India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

India, Pakistan and the Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2006 (ID. 2006-06-02)
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1. Sri Lanka to Buy Weapons from Pakistan

2. Sri Lanka does Nothing without Indian Permission

3. Why India does not Object to Pakistani Weapons to Sri Lanka?

4. What Happened in 2000?


ACSA - Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement

BJP - Bharatiya Janata Party

LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

MBRL - Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher

OPV - Offshore patrol vessel

USA - United States of America

1. Sri Lanka to Buy Weapons from Pakistan

There is a war going on between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighting to protect the interests of the discriminated Tamil  minority. At the time of this writing (May 2006), there is a ceasefire between the warring parties but both sides seem to be preparing for the next round of battles.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Pakistan in March-April 2006. He took with him a 80-member delegation that included military officials. There were press reports both in India and Sri Lanka that Sri Lanka was seeking multi-barrel rocket launchers (MBRLs) and other "advanced"  weapons from Pakistan. There were also a few reports in the Indian press that India was angry at Sri Lanka seeking military assistance from its archenemy. Some predicted that India might now make a U-turn and start assisting the LTTE. Some Sri Lankan Tamil publications as well as some Tamil leaders expressed the hope that now India would support the Tamil minority.

This writer, who is from Tamilnadu, is of the opinion that there is no merit to the suggestions that India was angered by Sri Lanka buying weapons from Pakistan or that India would help LTTE out of that anger. This writer is one hundred percent certain that the Sri Lankan government sought weapons from Pakistan only after receiving India's permission.

2. Sri Lanka does Nothing without Indian Permission

From, at the latest, the mid 1990s, Sri Lankan government does not do anything relating to the ethnic conflict without first getting a green signal from India. Sri Lankan government is so afraid that India might again arm, train and shelter Tamil fighters (as it did between 1983 and 1987), that it gets Indian government permission before making any move relating to the ethnic conflict. Sri Lankan President, Prime Minister and cabinet ministers visit Indian capital New Delhi so often that they are visiting New Delhi more often than the Indian state chief ministers and ministers. During the negotiations that led to the 2002 ceasefire agreement, top Sri Lankan officials including the president visited New Delhi and, according to news reports, took into consideration certain Indian objections about the originally proposed composition of the international ceasefire-monitoring mission. Once the ceasefire agreement was signed and peace talks started, Sri Lankan ministers and/or Norwegian diplomats facilitating the talks visited New Delhi after every talk to appraise India of the situation.

Sri Lankan government negotiated the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with United States of America (USA) in 2002. In exchange for Sri Lanka allowing USA to utilize Sri Lanka's ports, airports and airspace for transit, servicing and repair, Sri Lanka would get additional military training and equipment from America. ( ) Sri Lankan newspapers reported that the agreement would be signed during Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's visit to America in  July 2002. Sri Lanka might have thought that India may not object to a rather low-level agreement with the sole super power, especially in view of the closer relationship developing between India and America. But India conveyed to Sri Lanka its displeasure over the agreement and the agreement was never signed. India does not want American military vessels or aircraft passing through its southern neighbor (even though America issued a statement that it has no intention of establishing military bases in Sri Lanka).

It is inconceivable that Sri Lanka would buy weapons from India's life-long enemy Pakistan without India's approval. 

3. Why India does not Object to Pakistani Weapons to Sri Lanka?

Why would India agree to its southern neighbor getting military assistance from its lifelong enemy Pakistan? Indian rulers are dead-set against Sri Lankan Tamil minority getting meaningful autonomy or devolution or independence [Reference 1]. It would do everything and anything to prevent it.

Then why not supply Sri Lanka the weapons it is seeking instead of allowing it to get them from Pakistan? The answer lies in India's internal political equations. For over a decade, Indian government is formed by a coalition of parties; no single party is able to get a parliamentary majority to form the government on its own. So the Hindi-belt centered national parties (such as the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)) had to ally with regional Tamil Nadu parties to form a coalition government. If India were to sell weapons like MBRLs and these weapons were to cause large-scale Tamil civilian casualties in Sri Lanka, Tamil public in Tamil Nadu could react negatively and major street demonstrations could take place. Then the regional Tamil Nadu parties would have no alternative but to withdraw support to the coalition government. That is the reason for Indian government hesitation to supply MBRLs to Sri Lanka and rather allow Sri Lanka to get them from Pakistan.

4. What Happened in 2000?

It is not the first time that Sri Lanka purchased MBRLs from Pakistan without any negative reaction from India. That was in Year 2000. An LTTE offensive code-named Operation Oyatha Alaikal (Operation Ceaseless Waves) overran Sri Lankan military positions one after another in the north, captured the Elephant Pass Base and entered Jaffna. Fearing that LTTE would rout the tens of thousands of Sri Lankan troops stationed in Jaffna, Sri Lanka sought MBRLs from Pakistan and obtained them. According to Jane's Intelligence Digest, published in Britain, weapons and ammunition, including artillery shells and multi-barrel rocket launchers, were airlifted in an emergency operation from Karachi to Colombo in May with New Delhi's cooperation. (Karachi is a major city in Pakistan, Colombo is the capital of Sri Lanka, and New Delhi is the capital of India.) This more than proves that when things go bad for the Sri Lankan military, India would do whatever that needs to be done to thwart a major Tamil military victory, even cooperating with Pakistan with which it is in a perpetual state of war from the day they both received independence from British rule in 1947.

SUMMARY: Author discusses whether and why India is cooperating with Pakistan in arming the Sri Lankan military against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).


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