Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Sri Lanka’s 2009 triumph over terrorism misinterpreted

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 171

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Those who had implicit faith in the LTTE’s prowess never envisaged a negotiated political settlement. They always endorsed solutions proposed by the LTTE on the basis the group can never be militarily defeated, therefore an agreement on its terms is a necessity. They strongly believed in the invincibility of the LTTE, one of those Indian sponsored terrorist groups operational since early 80s.

A section of the media, too, repeatedly reinforced the theory that the LTTE had the wherewithal to withstand the Army under any circumstances. The media propagated that the combined armed forces lacked the capacity to conduct large scale operations, simultaneously, on multiple fronts to bring the LTTE to its knees. They expressed confidence in a massive LTTE counter attack in late Dec 2008 before the government liberated Kilinochchi in early Jan 2009.

Eradication of the LTTE had never been seriously considered as a solution by the UNP and the SLFP until Velupillai Prabhakaran took on Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006. Newly appointed Defence Secretary, Gajaba Regiment veteran Gotabhaya Rajapaksa spearheaded meticulous efforts to militarily defeat the enemy. On a number of occasions, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa explained that a negotiated settlement would never be a reality as long as the LTTE believed in its capability to achieve objectives through war. Rajapaksa told top Norwegian delegation on April 6, 2006 in Colombo that ethnic and political problems in Sri Lanka could be solved by military means. What Rajapaksa really meant was the national issue couldn’t be resolved as long as the LTTE retained its military capability. Although the LTTE’s defeat paved the way for direct talks between the government and the TNA, the latter sabotaged negotiations by following the LTTE’s path.

LTTE-TNA coalition

At the behest of the LTTE, R. Sampanthan led Tamil National Alliance recognized the former in Oct 2001 as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people. The TNA remained in LTTE’s ‘captivity’ until the armed forces brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. Had President Mahinda Rajapaksa succumbed to Western pressure and called off the offensive in early 2009, the TNA would have remained Prabhakaran’s proxy. That is the undeniable truth.

MR’s efforts to reach consensus with LTTE

Having secured the presidency at Nov 2005 polls thanks to the LTTE depriving UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe the northern Tamil vote, President Rajapaksa, too, has been initially hesitant to face the LTTE challenge and sought various ways and means of reaching a consensus with the group. President Rajapaksa sought to initiate a dialogue with the LTTE through one-time Norwegian funded NGO guru Dr Kumar Rupesinghe. President Rajapaksa also requested assistance of head of Seva Lanka Foundation Harsha Kumara Navaratne to establish direct contact with the LTTE. The LTTE spurned both offers as it felt inexperienced Rajapaksa can be easily overwhelmed.

President Rajapaksa went to the extent of having talks with the LTTE in Geneva twice under the auspices of the Norwegians in 2006 even after Prabhakaran resumed hostilities.

Kumaran Pathmanathan alias KP explained to the writer in late July 2010 how the LTTE had planned to overwhelm President Rajapaksa at the onset of the eelam war IV. None of those who had been shedding crocodile tears for the Tamil community dared to request the Prabhakaran not to quit the negotiating table in April 2003. Prabhakaran withdrew from Norway led talks that month to pave the way for then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga to call early general election. Having helped the TNA to take control of the Northern and Eastern electoral districts at April 2004 general election, the LTTE ordered the Tamil community to prepare for final war. The LTTE’s Vanni leadership had been so confident that it could defeat the government in spite of unprecedented split caused by Karuna in early 2004.

The LTTE resumed eelam war in Aug 2006 with multi pronged simultaneous offensives in the northern and eastern theaters. The enemy furiously engaged the Army on both fronts for several weeks until the government managed to bring the situation under control.

In early Oct 2006, the Army suffered a debilitating setback on the northern front at Muhamalai. Although, Muhamalai offensive went awry with catastrophic results, the Army bounced back within weeks. The ground offensive would never have succeeded if the Navy and the Air Force failed. The Navy and Air Force provided significant support to the overall campaign in addition to their independent strategic actions that caused severe damage to the LTTE.

The LTTE was brought to its knees in two years and ten months on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

Post-war politics; Fonseka factor (May 24, 2017) dealt with contentious issue of Sri Lanka’s right to annually celebrate LTTE’s annihilation with a spectacular armed forces victory parade. The writer’s assertion that there couldn’t be any dispute over Sri Lanka’s right to continue with annual Victory Day Parade received mixed reactions. Those who had been opposed to victory day parade propagated the lie that such an annual event severely undermined post-war national reconciliation process.

Perhaps, the Tamil lobby may soon demand cancellation of annual military-led events at a memorial at Palaly for Indian Army personnel killed in Sri Lanka fighting the LTTE. The long-forgotten memorial inside the Palaly high security zone was built in 2012. The memorial pays homage to 33 men of the Indian elite special forces, the 10 Para Regiment, who were cremated there. It comprises seven structures and has the names of all the soldiers.

Sri Lanka maintains another monument for the Indian Army near Parliament at Pelawatte. Indian leaders have paid floral tributes at the memorial. Sri Lanka should earn the respect of the international community for maintaining memorials for those Indian officers and men killed in battles here with Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists. India lost 1,200 officers and men while over 3,000 received injuries. Interestingly, India never put up a memorial for them and those who commanded the ill-fated mission here, too, never demanded that those who fought the LTTE on Sri Lankan soil should be honoured with a monument in India.

Daya Gamage, the author of Tamil Tigers’ Debt To America challenged the writer’s assertion in respect of Victory Day Parade.

In a piece titled Sri Lanka facing consequences of ‘Victory Parades- Triumphalism’, Gamage faulted the writer for asserting the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)-led Tamil National Alliance, foreign-funded civil society organizations, as well as a section of the international community resented the Victory Day parade as they believed such celebrations hurt the feelings of the Tamil speaking people.

Gamage also questioned the writer’s observation that those who were opposed to victory day parade acknowledged the LTTE and consisted of almost all Tamil speaking Sri Lankans hell-bent on driving out the Army from the Northern Province.’ Gamage blamed the Rajapaksas style of post war governance for influential diaspora elements creating an environment overseas hostile to Sri Lanka. Subsequently, Gamage issued a clarification in respect of Sri Lanka facing consequences of ‘Victory Parades- Triumphalism following contrary views expressed by various others.

There is absolutely no point in denying the fact that the LTTE as well as about six other terrorist groups sponsored by India in early 80s consisted of entirely Tamils. That is the undeniable truth. Driving the military out of the Jaffna peninsula had been their dream and they relentlessly pursued that objective though the peninsula was brought under government control in 1996, a few years after Indian Army pulled out of Sri Lanka. Even eight years after the LTTE’s defeat, the TNA, civil society as well as a section of the international community had been pushing for further reduction of military presence in the Northern Province. Of course, some Sinhalese, including some in police as well as armed forces had been on the LTTE’s payroll and provided crucial support to LTTE intelligence.

