Indian Peacekeeping Force in Sri Lanka

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Operation Pawan, name given to the Indian Peacekeeping in Sri Lanka was a major turning point for India after the Bangladesh experience in projecting its power outside. The Indian armed forces rose to the challenges posed by political directions, urgency and logistics in an amicable fashion. Peacekeeping is a noble cause and can only be sustained if there is peace to keep. Sri Lanka experience, like later in Somalia and elsewhere, shows that nations and communities hell bent on destroying themselves can not be helped by the international community till they realize that peace, democracy and sharing powers with own community provides them a win-win situation.

Transcript

Indian Peacekeeping in Sri LankaCol(retd) KK Sharma and research associates

Separated from the State of Tamil Nadu in Peninsular India by a string of islets 35 kilometers long and known as Adams Bridge, in the placid blue waters of the Indian Ocean lies the island of Sri Lanka. It has been variously described as the Emerald Isle and as Pearl of the East1. Sri Lanka is strategically significant because of its geographic proximity to the Indian mainland and to the sea lines of communication. Sri Lankas heritage too is irretrievably bound to India as racial, linguistic, economic and cultural ties indicate. The Ethnic Problem from the Past Sri Lanka is a multi-racial and multi-religious nation. Ever since the British, colonial masters of the sub-continent, transported thousands of Tamils to work in tea plantations, exacerbated differences between the Sinhalese and the Tamils surfaced. Tamils, a brave and self righteous people, had historical roots in the North and Eastern Sri Lanka, which go back to mythological period of Treta. The dawn of independence witnessed intensified ethnic discord which was embedded in deep rooted mutual suspicion, mistrust and hatred with linguistic and cultural antagonism. Sri Lanka neither seriously read the Indian constitution nor attempted to follow the multi-ethnic all inclusive democratic polity of her neighbour. With the passage of time two main groups drifted apart to the dismay of India and result has been unabated bloodletting on the emerald island. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) became independent in on 4 February 1948. Being a majority population, the ruling party was dominated by the Sinhalese, who in their nationalistic zeal started passing legislations which were apparently discriminating against the Tamils. The party re-defined citizenship in a manner that made the one million Indian Tamil plantation workers stateless and they were disenfranchised. This embittered the Tamils2. The resentment of the Tamil minority was exacerbated by the introduction of several majority-oriented legislative measures such as declaring

Sinhalese as the official language; requiring Tamils and other minority groups to secure higher merits than their Sinhalese counterparts for admission in universities (affirmative action in reverse) by adopting the procedure of Standardization and by application of the District Quota System. There was conferment of special constitutional protection for Buddhism; failure to grant such autonomy to Tamil majority district council after promises to grant such autonomy had been made; and creation of Sinhalese colonies in predominantly Tamil areas by resettling Sinhala families with a view, as perceived by Tamils , to alter the demographic pattern was also done3. The Sinhala Tamil antagonism increased during the 1960s. Agreements were signed by moderate Tamil leaders with successive Sri Lankan governments to obtain fair play for the Tamils; but these were not implemented. The Tamils felt betrayed and alienated; frustration increased because of this political discrimination and lack of opportunities for education and economic well being. This economic desolation, loss of faith in peaceful means and ineffectual democratic methods of protests gave rise to violence, authoritativeness and fascist methods. This ethnic agitation born out of the iniquitous and discriminating treatment meted out to the Ceylon Tamils for years together took the ultimate and inevitable turn in the direction of a demand for a separate Tamil homeland in the Tamil speaking North and East of Sri Lanka. This ethnic agitation, took the shape of a movement for Tamil Eelam or an independent Tamil state. Birth of the LTTE and Rise of Militancy From 1972 onwards, the Tamils started resorting to violence and it thus helped in the rise of assertive and aggressive Tamil militancy spear-headed by the LTTE, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, was formed by V Prabhakaran in Jaffna in 1972 with 10 students. It was banned by the Sri Lankan government in 1978. Despite the ban, the LTTE continued to grow in strength and on 31 July 1983 it carried out its first major terrorist act by ambushing a police patrol at Tirunnelveli and killing 13 policemen, all Sinhala. Retribution was swift and took the form of widespread riots through the length and breadth of the country; over 3000 Tamils died, thousands of Tamil homes

