India will not court regional instability by
taking on Tigers
29 May 2004
The political change in India was greeted in Colombo primarily on
the basis that it would mean bad times for the LTTE leader. When
Delhi extended the ban on the Tigers on May 13 it was considered
further proof that the Tigers were getting into a real spot, as it
Opinions on the relevance of the Indian election results to Sri
Lanka in English and Sinhala were based on reasoning that can be
'India wants Pirapaharan extradited for ordering the killing of
Sonia Gandhi's husband. Sonia has won the Indian elections. She
would do the needful as to avenge her husband's death. Therefore the
LTTE would be in deep trouble. It is good for Sri Lanka if Sonia
starts gunning for Pirapaharan. The extension of the ban is a good
One gets the impression that the geopolitical naiveté that informs
many discussions in Colombo on India's role in Sri Lanka is somewhat
incorrigible. They are ultimately based on the emotive proposition
that 'India does not like the LTTE. We too hate the LTTE. Therefore
India's actions would naturally be detrimental to the Tigers'.
Things have not changed much since the early eighties when J.R
Jayewardene thought that courting the Americans would be the simple
logical solution to counter what he saw as India's hegemonic designs
on Sri Lanka.
India's so called 'hatred' for the LTTE stand on two pillars - the
extensions of the ban and the extradition order. The Tigers were
banned in India in 1992. In what manner I pray has this ban affected
Let us, for argument's sake, assume that the Congress government in
India gets down to the job of extraditing Pirapaharan. What would it
Delhi has to either compel Colombo to arrest him on its own or
provide substantive assistance to Colombo for doing the job or go
for him directly. All three options mean large scale war. Period.
India, whether under BJP rule or Congress Party rule, does not want
war. New Delhi's oft-stated position on Sri Lanka's conflict is that
both parties should stick to the peace process.
If anyone bothers to study Delhi's foreign policy since Dr. Manmohan
Singh initiated economic reforms in 1991, he or she would find it
has been largely based on the need to create a secure, conflict free
regional environment in which India could rise peacefully as a
global economic power.
Hence India has been consistently pursuing a policy of de-escalation
and disengagement from conflicts in the region. The policy led to a
thaw in Delhi's relations with old enemies China and Myanmar; and
since 2000, India's relations with the two countries have improved
Most importantly Delhi has established a détente with archenemy
Pakistan as part of the process to stabilize the region for
generating rapid economic growth - an approach that has paid off
China tremendously in Central Asia and in the Pacific Rim. One of
the first promises the Congress Party made when it was elected to
power earlier this month was that it would continue to build on the
détente with Pakistan. On the home front too, India has stuck to the
policy of de-escalation of, and disengagement from, long running
insurgencies through dialogue. The longest and most brutal
insurgency in India, the Nagaland separatist movement, has been
locked in talks amidst a fairly stable ceasefire with Delhi since
India's efforts to contain Islamic militancy and stabilise the
Kashmir Valley have been stymied to some extent by the covert
backing Muslim separatists in the state get from Pakistan. Policy
makers in Delhi appear to believe that the détente with Islamabad
might eventually help scale down violence in Kashmir and politically
stabilise the troubled state.
In one of his first policy statements, Dr. Manmohan Singh said that
his government is prepared to talk to all parties concerned to
settle the Kashmir problem. Disengaging from conflicts and avoiding
them is integral to the Indian strategy for rising as a world
economic power. The pattern has been obvious many years.
The only exception is Nepal which signed the Access and Cross
Servicing Agreement with the US in 1999. Delhi appears to think the
ban on the LTTE helps check militant Tamil nationalist sentiments in
Tamil Nadu. The extradition order on Pirapaharan may serve the same
purpose. That's all.
In 2000 May when the Tigers were ramming the doors of Jaffna town
and Colombo sought its assistance to pull out the besieged troops,
India wanted to make sure that the evacuation would not in anyway
pose the danger of unwittingly getting drawn into a confrontation
with the LTTE even by accident. In 2001 when the Sri Lankan air
force launched heavy bombing raids in the north following the
failure of Op. Agni-Khiela, India issued a statement cautioning
Colombo against escalating the war. So the bottom line is India does
not want war in Sri Lanka. So no one in his/her senses in Delhi
would order a military adventure to capture Pirapaharan.
Actually, as long as the Tigers do not declare a separate sovereign
state, India would not bother to destabilise them either by limited
military intervention or through covert operations carried out by
its commandos and ex Tamil militants.
India can fund and run large-scale covert operations against the
LTTE in the northeast with or without the assistance of the Sri
Lankan government. After all if the Sri Lankan army can do deep
penetration attacks against the Tigers, why can't the Indian
military do it, given its vast resources?
While it is true that the Tigers had neutralised most of their
opponents who India would have necessarily required to carry out
such operations, one can vouch for the fact that since 1993 Delhi
has not had anything on its agenda for Sri Lanka designed
specifically to destabilise the LTTE.
Practically there are good reasons for India to feel that
fragmenting the LTTE would not be to its advantage, particularly in
the context of Delhi's recent concerns about the intentions of the
US and its close allies in Sri Lanka.
Let's assume that India succeeds in fragmenting the Tiger movement.
This would leave very a large mass of small arms and a thousands of
battle hardened fighters in state of unmonitored flux less than 50
kilometres from South India.
There would be no unifying political direction for the scattered
Tigers except inveterate hatred towards India, which would mean that
the destabilised and fragmented Tiger movement in the north could
become an ideal fishing ground for recruiting well trained
infiltrators, spies, saboteurs, agent provocateurs, explosives
experts etc., to promote terrorism and instability in south India.
Persistent instability in northern Sri Lanka is bad for south
India's security. It is a fact that the escalation of the conflict
provided an excuse for the regular visits by foreign military
personnel to Jaffna.
Delhi believes that Pakistan treats Sri Lanka as an ideal staging
ground for targeting its soft but strategically important southern
underbelly. It has become fairly clear that the LTTE was not acting
on behalf of any foreign power inimical to India's interests when it
assassinated Rajiv Gandhi.
It is also obvious that no western power has been able to manipulate
the Tigers despite the presence of large Tamil Diaspora communities
in the developed countries.
The lesson that Colombo refuses to learn from the Indian
intervention in 1983-87 is that Delhi's primary concern in Sri Lanka
is to preclude outside powers from strategically positioning
themselves on this island in a manner detrimental to its interests
Therefore as long as the LTTE does not actively promote separatist
sentiments in Tamil Nadu and as long as the LTTE refuses to become a
pawn in the hands of outside powers, India may not find reasons
compelling enough to do what many southern politicians and opinion
makers would want it to do against the Tigers.