If Gamage genuinely felt that the ITAK-led TNA, foreign funded civil society organizations and a section of the international community had no issue with Sri Lanka having Victory Day Parade, why on earth Yahapalana rulers cancelled the 2015 event. Gamage has conveniently refrained from commenting on Canadian High Commissioner Shelly Whiting’s 2014 demand that Sri Lanka should stop military celebrations.

Different kind of celebration

Having cancelled the Victory Day Parade, the government organized a cultural spectacle, ‘Sanhindiyawai – Sangrama Shakthiyayi’, on June 14 at the Independence Square to celebrate Sri Lanka triumph over the LTTE and post-war developments. For some reason yahapalana government celebrated the restoration of GSP plus facility denied to Sri Lanka in 2010. The EU move was meant to pressure the Rajapaksa administration. Those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE resorted to various tactics to undermine the war winning government. The British went out of their way to harass Sri Lanka to appease UK nationals of Sri Lankan origin. The British turned a blind eye to the LTTE issuing statements from UK regarding its operations. The British gave the LTTE a free hand. Thanks to Wiki Leaks, the world got to know about how UK played politics with the Sri Lankan conflict.

Gamage also found fault with the writer for describing nearly 30-year-old conflict as a war between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. Whatever the explanation and positions articulated by various parties, the fighting had been between the majority community and minority Tamils. The writer had absolutely no reason to describe the conflict in any other term than one between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The vast majority of the Muslim community threw their weight behind the Sinhalese. Muslim youth joined the armed forces, faithfully served the intelligence services and essentially supported the war against the LTTE. The LTTE drove the Muslims out of the Northern Province in Oct-Nov 1990.

The 1971 and 1987-1990 insurrections divided the Sinhala community with the JVP comprised almost 99.9 Sinhalese Buddhists challenging the hugely Sinhala Buddhist dominated armed forces.

It would be pertinent to keep in mind that Tamils, too, contributed to the LTTE’s defeat. Those Indian sponsored Tamil groups namely TELO, PLOTE, EPDP and EPRLF which had been militarily weakened by the LTTE in the late 80s were recruited by the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa. They proved useful. At the behest of the LTTE, the then UNP-led UNF government disarmed them in accordance with Norway arranged Ceasefire Agreement signed in Feb 2002. Whatever the so called Tamil lobby here and abroad propagated, the US and European powers fully comprehended the extreme danger posed by the LTTE and the world’s solitary superpower provided required intelligence to Sri Lanka Navy in 2007 to hunt down floating LTTE arsenals in international waters. Let me stress that it was a personal achievement for the then Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda whose determined leadership proved crucial in eelam war IV.

Sri Lanka’s right to celebrate her victory over the LTTE with a Victory Day Parade shouldn’t have been a domestic or an external issue. Tamil lobby here and abroad easily succeeded in convincing the US and other European powers that Tamils living in the Northern Province felt conquered. Tamil lobby succeeded because they (Western powers) wanted to exploit the situation and use that lie to create an environment to undermine the Rajapaksa administration. The EU decision to do away with the GSP plus facility in early 2010 as well as prohibition of fish exports to EU member states in January 2015 were meant to undermine President Rajapaksa. Western powers cleverly exploited the post-war resentment expressed by the four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to form a coalition capable of ousting the Rajapaksasa.

Australia took a different position, at least publicly in respect of post-war Sri Lanka due to its close relationship with war winning government. Australian stand here is largely influenced by bilateral partnership aimed at halting would be illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka.

US backing for SF

In spite of calling war winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka a ‘war criminal’ in January 2010, the US embassy in Colombo worked overtime to arrange a coalition to ensure Fonseka’s victory at January 2010 polls. The US played an important role in forming the coalition. Sri Lanka certainly benefited from the exposure of confidential US diplomatic cables originating from Colombo. Unfortunately, the Rajapaksa administration never bothered to examine those cables, thereby lost chance to exploit them. The US guaranteed the TNA support to Fonseka. Although, the US-led plan went awry in January 2010, almost identical project succeeded in January 2015 to oust President Rajapaksa. It would be pertinent to keep in mind that then staunch Rajapaksa loyalist Maithripala Sirisena had held the defence portfolio at a crucial stage of the final battle (May, 2009 third week) on the Vanni east front where unsubstantiated accusations were made in respect of battlefield executions.

Gamage asserted that the Rajapaksas had failed to ‘emotionally connect to the Tamil people in the North’ following the annihilation of the LTTE and the Tamil lobby succeeded in convincing the US and other Western powers Tamil people in the North felt conquered. Had the Tamil community really felt conquered and overwhelmed by military presence in the Northern Province, they wouldn’t have exercised their franchise in support of General Fonseka. All northern and eastern districts overwhelmingly voted for Gen Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena at 2010 and 2015 presidential polls.

In January 2010, Tamils voted for Fonseka amidst widespread wild allegations that the armed forces had massacred over 40,000 civilians on the Vanni east front and substantial number of LTTE cadres executed. Whatever the TNA leadership said, northern Tamils wouldn’t have voted for Gen. Fonseka if they really resented him and held him accountable for civilian deaths.

The US exploited the situation to get rid of President Rajapaksa due to his growing post-war relationship with China. This should be examined against the backdrop of US-India-Japan partnership against China. Let me emphasize that US regime change project hadn’t been influenced by the previous government response to the Tamil community.

The US nor TNA never explained the circumstances under which they backed Gen. Fonseka at 2010 presidential poll. The civil society, too, never asked why Sri Lanka’s best Army Commander was backed against the war winning Commander-in-Chief.

Those Sinhalese who still believed Tamils felt conquered in the wake of the LTTE’s defeat in may 2009 should peruse Subramanium Sivagami alias ‘Colonel’ Thamilini’s Thiyunu Asipathaka Sevana Yata (In the Shadow of a Sharp Sword), the Sinhala translation of Oru Koorvaalin Nizhalil. Thamilini intimately dealt with the final phase of the war on the Vanni east front. Thamilini’s memoirs launched after her death due to cancer in Oct 2015 depicted the miserable situation caused by the LTTE.

In fact, the writer sought an explanation from top lawyer Kandiah Neelakandan,  President of the All Ceylon Hindu Congress during a ceremony in Vavuniya in the run up to January 2010 presidential poll how he felt Tamils having to choose between Gen Fonseka and President Rajapaksa whose political leadership made Sri Lanka’s victory possible. President Rajapaksa was there to personally release some rehabilitated LTTE cadres and top ACHC representatives were among those invited to participate at the event. Neelakandan acknowledged paradox of the situation. The then Minister Milinda Moragoda played a pivotal role in securing the support of the ACHC in a bid to dispel fears among the Tamil community that those who had surrendered and captured on the Vanni front were to be executed.

The Rajapaksa administration paid a very heavy price for not countering lies. The previous government squandered massive amount of taxpayers money on ‘media projects’ both here and abroad. Those who had received public funds lacked knowledge and the expertise to counter propaganda though they continued to deceive the government until the very end in January 2015.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Post-war politics: Fonseka factor

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 170

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Controversy surrounds Sri Lanka’s decision to do away with the annual Victory Day parade in the wake of the change of government in January 2015.

