Tamil Nadu and Indian Military Aid to Sri Lanka

Indian Duplicity in Military Aid to Sri Lanka as Impotent Tamil Nadu Watches: Part I

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, Month 2007 (ID. 2007-03-01)
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OUTLINE

Abbreviations

1. Introduction

2. Palaly Air Force Base Repair

3. Gift of Military Radars

4. Training Sri Lankan Air Force

ABBREVIATIONS

JHU - Jathika Hela Urumaya (an extremist Buddhist party)

JVP - Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (a Marxist Sinhalese party)

LTTE - Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam

MDMK - Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

SLAF - Sri Lankan Air Force

SLMM - Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission

1. Introduction

There is a war going on in Sri Lanka between the majority Sinhalese of the south and the minority Tamils of the northeast. The Sri Lankan island is just a few kilometers off the southern coast of India. India's southern most state of Tamil Nadu has a population of over 60 million. They are Tamils and have the same ethnicity, culture and language as the much smaller northeastern Tamil population of Sri Lanka (the "Eelam Tamils"). So one would reasonably expect that the Indian government would interfere in the war in support of the Tamils or give military assistance to the Tamil fighters. Instead India has been covertly and sometimes overtly providing military assistance to the Sri Lankan military. Reasons why Indian rulers act this way in spite of its sizable Tamil population is discussed in References 1.

Indian government, or more specifically the Hindi politicians who dominate the Indian parliament and thus control Indian foreign policy and military decisions, is somewhat afraid of Tamil Nadu's reaction to its military aid to Sri Lanka. [Note: Hindi politicians do not have a majority in parliament but have the highest number of members. They are able to astutely control major decisions in alliance with other groups.] So the Indian government provides the military assistance covertly while issuing public statements that it has a hands-off policy towards the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict. If and when such assistance is exposed, India routinely issues a statement that its military assistance does not increase Sri Lankan military's offensive capabilities. If caught with offensive weapons or training, then it would issue a statement that these weapons or training would not be used against Tamil civilians but only against Tamil fighters.

These are lame reasons but Tamil Nadu politicians accept them because they are unable to do anything about it politically and do not have the mental makeup to resign their political positions and engage in a sustained non-cooperative movement against Indian government policies (as Gandhi did during British rule). So they "accept" Indian government's explanations and claim to the voting public that because of their efforts the Indian government would not do anything against the interest of Sri Lankan Tamils. The charade goes on.

In this article we list some known incidences of Indian military assistance to Sri Lanka in and around the year 2006. The year 2006 is of particular significance because it is in 2006 the four-year old ceasefire between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) broke down and hundreds of fighters from both sides and a few thousand Tamil civilians died.

2. Palaly Air Force Base Repair

[Though this incidence is from December 2005, we include it in this article because it is directly related to the war efforts of 2006.] On December 9, 2005, Air Vice Marshal, Donald Perera told reporters that Palaly airport runway was being repaired with financial assistance from India. This airport is strategically important. It is located in Jaffna Peninsula (northern Sri Lanka) and the Sri Lankan garrisons in the north are supplied through this airport, especially when the land and sea routes were perilous to LTTE attacks. Senior military officers use the airport instead of risking land or sea travel. Medical evacuations are also carried out from this airfield. It would be virtually impossible for the Sri Lankan military to hold Jaffna for long  during wartime without this airport. The runway was damaged by LTTE artillery during the 2000 war, creating a panic in Sri Lankan military because it virtually cut off the Sri Lankan military in Jaffna from the south. Landing and take-off vibrations from propeller-driven C130 and An32 aircraft of the Sri Lankan Air Force also caused further damage to the runway. India was funding the repair so that it could be fully operational during the next war (that started in 2006 just months after the above disclosure by the Air Vice Marshall).

Tamil Nadu politician Vaiko contacted Indian Defense Minister Pranab Muhkerjee and enquired about it. The defense minister told Vaiko that he would look into it. After this, this writer has not seen any news report whether Mr. Muhkerjee came back to Vaiko with a reply. There seems to be no follow-up by Vaiko either. This is the usual pattern. Indian Government provides military assistance to Sri Lankan military quietly, hoping Tamil people would not hear about it. If and when exposed and a well-meaning Tamilnadu politician raises questions about it,  give some excuse or stonewall and hope it goes away. Tamil Nadu politicians seldom follow up, and everything is business as usual. (Vaiko is the General Secretary of Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK)).

There were reports as early as 2004 that India would provide 500 million Rupees for the airport repair but Indian government kept a low profile lest it attract opposition from Tamilnadu politicians. It seems that repair work started in 2005 as the Sri Lankan government was gearing up for war. Air Vice Marshal, Donald Perera was very clear about India's role. He told reporters on December 9, 2005, ''the reconstruction work is in progress with the financial assistance of the Indian government. It was initially planned to complete the work within six to eight months. Unfortunately, the weather is blocking us a little, but it is satisfactorily progressing. A team from India is expected shortly to sit with us and work together''.

