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Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sri Lanka: Ethnic conflict or Regional Power Play?


The island nation of Sri Lanka, named at some point in history after the mythical place of the Ramayana has been the ground of conflict for thousands of years. Yet from 1983, the discrimination of a majority population, dubbed on the grounds of their language and belief systems as the Sinhalese and the "alleged" northern settlers (who have undoubtedly lived here for longer than published,) the internal civil war has brewed.

The ethnic issues began upon the departing of the British, as communal tensions increased between the largely Southern population of the Sinhalese and the northern population of the Tamil-speaking people.

Sri Lanka has been an ally of the United States of America, for a long time. Interestingly TIME magazine in 2006 has actually called the LTTE an extremely organized fighting unit.

Human Rights Violations that are continuing, with the (largely) Sinhalese-speaking southern population on top, and the (largely) Tamil-speaking northern population subject to arrests even four years after the "claimed" end of the civil-war is shocking. Rajapakse is projected in an image akin to Ravan (of the ancient epic of the Ramayana.) I am appalled by this horror that the ethnic Sinhalese-speaking group believes in a zero-sum war.

How did such a travesty happen? What transpired into such a horrific calamity of human lives and livelihoods? (It is a lot more than an ethnic conflict that panned out ...)

A Naval Power game with people wronged

The ending of the Sri Lankan civil war, was not merely by the use of force, but by a sequence of events that were almost blind to most except the strategists manipulating the conflict. Political and Military interests also lent a severe blow. Nature also lent its lashing hand setting the stage for a violent end.


In 1977, while India started the Pokhran project, it simultaneously started working on the Kudankulam project. These were of course Military projects (as they remain even to this day.) 

At this point the Indian military needed a deterrent on Sri Lanka, dominated by the ethnic Sinhalese to keep their project under the wraps. It was in this ironic interest that the Indian government (however subtlety we played it) encouraged funding the LTTE. 


The map clearly illustrates how dominant such a Naval base should be, though it merely shows distances from it, it is more about access to International waters at the best possible point. The fact may remain unknown and veiled even to Indian Scientists who have worked in the plant.

This was temporarily evident in the media as protests against the "Nuclear Power Plant" (the final cover) in Kudankulam was finally led by a citizen of the USA who had earlier been an employee in the power plant. Further the rural community of fishermen were funded to launch large scale people protests to help foreign forces find the actual secret of Kudankulam. This, unless it is truly used will remain unknown with only speculations of a Submarine cooled Nuclear plant or a Submarine refueling station or a Submarine base for the Navy. There is however a strong harbor like formation visible in satellite like pictures with almost nothing else visible.

Escalations in 1981

Not surprisingly, in 1983, the conflict between the ethnic Sinhalese and the Tamils went to a new scale. The LTTE became the more dominant political force with more aggressive ideologies. In 1984 however, the balance of strength slowly shifted into the ethnic Tamil hands, especially the LTTE. The Indian government had once dealt (quite similarly and ruthlessly) with an Assamese uprising. They realized that with the assassination of Indira Gandhi, India was weak and an uprising in Lanka would jeopardize their plans for Naval dominance in the tip of the Indian peninsula. 

IPKF: A ploy or a blunder?

Hence, with ongoing cease-fires and talks between 1984 and 1987, finally the India sent an untrained IPKF into a war they allegedly ill-understood. However the political machinery fighting the war (not the ground-soldiers) did not feed the IPKF with the correct intelligence, thereby showing a large casualty (of the IPKF) thus labeling the LTTE as a more terrifying force than it truly was. Here, by not feeding intelligence, they sent the wrong messages the world thereby ending the IPKF deployment in 1991.

Earlier, India had successfully separated East Pakistan and West Pakistan by using a double nexus of power, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and a strong defense on the western side. By causing civil conflict within East Pakistan, India managed to pretend to be the heroes in the formation of the state of Bangladesh. This operation took almost the same duration to setup to gain military dominance.

