Even as it publicly advocated peace when the Sri Lankan conflict was raging, India quietly informed Norway that the LTTE must be ‘put in its place’, reveals a Norwegian government sponsored study on why the peace process failed in the island nation.
The exhaustive document, released here Friday, shows that New Delhi’s sympathy lay with Colombo vis-a-vis the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as the peace process began to slowly unravel from 2003-04.
After the Congress returned to power in 2004, New Delhi kept calling for the accommodation of ‘Tamil aspirations’ but did not apply any pressure on the Mahinda Rajapaksa government over its military option, it said.
‘India criticizes Norway in private meetings for being too ‘LTTE friendly’ and underlines the need to ‘put the LTTE in its place’,’ said the 202-page report, based on archival material in the Norwegian foreign ministry as well as interviews with key players and personalities.
‘India provides radar and intelligence information to the Sri Lankan forces. Delhi maintains it will not provide offensive military assets but it does not object to Sri Lanka purchasing weaponry elsewhere…
‘Most importantly, Indian opposition to the LTTE starts to translate into firmer backing for the Sri Lankan government.’
India outlawed the LTTE in 1992, a year after a Tiger suicide bomber assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. In a dramatic turn of events, his widow Sonia became India’s most powerful figure when the Congress returned to power in 2004.
Although the document, titled ‘Pawns of Peace’, is an evaluation of the Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka from 1997 to 2009, when the LTTE was vanquished, there are repeated references to India, which many viewed as the most important foreign player in Sri Lanka.
Norway helped the LTTE – which was fighting for a Tamil homeland – and the Sri Lankan government to sign a ceasefire agreement (CFA) in February 2002 with a view to ending the country’s protracted ethnic conflict.
But after a limited period of peace, the situation slowly returned to square one, particularly after the LTTE split in April 2004 and President Rajapaksa took power in November 2005 promising to tame the Tigers.
In May 2009, Colombo militarily crushed the LTTE, the last stages of the war leaving thousands of combatants and civilians dead. By then, Sri Lanka had terminated Norway’s role as facilitator in the peace process.
The reports says that even as New Delhi made ‘some pleas for limiting civilian casualties (towards the end of 2008), the Indian government makes it very clear that it supports a continuation of the (military) offensive and the defeat of the LTTE’.
Referring to the LTTE’s last days, the report said: ‘As the net around the insurgents closes, LTTE surrender becomes a less and less attractive option for Colombo. It is also doubtful (if) India has any interest in the LTTE surviving the end of the war.’
May 2009, when the entire LTTE leadership including its founder chief Velupillai Prabhakaran was wiped out, also coincided with the last round of Indian elections that saw the Congress retain power.
The report says that Sri Lanka was worried that if the Congress was voted out, ‘someone will come to the insurgents’ aid’.
The report says that Indian cabinet minister P. Chidambaram contacted Prabhakaran towards the end of the conflict — it does not say how — and suggested that ‘the LTTE agree to a pre-drafted statement that they will lay down their weapons’.
But this move, it says, leaked to pro-LTTE Tamil Nadu politician Vaiko ‘who rejects it as a Congress trick and assures the LTTE that the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) will win the elections and come to the Tigers’ rescue’.
That never happened, and Prabhakaran was killed just when the Lok Sabha election results were announced in India.
(M.R. Narayan Swamy can be contacted at email@example.com)