destroyed and some 1.5 lakh Tamils fled to refugee camps. This resulted in Indias inevitable involvement in the ethnic strife as the migration of over one lakh Tamil refugees into the ethnically homogeneous Indian state of Tamil Nadu was politically explosive and understandably the people from the State demanded immediate Indian involvement to stop the genocide of brother Tamils. After this incident, several Indian diplomatic initiatives made an endeavor to mediate between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamils; but a proper breakthrough was not reached4. Meanwhile, concurrent with the political and diplomatic moves, the LTTE continued to grow in stature and strength. It was organized into five commands, viz, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Batticoloa and Mannar. The majority of the personal were in Jaffna, but they moved around constantly, depending upon where the main threat was perceived or where they planned to develop major operations. Each command had a political wing and a military wing; the former responsible for establishing a parallel administration and the latter to conduct military operations5. The LTTE continued to grow in stature and strength and by 1986 became the predominant militant organization in Sri Lanka and Jaffna came under LTTE domination. With the civil administration totally paralyzed and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLAF) confined along the coast, the LTTE virtually ran a state within a state6. The Indian Involvement The Sri Lankan government imposed an economic blockade, on the Jaffna peninsula in January 1987 in retaliation against the LTTEs announcement that they were going to seize control of the civil administration of Jaffna. The government indefinitely suspended the distribution of all petroleum products in the peninsula. This continued suspension of fuel supply for several days caused serious shortage of food and medicine. Normal life came to a stand still. The Indian High Commissioner sent a proposal to the Sri Lankan government to send a flotilla of small boats across the Palk Straits with relief supplies. This was rejected by the Sri Lankan cabinet claiming that such unilateral action would violate Sri Lankan sovereignty. The Government of India

still went ahead and sent the flotilla but it was not allowed to proceed towards Jaffna. As a followup step, the Indian government decided to airdrop the supplies. Accordingly, five An-32s escorted by four Mirage 2000s, took off from Bangalore at about 1600 hours on 4 June 1987, and were back in Indian air space after carrying out a bread drop mission. The Mirages operated from Yelahanka. Two additional An-32s were utilized as airborne relay stations. During the drop, two Mirages stayed with the transport aircraft while the other two climbed to 40,000 feet to provide airborne warning and interception if required. The decision to send fighter escort was to meet any contingency of air or ground threat from Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF). The supply mission, code named Poomalai was led by Group Captain BK Sunder under the watchful eyes of Air Vice Marshal D Keelor, Assistant Chief of Air Staff (operations) from Bangalore7. The Indo- Srilankan Accord Armed Forces remain the last argument of kings, when all other diplomatic measures fail - India was no exception. After the air drop over Jaffna, the Sri Lankan government sought further discussions with Indian government and the outcome was the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord that was signed on 29 July 1987 in Colombo by the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and the Sri Lankan President, Mr. Jayewardene. This accord was hailed as a major diplomatic and political triumph world over. It sought to end an ethnic struggle that had not only claimed countless lives but also caused untold damage to private and government property and almost ruined the economy of the Island nation. Another motive of India to help Sri Lanka was that it wanted to avoid Sri Lanka taking any help from any other big power like the USA which would have hampered its political reputation in the subcontinent and brought big power rivalry closer home. Moreover, it wanted to prove its sense of concern for its South Asian neighbor. It was also necessary for India in the geo-strategic arena to assert herself as a strong regional power by displaying its military might in Sri Lanka.On the day the Accord was signed, in Colombo by the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, and the Sri Lankan President, J Jayewardene, the departure ceremony of Rajiv Gandhi was marred by an extra ordinary incident. When the Indian prime minister was reviewing the Guard of Honour, he was attacked by a naval member of the Guard. This incident clearly reflected the outrage felt by the Sri Lankans majority on the accord and state of discipline of the force.

The accord sought to achieve the following: Guarantee the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka Preserve Indian security interests Permit the ravaged economy and infrastructure of Sri Lanka to stabilize with consequential benefits to its people. Ensure that interests of all communities in Sri Lanka were considered8

IPKF Initial Preparations With these goals in mind the Indian armed forces known as Indian Peace keeping Force (IPKF) were inducted on 30 July 1987. It entered Sri Lanka as per the commitments of the agreement of 29 July 1987, which stipulated that In the event that the Government of Sri Lanka requests the Government of India to afford military assistance to implement these proposals, the Government of India will cooperate by giving the Government