Any struggle for independence or against oppression has two forces, a peaceful negotiating force and a wounded war-like avenging force. In India, right after the Quit India movement, the "peaceful negotiating force" whose tactic of non-violence was strategically too powerful (it was more a Damocles' sword than true non-violence) did scare the British by rising up in Education, mingling with them and sending mixed messages. The violent forces were quelled internally. 

Subsequently, India managed to get an independence, bathed in bloody communal violence - "Freedom at Midnight." 

Assassination Perpetrator or Scapegoat

In 1991, other political forces possibly both Indian & foreign, uninterested in this particular ethnic conflict, orchestrated the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. They ensured that this event would happen in a state where crime was at an all-time low - "Tamil Nadu", coincidentally blaming the LTTE (who may have not been the only ones contracted for the assignment.) 

Until date, despite all the evidence, the assassination of a political leader is usually blinded by cover-ups thereby hiding the bitter truths. Yet, this incident was used to paint the LTTE as a vengeful and assassinating group - for which the LTTE even claimed credit, despite the fact that they were pawns in an international power struggle in the region. It is interesting that not all of Sri Lankan political leaders who were assassinated or killed could be blamed on the LTTE. There were hard-core ethnic Sinhalese group also involved in one.

It was no secret that through political parties particularly in the state of Tamil Nadu, the LTTE were empowered to continue a more violent struggle. Such funding would be contradictory if Indian intelligence already knew that the LTTE had been responsible for the assassination. Yet, this would be fine if Indian Intelligence agencies knew that the LTTE was merely the final tactical weapon in a much larger game. 

Russian Ties

As India continued building a Naval Base in Kudankulam (now dubbed a Nuclear Power Plant) - the official Lankan Navy had more problems to deal with, then spy on the Indians for their true allies, the USA. This gave India with a Russian alliance to build a strong Naval unit. This Indian Naval/Military unit was almost complete and possibly operational in 2003. The power plant, was later projected as the image of the unit although the true purpose of the Naval base will remain a military secret of India.

Thereafter, in 2003, India slowly started discouraging funds moving out of the country. Under the guise of controlling FDI, exports, market-control and taxation reforms, India cleverly pulled out a strong funding means. In addition to this, they went far enough to agree to extradite refugees back to Lanka - as a political ploy to delay any Lankan intelligence unit from truly gauging the purpose of the Naval base. Russia granted over 6,500 crore Indian Rupees in credit for a complex allegedly costing 17,500 crores. You can compare this with India's space mission to Mars which is officially funded at a mere 450 crores (although it does facilitate an ICBM program - the space race is a two pronged race, it also facilitates military equipment.) The sunken investment seems a little too high to be merely a 9500 MW capable power plant which generates less than 1000 MW this day. That would be less than 10% of projected capacity unless the money was sunk into something else.

Now the official Lankan government once again had to deal with an influx of refugees and were unable to empower their own navy. India went far enough to even permit LTTE naval aircraft (not even the combat type) to fly within their radar. Again, India had used the LTTE as a shield for completing a key military base.

Although India may not have been the source of the money, the money could not easily flow through multiple US allied countries, which made India as an intermediary siphon for all supporters or sympathizers to fund the LTTE.

Refugees from Sri Lanka living in India know that they are treated most poorly. Only those who migrated during the 1950s-1960s or prior to India have acquired strong citizenship status in India and are treated thereafter as Indians for the most part. However, all refugees from the civil conflict are housed in camps that have too few or no facilities. In short, they are simple testament that India does not support the actual ethnic Northern people of Sri Lanka. I have met a few of them who, by some grace, have worked hard toward education and gain employment. They live with painful memories of the conflict (for which there is no psychological care here) and the constant fear of being deported.

Super Tsunami

In December, 2004 one of the most devastating Tsunamis affected North, North-Eastern and some parts of Eastern Lanka. Several of the northern folk were fishermen (a reason why the LTTE tactically built a makeshift-navy) - and their livelihood was severely disrupted. Interestingly, this was caused by a 9.1-9.3 Richter scale quake, the third most powerful quake ever recorded by a seismograph. This was later explained as a "subduction" earthquake, a type that had never been seen before and mother nature was once again blamed for a most strange event.

