Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Tigers Mean for India

What Tamil Tigers Mean for India
by Padraig Colman

India and Sri Lanka have both been holding elections. And although India is touted as the world’s largest democracy, and Sri Lanka praised for peaceful handovers of power since independence in 1948, elections in both countries have potential for violence. And their politics are intertwined.

The Sri Lanka government believes it is close to securing a military victory over the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) who have been engaged in a bloody struggle since 1983 to achieve a separate Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka.

As the Indian state of Tamil Nadu goes to the polls on 13 May, its chief minister M. Karunanidhi and opposition leader Jeyaram Jayalalitha are trying to outdo each other in support for Sri Lanka’s Tamils. Jayalalitha has vowed that if she becomes Tamil Nadu’s chief minister again she will use her influence to send Indian troops into Sri Lanka to create a separate state of Tamil Eelam.

Although the Sinhalese are the majority in Sri Lanka, they have a minority complex: Tamil may be the language of just 11% of the population (of 20 million), but there are more than 62 million Tamil speakers just across the Palk Straits in India.

Meanwhile Tamil Nadu itself has long been fractious, and the Sri Lankan situation has a destabilising effect on its polity: many Indians in Tamil Nadu support the Sri Lankan separatist militants. Continuing civilian casualties in northern Sri Lanka have led to violent protests in Tamil Nadu, and immolations and hunger strikes. Chief Minister Karunanidhi himself went on a brief hunger strike (described as a fast from breakfast to lunch rather than a fast unto death).

Over the years, India has not just played a passive role in Sri Lankan affairs. Its intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), trained Sri Lankan Tamil militants at a RAW base in Uttar Pradesh in 1983. Arms deliveries to various Sri Lankan Tamil separatist groups began in 1984.

In 1982, exiled LTTE leader V. Prabakharan had been arrested in Madras, when he was captured by a mob after a shootout with a rival militant. The Sri Lankan authorities were overjoyed that the man they had hunted for seven years for the murder of the mayor of Jaffna was now in custody.

Tamil Nadu’s chief minister was then the former film star M.G. Ramachandran. He and (current chief minister) Karunanidhi, another graduate of the film industry, were old rivals who saw the Eelam campaign in terms of their own electoral advantage. They used their influence to ensure that Prabakharan was not extradited to Sri Lanka and that the Indian government continued to support the separatist militants.

However, the Indian government discovered that the Sri Lankan militants it harboured were not easy to control. After Indira Gandhi was assassinated, her son Rajiv followed different advice and tried to mediate. Initially the atmosphere between the two nations improved and the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed on 29 July 1987, which led to the Indian army operating in northern Sri Lanka. India then expected the LTTE to hand over its arms, but the LTTE resisted efforts by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to disarm them: the LTTE was as ready to fight the Indians as it was to fight the Sinhalese. The Indians at first sent 10,000 troops but, with unexpected resistance from the LTTE, the number increased to 100,000. The LTTE took control of Jaffna and set about eliminating their Tamil rivals.

The Indian intervention was unpopular with the Sinhalese. As well as fighting Tamil rebels in the north, the government was simultaneously dealing with an uprising by Marxist Sinhalese nationalists in the south.

The LTTE refused to accept Rajiv Gandhi’s framework for an honourable peace. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Premadasa had been opposed to the accord from the outset. When he became president in December 1988, tensions between Sri Lanka and India increased and Premadasa continued to press for the withdrawal of the IPKF. This was completed in March 1990. Over 1,000 Indian soldiers had been killed and more than 2,000 wounded; the financial cost to India of its intervention in Sri Lanka was put at around $1.25bn.

Indira Gandhi had been the architect of India’s interventionist policy but her son Rajiv paid the ultimate price: On 21 May 1991 he was killed by a female Tiger. India’s Supreme Court ruled that the killing was carried out on Prabakharan’s orders. Four conspirators were sentenced to death (in absentia); Prabakharan is still wanted by India.

The interim report of the Jain Commission recommended that Karunanidhi, as chief minister, and his DMK party be held responsible for abetting Rajiv's murderers. But the final report contained no such allegations. And, in a fine irony, the current leader of the Congress Party is Rajiv’s widow, Sonia, and the Congress government now has Karunanidhi as an ally.

India has recently been supporting the Sri Lankan government and supplied it with radar equipment (cynical Sri Lankans say it wasn’t good enough to stop the Tigers’ air raids). India’s secret service has discreetly provided intelligence, particularly naval, and training for pilots and radar operators. India has supplied 120,000 family packs and 1,680 tonnes of food products to displaced civilians.

It has also sent a 62-member medical team, with medicines and equipment, to cater to the urgent medical requirement of injured and sick civilians being evacuated out of the conflict zone through the sea route. The team has eight doctors plus paramedical staff, and the Indian hospital there has treated over 2,500 serious cases so far, most of them surgical cases. The Indian government has promised its help in the reconstruction and reconciliation process when the war is over and will soon send de-mining teams to Sri Lanka to help civilians return to their homes.

