Follow @southasiaanalys

Sri Lanka: Book-Haksar on India’s Sri Lanka’s Policy: of Prof. Suryanarayan & Dr. Ashik Bonofer,

Paper No.  6679                     Dated 9-Sep-2020
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
 
We have so far published three Reviews on the book titled “Haksar on India’s Sri Lanka Policy” by three learned individuals and these have raised a few questions that need to be clarified.
 
The title of book is rather misleading as it mainly deals with the developments in Sri Lanka during the ethnic crisis post July 1983 riots.  It is unique in one sense- as it is a “book on a book”
 
This book is unique in another sense.  From what I have known and seen, this is the most authentic one in recalling the events.  Professor Suryanarayan had met and interacted with most of the dramatic personae  in the crisis from Sri Lankan Officials, to the Tamil militant leaders to officials in Government of India and the Officers of the IPKF.  In the past we have seen books on the crisis of those involved in the events and one cannot blame if the accounts were “self ex-culpatory” in nature.  There were others, who though not personally associated with those involved in the crisis had tried their best to be objective but the account to a large extent cannot be called objective or authentic.
 
I recall that in a seminar in New Delhi years ago, a Professor from USA who had made a dissertation on Prabakaran- the LTTE Chief without having met him or his close associates, spoke  to an audience amongst whom many were closely associated with the ethnic crisis and who had personally met most of the Tamil militant leaders. The conclusions made by the Professor were wrong but it is to the credit of the audience that no one raised any objection and were actually too polite.  This small book does not have such inhibitions and surprisingly can be gone through in one sitting.
 
The induction of the IPKF ( Indian Peace Keeping Force) has been described as a disaster. As an insider  who had seen the IPKF in action in close quarters I would say that the IPKF did its best despite many constraints that included lack of knowledge of local language, terrain besides instructions not to use heavy weaponry that would cause civilian casualties and many others.  In spite of all the constraints, the IPKF did well to keep the LTTE on the run that forced the latter to seek help from the Sri Lankan Government to get weapon and sophisticated communication equipment. The LTTE’s aim was to see the back of the IPKF in Sri Lanka.  President Premadasa for all his political acumen misread the LTTE and in the process lost his life later.
 
Gen. Bipin Joshi, the DGMO who later became the Army Chief used to tell me that the term IPKF itself was a misnomer- the Indian Army was sent to implement the Accord and should have been described as the “Accord Implementation Force.”  The initial move to send the Army was because the militant leaders themselves did not want to surrender their arms to the Sri Lankan Army and wanted the Indian Army to receive the weapons.  
 
The decision to send the IPKF soon after the Accord, was taken perhaps within a few hours and we know  details of the proceedings as to  who said what.  It is reliably learnt that some voiced their objections.  There was no Plan B of what happens if the LTTE reneges on its promises and those who knew the militant leaders very well were not present in the meeting either.
 
The IPKF was never intended to stay for too long and it was to leave once an interim administration is in place but the events turned out differently. First were the impossible demands made to the IPKF by the LTTE.  The Indian Army  had no experience in civil governance.  They were forced to negotiate with an entity that was determined to scuttle the accord and on the other hand, the Sri Lanka Government was equally determined to ensure that the Accord does not work! 
 
The predicament of the IPKF that had to maintain peace can be understood and they did their best in dealing with the civilian protest movement,  like the protests by the Mothers in Trincomalee and the “fast unto death” by Dileepan, the LTTE leader of Jaffna.
 
One example would suffice-.  With great difficulty and much persuasion, a list of ministers for the interim administration was obtained from the LTTE and this was formally approved by  President Jayawardene as that was  the law of the State in Sri Lanka.  After it was accepted, LTTE came up with an amendment to replace one member due to supposed insufficient representation from the East. When the LTTE was told that once the list had been approved by the President, there is nothing that can be done-.  The  response from Balasingham was “our decision is irrevocable.” I am not sure whether Mr. Dikshit had mentioned it in his book but the response coming from an elderly and a senior person like  Balasingham  was brazen and arrogant.
 
