The Pakistani muscle behind
Colombo By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - Even as fighting between
government forces and the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rages in Sri Lanka, a war of
words has broken out between India and Pakistan
over issues related to the island's civil war.
While Pakistan has accused Indian
intelligence agencies of masterminding a blast
that almost killed its envoy in Colombo last
month, Indian analysts are drawing attention to
Pakistan's role in
aerial bombardment of Tamil
areas in Sri Lanka.
On August 14, a deadly
claymore-mine blast in the heart of the Sri Lankan
capital Colombo killed seven people. The blast was
apparently aimed at Pakistan's outgoing high
commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bashir Wali Mohammed.
Although the high commissioner himself escaped
unhurt, four Lankan commandos accompanying him
were killed in the blast.
attack, the Sri Lankan government issued a
statement that the Pakistani envoy had been
targeted by the LTTE because of the defense
cooperation between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Not
surprisingly, the attack on the envoy brought the
military cooperation between the two countries
under greater scrutiny.
Two weeks later,
on his return to Pakistan, Bashir Wali Mohammed, a
former director general of Pakistan's Intelligence
Bureau, alleged that India's external intelligence
agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was
behind the August 14 blast. He accused RAW of
"starting a proxy war in a third country [Sri
Lanka] by carrying out this lethal attack".
"The Indian High Commission in Colombo is
quite disturbed with the fast-growing bilateral
relations between Sri Lanka and Pakistan," he
said. India dismissed Pakistan's allegation as
"preposterous" and "absurd".
Defense Ministry official told Asia Times Online
that India did not have a problem with the Sri
Lankan government purchasing weapons from anyone,
including Pakistan. And this apparently has been
made clear to the Sri Lankans.
What is of
concern to New Delhi, however, is that "as Sri
Lanka's relationship with Pakistan deepens, the
Lankan government is moving further and further
away from pursuing a negotiated settlement of the
conflict". Delhi's quarrel with the
Lankan-Pakistani defense deals is that "it has
encouraged Colombo to persist with the military
option to tame the Tigers, rather than pursue a
political settlement that meets the aspirations of
the Tamil people while retaining the territorial
integrity of Sri Lanka".
cooperation between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which
has existed for a long time, has grown
dramatically in recent years. Pakistan is one of
Colombo's largest suppliers of military equipment.
Unlike India, Islamabad has had no problems
supplying the government with lethal weaponry for
use in its counter-insurgency operations in the
According to a report in
Jane's Defense Weekly, Sri Lanka had given
Pakistan a shopping list of weaponry worth about
US$60 million. While the army's list was pegged at
about $20 million, that of the Sri Lankan Air
Force (SLAF) was said to be worth about $38.1
million. A recent Stratfor report says Pakistan
sold 22 Al-Khalid tanks to Sri Lanka in a deal
worth some $110 million.
What has set
alarm bells ringing in Delhi now are reports that
Pakistani air force personnel are deeply involved
in directing Colombo's air strikes on Tamil areas.
B Raman, a former director of RAW, has pointed out
that "about 12-15 members of the Pakistani armed
forces, including four or five from the Pakistan
air force, are stationed in Colombo to guide the
Sri Lankan security forces in their
counter-insurgency operations. The Pakistan air
force officers have reportedly been guiding the
SLAF officers in effectively carrying out
air-mounted operations against the LTTE. They have
also been reportedly involved in drawing up plans
for a decapitation strike from the air, with
bunker-buster bombs, to kill [LTTE leader
The SLAF has
repeatedly bombed Tamil areas in recent months.
The government claims the air strikes are aimed at
LTTE infrastructure. Indeed, the air strikes have
been rather successful in undermining the Tigers.
Their fledgling "air force", for instance, has
been substantially weakened with the SLAF
inflicting damage on its runways.