Mathripala Sirisena was able to achieve what war winning Army chief General Sarath Fonseka failed in January 2010.

The previous government celebrated Sri Lanka’s triumph over LTTE terrorism with a magnificent armed forces and police parade. The annual event reflected the liberation of the Eastern Province (Aug 2006-July 2007) and the Northern Province (March 2007-May 2009).

Sri Lanka brought the war against the LTTE to a successful conclusion on May 19, 2009 on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. The Eelam war IV lasted two years and ten months.

Unfortunately, those who had achieved unprecedented victory and brought relief to the people and also removed regional security threat couldn’t resolve issues among themselves. Those who propagated the myth that the LTTE couldn’t be defeated exploited differences among opponents causing political chaos. Those who played politics with Sri Lanka’s finest victory forgot sacrifices made by the armed forces. Over 6,000 officers and men sacrificed their lives since the resumption of the war in 2006. Of them nearly 2,400 perished during January-May 2009 on the Vanni east front.

The conclusion of the conflict brought relief to the Tamil community. Eradication of the LTTE ended the despicable practice of forced recruitment of their children. It would be pertinent to mention that the LTTE continued child recruitment in spite of it promising the UN way back in 1998 to halt deploying of children in high intensity battles. Tamil speaking people had every reason to celebrate the elimination of the scourge of terrorism.

Within 24 hours after the final battle, the Army cremated several hundred bodies, including that of Prabhakaran and his family, and threw their ashes to the sea.

Inclement weather forced the previous government to cancel the first Victory Day parade by the tri-services, and the police, scheduled for May 20, 2010.

The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance, foreign funded civil society organizations, as well as a section of the international community resented the Victory Day parade. They alleged that as such celebrations hurt the feelings of the Tamil speaking people, the government should cancel the annual event. In other words, they acknowledged that the LTTE consisted of almost all Tamil speaking Sri Lankans hellbent on driving out the Army from the Northern Province. The TNA conveniently forgot how the LTTE formed the grouping and then compelled it to recognize it as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people.

The war-winning Rajapaksa government quite rightly ignored their calls to cancel the much respected Victory Day parade. But those who had been wanting to haul Sri Lanka up before an international war crimes court/hybrid war crimes court strongly pushed for the cancellation of the event.

Canadian salvo

In the run-up to the 2014 Victory Day parade, in Matara, Canada publicly declared that it wouldn’t be represented. It was the fifth Victory Day parade held amidst stepped up international pressure.

Canadian High Commissioner in Colombo, Shelly Whiting, in a strongly worded statement, issued exclusively to ‘The Island’, explained the Canadian decision to boycott the event. The writer front-paged Whiting’s statement, in the May 16, 2014 edition of The Island. The then Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya explained Sri Lanka’s right to continue with the Victory Day parade, on the following day.

The following is the text of Shelly’s statement headlined ‘Canada to boycott Victory Day parade’ with strap line ‘such events won’t help post war national reconciliation’: "As in past years, heads of mission, resident in Sri Lanka, have recently received invitations to participate in this year’s Victory Parade, scheduled to be held, in Matara, on May 18. As Canadian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, part of my role includes celebrating the successes of the country, alongside the Sri Lankan people. However, I will not be attending the Victory Day Parade on May 18. Some commentators will no doubt rush to judge and erroneously conclude that I am doing so out of some misplaced nostalgia for the LTTE. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me be clear the LTTE was a scourge that brought untold suffering to this island nation and all its people.

Prior to arriving in Sri Lanka, my previous assignment was in Afghanistan where I saw first-hand the terrorist tactics (use of suicide bombers, IEDs) that are sadly the LTTE’s legacy to the world. The LTTE and its supporters were ruthless and single-minded, and did not faithfully represent the political aspirations of the communities they purported to represent. Canada joined the world in welcoming the defeat of the LTTE in 2009. In fact, the LTTE has been proscribed as a terrorist entity in Canada since 2006. To help stop the flow of funding to the LTTE, Canada further proscribed the World Tamil Movement (WTM) in 2008. Both of these organizations remain banned in Canada today.

However, five years after the end of the conflict, the time has arrived for Sri Lanka to move past wartime discourse and to start working seriously towards reconciliation. It is time to mend relations between communities and to ensure that all Sri Lankans can live in dignity and free from discrimination, based on ethnic, religious or linguistic identities. Fathers and daughters, sons and mothers, all were victims, who were killed or never returned home at the end of the conflict. No community here – whether Sinhalese or Tamil, Muslim or Burgher – was spared during the conflict. In this vein, Canada has encouraged the Government of Sri Lanka to retire its annual Victory Day Parade, which perpetuates roles of victors and vanquished within the country, for a day of remembrance for all those who suffered as a result of the conflict. Indeed, Sri Lanka’s own homegrown Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report recommends that a solemn day of remembrance for all victims of the war would be more conducive to sustaining peace here. Such a gesture would go a long way towards putting wartime posturing behind Sri Lanka.

I will not be in Matara, but I will be thinking and remembering all those who lost their loved ones over the thirty year conflict."

Let me also reproduce Whiting’s tweet on post-war reconciliation process:" Remembering all those affected by the decades long conflict and thinking of the families who still seek answers.

= As new policy states reconciliation and coexistence involves protecting the rights and interests of missing persons and their families.

= Eight years after the end of the conflict, further progress towards the establishment of a functioning OMP is urgently needed."

Canadian statements essentially reflected the opinion expressed by all those who had backed Oct 1, 2015 Geneva Resolution co-sponsored by the yahapalana government. The yahapalana government reiterated its commitment to the same resolution in March 2017.

Those who couldn’t stomach Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE pursued war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa until they engineered his defeat in January 2015. Rajapaksa’s ouster resulted in the cancellation of the Victory Day parade. The LTTE was brought to its knees in its Mullaitivu stronghold less than six months after Canada-based political and defence analyst, D.B.S. Jeyaraj, asserted that the LTTE had the wherewithal to defeat the Army on the Vanni east front. Within 10 days after that prediction, the Army liberated Kilinochchi in Dec/Jan 2009. The LTTE rapidly retreated towards the Mullaitivu coast until it didn’t have any other option but to surrender. Over 10,000 LTTE cadres accepted Sri Lanka’s offer to surrender, while several hundred men and women perished, defending Prabhakaran.