"Anton Balasingham", once an employee of the British Raj, who settled in the U.K. was stragetically leading the ethnic-tamils to find equilibrium, which he too finally concluded could only be won by a separate "Eelam" state. He helped ensure that the ethnic Tamils were not overrun by the increasingly aggressive Sinhalese despite all their disadvantages.
 
Anton Balasingham passed away in 2006 setting the stage for an LTTE with no international strategic advise which gave the Sinhalese an upper hand. Coincidentally in the same year, all construction on the Indian base at Kudankulam had also completed. Anyone living within Sri Lanka was easily compromised by either of the sides of the conflict.

Prabhakaran was a leader, but could not give his full capability to a multifaceted role of a Strategist, a General and a Tactician. He always ended up in the thick of things as more of an empathic tactician. He wasn't trained in a military school to organize and fight. His tactics were reactive rather than start a conflict. However without satellite photographs of the terrain in the North it would be impossible to have fought him. These were allegedly supplied by the USA who continually helped Sri Lankan industry and wanted them to end the conflict, so they could get a closer eye view at whatever it was that India was building at the tip of the peninsula.

Terrorists or Scapegoats?

A picture was painted of the ethnic Tamil group and the LTTE is as if they were like the Irish Republican Army. Yet excesses like burning down the Jaffna Library, a repository of a lot of knowledge goes unmentioned in the grand scheme of things. Coins dating back to the Chola era were stolen from areas in the north and sold in the black market by the ethnic Sinhalese group. Some are even available for display today in museums in Colombo. Yet, there is no mention of these coin collections having existed in Colombo prior to 1987 - is this coincidence?

Yet, no one bothers to point out that they did not deal in (narcotic) "drugs" as the IRA once did.  The IRA has the highest assassination count for any terrorist organization in the world - and many compared LTTE tactics to the IRA - forgetting to point out that they were "principled" in not using drugs and drug money. This would have been a simple strategy in bringing down the ethnic Sinhalese speaking group by using a larger, yet unprincipled and immoral investment. 

The LTTE tried to use every strategic piece to keep the conflict from falling off the cliff. They were however hopelessly outnumbered as the North wasn't allowed to develop economically. A single international port in Jaffna would have changed the power balance, but the military struggle between India and Sri Lanka (as allies themselves of Russia and the USA) ensured that such a development never happened. Trade embargo enforced on LTTE ensured they couldn't export anything officially thereby labeling them "outlaws." The media painted Prabhakaran as a monstrosity, rather than a leader trying to hold an oppressed ethnic group together. He wasn't alone. 

The Peace Lovers and their Failing

There were other "peace-loving" groups as they were labeled. But India's non-violent power came from the war of 1857, showing that an uprising would end up too costly for the British Empire if it happened again. The non-violent struggle was to unite India into one unit, threatening the British with a possible mutiny at least in principle. That was sufficient enough to deter an empire torn asunder by the second World War to retreat from almost all their colonies as the costs of maintaining any administration or presence in them became too high. No such deterrent existed in a civil conflict.

Allegations of LTTE being funded by drugs arose in 2003 (coincidentally at the same time the Kudankulam base was completed and operations for the Nuclear power plant were begun.) There were reports of Narcotics-funded-terrorism published only in 2012, about the use of such money between 2006 and 2009. This would however be the time when the LTTE was weakest.

What brewed was still the same old Lankan tactic of overwhelming force. The official Lankan military who can even be dubbed the Sinhalese military aren't the best trained military in the world. Sri Lanka began their military training schools only in 1981. Their military is about 200,000 strong in number. 

The LTTE had far less than 10,000 recruits, mostly untrained, noncombatants who were forced to bear arms as state funded medical facilities, schools, civil police protection was intentionally denied since 1960. They were outnumbered, outgunned and outdone in every way by the very state which was to protect them from the very beginning. The only solution they had was to resort to defense and extreme asymmetric warfare. The original people themselves were peace-loving and had very little weapons training prior furthering their disadvantage.

