Friday, October 24, 2008
Coffee Break/ Kanchan Gupta
As India flounders in its pretentious war on terror and an effete Prime Minister touts the emasculating nuclear deal he has negotiated with the Americans as evidence of his derelict Government’s robust health, a resolute Sri Lanka led by a determined President is on the verge of smashing the last stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam which has terrorised that country for the last 25 years. Reports emanating from the battlefront in the north say that the Sri Lankan Army is within striking distance of Kilinochchi. According to Col R Hariharan, who was the head of intelligence of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force during our ill-advised and disastrous entanglement with Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990, “Six divisions of the Sri Lankan Army have gheraoed Kilinochchi. The situation is critical for both sides.” For the beleaguered LTTE chief Prabhakaran this is possibly the last big battle of his life; for a decisive President Mahinda Rajapakse, Kilinochchi is the last barrier to re-establishing Colombo’s authority on Tamil-majority northern Sri Lanka.
Even while you are reading this, the LTTE’s ‘administrative headquarters’ may have fallen and the Sri Lankan Army could well be on its way to Paranthan and Elephant Pass, the strategic land bridge that allows access to Jaffna. Once the battle is over, so shall be the bloody saga of the LTTE which, in the guise of fighting for Tamil minority rights in Sinhalese majority Sri Lanka, has inflicted death and misery on both communities. Jihadis looking for a shortcut to zannat and its nubile houris did not make suicide-bombing fashionable among terrorists; that credit goes to an LTTE ‘Black Tiger’ who blew himself up along with 40 Sri Lankan soldiers on July 5, 1987. Since then, ‘belt-bomb assassins’ have been the LTTE’s main weapon of assault, often resulting in ghastly outrages against civilians. Recall the terrible night of May 21, 1991, when Dhanu, a LTTE suicide bomber, pulled the trigger of her belt-bomb while bending to touch Rajiv Gandhi’s feet at a public meeting in Sriperumbudur.
Whatever be New Delhi’s public posture — preferably studied silence — it should at this moment be hoping, if not praying, for Colombo’s victory. The LTTE is listed as a terrorist organisation in India and Prabhakaran is wanted for ordering Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Since the pusillanimous Government we have at the moment can neither annihilate the LTTE (in fact, it is incapable of busting terrorist sleeper cells on India’s territory) nor bring Prabhakaran to trial, it should rejoice at the sight of the Sri Lankan Government moving close to its goal of making the ‘Tamil Tigers’ an extinct species. Yet, this is not the case. Faced with the prospect of the DMK deserting the Congress-led UPA to show that its sympathies lie with Sri Lanka’s Tamils, who are undoubtedly caught between a rock and a hard place in Colombo’s all-out war against LTTE, it has decided to play the same tattered card that has in the past fetched us nothing but grief.
On the Prime Minister’s instructions, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon summoned Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to India CR Jayasinghe and conveyed to him New Delhi’s concern over the “humanitarian situation” in the island nation’s northern region. Lest it be construed as blatant interference in a sovereign nation’s internal affairs, Mr Menon also mentioned New Delhi’s displeasure over the harassment of Indian fishermen by the Sri Lankan Navy. No mention, however, was made of these so-called ‘Indian fishermen’ ferrying fuel and supplies to what Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK boss M Karunanidhi has described as “our brethren”. Mr Menon is believed to have told Mr Jayasinghe that India is “gravely worried over the situation arising out of the conflict” and that “Sri Lanka should ensure the rights of its civilians are respected and they are protected from attacks”.
The airing of the Government’s ‘displeasure’ has not been limited to diplomatic channels. Mr Manmohan Singh and his Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee have also expressed “concern over the situation”, particularly the “humanitarian effect” of the conflict. Mr Singh, sanctimonious as ever, has deemed it fit to express his anguish and demand that Sri Lanka should seek a “negotiated settlement” rather than a “military victory”. Mr Mukherjee, so as not to be seen as lagging behind his Prime Minister, has said India will do everything “in its power” to ensure a political settlement to Sri Lanka’s “ethnic problem”. For good measure, he has added, “It is essential that their (citizen’s) rights be respected, that they be immune from attacks and that food and other essential supplies be allowed to reach them.” On October 6, National Security Adviser MK Narayanan had summoned Sri Lanka’s Deputy High Commissioner GGAD Palithaga-negoda and “stressed that Colombo should act with greater restraint and address the growing insecurity in the wake of killing of unarmed people there”.
Such noble thoughts can occur only to those who refuse to learn from history and cannot distinguish between what is good for India and what isn’t. Mr Mukherjee’s comment revives memories of Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to airdrop ‘relief supplies’ on LTTE-controlled Jaffna in June 1987 and thus help Prabhakaran stave off imminent defeat at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army which had laid siege to the peninsula. That was not a humanitarian gesture but an outright military intervention which was to pave the way for Rajiv Gandhi’s subsequent folly by way of the India-Sri Lanka Accord and the despatch of Indian soldiers to that country’s killing fields where many of them died horrendous deaths. That particularly dark chapter of the Congress’s proclivity for misadventure has never been fully made public; the bits and pieces that are known are sufficiently revealing of how horribly wrong Rajiv Gandhi and his advisers were in framing India’s response. We appear to be on the verge of repeating that ghastly mistake.
It is unlikely that Colombo will be bothered about New Delhi’s treacly concern “over the situation” or be impressed by Mr Singh’s demand for a “negotiated settlement”. What is more than likely is that those who view India’s claim on Jammu & Kashmir as that of an ‘occupying force’ will quote Mr Singh to express their concern over the situation in the Kashmir Valley and demand a ‘negotiated settlement’. And if one of them decides to airdrop ‘relief supplies’ to ease the plight of Kashmiri separatists and terrorists we will be expected to treat it as a ‘humanitarian gesture’. It may not be entirely incorrect to suggest that those who have short-changed the country on the nuclear deal are now preparing the ground for such intervention.
AGENDA | Sunday Pioneer, October 19, 2008