Indian interventions in Sri Lanka

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Sultan M Hali

INDIA has tried to interfere in the affairs of every neighbour and create instability to prove its supremacy. Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka; all have suffered due to Indian illusions of grandeur. Pakistan, of course is reserved for special treatment, because India never forgave Pakistan for breaking away from “mother India”.
As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the inhabitants of the Indian State of Tamil Nadu identify with the Sri Lankan Tamils who comprise 18 percent of Sri Lanka and are considered a minority. Sri Lanka was embroiled in a Civil War which commenced on July 23, 1983. It comprised an intermittent insurgency against the Sri Lankan government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the “Tamil Tigers”, which fought to create an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island. After a 26-year military campaign, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Tamil Tigers in May 2009, bringing the civil war to an end.
It is believed that during the process of the breakup of East Pakistan, India staged the drama of hijacking its own passenger aircraft in January 1971 and landing it at Lahore before setting it on fire. Blaming Pakistan for the air piracy, India used it as an excuse to stop the over-flight of Pakistani military and civil aircraft over Indian airspace to block logistic support of East Pakistan from the West. Sri Lanka stepped in to permit landing rights for Pakistani aircraft to maintain the air-link between the two wings of Pakistan. After creation of Bangladesh, Indira Gandhi directed its spy agency RAW to take punitive action against Sri Lanka. RAW provided arms, training and monetary support to six Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups including LTTE.
India became more actively involved in the late 1980s, and on June 05, 1987 the Indian Air Force airdropped food parcels as well as weapons to Jaffna while it was under siege by Sri Lankan forces. At a time when the Sri Lankan government stated it was close to defeating the LTTE, India dropped 25 tons of food and medicine by parachute into areas held by the LTTE in a direct move of support to the rebels.
Indian interference was renewed under the watch of Narendra Modi, who was especially suspicious of Chinese investments in Sri Lanka. China had already completed the maritime port of Hambantota and was poised for further investments, when India interfered in the Sri Lankan elections and blocked the re-election of pro-Chinese Rajapaksa. Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Sri Lanka and in a bid to counter Chinese influence, especially Sri Lankan participation in the Maritime Silk Route coerced the new Sri Lankan government to suspend China’s US$ 1.4 billion Colombo Port project that broke ground during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the island.
India is also trying to block Chinese and Pakistani military hardware exports to Sri Lanka. Modi tends to gloss over India’s foray into military aviation exports, which have been plagued by missteps, shortfalls in support and poor communications. Dhruv helicopters supplied to Ecuador were withdrawn from use after a number of crashes and poor spares support from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Sale of Chetaks to Suriname was plagued by poor contract management and “financial and administrative obstacles”, which led to helicopters being ready long before pilots were ready to be trained, leading to a delay in delivery of helicopters.
Pakistan was on the verge of finalising the sale of JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft to the highly depleted Sri Lankan Air Force but once again Modi prevailed through an aggressive counter offer of its obsolete even before they entered service, Light Combat Aircraft Tejas. Indian Tamil are being infiltrated as visitors and refugees and being provided with Sri Lankan passports with the help of Indian Consulate General, Jaffna. Reportedly, an amount of $6,000/- is paid to Sri Lankan authorities for obtaining Sri Lankan Identity Card and passport.
A pro-Indian member of Sri Lankan parliament is supporting installation of statues of Indian/ Hindu dignitaries including Mahatma Gandhi. According to media reports, a statue of Mr. Gandhi was installed in the North which was later knocked down by unknown persons. The incident reflects the tense situation prevailing in the area as a result of ethnic conflict. Indian government is asking the Sri Lankan government to develop and maintain the Palaly Airport, Jaffna (Northern Province) to strengthen the links between Tamil population of Jaffna and Tamil Nadu. The feasibility study of the same was already conducted by an Indian company about six months back, however, the construction work did not commence. Sri Lankan government is still indecisive since the airport houses Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) run facilities and is used for military flights. Continued Indian intervention in Sri Lanka will only antagonize the island state and isolate India.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.
Email: sm_hali@yahoo.com

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