Scapegoats for Assassinations

Political assassinations of leaders within Sri Lanka have also been painted on the LTTE. The trouble is the forensic evidence is very similar to attacks used by the LTTE - but a surgical assassination would then indicate that the LTTE were not a terrorist organization as the Sinhalese led Sri Lankan state claimed. Yet, a targeted assassination is a sign of a much more politically choosey encounter rather than terrifying the public.

Ideally, a terror attack would need to kill more civilians and thereby incite terror and fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens. Further, the modern international terrorist forces have shown that they can bring entire nations down by fear using a new strategy of asymmetric warfare. Yet, this is nothing close to what the LTTE ever achieved. Their actions were concentrated in a geographical area dominated mostly by ethnic Tamils. An attack in a Southern city or one crippling the harbor of Colombo is unheard of. Infiltration of the Sri Lankan military too was never done. How then does the LTTE end up labeled purely as a terrorist force?

War Crimes and Impunity

Although International law has several precedents to investigate war crimes, they have to be ultimately between two opposing political groups specifically states recognizable in the Hague. Internal Human Rights abuses are unfortunately not addressed by the UNHCR except for the publishing of reports. No country with internal violations of human rights has insofar had major sanctions imposed on them by the UN. Indian paramilitary and military forces were involved in excesses in Kashmir. The Indian military obviously denies having been aiding, abetting or perpetrating any war-crimes in the war-zones of Kashmir.

Genocides within Country Jurisdictions Worldwide

The Australians successfully concluded the silent genocide of the native Aborigine population. Former Yugoslavia has been so badly war torn after the demise of Marshal Tito. The ensuing war crimes have been among the worst ever documented, yet there is no true justice that present systems could dispense. The Syrian civil war, the Libyan civil war, the Egyptian revolution - are all examples where governments have escaped with impunity despite their excesses on their own population.

In horrific similarity, the Sri Lankan civil war has been no different. Despite documented evidence as in almost all other cases, there is nothing much the world can do to interfere in their affairs. The fact that the USA allies with both Pakistan and Sri Lanka to ensure that India does not quickly grow into a superpower, in trade and military prowess also disables these crimes from being investigated. 

The evidence is undisputed, yet no one has a solution. Does prosecution (like the Nuremberg trials) ever lend justice to the wrongfully harmed or murdered people? Does hanging of a few Military leaders or even a Minister or the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka today dispense justice to the suffering of the people?

Worse yet, the USA and allies set double-standards recently - claiming that "Chemical Weapon" usage in a civil conflict necessitated international involvement - but murder of civilians by conventional means did not merit International involvement. Even the Syrian Rebels nor the public did not want the USA interfering given that they have too much of a negative image in the African and Arab world.

The "Sri Lankan" Peace Keeping Force was recalled from Haiti after no less than 193 members of a company were accused of rape, torture and other crimes. Further, 5 were convicted although the rest were returned to Sri Lankan soil. Their track record outside Sri Lanka has fared no better.

Alleged Indian Military Hardware

India was truly uninterested in handing any help including 'military-hardware'. Indian equipment allegedly supplied from Avadi was merely armor that could be used as decoys. If the Sri Lankans decided to use them, an engineering effort would take five (5) years to modernize them (something the Indians couldn't do despite their hi-tech installations.) On the other hand, using them with "Petrol" would cripple the Lankan state economy. The Lankans however did not fall to the ploy this time.

They used the IPKF incident as their ignorance of how to fight in the terrain.Yet, they tried to keep the Sinhalese headed Lankan government that India would help better yet after the having pinned the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi (at that time only a political candidate,) on the LTTE who at best could have been the final tactical armament used to eliminate him, but never the mastermind behind the assassination (which happened in Indian soil.)

Weaponry used in the Civil War

In all earlier conflicts of the state troops against the LTTE, artillery used was World-War-II grade, something that could be defended against. However, it was new artillery that helped in delivering the  final blow. They are Chinese, American (USA) and Czech equipment.

The hand-gun weaponry was upgraded to the infamous Israeli UZI accompanied by German HK-MP5 rifles. Lesser trained units were given Chinese issue AK-47 rifles, more commonly used by a paramilitary often disguised as the CID or Military Police who have been accused of most of the incarcerations, tortures and murders in the war crimes. SA-58 and the better SAR-58 (improved by Singapore) was also used. Singapore is majorly allied with the USA as a military.

