported a united Sri Lanka and does not support the creation of an independent Tamil Eelam. At the same time, India also made it clear that it supported the Tamil struggle for preserving their distinct identity, language, culture and traditional areas of autonomy; by signing the Accord Sri Lanka also agreed to these aspects. The introduction of 13th Amendment to the constitution, despite its limitations, devolved some of the powers to the newly created provinces; this partially met the demands of Tamils and reduced the confrontational posturing between Sinhala majority and Tamil minority. The fact that the 13A despite all its limitations has survived till this day because it is still the sole constitutional guarantor for Tamils.

On the negative side, Sri Lanka did not implement the Accord in full denying land and police powers to provinces as promised. There were other aberrations like inadequate processing of the merger of North and East into one united province. Due to political reasons like the LTTE’s anti-Indian acts like killing Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu, India started following hands off Sri Lanka policy. These resulted in loss of credibility of the democratic process in Sri Lanka among sections of Tamils who were also disappointed with India whose performance fell much short of their expectations.  These sections of Tamils including the Diaspora rallyed behind Prabhakaran who had refused to accept the Accord denouncing Indian “hegemony” as spoiler. This boosted Prabhakaran’s image as the only saviour of Tamil interests and increased the support for revival of Tamil militancy through the LTTE. (Of course, Prabhakaran failed to cash on this by carrying out mindless killing of Tamil intellectuals and Sri Lankan and Tamil leaders pushed him to a point of no return is another story).

Q16: The Indo-Lanka accord has not yet been fully implemented by the Sri Lankan government. What role, if any, should India now play in helping post-civil war Sri Lanka in reforming its constitution so that the constitution will protect, provide and devolve economic, social, legal, and political rights to Sri Lanka’s pluralistic society?

The Indo-Sri Lanka Accord had given an assurance of India’s role in ensuring the unity of Sri Lanka, while expressing its expectations from Sri Lanka to provide autonomy for minorities. To ensure the follow up action on these two counts is essentially a political process of Sri Lankan people. I believe Sri Lanka people and political parties are capable of resolving the bottlenecks in drafting a constitution that “will protect, provide and devolve, economic, social, legal and political rights to Sri Lanka’s pluralistic society.” The people have paid with their blood during nearly two and half decades of war with Tamil militants to understand the need for an equitable constitution so that peace reigns in Sri Lanka. That was the reason they overwhelmingly voted for Sirisena-Wickremesinghe combine. So it is a political process the people have to see through. So, at present I feel India has limited political role in the making of Sri Lanka constitution.

Col R Hariharan, a retired MI officer, served as the head of Intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 90. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and South Asia Analysis Group. E-mail: haridirect@gmail.com  Blog: http://col.hariharan.info

 

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