What is India’s stand on the peace process?
Northeastern Herald, 19 December 2002
"...The US led coalition is doing
the job of trying to settle the conflict through Norway. And
Delhi is assured of keeping abreast of the developments by
virtue of its legal status vis-à-vis the Tamil question which is
guaranteed by the Indo Lanka Accord. We must not forget India
has come to wield such decisive say on Sri Lanka’s strategic
status in the region by managing and mediating Tamil militancy
between 1983 and 1987 in its so called attempt to settle the
ethnic conflict here. The US and its allies are doing exactly
the same here now, though by subtler means. It is obvious to
everyone that they are not making peace for peace’s sake. There
is nothing called a free lunch in international diplomacy and
power politics. Therefore, India may just keep watching the
peace process and blessing it towards fruition as long as it
does not give the US coalition great leverage in the affairs of
the island – the kind of leverage that could undermine what
Delhi feels are its “non negotiable strategic interests” in Sri
What is India’s stand on the peace process? No one seems to have
a definite answer.
The Sri Lankan government and the Norwegian facilitators give us the
strong impression that India too should be involved in a significant
manner in the talks to end the conflict. However, Delhi has not made
any move so far to become directly engaged in the conduct of the
negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation
Tigers. Initially it did not venture to commit itself on the matter
except drawing the broad and clichéd parameters of a possible
solution even as it was being systematically briefed by the
Norwegian facilitators and the anxious leadership of the United
That any settlement to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict should not affect
its sovereignty and territorial integrity was and is a refrain every
state interested in this island’s affairs is harping on. India was
thus content at the time with stating the obvious regarding the
peace talks. Given Delhi’s amply demonstrated concern with the Tamil
question in the past, this seemingly hands off attitude is
perplexing to many.
But more importantly, what does the Sri Lankan government expect
India to do regarding the current peace process?
There are three things that Delhi can possibly do about the talks.
It can facilitate the talks or mediate between the LTTE and the
Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL). It could provide the venue and take
part in the talks directly in order to ensure that no part of the
process impinges upon its national interests. Thirdly India can
promise to underwrite the eventual settlement.
Firstly, it is not practically possible for India to negotiate or
mediate because it has no official contact with the LTTE now.
Politically and legally it is not possible for Delhi to have the
kind of relationship with the Tigers, which is necessary for such a
role. For the same reason it cannot sit in the talks.
As far as I am aware, India would not consider the third option even
remotely. In fact it may be one of the reasons that is deterring
Delhi from getting involved in Sri Lanka’s current peace process in
If Delhi decides to host, facilitate/mediate or sit in the talks it
could eventually, though not inexorably, draw it into a situation
where India may have to singly or jointly underwrite a settlement to
the conflict. This is an eventuality that Delhi would like to avoid
at any cost in the context of the emerging strategic scenario in the
Even if Delhi does not underwrite a settlement between the LTTE and
the GOSL, any serious involvement in the peace process would impose
on it a moral responsibility to ensure the implementation of a peace
India would like to steer clear of this too. Why?
The LTTE is a heavily armed and resourceful military organisation.
Any underwriting of an agreement by India in which the LTTE is the
main party to the settlement involves a serious potential for
conflict. There is also the very real possibility of interested
parties precipitating a military standoff between the LTTE and India
by devious means as in 1987.
Some senior defence analysts in Delhi say that India’s enemies want
to bleed it with a “thousand cuts” to achieve what they cant with a
single decisive strike of the sword i.e. conventional warfare. They
also argue that India’s quest for global economic and strategic
power would be hampered if it allows itself to be insidiously drawn
into minor conflicts in the region, falling prey to the ‘thousand
cuts strategy’ of its opponents.
In recent years Delhi has done its best to de-escalate tensions and
conflicts in its northeastern border region, in Assam, Nagaland,
Manipur and Mizoram, by developing good relations with the military
Junta in Burma and by greater rapproachment with China. It has also
sought to ‘demilitarise’ the militancy in Kashmir through elections,
by promoting ‘alternative’ groups etc., It is an interesting
co-incidence that the three regional powers identified by the US as
the ones that could individually or in alliance pose a global
challenge to it in the future on the order of that posed by the
former Soviet Union are all afflicted by festering internal
Muslim separatism in its eastern Xingxiang Province continues to
frustrate China’s ambition of channelling surpluses to its west
coast for developing blue water naval capabilities and space
programs, according to a recent issue of Janes Intelligence.
Similarly, Russia’s political stability and resources are being
seriously tested by Muslim separatists in Chechniya.
India of course has Kashmir.
It is the stated objective of the US to prevent a concentration of
resources by any of these three states that could pave the way for
one of them to emerge as a global challenge to America in the
future, an eventuality that may deny the current sole superpower
unhindered economic, political and military access to Asia.
“US support for Pakistan achieves precisely this by ‘bleeding
India’s resources and stability with a thousand cuts’. Pakistan
sponsors the destabilising terrorist forces with impunity and with
the knowledge of US intelligence agencies which have close ties with
the ISI”, said an area specialist in Delhi recently. (ISI – Inter
Services Intelligence- is Pakistan’s main intelligence organisation)
Delhi’s concern appears to be that any direct engagement in the Sri
Lankan problem carries with it inevitable traps that could ensnare
it into confrontation with the LTTE and a protracted conflict. If it
were to be ensnared thus the potential for interested parties to
escalate the conflict with measured inputs and manipulation is
immense given the current strategic scenario in the region. The fear
of a spill over effect in Tamil Nadu from a destabilised LTTE is
less than Delhi’s apprehensions about the opportunities a chaotic
northeast could offer to parties that are keen to permeate
‘terrorism’ into south India.
This is why India was keen that the operation to extract Sri Lanka
army troops from Jaffna in May-June 2000 should in no way draw it
into a confrontation with the LTTE.
“Avoid the conflict traps - which regional hegemons were frequently
wont to fall for in the past- and stay focussed on the goal of
economic development”, is the modern Indian policy makers’ motto.
And above all what does India stand to gain from involving itself in
the conflict resolution process in Sri Lanka? It has already got
what it wanted legally through the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987. Its
strategic objectives here were achieved in the annexure to the
The US led coalition is doing the job of trying to settle the
conflict through Norway. And Delhi is assured of keeping abreast of
the developments by virtue of its legal status vis-à-vis the Tamil
question which is guaranteed by the Indo Lanka Accord.
We must not forget India has come to wield such decisive say on Sri
Lanka’s strategic status in the region by managing and mediating
Tamil militancy between 1983 and 1987 in its so called attempt to
settle the ethnic conflict here.
The US and its allies are doing exactly the same here now, though by
subtler means. It is obvious to everyone that they are not making
peace for peace’s sake. There is nothing called a free lunch in
international diplomacy and power politics.
Therefore, India may just keep watching the peace process and
blessing it towards fruition as long as it does not give the US
coalition great leverage in the affairs of the island – the kind of
leverage that could undermine what Delhi feels are its “non
negotiable strategic interests” in Sri Lanka.