India secretly behind Lanka’s victory over LTTE: Book

India helped Lanka secretly

India helped Lanka secretly

NEW DELHI: Even as it publicly refused to give Sri Lanka any offensive weapons for the war against LTTE, India had a “hidden hand” in the success of the island nation’s campaign over the terrorist outfit, says a new book.

NEW DELHI: Even as it publicly refused to give Sri Lanka any offensive weapons for the war against LTTE, India had a “hidden hand” in the success of the island nation’s campaign over the terrorist outfit, says a new book.

Although in the initial days he was advised to seek a negotiated settlement with the Tamil Tigers, New Delhi saw merit in Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s argument that the LTTE was only biding its time to regroup and rearm itself and that war was inevitable sooner than later, says ‘Sri Lanka, From War to Peace’, by journalist Nitin Gokhale.

Defence and Strategic Affairs Editor with NDTV, Gokhale covered the 33-month Eelam War in Sri Lanka.

The Mi-17s that India ‘quietly gifted’ to Lanka were in addition to a Sukanya class offshore patrol vessel also gifted by the Indian Coast Guard to the Sri Lankan Navy in 2002. The choppers played a major role in several daring missions launched by the Sri Lankan Air Force to rescue the army’s deep penetration units and injured soldiers from deep inside LTTE-held territory, the book says.

“Hampered by domestic compulsion, New Delhi could not go beyond such meagre and clandestine transfer of military hardware. Publicly all India was willing to acknowledge was the supply of low-flying detection “Indra” radars to the Sri Lankan Air Force since this equipment was considered a defensive apparatus,” the author says.

MI-17 Helicopter

MI-17 Helicopter

Gokhale quotes senior Sri Lankan army officers saying that thanks to the Mi-17s, the soldiers operating behind enemy lines functioned with a greater degree of confidence since they knew these choppers were always at hand to come to their rescue whenever necessary. This surely was the key factor in our Special Forces delivering spectacular results.

Not wanting to annoy its Tamil Nadu allies like the DMK unnecessarily, New Delhi had a ‘politically most important message’ conveyed to Colombo to try and conclude the war against the LTTE (called Eelam War IV) before the summer of 2009 when India was expected to hold the general elections, Gokhale says.

“The Rajapakse regime was nothing if not shrewd”. Aware of dynamics that determined India’s Lankan policies, it was also conscious of India’s anxiety in losing strategic space in Sri Lanka. The Rajapakse brothers were pragmatic enough to realize that Lanka needed India’s support in war against the LTTE, total support from China and Pakistan notwithstanding”.

Colombo could ignore India but only upto a point, the author says.

So Mahinda Rajapakse hit upon an idea of an informal exchange mechanism between New Delhi and Colombo. He nominated both his brothers – Basil (MP and Presidential advisor) and Gotabaya, the Defence Secretary along with his own secretary Lalith Weeratunga.

India too reciprocated immediately. The Indian team comprised National Security Advisor M K Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and Defence Secretary Vijay Singh.

Colombo may have been ambivalent about meeting Indian requests to end the operations before the general elections but the Sri Lankan leadership once again gratefully acknowledged the Indian Navy’s contribution in locating and destroying at least 10 ‘floating warehouses’ owned by the LTTE that were used by the Tigers to store arms, ammunition and even armoured personnel carriers.

Well-coordinated operations by the two navies between 2006 and 2009 actually broke the backbone of the Sea Tigers, Gokhale says.

Also, under an agreement between the two countries, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard frequently sent out ships to patrol the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar. Presence of warships and Indian patrol vessels acted as firm deterrence against the Sea Tigers, the book says.

SLAFThe book also notes the transformation of the Sri Lankan Air Force and Navy into lethal forces that played vital roles in victory over the LTTE. “The Sri Lankan Air Force had indeed come a long way from its inglorious days in the 1990s when it lost three aircraft to the LTTE’s ground fire in the assault on Jaffna”.

“What is not so well known is that the Sri Lankan Air Force jets almost killed Prabhakaran in one of the air raids on his hideout in Puththukudirippu. But as luck would have it, Prabhakaran had left the base minutes before the bombs rained on the target,” the book says.

Gokhale also says that if the Indians quietly helped the Sri Lankan Navy transform itself, the Lankan Air Force got a big boost from the Chinese and the Pakistanis. Pakistani personnel helped the Lankans in training and maintenance while the Chinese supplied them with vital equipment at a critical time. The Chinese gifted four F7 GS fighter planes which are the most sophisticated jets in Sri Lanka’s arsenal today with in-built air interception radar and carry four heat seeking missiles, he says.

After a successful campaign against the LTTE, President Rajapakse’s biggest challenge would be to win the peace by sparking reconciliation between its majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil ethnic populations, healing a rift that looks unbridgeable, Gokhale says. Rajapakse will have to restore to their homes and livelihoods some 300,000 Tamils in the North who fled the fighting only to be housed in camps.

“President Rajapakse and his team must avoid triumphalism to spoil the enormous goodwill that they have earned by winning the war. They must ensure that the death of one Prabhakaran does not lead to birth of another. Therein lies Mahinda Rajapakse’s test,” the book says.

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