Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sri Lanka: India’s latest security nightmare

Sri Lanka is fast emerging as a security nightmare for India. Basking in its military success against the separatist Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka is cementing its ties with China and Pakistan, ignoring Indian security interests. By embracing India’s enemies and inviting them home, treating them as guests, and doing business with them, Sri Lanka is embarking on a dangerous foreign policy that has the potential to undermine India’s national security.

The Chinese are developing a port in Hambantota in Southern Sri Lanka, which experts feel could be converted into a Chinese naval base at short notice. In a recent interview to Tehelka, Colonel (retired) R Hariharan, a Sri Lanka expert, had stated: “Though Hambantota is being developed as a merchant shipping port, it can be converted into a naval base by adding a few facilities.”

The Chinese are building an expressway in Colombo and are also involved in an important power project in North Sri Lanka. As the two countries keep signing more collaborative projects, and the Chinese presence increases in Sri Lanka, it would bring the Chinese within breathing (or striking) distance of India’s southern coast, where several sensitive installations including atomic power plants are located. Chinese personnel will be all over Sri Lanka.

In a recent article titled, ‘Growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka’, Gunjan Singh at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, writes: “This increasing closeness between Colombo and Beijing is a reason for concern for New Delhi. During the construction of the (Hambantota) port a large number of Chinese experts are to be expected to be present in the region and this is proving to be a security concern for the Indian side.”

Sri Lanka doesn’t lose an opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to one-China policy. By doing that Sri Lanka accepts Chinese claims over Taiwan. But Sri Lanka maintains a stoic silence on Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. It doesn’t want to spoil its relations with Pakistan or China by coming out with a pro-India stand on Kashmir or Arunachal Pradesh. For all the military and financial assistance it has got from India, Colombo has done few favours in return.

Despite bending backwards to woo Sri Lanka, by providing it with arms and training its personnel, India has failed to win over Colombo to its side. Journalist Nitin Gokhale has revealed in his recent book, ‘Sri Lanka: From War to Peace’: “Publicly India maintains that it would not give Sri Lanka any offensive weapons. Yet, in early 2006, India quietly gifted five Mi -17 helicopters to the Sri Lankan Air Force…The only Indian condition was these helicopters would fly under Sri Lankan Air Force colours. New Delhi clearly did not want to annoy UPA’s Tamil Nadu allies like the DMK unnecessarily.”

Who are these Chinese whom the Sri Lankans are cozying up to? What intentions do they have about India? D S Rajan of the Chennai Centre for China Studies recently shook the Indian security establishment with his article titled, “China should break up the Indian Union, suggests a Chinese strategist.” A China expert, with the added advantage of knowledge of the Chinese language, Rajan translated the contents of a Chinese article that advocated breaking up of India.

Rajan states in the article: “The writer (of the Chinese article) has argued… (that) China in its own interest and the progress of whole Asia, should join forces with different nationalities like Assamese, Tamils, and Kashmiris and support the latter in establishing independent nation-states of their own, out of India. In particular, the ULFA in Assam, a territory neighboring China, can be helped by China so that Assam realizes its national independence.”

Strategic expert B Raman commends Rajan’s analysis. Rajan concludes his article stating: “In any case, an approach of panic towards such outbursts will be a mistake, but also ignoring them will prove to be costly for India.”

Raman writes in his blog: “What is wrong in this analysis? In the 1950s, a number of maps of the Indo-Chinese border started circulating in China and appearing in sections of the Chinese media. The Indian intelligence rightly brought these to the notice of Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, who took up the matter with Chou En-lai, his Chinese counterpart. He assured Nehru that these maps were circulated by private individuals and had been prepared by the Taiwanese before 1949. He told Nehru that India should not worry about them. Nehru was shocked before the 1962 war when the Chinese used the very same maps, which Chou had described as not official, for claiming large parts of Indian territory and occupying much of it. Today, it is on the basis of the very same maps which the Chinese portrayed as not official that they are claiming Arunachal Pradesh as Chinese territory.”

Discussing the combined threat posed by China and Sri Lanka, M G Devasahayam, a retired bureaucrat, writes in The Statesman dated 22 August 2009, “The premonition of Bharat Verma, editor of the Indian Defence Review, that ‘China will launch an attack on India before 2012 and there are multiple reasons for a desperate Beijing to teach India the final lesson, thereby ensuring Chinese supremacy in Asia in this century’ has been in the making for the last few years. By that time Sri Lanka would be fully prepared with an Armed Force of 300,000 (the 8th largest in the world), near-fully trained and equipped by China and Pakistan, forcing India to open a massive land-sea front in the south, which till now has been peaceful. It is thus evident that India’s ‘foreign policy’ on Sri Lanka has been palpably against national interest and security.”

As if Chinese presence in Sri Lanka was not enough, Colombo is now all set to train Pakistani army personnel in anti-guerilla warfare in soon-to-be established training schools in the Tamil dominated North Sri Lanka. Lankan army chief Lt General Jagath Jayasuriya has said that these schools would be established in Mullaitivu, Killinochchi and Vavuniya. The proposed training to the Pakistani personnel is to be provided based on a request from Islamabad to train their officers in ‘small team operations.’ What the Pakistanis are capable of doing to weaken India is known to everyone. Their presence near India’s southern borders should ring the alarm bells in the Indian security establishment.

The writer PC Vinoj Kumar is a Special Correspondent for the Indian weekly magazine - Tehelka. The views expressed are his own.