Now, Yahapalana rulers have accepted unsubstantiated claims that celebrating triumph over LTTE terrorism undermined post-war national reconciliation. The undeniable truth is had the Army failed on the Vanni east front, TNA leader R. Sampanthan would be still taking orders from Prabhakaran. In Nov 2005, Sampanthan, at the behest of Prabhakaran, ordered northern Tamils not to exercise their franchise at the Nov 17 presidential poll that year. The move was meant to deprive UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe the Tamil vote and to ensure Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victory. The LTTE-TNA set the stage for an all out war against the government, believing the new President lacked the strength to meet the LTTE challenge. The LTTE-TNA coalition would have probably succeeded in its project had the then Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa perished in suicide attacks in April and Dec 2006. President Rajapaksa’s team comprised Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and Air Marshal Roshan Gunatilleke. They relentlessly pursued military operations until the LTTE lost its desire to fight after losing nearly 600 cadres, including most of its senior ground commanders, in April 2009, in the Anandapuram battle. The LTTE never recovered from that humiliating defeat and collapsed seven weeks later.

Catastrophic decisions

Having called the Rajapaksa brothers and Fonseka war criminals, in January 2010, the US forced the TNA to campaign for the war-winning Army Commander at the January 2010 presidential poll. The TNA ensured Fonseka comfortably won all northern and eastern electoral districts. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know the US effort, though it today complains of Russia interfering in its last presidential poll.

Although, no one could have challenged Fonseka’s decision to challenge Rajapaksa, the move obviously plunged the country into crisis. The UNP fielded Fonseka after having ridiculed his war effort and constantly propagating the myth that the LTTE couldn’t be militarily defeated.

In the wake of Fonseka’s defeat, the previous government pounced on the Sinha Regiment veteran.

The government arrested Fonseka, in early Feb 2010. Some senior army officers, believed to be close to him, were prematurely retired, while a few fled the country. An abortive attempt was also made to try Fonseka twice for the same offense. On that basis the Colombo High Court acquitted the failed presidential candidate of all charges in the Hicorp case. The case relates to army procurement during his tenure as Army Chief.

Fonseka was also convicted in two other cases and served jail terms. The war veteran was stripped of his rank and benefits.

In September 2010, an Army Tribunal pronounced him guilty of the Hicorp charges. Fonseka received a jail term of 30 months for the procurement consequent to the Army Tribunal verdict. In November 2011, he was again convicted for three years, in the "white flag case".

Fonseka was pardoned by President Rajapaksa and released in May 2012. He was behind bars when the country celebrated the war victory during the Rajapaksa administration.

Had all those responsible for waste, corruption and irregularities properly investigated and brought before courts many politicians representing the SLFP and the UNP would have ended up behind bars. Reports put out by COPE (Committee on Public Enterprises) and PAC (Public Accounts Committee) have exposed many politicians, however absolutely no action was taken so far.

Former Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon in his memoirs, Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, commented on Fonseka’s political ambitions. The possibility of India influencing the former government’s position vis a vis Fonseka, can never be ruled out. Obviously, India hadn’t been enthusiastic about the project to make Fonseka President in January 2010. Menon’s following comment on Fonseka is revealing; "The other postwar issue that worried India was the civil military balance after 26 years of civil war in Sri Lanka. This was solved expeditiously if unconventionally by sacking and imprisoning Army Chief Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka’s political ambitious were the real motive behind Rajapaksa’s actions, but the effect in removing him was to take out of politics the victorious and domineering army, which had got used to playing a role in national politics."

Whatever the political factors, India would have appreciated the destruction of the group responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 Indian officers and men.

Interestingly, following Fonseka’s defeat at the January 2010 presidential poll, the UNP refrained from fielding him on party ticket at the subsequent general election. The celebrated soldier successfully contested on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket under JVP leadership though he was denied a Colombo District seat due to him being found guilty by an Army Tribunal.

The then Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena told the writer at his ministry how a Colombo based US diplomat passed a message to President Rajapaksa demanding the imprisoned General’s immediate release. Had there been an examination of various developments since the end of the war in May 2009, we would realise how interested parties manipulated decision makers leading to the present political crisis.

Subsequently, Fonseka received political recognition for his own party and contested the last general election. Having suffered a humiliating defeat, Fonseka entered parliament through UNP National List at the expense of his party. Eight years after the conclusion of the war, Fonseka’s National List appointment has been challenged in the Supreme Court, interestingly by a retired combat Major of the Sinha regiment Ajith Prasanna.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Is security of India and Sri Lanka indivisible?

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 169

 

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Dimuthu Premaratne captured Indian leader Narandra Modi arriving in the BMICH on Friday (May 12) to participate in the International Vesak Day celebrations. Among those captured with Modi is Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Vanni District MP Dharmalingham Siddarthan(standing next to President Sirisena), whose father was alleged to have been killed by Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), in 1985, at the behest of India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Siddarthan has told the writer that former TULF MPs, M. Alalasundaram and V. Dharmalingam were killed on the morning of Sept. 3, 1985, on RAW directive. The killings should have been examined against the backdrop of the Thimpu fiasco as well as the short-lived Delhi Accord of 1985. Dharmalingham Siddarthan represents the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), another Indian-sponsored terrorist group at the time. The PLOTE attracted international notoriety when members of the group mounted a sea borne operation, in Male, in early Nov. 1988 to take power. The operation went awry due to Indian military intervention. Siddarthan’s presence, among those invited for the BMICH event is a reminder of India’s wretched past interventions here.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Indian Premier Narendra Modi declared in Colombo on Friday (May 12) that the biggest challenge to sustainable world peace today might not be necessarily from conflict between the nation states.

Addressing international Vesak Day celebrations, at the BMICH, Modi asserted: "It is from the mindsets, thought streams, entities and instruments rooted in the idea of hate and violence. The menace of terrorism in our region is a concrete manifestation of this destructive emotion (emphasis mine) Sadly, these ideologies of hate and their proponents, in our region, are not open to dialogue and hence only open to causing death and destruction."

Modi’s visit took place close on the heels of India and Sri Lanka signing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on a range of projects, including one on Trincomalee oil tank farm.

Obviously, Hindu nationalist Modi has conveniently forgotten how India caused regional crisis by destabilizing Sri Lanka to such an extent to compel the then JRJ government to accept deployment of the Indian Army in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. India caused massive destruction in the predominately Tamil Northern and Eastern districts. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) responded by assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1991. The LTTE struck in Tamil Nadu over a year after the Indian Army pulled out of Sri Lanka at the request of the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa.

India caused further mayhem when New Delhi established the Tamil National Army months before its withdrawal. The LTTE decimated the Tamil National Army with the tacit understanding with President Premadasa whose 14-month long honeymoon, with the LTTE, ended in June 1990.

Unfortunately, our leaders lacked courage at least to remind India that Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in crisis today if not for despicable Indian strategy. As a result of Indian intervention, Sri Lanka finally ended up being ordered to probe war crimes and crimes against humanity with foreign judges, investigators and prosecutors by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In spite of being responsible for the situation here, India voted with those wanting to punish Sri Lanka on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.

Having succeeded Manmohan Singh, in May 2014, PM Modi visited Colombo, in mid March 2015, in the wake of the change of government, to sign four bilateral pacts on visa, customs, youth development and building the Rabindranath Tagore memorial. It was PM Modi’s first visit to Sri Lanka, the first stand alone bilateral tour by an Indian Prime Minister, since 1987.

