Unfinished business: Kumaratunga plays the murky Indian Card
Unfinished business: Kumaratunga plays the murky Indian Card
For little over 48 hours last week, the world quickly turned its attention away from the Middle East to events closer to home - in Sri Lanka.
President Kumaratunga was squarely on the offensive, sacking three of her important ministers, all the while talking feverishly about 'security threats'. Making sure her decisions were taken seriously, she deployed the Army to guard installations in and around Colombo, and declared a state of emergency. The 'you know who is the Boss' message was loud and clear. The long suffering Sri Lankan people were aghast, as were many all across the world monitoring events in the placid Island of peace. 'Precipitous move' by the lady in the helms of affairs in Sri Lanka, had the world perspiring.
By look of things, it seemed the President had probably foiled an attempted military coups detat or more sinister, was midway masterminding a presidential coup of sort on her own. Making matters all the more bizarre was Kumaratunga's move was made when her 'estranged' Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe was in the US, on a tour meant to debrief the Bush administration, details of a peace agreement gleaned from/with the LTTE.
Earlier, peace in the idyllic Indian Ocean Island hammered out after decades of strife between the minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese seemed eminently 'workable' on the horizon. It was nonetheless the timing of the Presidents move and statements made by her spokespersons thereafter that left many analysts perplexed.
Afterall who on Gods earth could work against peace, specially a peace negotiated after 2 decades of war and estimated death to over 60,000 Sri Lankan's? What was so 'grave' in the construed 'security threat' that merited the President literally 'snatching' portfolios of Defense, Interior and Information ministry, and take hasty possession and command of the same?
If the President was indeed 'unhappy' with the Prime Minister for making far 'too many concessions' to the LTTE in the proposed peace agreement, this blatant and haughty move is indicative, that Kumaratunga has tricks quite a few up the drapes of her silk sari, that are inherently slippery!
The sensitivity of the portfolios and the frivolity that accompanied the whimsical Presidential decision indicated that things in the power echelons of Sri Lanka are ideally not as 'serene' as they appear on surface, the Presidential-Premier war of ego albeit nothing more that a planned 'ruse of the willing'.
In likelihood of getting scuttled is the $4.5 billion up on offer from the International Community to heal Sri Lanka's war wounds - with very sensible conditions attached; peace with 'fully complaint cease-fire agreement, effective protection of human rights and a verifiable de-escalation, de-militarisation and normalization process'.
The cool Norwegians have been at it for years, and despite the many hiccups that came its way, sometimes with the LTTE rejecting and breaking off peace talks, or the Presidents party harrying them with accusations of 'salmon eating busybodies' - peace seemed pretty much within reach, only that matters simmering beneath the surface were not as clear to many as they are today.
The LTTE being the first non-Islamic outfit to be included in the US list of 'terrorist organization' had decided to cool down its act once Washington told them that the Tamil homeland they were battling for since 1972 was both 'unattainable and unnecessary'. It comes as no surprise therefore that the LTTE has not launched any 'terrorist attack' since 9/11.
LTTE also had to contend with several issues that India in its obsessive gung-ho diplomacy was trying hard to corner them with:
· That it procures arms from Pakistan (to tie the convenient 'Islamic knot'), when in reality it does so from the International black market, funded by the rich Tamil community in Europe, U.S and Canada and a host of countries in South East Asia. The world is certainly not ready for a Trans National or Global LTTE!
· It is the only guerilla force in the world with naval fighting capability, which means that the Sri Lankan coast has all possibilities of becoming deadlier and unsafe for international shipping,
· Overt reminders, that whilst the Norwegian Government was handling negotiations between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Government, it (LTTE) is on the list of U.S 'proscribed organizations' and therefore, despite apparent peace overtures the group is 'unreliable'.
In sharp focus here is India's hegemony in the region and its newly attained stature as an ally of the US in its 'war on terror', which it wishes to flaunt dangerously all across the region, while it seems to have ditched more tenable lessons from Sri Lanka's recent history. It was non else but India in the first place that formed, trained and armed the LTTE to wage the decades old guerilla campaign, and later tried disarming, by sending in a Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) that between 1987 and 1990, were sorely humiliated and forcibly ejected from the Island.
A reminder to readers:
"Originally sent to Sri Lanka as a neutral body with a mission to ensure compliance with the accord, the IPKF increasingly became a partisan force fighting against Tamils. The popularity of Indian forces, which was never high, decreased still further amidst charges of rape and murder of civilians. Despite the considerable experience that Indian troops had gained in fighting insurgencies in India's northeast, the IPKF was at a marked disadvantage in Sri Lanka." [ 1 ]
The Sri Lankan war saw high profile targets in the Indian mainland through the assassination of Premier Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991 by the LTTE, and the 'human bomb' strategy became a phenomenon worth reckoning worldwide, with outfits such as the Hezbollah in the Middle East quickly replicating the same.
