Sri Lanka’s credibility gap: A different perspective


By Shamindra Ferdinando


Colonel R. Hariharan, who had served with the IPKF as Head of Intelligence, says Sri Lanka’s objections to the establishment of an expert panel to advice UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon on accountability issues during the last phase of Eelam war IV should be viewed against the backdrop of what he called Sri Lanka’s long term skirmish with foreign interference.

Hariharan, who is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group in his latest article titled Sri Lanka’s credibility gap (The Island reproduced the piece on its July 20 issue) went on to say that it had started with its bitter experience of the way the Norwegian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) functioned.

The SLMM, which was set up in 2002 in keeping with the Norwegian-arranged CFA comprised representatives from several Scandinavian countries.

Sri Lanka’s attitude hardened in 2006 after a disastrous experience with an international panel of eminent persons’ inquiry into alleged killings carried out by security men, which was given up midway due to lack of cooperation from the Sri Lankan government whose reputation was tarnished before the war started when scores of people ‘disappeared’ and media men were hounded, according to Colonel Hariharan, who called himself a military intelligence specialist.

With the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord a week away, it would be pertinent to delve into Hariharan’s assertion that Sri Lanka’s fight against foreign interference began as late as 2002. This is nothing but a disgraceful attempt to erase India’s direct intervention in Sri Lanka in the 80s. The likes of Colonel Hariharan had conveniently forgotten the ill-fated Indian intrusion, which the then Indian High Commissioner (subsequently Foreign Secretary) preferred to call as India’s involvement leading to the assassination of Congress I leader Rajiv Gandhi.

Had Colonel Hariharan bothered to peruse ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’, authored by Dixit, he would realize when and where foreign interference started. This is what Dixit had to say about Indira Gandhi, daughter of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: "The two foreign policy decisions on which she could be faulted are (1) her ambiguous response to the Russian intrusion into Afghanistan and her giving active support to Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Whatever the criticism about these decisions, it cannot be denied that she took them on the basis of her assessments about India’s national interests."

For want of a government apparatus to counter absolute lies propagated by experts with vested interests, those gunning for Sri Lanka are not encountering any opposition. Colonel Hariharan goes on to say that the common thread running in UN action (appointment of panel on accountability issues) as well as the EU’s suspension of GSP plus export tariff concessions is the trust deficit in Sri Lanka’s words. Nothing could be as ridiculous as this appraisal by one-time IPKF intelligence officer. Any Indian involved in their misadventure in Sri Lanka should not talk about what Colonel Hariharan had brazenly called as trust deficit in Sri Lanka’s words.

Powerful governments destabilize and topple governments, which are considered hostile to Western governments’ interests, to pave the way for friendly administrations as happened in Afghanistan and Iraq recently. The US sponsored Contra insurgency in Nicaragua during the Iran-Iraq war is a classic example of this strategy. But have you ever heard of a country sponsoring an insurgency/terrorist war in a friendly country with which it historically enjoyed good relations and has had no intention to destabilize? One cannot sponsor terrorism against another country while claiming to be a good neighbour. This is exactly what India did. India’s actions forced Sri Lanka to battle Tamil terrorists on one front and the JVP on another. The JVP cleverly exploited the Indian interference to launch its second insurgency, which claimed the lives of thousands of people.

India ran five terrorist groups. It is no secret that Indian intelligence services favoured the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) much to the chagrin of the LTTE. These groups thrived and flourished under Indian patronage during the 1983-1987 period. Colonel Hariharan could not be unaware how India formed the Tamil National Army (TNA) comprising men from anti-LTTE groups before the IPKF withdrew in March 1990.

Colonel Hariharan asserts that President Mahinda Rajapaksa would be questioned both locally and internationally till Sri Lanka’s credibility gap is bridged with reasoning. According to him Sri Lanka’s credibility is directly related to three issues, namely its human rights record and accountability, rehabilitation of the displaced Tamils and vintage grievances of the Tamil population. He insists that Ban-ki Moon was well within his powers to appoint a panel of experts to advise him on the Sri Lankan issue.

Training of terrorist groups to operate in a friendly country is nothing but a serious violation of the norms of international law, as well as the values that Indian foreign policy was meant to uphold. But this deviation was justified through a moral argument. India asserted that Indian assistance was defensive in nature meant to help thwart Sinhala armed forces aggression directed against the Tamils. There again, so-called experts conveniently overlooked how India had caused the rapid intensification of violence by enhancing the firepower of terrorist groups. In fact, those who blamed Sri Lanka for the July 1983 violence had conveniently forgotten how Indian trained LTTE terrorists wiped out an army patrol at Tinnavely, Jaffna to trigger chaos. The loss of 13 soldiers in a single attack, the first major attack on the Army quickly increased hostilities and in four years led to the induction of the IPKF.