Rajiv Gandhi was here in July 1987 to sign the Indo-Lanka Accord, a month after forcing Sri Lanka to halt ‘Operation Liberation’ meant to eradicate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). India humiliated Sri Lanka by violating her airspace in the run-up to Gandhi’s visit.

PM Modi also flew to Ilavalai, Jaffna, where he handed over several houses to beneficiaries of the Indian-funded housing units to former IDPs under the 50,000 houses programme. On the invitation of Sri Lanka, Modi addressed parliament before visiting the Indian Army memorial at Pelawatte, Battaramulla. The memmorial is a constant reminder of Indian intervention finally leading to a war between its Army and the Indian-trained LTTE, resulting in the deaths of about 1,200 of its officers and men. In addition more than 3,000 of its officers and men received injuries during the deployment here (July 1987-March 1990).

No less a person than former Indian Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit, in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun to Yashwant Sinha’, in no uncertain terms blamed the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for Indian intervention in Sri Lanka.

India certainly owed an apology to the people of Sri Lanka for causing war. It would be a mistake on India’s part to expect the people of Sri Lanka to forget the Indian destabilization project. In fact, India’s creation influenced suicide bombings against Israel. The LTTE brazenly operated in the developed world leading to it being placed among organizations proscribed by the US and UK. Premier Modi’s interpretation of terrorism surely didn’t apply to Sri Lanka.

Premier Modi used the UN Vesak Day message to underscore India’s doctrine that security of India and Sri Lanka is indivisible. Let me quote the Indian leader verbatim:... whether it is on land or in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the security of our societies is indivisible. My conversations with President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have only reinforced our will to join hands in achieving our common goals. As you make important choices for the harmony and progress of your society, you will find in India a friend and partner that will support your nation-building endeavours."

It would be pertinent to briefly examine Indian foreign policy at the time Indira Gandhi ordered the destabilization of Sri Lanka in the 80s and current policy against the backdrop of growing Chinese challenge.

In the 80s, India had been in the Soviet camp hence feared the prospect of US turning Trincomalee harbour to a strategic naval base. Today, India is firmly in US led grouping, that includes Japan, and determined to check Chinese influence. Sri Lanka is under pressure from both camps, with them seeking to influence the decision making process.

Both Yahapalana government and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been compelled to play ball with India and China. India, of course, represents overall US interests in the region. Although, the US and EU differ on some policy matters, their overall strategy remains the same. Sri Lanka is an example for such understanding. Obviously US allies, Japan and India are following US strategy. But it would be important to keep in mind that unlike Japan, India would have its own strategic interests in Sri Lanka, in addition to policies adopted in line with overall US objectives here.

Sri Lankan leaders are struggling to cope with the situation. Former President Rajapaksa’s unannounced meet with Premier Modi, at India House, last Thursday night, highlighted Sri Lanka’s dilemma. Having accused Modi and India’s premier intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of facilitating Maithripala Sirisena’s victory, at the January 2015 presidential poll, the former President sought a meeting with Modi. Former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris and wartime Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa accompanied the former President. Presence of Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval at the India House meeting proved that Modi’s visit meant much more than participating at the UN Vesak Day celebrations and visiting Dickoya.

Former Defence Secretary Rajapaksa is on record as having explained the circumstances under which Doval demanded Sri Lanka discontinue major Chinese funded infrastructure projects and also take back the Chinese managed Colombo port terminal in the run up to the last presidential poll. Inclusion of veteran intelligence officer Doval underscored the importance of Modi’s recently concluded Colombo visit where he emphasized New Delhi’s perspective of Sri Lanka’s security. Modi’s assertion reminded Doval’s predecessor Shiv Shankar Menon explaining the threat posed by Sri Lanka to India in case hostile power having influence over Colombo. In the 80s, the prospect of US setting up base propelled India to cause terrorism in Sri Lanka to bring JRJ to his knees. Today, India is working overtime to thwart the Chinese project here.

One-time Indian High Commissioner in Colombo (1997-2000) Shivshankar Menon, in his recently (Oct, 2016) launched memoirs, Choices: Inside the making of India’s foreign policy, indicated that New Delhi had reason to desire a change of government, in Sri Lanka, due to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa going back on his pledge in respect of Sri Lanka-China relations.

Menon accused former President Rajapaksa of breaking his solemn pledge, in May 2014, five years after the successful conclusion of the conflict. Obviously, the former President had earned the wrath of India for following a path which, New Delhi believed, threatened its security interests. Menon declaration that Sri Lanka is an aircraft carrier parked 14 miles off the Indian coast underscored New Delhi’s severe concerns in respect of the country being too close to China.

However, Menon, who had been India’s National Security Advisory, from January, 2011, to May, 2014, refrained from revealing a specific incident/or incidents which revealed Sri Lanka’s duplicity in May 2014.

Sri Lanka’s close relationship with China should be examined against the backdrop of India’s destabilization project here. If not for the Indian-sponsored terrorist project, Sri Lanka wouldn’t have contemplated transforming her ceremonial army to a professional fighting force capable of meeting the enemy’s conventional challenge. Sri Lanka continuously struggled to obtain required weapons as well as training due to India strongly objecting to arms-producing countries meeting little Lanka’s needs. Having opposed Sri Lanka securing armaments from the Jewish State, in the beginning of 80s, New Delhi today heavily depends on Israeli weapons and technology. India and Sri Lanka work closely in the defence field, a situation unthinkable a few decades ago. Perhaps, India wants Sri Lanka to place responsibility for her security in the hands of India. Modi certainly didn’t mince his words when he claimed that security interests of India and Sri Lanka were the same.

PM Modi’s declaration in respect of shared security of India and Sri Lanka should be examined in the context of Indo-US partnership in all sectors, including nuclear power. Modi underscored the pivotal importance of Sri Lanka being part of their overall military strategy in the Indian Ocean. Let me put it this way, India’s security is indivisible from that of the US.

India’s importance in overall US strategy forced the world’s solitary super power to quickly forget the then Gujarat Chief Minister Modi’s alleged failure to halt Hindu led riots in the Indian state in 2002. Violence claimed the lives of about 1,000 Muslims. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) fronliner Modi held the CM post from 2001 to 2014 before leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory at parliamentary polls. Although, the US denied Modi a visa, in 2005, he was feted at the White House by former US President Barack Obama in June 2016. Modi was also invited to address a joint session of the Congress and also met business leaders. Importance of US-India relationship compelled them to settle the December 2013 arrest of an Indian consular official in New York under controversial circumstances. Although a vast section of the media called the incident the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries in nearly 15 years, they settled it swiftly.

Sri Lanka needs to examine global as well as regional development vis a vis bilateral relations with India, Japan el al. Obviously, Sri Lanka’s security needs/threats faced cannot be under any circumstances comparable with those of India. In fact, Modi’s assertion that security of India and Sri Lanka indivisible is certainly not acceptable to a vast majority of people. But, it would be of pivotal importance that Sri Lanka should always keep India’s security concerns in mind and does nothing to endanger their interests.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Kilinochchi demo, Mulliyaweli ‘incident’ and Wigneswaran’s comment on Swamy Premananda

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 168

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Former members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) recently launched an unprecedented campaign to discourage yahapalana government from handing over military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools in the Northern Province to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC).