Clearly India washed its hands clean off Sri Lanka after creating a demon called the LTTE. It was neither able to fight it back, nor effectively control it for it lost whatever political clout it had with them, thanks again to the IPKF operations on the Island. LTTE's support base inside India, especially among disenfranchised Tamils meanwhile continues to be a major worry.
So wide and all encompassing is Indian fear of the LTTE, that any insurgent outfit she is unable to fight in its own territory of late, gets a 'quick link', quick fix to the Sri Lankan organization. Notably the Maoist Central Committee (MCC) or the Peoples War Group (PWG) in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh emboldened by recent strikes on Indian politicians, have all been branded with having 'links' to the LTTE, a veritable 'non-Islamic' Al-Qaeda for the rest of the world to savor!
Kumaratunga loathes the LTTE for obvious reasons. She survived an assassination attempt carried out by the outfit in 2001, which very nearly blinded her. It would be foolhardy for anybody to expect that she would be ever so ready to 'accommodate' them in a 'peace deal'. It is therefore not surprising that she took flippant exceptions that Wickramasinghe aides sat in the 'same table' with LTTE negotiators, in the Norwegian brokered peace talks.
However, going by events of over the years Kumaratunga has broadly 2 hidden cards to play. Whether these are 'triumph cards', we have no way of knowing at this point of time:
1. Keep India as one of its strongest ally to fight the menace of 'terrorism' by the LTTE, given the International windfall of bounties, the 'war on terror' appears to have heaped in its (India's) otherwise mediocre fortunes.
2. With growing Chinese influence in the sea lanes all they way from the Indian Ocean to the Mallaca Straits, and the average Indian citizens known apathy to any foreign base in its soil, Sri Lanka's known proximity with Israeli intelligence the Mossad, and existence of several secret defense pacts, the island with its strategic location is set to be a viable Indo-American-Israeli 'coalition of the willing' staging point.
A naval base in Trincomalee to go hand in hand with the US base in the Indian Ocean Island of Diego Garcia is no speculation on a distant horizon, it is a definite conclusion. Only time is the blurry mirage in between.
The Sri Lankan move to accommodate India and the US started immediately after the war in Iraq earlier in the year. For instance in April, President Kumaratunga made two unscheduled trips to India within a week to confer with high officials in Delhi, matters of apparent hush-hush confidentiality. She then visited Bangladesh without any agenda for discussion with her counterparts. Other than vague suggestions of 'seeking support to peace initiatives with the LTTE', her most uncalled-for public dressing down on relationship with her estranged Premier to the press in Dhaka left all Bangladeshi worth his or her rice - baffled. As if all of this is not enough, Kumaratunga was set to make another 'personal trip' to India on the 17th November, which had to be cancelled (naturally) due to recent developments of her own making!
It is an open secret that the US is sourcing 'secure areas' around several Indian seaports to be used as strategic reserves for fuel, and should not leave anybody in doubt as to how they will be used. With India being more than willing to provide such services, the stepping stone for US intervention in South Asia, is definitely Sri Lanka.
Which brings us to the WHY's of President Kumaratunga's latest moves.
Since her emphasis consistently has been that Premier Wickramasinghe was moving a bit too quickly than desired to wrap up the peace deal, and giving too many 'concessions' to the rebels, the cruel bottom line seems to indicate that President Kumaratunga wishes to finish off the LTTE - once and for all - before peace can be given a chance, on her mandate, her wishes, and goaded by desires of the US and India.
She know that forces within her control cannot 'go it alone', and she knows all too well the lessons of the IPKF misadventure, lessons that leaves her to seek US help in eliminating the LTTE, and that can only be achieved, if she consolidates all powers in her dictatorial hands solidly, and importantly 'constitutionally', if not democratically.
The apparent Constitutional move of 'removing portfolios' of Defense, Interior and Information from pro-Wickramasinghe Ministers, is indicator of a blue print for restive times ahead for Sri Lanka. One can expect draconian legislation's to fight 'LTTE terrorists' and the fighting will extend beyond Jaffna peninsula to envelop all of Sri Lanka. The conflict spiraling out to mainland India will make it all the more justifiable for India to 'extend moral support' to Kumaratunga's 'war on terrorism'.
In the melee and humdrum, made all the more confusing by newer Kumaratunga tricks, it should not surprise any of us for appeals being made to the US to intervene and sort out the mess. India has a score or two to settle with the LTTE, and this is the opportune moment they have been salivating for years.
The US is undoubtedly assured of winning a huge propaganda victory. They will have convinced a disbelieving world with their intervention in Sri Lanka, that the 'war on terror' - is afterall NO war on Islam!
We have positive 'unprophetic' indicators in those directions. It is now known that Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe has capitulated and wants the President to handle peace negotiations with the LTTE. [ 2 ], as much as the Sri Lankan Government has broken off Peace Talks with the LTTE [ 3 ]
The beginning of end to peace in Sri Lanka has just begun.