But there are fears that the LTTE will now regroup in Tamil Nadu causing continuing discord there and posing another threat to India’s security -- coming on top of the activities of militant groups throughout the country and cross-border terrorism in the northwest complicated by the uneasy relationship with Pakistan.

Padraig Colman is a journalist based in Sri Lanka.

Copyright © 2009 Le Monde diplomatique – distributed by Agence Global

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Two-State Delusion

The Two-State Delusion
By Alan Sabrosky

May 11, 2009 "Khaleej Times" - The world is once again being treated to yet another round in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” charade.

The “usual suspects” are posturing, pronouncements are being made, speeches are being given, and hints and rumours about a supposed “toughening” in the US government’s approach to Israel are filtering out from the press. We are supposed to think that something different is about to happen, and that, as the old American folk song had it, “The times, they are a-changing.” It is all nonsense. The whole exercise strikes me as what the old Soviet Army used to call a maskirovka, sort of a complex strategic masquerade on steroids, with rehearsed actors playing their scripted roles before a fully aware and involved audience, and that includes the head of the American NSC and his “leaked” memos. There may be some blunter words said to Netanyahu than he (or other Israeli prime ministers) has heard in a while, but it isn’t unprecedented.

Former President Reagan was very pro-Israeli, but he got so incensed at Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon that he reportedly yelled at then-Israeli Prime Minister Begin and deployed Marines with naval support to block them around Beirut. And regardless of how the intervention ended, there were occasions when US Marines and Israeli troops came right up to the edge of a full-scale fire-fight, and I was assured at the time by several Marine officers who were there that they were fully prepared to slug it out with the IDF if that was required, and the 6th Fleet had standing orders to go to the mat in their support if that happened - a far cry from 1967, when it had stood back in the face of the deliberate Israeli air and naval attack on the USS Liberty that killed or wounded more than 200 American sailors and Marines.

Today that would never happen, of course, or the US Navy & Marine Corps would have punched a hole through the Israeli blockade on Gaza and ended their assault on it a few months ago. They didn’t, and President Obama wouldn’t have sent them in, either — most of the rest of the world has been outraged by the brutal Israeli action that killed over 1400 Palestinians and wounded thousands more, the majority of them women and children, but all Obama does is talk about America’s undying commitment to the security of “our staunch ally Israel,” while the US Congress declaims its support of “poor, brave little Israel” (sic) and continues to vote billions of dollars in assistance to it. What is going to happen is that stories will leak about “full & frank” discussions between Obama & Netanyahu, and then after hemming and hawing for a while, Netanyahu will grudgingly agree to negotiations leading towards a two-state solution, he will be praised as a “man of peace” (just like Ariel Sharon, right?), and that pot will just keep boiling and boiling until both Obama and Netanyahu go away.

Besides, the two-state solution is a dead-in-the-water derelict, and given the Israeli attitude, probably always was. For it to be viable, three things would absolutely have to happen. First, all Israeli settlements would have to be withdrawn from the West Bank and Palestinian refugees allowed to return without Israeli interference. That isn’t going to happen. Second, a viable Palestinian state would have to be sufficiently well armed to make the Israelis think 10 times before doing a Gaza strike in either part. And last, a viable Palestinian state would need armed guarantees from other nations.

Looking beyond the two-state political zombie requires one to look at the key players. Aside from their impoverishment, geographical separation and vulnerability, about the only cards the Palestinians hold are a willingness to persevere and a comparable willingness to die. The misbegotten Palestinian Authority (PA) is so useless, and its top leaders — Arafat as well as Abbas — have been so bad, that I cannot decide if it and they are creations of Mossad, or simply tolerated to ensure that nothing much better will come along.

Hamas is better for Palestinians, of course, which is why it won the election a few years ago, and it is for that reason more than any other that the Jewish lobbies in the US and elsewhere have made its presence in negotiations all but unthinkable.

Israel itself is a fascinating case study in the principle that people often acquire the worst habits of their oppressors, for the dominant Israeli attitude — views Arabs generally and Palestinians in particular much the way their last oppressors viewed Jews.

There is only one possible fly in this ointment, from the Israeli perspective, and it is the only one that anyone wishing to unravel this Gordian knot can exploit: American public opinion. At present, a large majority of Americans support Israel, having been fed a steady diet for decades of Israeli “victimisation” in the face of Arab “barbarism.” But that support is, as the saying goes in America, “a mile wide and an inch deep,” and AIPAC and company know this, which is why they work so hard to filter what most Americans see, hear and read about the Middle East. But it is a filter that is starting to weaken — a difference that is reflected in growing criticism of Israel and of US support for it. Disrupt this pro-Israel filter, make historical events like the Israeli assault on the USS Liberty and the IDF’s murder of a young American woman named Rachel Corrie household words in the US, bring images of ravaged Gaza into American homes, and watch the world start to change — because it can. And the technology is there to do this.

Alan Sabrosky (Ph.D, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the US Army War College. He can be contacted at