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Sri Lanka’s new President, India & China

Last week, Sri Lankans voted for a new president after a year of political upheavals and deadly terrorist attacks. Reposing confidence in Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a former defense chief known for his hard-edge leadership, apparently the Sri Lankan majority voted for security in these turbulent times. Readers may recall that nearly a decade ago, Mr. Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Sri Lanka’s president, had brought an end to the bloody Civil War, which had ravaged the tiny island for more than twenty-six years and taken a heavy toll of human lives.
India, which has interfered far too many times in Sri Lankan affairs, needs to curb its urge of committing any untoward intrusion following the results of the latest elections. Readers may recall that the Sri Lankan Civil War was fought between July 1983 and May 2009 with an insurgency against the government by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers), which fought to create an independent Tamil state called Tamil Eelam in the north and the east of the island.
Indian involvement in the Sri Lankan civil war is well documented. The Tamils of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, because of their ethnic kinship, strongly supported the independence of Sri Lankan Tamils. Throughout the conflict the Indian central and state governments supported both sides in different ways. From August 1983 until May 1987 the Indian government, through its intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), provided arms, training and monetary support to six Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups including LTTE. Indian aim was ostensibly to keep the Tamils divided so that no one group would gain dominance lest Indian Tamils too demand independence.
The direct interference of India commenced on 5 June 1987, when Indian Air Force airdropped 25 tons of food and medicines to Jaffna while it was under siege by Sri Lankan forces, which were on the brink of defeating the LTTE. Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was not supposed to be involved in large scale military operations. However, after a few months, the IPKF engaged the LTTE in a series of battles.
IPKF soon lost its welcome and Sri Lankan government called for India to quit the island but Rajiv Gandhi refused. However, following his defeat in Indian parliamentary elections in December 1989, the new prime Minister V.P. ordered the withdrawal of the IPKF. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 by a female suicide bomber, because according to the Indian press, LTTE leader Prabhakaran ordered Gandhi’s elimination, considering the ex-Prime Minister to be against the Tamil liberation struggle and feared that he might re-induct the IPKF, which Prabhakaran termed the “satanic force”, if he won the 1991 Indian general election.
Now former Indian diplomats are weighing in on the developments in Sri Lanka and recommending caution. Ambassador K.P. Fabian, India’s former envoy to Qatar and Italy articulates that India’s interests will be to encourage Sri Lanka to meet legitimate aspirations of both majoritarian Sinhala and Buddhist communities and the minority Tamil community. However, he stresses that the Rajapaksa brothers – Mahinda (former president) and Gotabaya – were actively involved in the civil war to neutralize the insurgent LTTE in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. The Ambassador alleges atrocities committed under the “previous” Rajapaksa regime (2005-2015); claiming that more than 40,000 civilians, mostly Tamil civilians were eliminated during this period. He goes on to express India’s greatest fear of Sri Lankan closeness to China and recommends that India will have to play its cards carefully. He tries to project that Chinese support for development projects have become “white elephants.” Ambassador Fabian opined that New Delhi would be watching trends and Colombo’s tendency to get close to China again as it did in the past.



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