Terrorism and Insurgency –– India's Options in Sri Lanka

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 21 November 2006  


India is trying to talk to Pakistan, ULFA and the Nagas to quell insurgency and terorism. The MEA and Home Ministry, under two dynamic Secretaries, who are considered 'know it alls' with their past experience and with deep selection, seem to have sidelined the Army in most negotiations, if the media is to be believed. Maybe they are right –– the Army needs to be apolitical and can sacrifice. India's army is so loyal as seen in ACM Tipnis's article, that it felt it had no need to question even militarily wrong decisions –– as long as the Services’ brass get their goodies and foreign trips, the larger part of Governance is not considered their domain.

The ULFA are playing games. Gen Rodrigues as COAS had said good governance is also the Army's concern and he was roasted over the coals for it, though now he has been resurrected as a Governor, because he like the late Gen Bhagat knows how to govern. The Army Generals of India and Pakistan need to be brought into the act as they count, but MEA will never allow that. The Navy should be involved in the Sri Lanka imbroglio and all these issues should be on the NSA's plate in the PMO, who has the hindsight of 40 years of involvement in regional Intelligence and has either written or read every UO Intelligence note.

But we should know that no Intelligence set up has ever solved larger issues, as the Intelligence arm is only a tool and has vested and monetary interests and needs to be guided by higher policy. The region is not peaceful and Indian diplomacy has been kept busy with peripherals. No decision is also a decision, as was taught by Narasimha Rao –– but in those days we were not a nuclear power or such a robust economy. We had only $1 bill in FFE and inflation was 12%. Today we have $170 bill in FFE 5.4% inflation, some more billions stashed away abroad by Indians (arms dealers included) and billions with NRIs wanting to come back. So regional stability is of great importance and we have be decisive.

We had been closely following the clashes in Sri Lanka, especially the naval battle in the South India seas –– the Sri Lankan Government forces have the upper hand over the LTTE for the time being and are being ruthless. That is good if Prabhakaran gives up his terms for Federalism and drops the demand for Tamil Eelam.  PM Manmohan Singh had warned PM Mahinda Rajapakse and his government that the Tamils were being overly persecuted, though he has never asked Prabhakaran or the LTTE what type of federalism they want. Hence the confusion with India, to say on one hand they want a federal Sri Lanka but not knowing how to go about it. This is what perplexes the Sri Lakans. The following piece by B Raman needs reading too.

Others strategists like Tamil leader Vaiko would like to see Sri Lanka break into two like the creation of Bangladesh and Mrs Gandhi had made contingency plans. Many say that Rajiv Gandhi had innocently promised this to Prabhakaran, when they met one to one in South Block in 1987. At that time Rajiv was a novice trying to get Prabhakaran on his side, as Bofors had blown and he wanted a diversion and wanted to rush to Colombo –– where TN Seshan saved his life when a sailor (mark you it was a sailor) tried to kill him with a rifle butt. That is why they say the LTTE killed him because they say he went back on his word. This is corroborated by many Sri Lankans too.

Today the Sri Lankan army is feeling lucky and is better armed. In the East the LTTE's best commander Karuna broke away, and we learn he is siding with the Sri Lankan Government. They are using him like India used the mukhti bahini. The GOI is being pressed to give no help to Sri Lanka and India threatened to take back the radars BEL supplied to Sri Lanka. This is the way USA behaves, so very interesting times lie ahead for the region and India will have to act if the repression continues and refugees keep come to Tamil Nadu. In the meantime the clever Sri Lankans have opened the Jaffna Road route to pacify the rebels and let goods pass. We feel India’s actions will be dictated by DMK and Karunanidhi, a sharp and astute Tamil politician. India's Sri Lanka policy will be crafted from Chennai and its needs to be done soon, if the Sri Lankan Government continues to suppress the LTTE.

Mr B Raman has different views and so we will watch as India enjoys Hu Jintao's visit to India and Pakistan and the nuclear deal goes into the final boxing ring. China has interests in Sri Lanka as it has ambitions in Humbantota port.


International Terrorism Monitor –– 03. 11. 2006

Sri Lanka: Playing Into Hands Of LTTE

By B. Raman

1. India has been facing the problem of ideological terrorism from left-wing extremists almost since it became independent in 1947. This terrorism has gone through various mutations and continues to intensify and spread. It is threatening to become the second major internal security problem, after jihadi terrorism. The Prime Minister has held a number of strategy sessions with senior police officers and internal security experts on how to deal with it. Not one of those, who participated, suggested that we use the Air Force or heavy artillery against the terrorists and insurgents.

2. India has been facing the problem of tribal insurgency in its North-East since 1956. The Government has been trying to deal with it at two levels –– political and operational. Mizoram was a success story for India's counter-insurgency managers. In Nagaland, there has been a cease-fire for nearly 10 years and a political dialogue to find a solution has been going on. The Prime Minister periodically holds strategy sessions with his advisers on how to deal with jihadi terrorism. Not one of those, who participated, suggested that we use the Air Force or heavy artillery.