3. Gift of Military Radars

When it came to light that LTTE had acquired couple of low-flying micro-light aircrafts that could be loaded with explosives (bombs) and exploded on targets, India rushed to gift military radars capable of detecting those aircrafts. (According to some reports, two radars were given; some others said four radars. The fact that India had gifted and installed some radars in Sri Lanka has been confirmed by both India and Sri Lanka.) One should not mistake these LTTE aircrafts to Russian made MIG or Israeli made Kfir bombers. MIG and Kfir bombers can and have caused much damage to Sri Lankan Tamil properties and lives. This is what the Sri Lankan Air Vice Marshal Donald Perera has to say about the LTTE planes: "LTTE has a couple of small flying machines. They are single-engine two-seater planes. There is no strike capability for the LTTE Air Force. If you load up a car with a lot of explosives and explode, it can cause a lot of destruction. If that can be done in the same manner from the air, then it will have the same capability. For that one cannot say there is a strike capability as such. It can just be a bomb in the air'' (December 9, 2006). Couple of light aircrafts. Yet India rushed to gift military radars to Sri Lanka to counter them. Indian intensions to give the radars appeared in the press in June 2005. The transfer of the radar from Indian Air Force to Sri Lankan Air Force was reported in late December 2005 at about the time of Sri Lankan President Mahendra Rajapakse's visit to India, the President who had openly stated that he was against a federal solution to solve the ethnic conflict and promised his electoral allies JVP and JHU that he would strengthen the military for the next few months and then would start the war with LTTE. President told JVP and JHU that he was playing for time [going along with the peace process] because it would take at least three months to acquire necessary firepower to go to war with the LTTE [Reference2, see Section 2]. News of the gift appeared again in June 2006. Tamil Nadu political leaders Ramadoss, Thirumavalavan and Vaiko criticized the gift. No one in the Indian government paid any attention to it. These leaders did not follow up with sustained agitations or other moves. Again, business as usual.

India sits quiet saying that it has a hands-off policy in the Sri Lankan conflict (lest it angers the Tamil Nadu population) but it was always there to counter any edge LTTE may get over the Sri Lankan military. This radar gift is to counter LTTE's acquisition of couple of micro-light aircrafts. Around 2001, India sold a Sukhanya class Advanced Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV) to Sri Lanka to counter LTTE's naval strength. It was the first such vessel in Sri Lankan fleet.

India's excuse-explanation to the people of Tamilnadu for the radar gift was that radars don't kill people; it is a defensive weapon, not an offensive weapon. Will India gift a few radars to the Sri Lankan Tamils living in the northeast who are the victims of Sri Lankan Air Force bombs? In 2006 many civilians died in these bombing raids as confirmed by the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) and UNICEF. Also, Sri Lanka uses these radars to protect military installations and not civilians. Will India object to Pakistan providing non-lethal defensive weapons to Kashmiri militants fighting the Indian army?

4. Training Sri Lankan Air Force

Not only is India providing financial assistance for the repair of the strategic Palaly Air Force Base, India is also training Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) personnel. In November 2006 it became public that India was training a batch of six SLAF personnel in the Indian Air Force Station in Chandigarh on Russian-made MIG-27 planes. It also came out that India had already trained two other batches of SLAF personnel. The significance of this training needs to be understood. Sri Lanka is going to purchase four MIG planes. Usually Sri Lankan Air Force sends personnel for training in Pakistan but Pakistan does not have much, if any, experience with Russian-made MIGs; its planes are mostly from western countries. That is where India stepped in. Since Pakistan could not provide the training Sri Lanka needs in MIGs, India is providing the training. In fact, some of the six Sri Lankans already had some basic training from Pakistan in military aircraft operations. India is providing the more advanced training in MIG-27 planes. India and Pakistan are enemies from the day of their birth in August 1947 but India is operating in tandem with Pakistan in providing military assistance to Sri Lanka [see also Reference 3].

Part II (Click here to read Part II)

[Part I above discussed details of Indian military assistance to Sri Lanka in 2006. Part II discusses how the Indian Government tries to fool Tamil Nadu that it is not strengthening Sri Lankan military against minority Tamil fighters.]

5. The Great Deception (Lying to Tamilnadu)

5.1 Excuses, Excuses
5.2 Deception from the Highest Levels
5.3 Defensive Weapons versus Offensive Weapons
5.4 Offensive Weapons that Cannot be Used Against Civilians?
5.5 Non-Lethal Military Training?

6. A Few Final Words


(NOTE: Author is from Tamilnadu. Views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Tamil people or leaders of northeastern Sri Lanka (the "Eelam Tamils".)

REFERENCES

1. Indian Rulers and the Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, February 2004 (12 KB)

2. A Plea to the International Community on Sri Lanka (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, November 2006 (17 KB)

3. India, Pakistan and the Sri Lankan Ethnic Conflict (by Thanjai Nalankilli), TAMIL TRIBUNE, June 2006 (13 KB)

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