SLAF has also indiscriminately bombed civilian
populations in Tamil areas suspected of holding
LTTE sympathizers. Scores of Tamil civilians,
including children, have been killed in these
operations. On August 14, SLAF planes hit an
orphanage, killing 61 girls, in the
LTTE-controlled Mullaithivu district in Northern
"Not only are the Pakistanis
guiding the air operations, there are reports too
that Pakistani pilots are flying SLAF jets,"
alleged the Indian official. The bombing of
civilian targets could have been carried out by
some of these pilots, he pointed out.
at the start of the armed conflict in the 1980s,
India had been wary of any move by the Sri Lankan
government to inject foreign military personnel or
allow the setting up of "listening posts" in any
part of the island, especially the northeast,
given its proximity to Indian shores. "Delhi had
made this clear to the Lankans decades ago, and
the Lankans have in the past been mindful of
Indian sensitivities on the subject," said the
Defense Ministry official.
for Indian sensitivities appears to have
diminished considerably in recent years. Indian
officials claim that Pakistani personnel have been
involved in planning offensives against the LTTE
The LTTE believes that
Pakistani involvement began much earlier.
According to a June 1997 report on the pro-LTTE
Tamilnet website, "The Tamil Tigers say they have
independent confirmation that Pakistani officers
are involved in planning the current Sri Lankan
army offensive in the Vann." In a further
statement, the LTTE said, "Pakistani officials
converged at Sri Lanka's Anuradhapura army
headquarters immediately prior to the launch of
the military offensive."
say they are not surprised by the Pakistan-Sri
Lanka defense cooperation. They admit that Sri
Lanka is leaning more on Pakistan as India is
unwilling to meet its needs with regard to lethal
weaponry. At the same time, they point out that
the Pakistan-Sri Lanka cooperation with regard to
charting strategy is based on a meeting of minds.
India has avoided aerial bombing of its
insurgency-racked regions, even in the state of
Jammu and Kashmir, where Pakistan is seen to have
waged a proxy war against India. However, neither
Sri Lanka nor Pakistan has had any compunctions
about bombing their civilian populations, Sri
Lanka of the Tamils and Pakistan of the Balochis.
Sri Lanka launched air strikes on the
Jaffna Peninsula as far back as 1986. That the
Lankans and the Pakistanis would work together in
militarily stamping out the insurgency in the
island's north and east is therefore not
surprising. The embrace has been mutually
beneficial. It has provided Colombo with
Pakistan's military muscle. And it has provided
Pakistan an opportunity to sit at India's southern
This is a concern for India. For
years India has watched Pakistan encourage
anti-India activities on the soil of its other
neighbors - Bangladesh and Nepal, for instance.
Now this is happening in Sri Lanka - long regarded
by India as its sphere of influence - as well.
India is concerned that Pakistan's
influence on Sri Lanka's counter-insurgency
operations will grow. Islamabad's new envoy in
Colombo is Air Vice Marshal Shehzad Aslam
Chaudhry, who recently retired as the deputy chief
of air staff (operations) of the Pakistani air
force. He is believed to be the architect of the
air strikes launched on Balochistan last year and
is said to have drawn up the plans of the
operation that resulted in the recent killing of
Baloch leader Nawab Bugti. Colombo could draw on
his expertise in aerial bombing of
There seems to be
little India can do at this juncture to prevent
Pakistan from gaining more ground. It cannot
endorse Colombo's current military adventures as
it is committed to a negotiated political
settlement of the conflict and internal political
compulsions inhibit it from providing Sri Lanka
with the kind of military equipment it wants. And
it cannot back the LTTE, which is designated as a
terrorist organization in India.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh just might
meet with members of the Sri Lankan parliament
representing the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance
(TNA). If such a meeting does take place, it will
be the first between the Indian leadership and the
Indian officials hasten to clarify
that this meeting would only be to blunt
accusations from Tamil parties in India, some of
which are peeved with New Delhi for not meeting
with the TNA, despite it being the largest Tamil
party in Sri Lanka. Manmohan's meeting with the
TNA might not change his government's perception
of the LTTE, but it does represent a small shift
in India's Sri Lanka policy.
there is little India can do. It will wait out the
current fighting between the Lankan government and
the LTTE, hope that this will be short-lived, and
then reassert itself in the political process in
Sri Lanka. It could also help open Colombo's eyes
to the mess Islamabad has made of things in
is an independent journalist/researcher based in