3. India has been facing the problem of jihadi terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir and outside since 1989. Thousands of innocent civilians –– Hindus and Muslims –– have been killed by the terrorists, who are showing signs of being inspired by the pan-Islamic ideology of Al Qaeda. The Prime Minister periodically holds strategy sessions with his advisers on how to deal with jihadi terrorism. Not one of those, who participated, suggested that we use the Air Force or heavy artillery.

4. Even in the unlikely event of our professionals suggesting the use of the Air Force or heavy artillery against the insurgents and terrorists, the Indian political leadership is unlikely to accept it.

5. There are some instances in the world of the Air Force and the heavy artillery being used in counter-terrorism operations –– the US in Iraq, the NATO forces in Afghanistan, Israel in the Lebanon, Pakistan in Balochistan and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Sri Lanka in the Tamil-inhabited Northern and Eastern Provinces. The US, the NATO forces and Israel used or have been using their Air Force and heavy artillery against foreign terrorists in foreign territory.

6. The Government of Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse in Sri Lanka has the dubious distinction of sharing with the Government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan the odium of using the Air Force and heavy artillery in its own territory against its own citizens. In the early 1970s, the Government of the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto used its Air Force ruthlessly to mow down the Baluchis, who asked for greater autonomy. Since December last year, the Government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf has once again being using its Air Force against the Baluchis in order to crush their movement for autonomy or independence. Hundreds of innocent Baluchi civilians have been killed. Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, the legendary Baloch nationalist leader, was mowed down in his hide-out in August last by a decapitation strike of the Pakistan Air Force. On October 30, 2006, the Pakistan Air Force blew up a madrasa in the Bajaur Agency of the FATA, killing 80 of its 83 students, 15 of them below 10 years of age and the majority of the remaining between 10 and 20 years of age. The world has been shocked and many human rights organisations, including the Human Rights Watch of the US, have demanded an independent enquiry into the air strike.

7. Even as the Pakistan Air Force has been ruthlessly mowing down the Balochs and the tribals, the Sri Lankan Air Force –– inspired more by the Pakistani than the Indian model of dealing with internal security problems –– has resumed its punitive air strikes in the Eastern and Northern Provinces. Even though the Sri Lankan Government claims that its planes attack only military targets, its air strikes are more punitive in order to intimidate the Tamil population into not supporting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The working of a hospital in the Kilinochi area in the North has been affected by bombs being dropped by the SLAF in its neighbourhood. The Sri Lankan authorities –– as they always do –- have claimed that their planes were attacking military targets located near the hospital.

8. The punitive, intimidatory air strikes had been suspended for a few days after the Government and the LTTE had agreed to hold peace talks in Geneva on October 28 and 29, 2006. As expected, the talks failed to achieve a de-escalation of the fighting in Sri Lanka –– with the Government refusing to accept the LTTE's contention that the humanitarian issues such as the re-opening of the A-9 Highway connecting the Jaffna area with the rest of the country should be tackled first and with the LTTE refusing to accept the Government's insistence on a time-bound discussion on substantive political issues before there could be de-escalation.

9. After the failure of the peace talks to break the deadlock, the Sri Lankan Air Force lost no time in resuming its intimidatory air strikes. The hardliners advising Mr. Rajapakse seem to feel that despite the set-backs suffered by the security forces after October 11 at the hands of the LTTE, the Armed Forces still have the upper hand and they can force the LTTE to accept their terms for a dictated peace if they kept up the military offensive, including the punitive air strikes.

10. The Government of Mr. Rajapakse, his advisers and the Armed Forces do not seem to apprehend or realise that the methods used by them –– the like of which have been used only by Pakistan in the then East Pakistan before 1971 and in Balochistan now –– could end up by creating an irreparable divide between the Sinhalese and the Tamils and lessen the prospects of the two communities living together in the same united country.

11. Let there be no doubt about it. The LTTE uses ruthless methods. Its present leadership brutally killed Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. It has been justifiably declared as a terrorist organisation by India, the US and the European Union countries. Its Navy poses a threat not only to the security of Sri Lanka, but also to that of India and this region as a whole. It should never be allowed to retain its Navy in any peace settlement. Its reported efforts to acquire an Air Force should be thwarted. The Sri Lankan Government has every right to act firmly against the LTTE and safeguard the unity and territorial integrity of the country. But in doing so, it should take care that the methods used by it do not degenerate to the depths of the methods used by the LTTE.

12. One of the most important principles of counter-terrorism is that the State should maintain a moral high ground even while dealing with terrorists. If it loses it, it becomes no different from the terrorists. Some of the methods being used by the Rajapakse Government run the risk of playing into the hands of the LTTE.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-Mail:

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