Colonel Hariharan has advised Sri Lanka to improve her human rights record or face the consequences. He says Colombo should not expect China, Russia and India to come to Sri Lanka’s rescue in the face of international criticism. He goes on to say that not only the international community but Opposition parties in Sri Lanka, the media and former Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka complained of human rights violations. Would anyone advise the UN to investigate how India recruited, trained in India and deployed thousands of terrorists against Sri Lanka? Would anyone seek a UN inquiry into the networks established by Tamil groups with Indian support to acquire and smuggle in arms, ammunition and equipment to Sri Lanka and most importantly would Colonel Hariharan and his Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group prepare a comprehensive study on India’s interference in Sri Lanka. Had that happened, the global community would see Sri Lanka as a victim of terrorism rather than an aggressor, which had no option but to eradicate terrorism. Although India changed its policy and went to the extent of supporting Sri Lanka to fight the LTTE, what India did earlier was against all international norms.

Colonel Hariharan, in his latest piece has pointed out that Tamils living in Wellawatte are asked to register with the police as pointed out by the National Peace Council. Colonel Hariharan has obviously taken the NPC seriously. Had he bothered to go through various statements issued by the NPC, he would come across one statement issued shortly after the assassination of Statesman Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005 by the LTTE, in which NPC spokesman Jehan Perera declared the killing tragic but inevitable. The international community, too, demanded from the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga that the CFA with the LTTE should continue, though a section of her government felt the urgent need for a military response. In fact, no one dared to challenge the LTTE until President Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to wage war. Had President Rajapaksa not received the whole hearted support of his brother, Gotabhaya, formerly a Lieutenant Colonel of the Gajaba Regiment, who spearheaded the overall military strategy, Sri Lanka would never have triumphed over the LTTE.

Now that Colonel Hahiharan had expressed concern over Wellawatte Tamils being forced to register with the police, let me reproduce what A. J. V. Chandrakanthan, formerly of University of Jaffna said years ago about IPKF operations in the northern peninsula. "The IPKF provided cover for the EPRLF, TELO and PLOTE, who systematically engaged in plunder, murder and selective political assassinations. From October 1987 to March 1990, the Northern Province was virtually under an undeclared curfew at night. One may never know the total strength of the IPKF that was present in the North and East, it can be estimated that at least 40,000 were present in the Northern Province alone , fear, intimidation, arrest and torture became order of the day. Anyone who had any dealing even at the remotest level with the LTTE was hunted out and killed. The sight of dead bodies in and around the city of Jaffna was a formidable one. A pattern that was established in early 1988 continued unabated. EPRLF or TELO would select the target, the place and the person, between dust and day break, they would go to the residence of their victim, call for the person and shoot him/her at close range allowing the IPKF to conduct a mock inquiry." Interestingly Chandrakanthan at the time he made allegations against the IPKF was a member of the Executive Board of the NPC.

Those hell bent on undermining the Sri Lankan State should not forget about 12,000 LTTE cadres gave themselves up during the last five months of the offensive on the Vanni east front. Since the end of the war in May last year, hundreds of them had been released and re-united with their families. Some of them had found employment in the garment sector, while the international community provided substantial assistance to help rehabilitate LTTE cadres. The UN, too, provided valuable assistance to step up the reconstruction and rehabilitation process, though Ban-ki Moon at the behest of a section of the international community was gunning for Sri Lanka.

The recent attempt by Moon to blame the closure of a UNDP Regional Office situated at Independence Avenue for National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa’s antics outside the UN compound at the Bauddhaloka Mawatha revealed their strategy. The UNlie was carried by all international news agencies. Unfortunately the official Sri Lankan press, too, had failed in its duty to counter false propaganda. Although many media personalities are on the government’s payroll, hardly any attempt is made to counter propaganda directed against the country by those making money at the expense of Sri Lanka.

As the Sri Lankan Army was fighting to seize Kilinochchi, which some experts asserted would be Sri Lanka’s Stalingrad, India learnt a bitter lesson when a small group of terrorists stormed Mumbai late 2008. The attackers from Pakistan reached India in a boat eluding Indian naval patrols and the likes of Colonel Hahiharan could not be unaware how Sri Lankan Tamil terrorists moved across the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary under the watchful eyes of Indian authorities. Had Colonel Hariharan and his colleagues at the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group and those, who think on the same lines study Sri Lankan military and intelligence operations against the JVP (in 1971 and 1987-1990) and Tamil groups, they would realize the international community never bothered with the rights of any other group except that of the LTTE. Had there been any interest on the part of the international community, the LTTE would have never been able to finish off other Indian trained groups and then annihilate the TULF leadership to receive recognition as the sole representatives of the Tamil speaking people.

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