For what little artillery the LTTE could afford, anti-tank rockets were supplied by Pakistan (which indirectly obtained the technology and weaponry from the USA.)

Convoys of military were escorted by obsoleted Russian BMP-1, BMP-2 and BMP-3 armored vehicles mounted with Heavy Machine guns. However the main "Tank" used to destroy mines was a Pakistan supplied Al-Khalid MBT. Chinese Type 59 and Type 69 "Tanks" were also used for massive assault campaigns destroying entire villages and their populations. The war crimes of civilians dying in prisons by torture is but the tip of the iceberg. The real 'ethnic cleansing' was carried out by weaponry. 

Earlier weaponry included the T55 which were deployed in check-posts to avoid ambushes. The South African "Buffel" APC was the mine protected vehicle which led the troops through extremely mined territories. 

India would stand clean as long as people focused on allegations that Indians supplied weaponry, which of course does not include anything that the Sri Lankan army could use effectively. Supplying an Indian Naval Carrier to the Sri Lankans recently has been merely an appeasing move, with no true interests in military empowerment of an already threatening nation, whose only failing is the absence of a large air-force which is being empowered right now. India in opposition has decided to setup larger airbases in the far South with no option, as defending airspace will now become critical.

Why, Who and What Next?

The big question is, who is the true villain in all these events. Undoubtedly the victims are civilians, the majority being an ethnic 'Tamil' group. There have been civilians of the ethnic 'Sinhalese' group who have been labeled supporters of the LTTE or the ethnic 'Tamils' in some way and subject to persecution (not prosecution). 

In my opinion, children born during the conflict and murdered have been the worst to be victimized. Murdering the youngest son of the last LTTE chief, Prabhakaran was most horrific and indicative of the many childhoods lost. Many families have been broken. The Lankan military may presently believe that they have achieved a great victory, but they will also carry home stories of pain, torture and a possible dictatorship that might subjugate the ethnic Sinhalese as well. Using the ethnic conflict, a rather weak military in Sri Lanka has now risen to broker power at a parliamentary level and controls the entire northern "Eelam" or Jaffna region. 

Despite all that is painted of Rajapakse, he might end up being painted the Dictator, while the military has its sway on its own people. Once they get rid of all the ethnic 'Tamils' who mistakenly return to their nation either by extradition or by choice, they will turn on their own people. They have already targeted ethnic Sinhalese who were supposed 'Tamil' sympathizers. In short, every nation that has participated in a civil war has ultimately destroyed itself and its own humanity. What will transpire here will be of no difference.

The "Why" no longer matters, the "Who" (started it) too, pales in comparison to a terrible future that this nation is about to face. They may open up as a nation friendly to tourists, and a new arena for the USA to conduct their 'Renditions' [the infamous persecution of US nationals on foreign soil in the name of curbing terrorism.] The truth is the perpetrators are equal victims as much as those victimized for they have just lined themselves up. Killing Adolf Hitler or Mengele or numerous other Nazi war criminals did not better the lives of those prosecuted by them (labeling all of them Jews would be injustice to those who were not.)

India too has been played along with Sri Lanka in the never ending cold-war between the USA and Russia with foreign powers playing their hands with smaller nations as puppets. 

Endnote ...

As I write this, India also risks electing Narendra Modi as its leader, who can easily slip and fall into a similar dilemma and permit (willfully or powerlessly) such crimes against people. He has slipped once and has no remorse for that. Hence, India also will be judged only by its people and time. No murders, wars will rebuild lost lives, families, livelihoods and childhoods.

I stay powerless to even think of a pragmatic solution to help mankind find peaceful coexistence anywhere, even in a country so close to where I live.

If one nation state can turn against the very citizens it is formed to protect and such an incident has recurred too many times within the last century - then which country or which people are safe? Why are we turning a blind eye to such conflicts and heinous organized crimes? Is it because, despite all our technological prowess, we do not have a true political solution at all?