Just at that time, the incident of “Kadalpura” had occurred.  The LTTE wanted to bring all their records and files back to Sri Lanka from Tamil Nadu and it was not an armed ship.  The ship had the top echelon of the LTTE and only a few (two or three) had side arms for their personal protection.  The ship was apprehended in Sri Lankan Waters and the occupants 21 in number were handed over to the IPKF.  
 
The issue was “what to do with the top leaders of the LTTE” who according to the Sri Lankan Navy were heavily armed and had operated against Sri Lankan laws.  It followed therefore that the leaders should be handed over to the Sri Lankan authorities for trial under Sri Lankan laws.  The Sri Lankan Government was particularly after the Trincomalee LTTE leader Pulyendran who according to them had massacred a large number of Sinhalese.
 
The Sri Lankan Government had put in a lot of pressure on India to hand over the prisoners to their  Security authorities and it is said that Lalith Athlulath Mudali even threatened to resign if it was not done. The Accord itself was threatened.  This unfortunate decision to hand over the top leadership to the Sri Lankan Security Forces  was what triggered the IPKF taking on the LTTE in the next few days.  The surprising point was how the Sri Lankan Navy convinced the IPKF as well as the Indian Representatives that the LTTE ship was “heavily armed” and that their intentions were not benign.  Even Gen. Sunderji bought this story and I was shocked when he tried to convince me a few months later about the incident.  No one from the Indian side made any investigation or interrogated the LTTE leadership.  In the end, all the top leaders of the LTTE swallowed cyanide pills and many including Pulyendran died.
 
 
It is said that India should not have acted as a mediator when it was supporting one side to fight the other.  The militant leaders would not have gone for talks on their own and they had to be literally coerced to go to Thimpu.   The LTTE would not have come for the Thimpu Talks had it not been for the pressure from the Indian Representatives. 
 
We see in Myanmar, China  doing it the same way to get the Ethnic armed leaders to the Conference.    For example when the leaders of the seven party Northern Alliance were not willing to attend the Panglong Conference at Naypyitaw in 2017, it was the Chinese Representative Sun Guoxiang who called them over to Kunming and bundled them into a chartered plane to go to Naypyitaw to attend the conference.  It will be interesting to see how the Chinese are handling the ethnic crisis in Myanmar and I would leave it to the readers as to what supposedly went wrong with India. On this, later.
 
There are three points in Haksar’s letters that need to be responded to.  First was the statement that G. Parthsarathi being a Tamilian was ill suited to deal with the Sri Lankan Government.  This was rather being very unfair to Mr. G. Parthsarathi. Did his successor Mr. Romesh Bhandari a non Tamil do better?  He was the one who asked the TULF triumvirate to stop at Delhi and discuss on “devolution” when the Sri Lankan side was unwilling even to go beyond the District Development Councils”.  The  other militant leaders came to know of it later..  This permanently alienated the well-meaning TULF from the rest of crowd.  Was he not aware what persuasive efforts were used  to get the militant leaders to agree to have the TULF leaders also in the Thimpu Talks? As Ketheeswaran of EPRLF had put it- “ Our elders have failed.  It is therefore our chance to try and we do not need them.”
 
 From the beginning, India never promoted “Eelam.”  It was clear to all the Leaders including the LTTE that India was  against a separate Eelam and what best could be achieved would be a framework similar to the Indian provinces.  I do not know how the impression went round that India would do a “ Cyprus” in Sri Lanka.
 
In page 32 of the book, Haksar in “unburdening” himself to Thomas Abraham, had said  that the Indian concerns could be misconstrued as not  Indian but narrowly for the Tamilians only and that Sri Lankans en masse are against India.  Yes there is a point in making it appear that the Indian concern is for all and not narrowly for theTamils. This depends on the situation.   In Nepal, one third of the population are the Madhesis- Plains people who are more aligned with the people of the northern districts or Bihar and  Uttar Pradesh.  I have seen the Indian diplomats consciously developing good relations with the majority community and neglecting or ignoring one third of the population who look up to India on every issue.  The result.    We saw in the map controversy in Nepal where the entire Parliamentary group save one who was expelled from the Party and the Parliament for seeking an amendment, voted for a Constitutional amendment- all done in a hurry to embarrass India.  There was no one even to suggest that the matter should not be hurried and that a detailed examination would be necessary.  India was left with no friends!
 