Hundreds of ex- LTTE cadres demonstrated in former LTTE stronghold Kilinochchi, demanding that agricultural farms and pre-schools be kept under military supervision.

The military liberated Kilinochchi in early January 2009 following months long campaign involving several fighting formations.

The protest surely embarrassed the NPC administration hell-bent on restricting military activity.

Although, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been sharply divided over post-war policy, with Northern Province Chief Minister former Supreme Court judge C.V. Wigneswaran pursuing a strategy of his own, the grouping is working overtime to reduce the military presence in the Northern Province to the barest minimum.

The Colombo based foreign funded NGO community, too, has thrown its weight behind the TNA project for obvious reasons.

The TNA has never been successful in attracting former LTTE cadres to the grouping as they knew its despicable role during the war. The TNA steadfastly refused to at least urge the LTTE to give up human shields and let the fighting cadre to surrender to the Sri Lanka Army. Regardless of LTTE directives to fight to the last man and last woman, well over 10,000 surrendered to the Army, advancing on the Vanni east front.

Former LTTE cadres, both men and women, gathered at the Kilinochchi SLTB depot junction, on the Kandy-Jaffna A 9 road, on the morning of April 25, 2017. Carrying placards and chanting slogans, LTTE cadres went in procession from the depot junction to the Kilinochchi District Secretariat where they handed over a petition. They requested that they be allowed to serve as members of the Civil Defence Force (CDF) assigned to work at military managed agricultural farms and pre-schools.

Former LTTE combatants alleged that their livelihoods would be at stake if the NPC took over agricultural farms and pre-schools. They expressed concern that thousands of families would be affected and a major crisis caused due to mismanagement under NPC.

Since the conclusion of the war, in May 2009, the TNA, Western powers, the NGO community or the civil society, as they prefer to identify themselves, as well as the pro-LTTE Tamil Diaspora have been campaigning for the reduction of military presence in the Northern Province, restrict contact between the military and Northern population and propagate unsubstantiated war crimes allegations against the war-winning Army. The Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and Western embassies have repeatedly issued statements backing the TNA. But, obviously those who had fought for the LTTE believed in efficient military managed set up-regardless of the lies propagated by interested parties.

There had never been a demonstration in the Northern Province by former LTTE cadres demanding that they be managed by the military. In fact, the TNA never anticipated the previous Rajapaksa administration recruiting former LTTE members to the CDF. The then administration went out of its way to accommodate those who had fought against the government in accordance with its overall strategy to ensure lasting peace. That strategy thwarted TNA attempts to cause turmoil and use the defeated LTTE to cause political turmoil in the Northern Province. The TNA seemed to have believed that the defeated LTTE would accept its post-war strategy and agree to work, in unison, to undermine government rule in the Northern Province. Had the TNA succeeded it would have had a catastrophic effect on the Eastern Province and undermine post-war national reconciliation process.

The Kilinochchi protest dealt a devastating blow to those who had been propagating unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

Mulliyaweli incident

The military earned the respect of the former LTTE fighting cadre for efficient post-war rehabilitation project. The successful project paved the way for thousands of men and women to return to their families, within a couple of years, though, at the onset of the programme, interested parties alleged former LTTE personnel faced long term detention. The recent Kilinochchi protest proved in no uncertain terms that members of the defeated organizations had been treated humanely and they believed in the apparatus created by the military for their benefit.

The TNA obviously cannot stomach the former LTTE cadre having faith in the military.

Close on the heels of former LTTE cadres’ Kilinochchi protest, the TNA organized one day hartal, in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, demanding an explanation from yahapalana government regarding those reported missing during the war and post-conflict period. Some northern residents have launched protests at the behest of the TNA against disappearances. Colombo based The Hindu correspondent Meena Srinivasan quoted Wigneswaran as having said: "Protesters demonstrated for over 50 days. Out of sheer frustration, they have asked the public to support them by staging a hartal. We have obliged."

During April 27, 2017 hartal, still unidentified persons pelted troops carrying ‘Liberty’ bus with stones at Mulliyaweli at 7.30 pm. Off duty personnel were on their way from Vavuniya on the Kandy-Jaffna A9 road to Mullaitivu on the east coast. The government played down the incident though the Army confirmed the first such case since the conclusion of the war.

Yahapalana leaders refrained from commenting on TNA led hartal backed by an influential section of Muslim politicians.

In the run up to late April hartal, Wigneswaran took up the contentious issue of disappearances with President Maithripala Sirisena. Wigneswarn claimed that many missing persons were somewhere ascertainable thereby suggesting over two years after Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at January 2015 presidential poll, the government is running secret detention camps.

No less a person than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared that those who had been categorized as missing were either living overseas or killed fighting for the LTTE. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, too, has echoed Wickremesinghe on many occasions though interested parties, including a section of the media, propagate existence of secret detention camps.

For want of an efficient strategy, the previous government failed pathetically to counter lies. The Rajapaksa administration’s failure facilitated Western powers to haul Sri Lanka up before the UNHRC and then help oust Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 presidential poll.

The Joint Opposition, loyal to former President Rajapaksa, has failed to examine various developments taking place. The Kilinochchi demonstration and Mulliyaweli incident should be examined against the backdrop of the TNA split. The TNA has no option but to go all out against Wigneswaran publicly challenging the top party leadership.

TNA crisis deteriorates

Recently, the TNA ridiculed Wigneswaran over a statement he had made in respect of Sri Lankan child rapist Swamy Premananda who died at the age of 59 in an Indian prison in 2011. The TNA cleverly used Wigneswaran remarks to humiliate him and cause a rift between him and the Catholic community. Wigneswaran was ridiculed for allegedly comparing Premananda with Jesus. The TNA and an influential section of Tamil Diaspora targeted Wigneswaran though they remained silent when he intervened on behalf of Premananda’s accomplices in 2015.

Wigneswaran has requested Modi to release three life convicts in the sensational Swamy Premananda case. Sri Lankans namely Kamalananda, Balan alias Balendiran and Sathis alias Sathishkumar were convicted and sentenced along with Premananda for raping 13 Sri Lankan Tamil girls, including minors, and conspiring to murder an inmate in the godman’s ashram at Fathima Nagar near Trichy.

They were sentenced to double life imprisonment, and the punishment was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. While Premananda died in Cuddalore prison in 2011, the other three are in prison.

In his letter, Wigneswaran, said Kamalananda and the others were falsely implicated in the case. "Premananda’s ashram and its properties have to be maintained. No one is there to take care of them. Please immediately release them as they are innocent," Wignswaran said.

Premananda had set up the ashram in the 1980s at the onset of India backed terrorism campaign in Sri Lanka. In 1994, Premananda was charged with raping the 13 inmates. Horrific crime came to light after one of the girls escaped from the ashram. Another victim became pregnant and a DNA test established that Premananda was the culprit. On August 21, 1997, the then Pudukottai district and sessions court judge R Banumathi sentenced Premananda to double life imprisonment and a cumulative fine of Rs 66.4 lakh.

Controversy surrounds the interview conducted on April 14th, 2017 by a Tamil website called "Thinappuyal." When asked about the Chief Minister being a devotee of a convicted criminal by the courts, Wigneswaran has said Jesus Christ was convicted 2000 years ago but people were worshiping him now as God. The website has deleted extremely controversial section of the interview on Wigneswaran’s request as the latter obviously feared it would cause outrage among Catholics.

Many an eyebrow was raised over Wigneswaran comparing Premananda with Jesus as well as the TNA’s reaction. Instead choosing to remain silent, the TNA exploited Wigneswaran’s blunder to ruin the Chief Minister’s image. The TNA ensured Wigneswaran’s comments on Premananda received wide coverage in both print media and on the internet/social media. With Wigneswaran indicating he has absolutely no intention to be guided by the TNA and intended to deal with the government on his own, the TNA will go on the offensive. Wigneswaran is believed to have obtained an opportunity to meet President Maithripala Sirisena soon to discuss contentious issues.

Wigneswaran’s moves should be studied taking into consideration obvious battle between the TNA and UNP Minister D. M. Swaminathan over efforts to regain military held civilian property in the Northern Province.

Would it be possible for Wigneswaran to retain the support of TELO, PLOTE and EPRLF in the NPC? What would be the reaction of Western embassies seeking a consensus among all Tamil political parties and groups, both here and overseas, to secure maximum possible concessions from the government to the ongoing TNA vs Wigneswaran? The top TNA leadership would never have expected Wigneswaran to cause turmoil in the coalition in a bid to secure a bigger role at the time he was brought in as their Northern Province Chief Ministerial candidate.

There’ll be bigger and far worse intra-party battles as major TNA factions flex their muscles.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Post-war role for Lanka: A Japanese perspective

SPECIAL REPORT : Part 167

 

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

America’s longstanding strategic partner, Japan, is working overtime to induce Sri Lanka to their camp.

Japan and Sri Lanka reached an agreement, on ‘Comprehensive Partnership’, in Oct 2015, within months after the change of the Rajapaksa government perceived to be very close to China.

The change of government in January 2015, paved the way for the ‘Comprehensive Partnership’ and the growing US-Sri Lanka relationship. Japan underscored the relationship a with high profile naval squadron visit to Colombo in Oct last year with the media invited for the first time to visit the training squadron of the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF).

Having facilitated the ouster of war - winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, the Western camp has been engaged in a high profile campaign to ‘secure’ Sri Lanka. Visits undertaken by the then US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in May, 2015, and the US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, in August last year, underlined Sri Lanka’s strategic importance.

Japanese security expert Dr. Satoru Nagao recently speculated about Japan helping Sri Lanka to acquire Lockheed P-3C maritime surveillance aircraft. The First Lieutenant of the Japanese Army believes Sri Lanka can be a base for strategic maritime surveillance over the Indian Ocean.

Nagao, who is now Research Fellow at the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government - run Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), in his latest paper, titled ‘Japan can be the best partner for Sri Lanka and India.’ discussed Japanese assistance meant to strengthen Sri Lanka’s maritime capabilities.

India seeks US assessment

on H’tota port

In the wake of Nagao’s latest paper, the writer examined the Japanese expert’s contribution to INSS Defence Review 2017, titled ‘Changing US-China Power Balance and the Role of Japan-Sri Lanka-India Co-operation.’ Considered Sri Lanka’s only security think tank, INSS included Nagao’s piece in its first publication. Before discussing Nagao’s piece, it would be pertinent to examine the classified US diplomatic cable that dealt with US-India talks on the proposed China building of the Hambantota port. Thanks to Wikileaks, Sri Lanka is aware of the discussion in New Delhi, on the Hambantota port even before the construction of the inland port got underway, in January 2008. Sri Lanka and China inaugurated the first stage in Nov 2010.

Let me reproduce the relevant section of the US diplomatic cable that dealt with the April 26, 2007, meeting the New Delhi - based US diplomat had with the then Joint Secretary, at the External Affairs Ministry Mohan Kumar, presently India’s Ambassador to France. Having functioned as the Desk Officer in charge of the Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (1990-1992), Kumar received the appointment as Deputy High Commissioner, in Colombo, in late 2001. At the time Kumar had taken up the Hambantota port issue with the US as revealed in Wikileaks cable, he had been head of the division that handled relations with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Kumar has discussed the Indian navy stepping up patrols in the waters between India and Sri Lanka and expressing concern over Chinese involvement in the Hambantota port project. Kumar has also bitterly complained about Chinese taking advantage of the situation in Burma, at the expense India, and warned the US pressure on New Delhi to take up democracy and human rights issues with the Burmese military leadership facilitated the Chinese project there. The US diplomat quoted Kumar as having told him "We’re getting screwed on gas."

The following is the section on the Hambantota port: "The situation in Sri Lanka is "bad, really bad - beyond bleak" in Kumar’s judgment. Characterizing the government and the LTTE as two sets of people with scant regard for the international community, Kumar was sceptical that political progress could be achieved anytime soon. He confirmed reports that the Indian Navy has stepped up patrols in the Palk Strait, and said that India and Sri Lanka are doing coordinated patrolling to prevent the smuggling of weapons from the Tamil Nadu coast. Kumar said it would be helpful to get the American assessment of the port being built in Hambantota, which he estimated China was willing to spend $500 million to help develop. He noted that China has increased its influence with President Rajapaksa, opining that Rajapaksa had a "soft spot" for China following his visit to Beijing on March 9."

At the time of the New Delhi discussion, the Sri Lankan military had been battling the LTTE in the Eastern Province and was engaged in building up fighting formations to launch the Vanni offensive. An outright battlefield victory over the LTTE seemed very unlikely at that time with the Divisions based in the Jaffna peninsula unable to overcome the LTTE northern front-line.

The construction of the Hambantota port commenced in January 2008 amidst fierce fighting on the Vanni front. Even then, the LTTE retained formidable fighting capacity in spite of the US providing required intelligence to Sri Lanka to hunt down four LTTE floating arsenals in international waters. US intelligence certainly helped Sri Lanka to change the course of the war though subsequently the world’s solitary super power went out of its way to oust the war-winning President.

Western project fails to

thwart Chinese

Having failed to oust Rajapaksa, at the January 2010, presidential polls, in spite of ensuring the Tamil National Alliance support to Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Western powers and their allies, including India, succeeded at the January 2015, presidential poll. However, they appeared to have failed to thwart major Chinese projects here. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has been compelled to defend and praise Chinese projects after having flayed China in the run up to the presidential and general elections, in January and August, 2015, respectively. Interestingly, the Chinese made an abortive bid to win over former President Rajapaksa’s support for its Hambantota project. Although, Rajapaksa, accompanied by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris, recently visited Beijing, where they discussed the impending agreement, they failed to reach consensus with Rajapaksa declaring that he would extend his support only if China and yahapalana government followed the original agreement on Hambantota.

Sri Lanka in turmoil

Today, Sri Lanka is in turmoil over proposed agreements with India and China on the ports of Trincomalee and Hambantota, respectively. The UNP-SLFP coalition is sharply divided over the agreements with one time Petroleum Minister Susil Premjayantha flaying India over her bid to secure vital land in Trincomalee. Subsequently, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa threw his weight behind Minister Premjayantha whose candid assessment raised many an eyebrow. Minister Premjayantha has alleged that India was hell bent on acquiring Trincomalee land through the acquisition of Trincomalee oil tank farm.

Regardless of President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent assurance that he wouldn’t do anything inimical to Sri Lanka’s interest, obviously, petroleum sector trade unions, affiliated to various political parties, including the UNP, seemed to be sceptical about President Sirisena’s assurance. Over the last weekend, they threatened to bring the country to a standstill unless the ruling coalition abandoned the proposed agreement on Trincomalee harbour with India. Petroleum sector workers disrupted supplies on Monday resulting in chaos. They returned to work Monday night after having received an assurance from Premier Wickremesinghe that the Trincomalee oil tank farm wouldn’t be handed over to India. Premier Wickremesinghe yesterday left for India.

Premier Wickremesinghe seems to be determined to go ahead with both Hambantota and Trincomalee projects in spite of growing opposition. Wickremesinghe is of the opinion that both projects are equally important to Sri Lanka. Wickremesinghe subscribes to the opinion that the agreement with India is of crucial importance in the wake of China-Sri Lanka deal on Hambantota.

Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has alleged Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval called for the cancellation of USD 1.4 bn Chinese flagship project, the Colombo Port City. In addition to that demand which Rajapaksa said was very unfair; India demanded that Sri Lanka take over Colombo International Container Terminals Limited (CICT), a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CMPH) and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

CMPH holds 85% of the partnership whilst the balance 15% is being held by SLPA.

Rajapaksa quoted Doval as having told him that India wanted all Chinese funded infrastructure projects stopped and for Sri Lanka to have full control of the Hambantota port. Rajapaksa quoted Doval as having said: "Sri Lanka is a small country; you don’t need such development projects."

Nagao’s comment on co-operation among Japan, India and Sri Lanka should be examined against the backdrop of US building up an alliance to counter China. Obviously, Nagao is promoting Japanese policy in respect of Sri Lanka in an environment Colombo can be part of the US led grouping. The proposal to use Sri Lanka as a base for strategic maritime surveillance over the Indian Ocean has been made in the wake of US-India agreement to enable US forces to utilize Indian bases and vice versa. India recently signed Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Understanding (LEMOA) with US. The agreement irked some though it certainly served India’s strategic objectives and the inclusion of Japan in Malabar naval exercise in 2015 is evidence of US project meant to form a strong military alliance to meet the Chinese challenge.

Growing relationship between India and Vietnam, too, should be taken into consideration when the US project is analysed.

Nagao on New Delhi’s intentions

The Japanese expert has alleged that India intervened in Sri Lanka in the 80s to thwart the US from using Sri Lanka as a base. While emphasizing Sri Lanka’s strategic importance in relation to security in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, Nagao assented that India deployed its Army in northern and eastern districts of Sri Lanka because New Delhi dreaded the likelihood of the US using Sri Lanka as a naval base at that time. Indian High Commissioner in Colombo at the time of military intervention here, J.N. Dixit, in his memoirs "Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’ discussed the circumstances leading to destabilization of Sri Lanka.

Dixit said that India’s motivations and actions vis-a-vis Sri Lanka should be analysed taking into consideration the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment between 1980 and1984. Dixit justified Indian project in Sri Lanka while blaming the US and Pakistan for exploiting the situation to cause a rift between Sri Lanka and India at that time. Dixit stated: "The rise of Tamil militancy in Sri Lanka and the Jayewardene government’s serious apprehensions about this development were utilised by the US and Pakistan to create a politico-strategic pressure point in India in the island nation."

Surely, Nagao cannot be unaware that India destabilized Sri Lanka to pave the way for the deployment of its Army. India swiftly deployed troops after having forced Sri Lanka to halt a large scale military operation in early 1987 wipe out the LTTE. Had Nagao bothered to peruse Dixit’s chapter on Sri Lanka ‘An Indo-centric Practitioner of Realpolitik’, he would realize that Cold War era strategic decision making India had another reason to cause terrorism in Sri Lanka. Alleging that Indian intervention in Sri Lanka had been one of the two major foreign policy blunders of Indian Premier India Gandhi, Dixit said that she had feared emergence of Tamil separatism in India if New Delhi refused to throw its weight behind Sri Lankan Tamils.

India ended up losing over 1,500 officers and men during Indian Army deployment here. In May 1991, over a year after Indian Army pulled out from Sri Lanka, a Tamil female suicide bomber blew up one-time Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009. China remained a major weapons supplier to successive Sri Lankan governments throughout the war. In the post-war era, China strongly defended Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) whereas the US and India targeted Sri Lanka. Japan and South Korea had no option but to refrain from siding with Sri Lanka owing to their strategic partnership with the US.

Today, India is working closely with the US in a bid to counter Chinese challenge. Both India, Japan as well as South Korea depend on US military might to counter China whereas the US, too, heavily depend on partners support in case of an emergency. Obviously, the long term objective of the US-led grouping is to deprive China of the opportunity to build up a lasting partnership with Sri Lanka and also to bring Colombo under its sphere of influence. Western powers as well as yahapalana leaders appeared to have underestimated China’s determination to secure an agreement on the Hambantota port. Had the Chinese not been so unfair in seeking totally a one-sided agreement, they could have easily concluded negotiations. The Chinese appeared to have jeopardized the entire project by seeking an arrangement at Sri Lanka’s expense, thereby creating an extremely hostile environment to Hambantota project.

Nagao has strongly underscored the importance of Japan, India and Sri Lanka partnership in the security domain. The bottom line is that Nagao wants Sri Lanka to be a member of US led alliance at Sri Lanka’s expense. Interestingly, the Japanese expert has used Sri Lankan government run project to promote closer cooperation among Japan, India and Sri Lanka to counter China.

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has been plunged into crisis over the Hambantota and Trincomalee projects. With consensus among various stakeholders unlikely, the Joint Opposition is expected to exploit situation to its advantage ahead of May Day. The government, grappling with the unprecedented crisis caused by deaths of nearly 50 men, women and children due to the collapse of Meethotamulla garbage dump, displacement of families and subsequent protests against disposal of Colombo garbage in areas outside Colombo City limits is now in chaos. The coalition seemed to be incapable of responding rationally to plethora of issues ranging from daylight robbery at the Central Bank at the onset of President Maithripala Sirisena’s 100-day programme to disposal of garbage.