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.

1 comment:

Pete said...

Hi Kumar

I don't know anything about the donated radar but wonder whether it would be any more effective than likely Sri Lankan agents operating on the Indian mainland. If such agents were close to the Indian bases you mentioned their observations and electronic intercepts might tell more than a radar.

Is Sri Lanka really a threat?