two-faced two-tongued policy of blowing hot and cold on its willingness
to supply Sri Lanka’s military needs, while expressing displeasure at
Sri Lanka going ‘elsewhere’ for same, is a political ill wind that blows
nobody in the region any good, least of all for India
It was only in the first week of March that Sri Lanka’s Military
establishment was all agog over Indian pledges of support to Army
Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, to help defeat the LTTE. The Army
Chief met Defence Minister A.K. Anthony, Defence Secretary Vijay Singh,
the three service chiefs and, of course, National Security Advisor M.K.
In the last week of March, Narayanan switched back to New Delhi’s old
fears, claiming “We are living in a dangerous neighbourhood,” adding
that, on the security of India, “National consensus is more elusive
today than in the past.”
He took digs at Pakistan and China and at Sri Lanka for going to these
very two countries for military purchases, including artillery and
Midweek, Narayanan voiced displeasure over Sri Lanka’s procurement of
arms from Pakistan and that this would “compromise” India’s pre-eminent
position in the region.
“We have to ensure that India’s pre-eminent position in the region is
not compromised by Sri Lanka seeking arms elsewhere,” said Narayanan,
after Sri Lanka admitted almost a month back, that it was procuring arms
from Pakistan, as India had politely turned down the request, even
though it was approached first.
who said Pakistan’s military strategy was India-centric and that the ISI
continued to “mentor terror groups,” expressed concern over China and
Pakistan sharing military technologies in the “nuclear and missile
areas”, and China augmenting its space capabilities and modernising its
“We need to evolve a national consensus on whether China is a threat or
a neighbour. We confront challenges rather than threats from China, but
the situation is reversed in Pakistan. Unfortunately, national consensus
is more elusive today than in the past, even though we are living in a
dangerous neighbourhood,” Narayanan added.
It was only in mid-March that this columnist pointed out that India
appears to be maturing and turning out to be a true regional leader in
South Asia, and preparing to take up a permanent seat in the United
Nation’s National Security Council.
After a chill in relations with Russia, India went out of its way to
patch up relations, as the support of permanent members of the Security
Council was important to New Delhi. India also needed the support of
China and the USA, with which it has been having growing relations.
Narayanan took the opportunity to castigate the Left parties, which are
constituents of the UPA, for their opposition to the civilian nuclear
deal with the US, saying the opposition was for other motives and not
related to nuclear weapons proliferation.
He listed the need for national consensus on at least three main issues,
namely, civilian nuclear deal with US, whether China is threat or
neighbour and on how much military assistance to be given to Sri Lanka
or whether pressure needs to be exerted for a political solution. He
demanded that the minority Tamil community in Sri Lanka be treated with
“The absence of a consensus is a major handicap. We need a resolution to
this earlier rather than later,” Narayanan said. In mid-March, this
column pointed out how India was ready to bury the hatchet and look
towards becoming the giant it is expected to become, while, of course,
retaining its pre-eminent position in the region.
India received Sri Lanka’s army chief slap bang after an official visit
by the Bangladeshi army chief. We went on to detail the positive
relations India was having with China, including signing of several
agreements during a landmark visit by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan
Singh, who also sought good relations with the newly elected leadership
All these adulations and praises were neutralized and negated when
Narayanan, midweek, directed jabs at all the regional players, during a
lecture, significantly, given to the country’s top military brass in the
National Security Assembly (NSA). He was delivering the 25th Air Chief
Marshal P.C. Lal memorial lecture, significantly, on National Security
and Building a Consensus for the 21st Century.
To dismiss these statements, coming as it did, from the national
security advisor to the prime minister, as not part of Indian policy,
may be unwise. Unlike Sri Lanka, which perhaps looks at national
security as a partisan issue, India considers it a national issue,
irrespective of the party in office. There may not be consensus across
the political spectrum, but certainly, national security is considered
an important issue by one and all.
On the face of it, Narayanan appears to be putting a spanner in Sri
Lanka’s military pursuits, and this appears to be the understanding
among mid-career senior officers of the army. But, a senior official
within the establishment, was not unduly disturbed by this statement.
“What they say is not policy, we must judge the country by what it
does,” said the Defence official on condition of anonymity. In fact, the
real motive of this statement may have been to justify the process of
providing offensive weapons to Sri Lanka.
The Defence Official may, however, not be conversant with the latest
political happenings across the Palk Strait. Also, he may be reminded
that in 2003, India was all set to sign a Defence Pact with Sri Lanka
and, in fact, mooted one and stated it very clearly during a joint
statement between Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) leader and Prime
Minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
But, the Defence Pact never materialized during the tenure of the BJP
government nor in the UPA government that came to power the following
New Delhi, irrespective of who is in power, may not be supportive of the
LTTE, but it is certainly for a political solution to the ethnic
conflict in Sri Lanka and, as Narayanan pointed out that, the Tamil
community must be treated with dignity.
This will be a lingering issue in New Delhi, as it knows that harsh
treatment of Tamils has a spillover effect in Tamil Nadu in respect of
refugees. The Centre has always wanted to keep the state of Tamil Nadu
happy, and this is more so, when the ruling party there is a constituent
party of the Centre.