Towards the end of the book two points are highlighted and this needs to be understood by all decision makers in Delhi.   First is the lack of coordination among various agencies involved and the Militant leaders took full advantage of this.  
 
Second was that the concerned State at some stage and at some level should be involved.  Unlike China, India is a truly federal democratic State and it is difficult to operate in isolation without coordinating with other agencies.  Many decisions were taken only after taking into consideration  the concerns of Tamil Nadu but these perhaps were not discussed with the State Authorities in a formal or in an informal manner.
 
It was quite a task for a person from the Centre to operate in Tamil Nadu in those times during the crisis.  One  has to evade local Central Intelligence, Special Branch, Politicians of Tamil Nadu and even the Journalists
 
It is interesting to see how China is handling the ethnic armed organisations in Myanmar who are beholden to the Chinese for their very survival.  Except for the Arakan Army, all the rest of the armed ethnic units who have not signed the National Cease-fire agreement border China.  All of them have bases and are armed with Chinese weapons. 
 
Myanmar’s ethnic minorities form only 40 percent of the population but hold 60 percent of the land.  The majority Bamars are 60 percent of the population but hold only about 40 percent of the land. The land occupied by the minorities is rich in resources including hydro power
 
The Myanmar Army will not dare to raid the bases of the insurgents  as they are located too close to the China border.  The Wa the biggest of the group has over 30,000 members and have the most sophisticated arms, even helicopters and shoulder-fired surface to air missiles. In a conventional battle, the Wa stands no chance against the mighty Myanmar Army but still exists thanks to the protection given by China.  Incidentally Wa has internet connection through China.  The currency is Chinese and the language used is also Chinese.  Export of natural resources like mined items and timber go directly to China in return for electrical and other structural  equipment.  In all, Wa is a part of China and yet at no point have the Wa leaders expressed their intention to separate and on every occasion the leaders make it a point to declare that Wa is a part of Myanmar!
 
Many a time, I have seen the Myanmar Army stopping short of Laiza, the KIA Headquarters which they can overrun in no time, because of the fear of China.
 
China handles all the groups through a Senior Foreign Service Officer and an erstwhile Ambassador in South East Asia-, 67 years old Sun Guoxiang who is stationed in Kunming Yunnan with the title as “Special Envoy for Asian Affairs” His is the only organisation that deals with all the EAOs (Ethnic Armed Organisations)  
 
Sun Guoxiang is the final authority for China and he meets quite often not only the Army Chief and State Councillor Suu Kyi but also visits frequently Pangshang, Laiza, Mongla etc. to meet the Insurgent leaders.
 
All the arms appear to be funnelled through the Wa on the tacit understanding that it is the leading armed unit that  should be looked up to and some arms and ammunition are manufactured with Chinese help in Wa and supplied to other units. The provincial authorities in Yunnan must be facing similar problems like what Tamil Nadu perhaps faced, but one does not see  the involvement of the provincial administration of Yunnan at all.  This is possible in China but not in a federal set up like India.
 
A final word on the Indian involvement.  Soon after the July 1983 State-sponsored riots, it was seen that Sri Lanka was looking for a quick military solution and even mercenaries were recruited to train the security forces.  It was at this juncture that perhaps India decided to arm and train the groups to a limited objective of preventing a military solution.  That objective was reached when the Sri Lankan Government approached India to enable  a dialogue with the militants and Thimpu talks followed.  
 
Is it not  ironical that at the end, it was India that helped a great deal the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to find a military solution?
 
 
.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
Category: 
Countries: