Friday, November 16, 2007

US Radars in Sri Lanka: War on Terror or Snooping on India

On 8th November 2007, the US handed over a radar-based surveillance system and Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) to Sri Lanka to enhance its maritime surveillance capabilities and security. The radar and the boats were given to the Lankan navy to help them in their ongoing war against the LTTE. The location of the facility in the Vavuniya region of North-Eastern Sri Lanka is a cause of concern for India as this post can be used to snoop on India’s key strategic assets such as Kalpakkam nuclear station in Tamil Nadu, naval dockyard at Vishakapatnam and the Thumba rocket launch station near Thiruvananthapuram.

The Sri Lankan Armed Forces have been dependent on Indian radar systems. However as a result of the three ‘successful’ air raids by the Tamil Eelam Air Force, questions were raised about the effectiveness of these systems. Whether the Lankans approached India for assistance and if so what was the Indian response is not quite known. India, however, has been unwilling to mediate directly in the conflict despite appeals from both Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers. New Delhi had post-Rajiv Gandhi assassination refused to negotiate with the LTTE, which it has banned as a terrorist outfit. However, at the same time, it has also not implicitly endorsed or armed Colombo's crackdown on the Tamil rebels, since that would have direct repercussions in the present political dispensation and the regional politics of Tamil Nadu. India decided to play safe by steering clear of the conflict. Which is why when approached by Colombo for military aid, New Delhi offered everything else but weaponry. While, India was willing to provide non-lethal military aid, it avoided entering into a defence agreement with Sri Lanka on one or the other pretext, and then had to watch helplessly as Colombo took its military wish list elsewhere, including China and Pakistan. It has also been reported that Pakistan is involved in training the Sri Lankan Air Force. Though Lanka has denied involvement of Pakistan in training its armed forces.

In another move aimed against the LTTE, the US froze all assets of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), a front of the LTTE, as part of its aim to financially isolate terrorist groups and their support networks.

The US Department of the Treasury on 15th November 2007, announced that it would freeze the US held assets of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation, a charitable organisation which has been involved in fund-raising and procurement for LTTE.

India, as usual, expressed concern over the induction of the surveillance system. India needs to do better than expressing its concerns. Firstly, it needs to understand that appeasing its alliance partner in government is one thing and national security is totally another. Secondly, India has been perceived to be insensitive to the bona fide defense requirements of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan media reported that the Lankan government has sought to purchase 3D radars from China. However Lanka acceded to India’s protests and security concerns and accepted 2D radars which India offered. The Lankan authorities later denied this report.

India’s policy or the lack of it has resulted in big powers slowly encroaching in India’s neighbourhood. The Chinese with its string of pearls policy has led to ‘encirclement’ of India. The recent US-Lankan bonhomie has brought the US close to Indian shores. Today the southern neighbour has sought and received military assistance from the US and Pakistan. Because of its intransigence, tomorrow, India may have to face the stark reality of facing a full-fledged US naval facility at Trincomalee. And of course India may very well have lost out on a chance to play a meaningful role in the strife-torn island nation.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

RAW facts

K Shankaran Nair who succeeded Rameshwarnath Kao, the founding father of RAW, as its chief has recently written a book “Inside IB and RAW: The Rolling Stones that Gathered Moss” narrating his experiences. Morarji Desai who became prime minister in 1977 was out to wreak havoc not only on the Gandhi family but also on the top civil servants and intelligence officers. The late PM's policies had a serious impact on intelligence collection and operations.

His hatred for the head of the premier intelligence organization can be seen from the excerpts of the conversation which appeared in the book Inside RAW by Asoka Raina.
M. Desai: I believe RAW was involved in the internal affairs of the country during emergency.

Nair: No Sir. That is not correct, all were external operations.

MD: But your activities were highly immoral, highly irregular.

Nair: These are RAW’s external operations, sir….

MD: This does not reduce the immorality – stop operations you are handling at present.

Nair: If we do that, sir, some of them might mean a loss of faith in our promises and in the credibility of the government.

MD: I do not care. Stop all operations and also reduce the RAW strength by 50%.

This resulted many an operations being aborted and operatives compromised. One such was “Tiger” Siddiqui of Bangladesh who felt betrayed. Mr. Nair is reported to have remarked that Morarji Desai was the greatest enemy of India’s national security. Pakistan certainly would have celebrated on that fateful day.

This act of Desai was nothing short of treason for which he ought to have been severely punished.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pakistan at the Crossroads-I

Experts have been debating about the future of Pakistan given the nature of civil strife and political instability that has dogged that country for the past few years.[1] It needs to be emphasized that Pakistan’s problems are not of yesterday’s making. They are systemic and congenital, if one can use the expression for a nation-state.

The Beginnings

The state of Pakistan was doomed since its birth in 1947. The creation of Pakistan in 1947 was tumultuous and marked by violence unprecedented in the sub-continent. Pakistan came into international limelight by invading Kashmir in 1948 which was contiguous to both India and Pakistan In just over a year after its independence, its first founding father, Jinnah passed away. In October 1951, its first PM Liaqat Ali Khan was assassinated. His assassin, an Afghan was killed and hence the causative factors behind the assassination remained unknown. In the absence of leaders of stature and substance to lead Pakistan post-Jinnah and Khan, Pakistan’s troubles began.

Pakistan became a republic on March 23, 1956, with Maj. Gen. Iskander Mirza as the first president. The first Constitution was adopted in 1956, nearly 9 years after its independence. But it was suspended in 1958. The first elected President of Pakistan, Iskander Mirza was deposed in a bloodless coup carried out by martial law administrator, General Ayub Khan.

Thus within a decade of its birth, Pakistani polity started dithering. Institutions of democracy that were nurtured in neighbouring India were not allowed to take roots in Pakistan. Forces of democracy were subverted by the Army, which came to play a pivotal role in its governance. Pakistani society also came to be divided on regional or linguistic lines, with the Punjabi elite dominating the West and the East being dominated by Bengali-speaking Muslims. This division was to cost Pakistan dearly in 1971 with the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state.

Though political parties such as Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) (led by Z A Bhutto) and MQM emerged, what Pakistan failed to get was an able leader; a statesman who would take the nation on the path of progress and prosperity.

Pakistan was under military rule from 1958 to 1972, with two generals Ayub Khan (1958-69) and Yahya Khan (1969-71) being at the helm of affairs. Pakistan went to war twice with India in 1965 and 1971 under both the generals; the 1971 war resulting in the emergence of Bangladesh. Pakistan returned to civilian rule under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972 after the debacle in East Pakistan in 1971. Under Z A Bhutto, a new constitution was framed which came into effect on 14th August 1973. The constitution represented a compromise consensus on three issues: the role of Islam; the sharing of power between the federal government and the provinces; and the division of responsibility between the president and the prime minister, with a greatly strengthened position for the latter. Neither Bhutto nor his government lasted long. In 1978 he was deposed in a bloodless coup and sent to the gallows and General Zia-ul-Haq took over the reigns of the country. General Zia’s policies took Pakistani society on the path of radical Islam.

In December 1978, on the occasion of the first day of Hijra, Zia delivered a nationwide address to usher in the Islamic system in Pakistan. The government began a programme to enforce Nizam-e-Islam (Islamic system) and established Sharia benches to enforce Islamic law. By enacting draconian laws such as the Zina ordinance and Hudood Ordinance[2], Zia ensured that Pakistan would become Talibanized or at any rate Islamicized.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 saw Pakistan being catapulted as a frontline state in the war against communism. The Mujahideen backed by Pakistan’s ISI with financial assistance from the West carried out attacks in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Pakistan was deeply involved in this jihad against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. After the pull-out of Soviet troops in the late eighties, Pakistan continued to be involved in the internecine conflict in Afghanistan.

On August 19, 1988, Zia was killed in a midair explosion of a Pakistani Air Force plane. Elections which were held at the end of 1988 brought longtime opponent of General Zia, Benazir Bhutto, into office as prime minister. Civilian rule meant political instability and a constant struggle to survive rather than rule.

The corruption, brutality and incessant fighting of the Mujahideen prompted Mullah Omar and his students, the Taliban, to rid Afghanistan of these rebels. The Pakistan-trained Taliban let loose a reign of terror in the war-ravaged country. The Taliban gained control of the country with the active assistance of Pakistan. The casualty of these policies were economic progress. It is said violence begets violence; these very policies have come back to haunt Pakistan post-9/11.
Part II Pakistan at the Crossroads - The Musharraf Regime

[1] Emergency was declared in Pakistan on the night of 3rd November 2007.
[2] Under Offences Against Property (Enforcement of Hudood Ordinance 1979), the punishment of imprisonment or fine, or both, as provided in the existing Pakistan Penal Code for theft, was substituted by the amputation of the right hand of the offender from the joint of the wrist by a surgeon. For robbery, the law provided for amputation of the right hand of the offender from the wrist and his left foot from the ankle.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Is the LTTE behind Thamilchelvan Killing?

Some experts have speculated that the killing of the head of the political wing of the LTTE may have been an inside job, executed by the LTTE itself to prevent him from becoming a threat to Prabhakaran. And the reason for this primarily was due to the fact that the Air Force did not make any immediate claims of success achieved by the air strike. And that it did not make any sense to kill him especially considering the fact that he was an acceptable and human face of the LTTE. The question then is why has the Air Force claimed ‘credit’ for the killing. It is also quite baffling as to how the body of the slain LTTE leader could have been intact had he been killed in the air raid.

Further the question of the air strike on the basis of precise information defies logic because Thamilchelvan’s whereabouts were not shrouded in secrecy. He was known to receive international mediators and interlocutors at his residence.

The Tamil Tigers has been plagued by groupism since its inception. The biggest fallout of this groupism was the split from the LTTE by the special commander of the eastern Batticoloa-Amparai districts, Colonel Karuna suspected to have been engineered bythe Sri Lankan Army. Even after this split, there has been a lot of infighting among the top leadership of the LTTE for the past 2-3 years. LTTE’s intelligence head Pottu Amman joined by S P Thamilchelvan on one side and the head of international operations Veerakathi Manivannan alias Castro and the Tamileelam Police head P Nadesan on the other side were said to be involved in the in-fighting. Castro has evidently established his own intelligence network within the LTTE.

By eliminating Thamilchelvan, the Castro faction has exerted its authority and has extended the Valvettithurai/Myliddy control over the administration of the LTTE. The LTTE leader Prabhakaran hails from northern fishing village of Valvettithurai. And so also is Nadesan who has succeeded Thamilchelvan. In fact Natesan’s appointment as political head only confirms the Castro faction’s influence over the LTTE.

It is no secret that the LTTE in the past have ruthlessly eliminated rivals and enemies both within the organization and outside by adopting this modus operandi. The killings of Chellakili and Victor in the past were carried out in a clandestine manner to ensure that the control of the organization remained with the Valvettithurai/Myliddy group. It remains to be seen as to what would be the fate of Pottu Amman who hails from Nayanmarkaddu in central Jaffna.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The LTTE: On the back foot?

The much-hyped euphoria after the daring attack on the Sri Lankan Air Force base at Anuradhapura on October 22, 2007 was short lived. Within a span of just ten days of the attack carried out by a 21-member suicide commando team belonging to the Black Tigers on the base, jets belonging to the Sri Lankan Air Force carried out precision raid in an area at Thuruaiaru in Iranamadu, Kilinochi district about 70 kms north of Vavuniya in the early hours of November 2, 2007. 6 top members of the Tamil Tigers were reportedly killed in the air strike. The LTTE confirmed the death of the chief of its political wing Suppaya Paramu Thamilchelvam, self-styled Lt. Col Anupumani alias Alex who headed the “strategic communication division” of the Tigers, Mikuthan, Neathaji, Aadchiveal and Vaakaikkumaran.

According to sources in the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry, the raid was successfully carried out due to the synergy achieved through excellent co-ordination between the military intelligence and the air arm.

On October 31, 2007 the Sri Lankan government decided to impose press censorship under the Public Security Ordinance on news coverage related to military confrontations and offensive operations. The clamp down came in the wake of the recent LTTE raid on Anuradhapura air base. It could also signal the start of a possible ground offensive to be launched by the army in the north to take out the Tigers.

LTTE’s recent setbacks:

Over the past two years, since the breakdown of the truce and the split in the LTTE, the Tigers have been facing reverses on the ground.
Kokkadicholai, approximately 20 km south-west of Batticaloa, fell on March 28, 2007
In July 2007, the security forces had captured Thoppigala (Baron's Cap ), the last stronghold of the Tigers in the east.

The Sri Lankan Navy for the first time in the conflict achieved unprecedented success against the LTTE.

Sri Lankan Navy sank the 10th LTTE ship "Matsushima", with a capacity of 3000 tons was the largest ever arms smuggling vessel that belonged to the LTTE, about 1700 km south of Dondra point, the southern tip of Sri Lanka on 07th October 2007, around 0930 hrs.

“Manyoshi” was destroyed on September 10, 2007 at 7.00 a.m.

The second LTTE ship to be destroyed was “Seishin” on 10th September at 5.00 p.m.

The third LTTE ship, “Koshia”, was destroyed after a hot pursuit, which lasted well over four hours, on the 11th around 3.30 a.m.

Since the bulk of the arms and equipment for the LTTE came from the sea, the loss of the ships dealt a severe blow to their arms shipment network.

It remains to be seen whether the LTTE will retaliate with a sensational strike or a suicide bombing on a high value target to boost the flagging morale of its cadres or has the will to resist been broken with the loss of key leaders and reverses on the ground.