Narayanan’s latest provocative statement on Sri Lanka, may be an attempt
by the ruling Congress to appease some of its constituent parties, while
the call for consensus on the civilian nuclear deal with US, may be to
get the Marxist parties opposed to it, on board, while the jab on
Pakistan may be to offset any advantage the Congress party’s rival could
Since a clear majority by any single party is being already ruled out,
the Congress party would like to keep its constituent parties on board,
perhaps to contest as a group or form a coalition after the hustings. So
far, the Congress party has not responded to the Nationalist Congress
Party President Sharad Pawar’s proposal.
If we are to take Narayanan on face value, one possible explanation is
that he may be responding to the recent political developments in India
and the call by Union Minister Sharad Pawar for the ruling United
Progressive Alliance, as a collective entity, to contest the Lok Sabha
elections to be held possibly in the latter part of this year or the
first quarter of next year.
Elections or no elections, Narayanan, in the not too distant past, after
meeting Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and pledging support,
attacked Sri Lanka’s military pursuits even before the sibling of
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the commander in chief of the armed
services could arrive in Sri Lanka.
Narayanan, after meeting Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, had
said that India is a big power in the region, and Sri Lanka should not
approach Pakistan and China for weapon purchases. He has also said that
Sri Lanka can approach New Delhi for this requirement, but added that
India will not equip Sri Lanka with “offensive capability.”
This statement evoked anti-Indian feelings among patriotic Sri Lankans,
mainly, the Sinhala nationalists. But, this could very well be an
attempt to appease the constituent parties, so that others may not
capitalize on it.
But, this time, when Defence Secretary Rajapaksa and Army Chief General
Fonseka visited India, the treatment by Narayanan and others were
different. Indian military chiefs expressed the view that New Delhi
wanted the Sri Lankan Army to maintain the upper hand over the LTTE.
Narayanan, who also met Fonseka and later Minister Douglas Devananda,
was quite categorical: “India would play a major role in Sri Lanka’s
efforts to solve the problems it is up against.”
Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, too, announced that India helps
Sri Lanka contain terrorism.
General Fonseka pledged to defeat the LTTE at the earliest, but rightly
did not give deadlines for the annihilation of the Tigers. Only
recently, he was forced to extend a previous deadline given by him.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is politically quite savvy, knows his
government’s clock is ticking and not just India, in Sri Lanka, too,
there would be general elections. He has the choice to wait till the
government’s full term ends and run the risk of losing the polls on
account of the anti-incumbency factor.
He could dissolve Parliament and call for snap polls to gain a political
advantage over military achievement so far. But, besides the east, the
military has failed to deliver the goods in the Wanni and the north in
terms of securing territory. But, the Army, Navy and Air Force have
separately inflicted damage on the LTTE in their lair.
“It takes time for the effects of these operations to manifest on the
LTTE organisation,” said a senior military officer.
In a couple of days, the first anniversary of President Rajapaksa’s
audience with Pope Benedict XVI will come up. It was on the sidelines of
this meeting that inquiry was made of the status of Madhu. The President
has said at many for a, he wanted the security forces to wrest control
of Madhu, so that he could enable the Catholic population in the South,
as well as in the north for that matter, to visit the holy shrine
without fear. But, that has not happened as yet, despite the operations
commencing 14 months ago.
Unusual torrential rains lashed Madhu and the rest of Mannar, slowing
down military advancement, despite the goal being so close and yet so
No change has been made across the 12 km northern
Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil axis in terms of land control, despite
attempts by both sides from August 2006, to capture territory. Rains
saved the day for the Tigers in the north as well, even as the
Mechanized Infantry Regiment was raring to go. The Tigers have dug
trenches to stall the advancement of the vehicles.
The weather is no longer predictable- the Northeast and Southwest
monsoons are irregular and operations are affected as a result.
But, all these explanations cannot be proffered at the polls, as the
masses have given this government a mandate and expect it to deliver the
goods. The cost of living has skyrocketed, but the people are ready to
grin and bear with the hope that terrorism will be crushed. But, time is
running out and what guarantee does President Rajapaksa have in the
security forces wresting control of the Wanni, Weli Oya and northern
fronts, to reach Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, before the end of this
It was in this backdrop that President Rajapaksa summoned Friday’s
National Security Council (NSC) meeting. In addition to Defence
Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the three service chiefs, all the top
commanders of all forces in the Northern and Wanni fronts, were asked to
brief him on the operations so far and the hurdles they are up against.
Previously, it was only the service chiefs who briefed the Commander in
Chief of the armed services at the NSC.
Security Forces Commanders are actually Co-Commanders of the Army. SF
Commander Jaffna, Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri was present while SF
Commander Wanni was a notable absentee. Divisional Commanders, GOC 57
Division Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias, GOC 58 Division Brig. Shavindra Silva
and GOC 59 Division Brig. Nandana Uduwatte represented the army. The
Navy was represented by Com North and Com East, Rear Admirals
Samarasinghe and Peiris respectively.