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True friends and ‘Truce friends’

The Indian Express reports that Sri Lanka has turned to Pakistan for defence supplies (The Island of May 04) after ‘India dragged its feet for reasons rooted in domestic Tamil politics’. The LTTE is all out to return to war and nothing else the government could have done. It has to better equip the armed forces and bolster their firepower. Sri Lankamilitary purchases from Pakistan are nothing new. When the LTTE bombed its way through upto the gateway to Jaffna in 2000, thanks to Chandrika’s bungling, it was Pakistan which rushed MBRLs to help stop the marauding Tigers in their tracks. India only offered ships to ferry the troops trapped in Jaffna to Colombo! Had Chandrika waited for Indian ships, the Tigers would have marched on Jaffna, and there would have been a bloodbath. Little did India realise that ships were no substitutes for guns in an emergency.

It is not only the domestic Tamil politics that makes India dither on the issue of helping Sri Lanka. She is sprucing herself up to woo the world powers, some of which are involved in Sri Lanka’s peace process. She prefers their company better than helping her neighbour out. She doesn’t want to strike a discordant note. Interestingly, in denouncing the LTTE terror now she is beginning to sound just like her big friends! Solheim is more in Kilinochchi and New Delhi than in Colombo or Oslo!

Whatever the reasons for the transformation of India’s policy towards Sri Lanka from parippu dropping to the present indifference, the Rajapakse government cannot kick its heels on India’s doorstep at a time when the Tigers are beating war drums. While continuing with the peace process, it has to prepare for any eventuality by turning to other countries that are willing to help. The Deccan Herald recently put its editorial finger on the implications of Sri Lanka looking away from India: "The UPA government should," that paper said on April 04, "decide its next steps keeping in mind India’s interests and not allow parties in Tamil Nadu to restrict its options. On previous occasions, when the crisis in Sri Lanka deepened and quick decisions were required on the part of India, New Delhi dithered. Should it dither now in the event of war, there is a danger of Colombo turning to China and Pakistan. That will deal a huge blow to India’s influence in the region."

The fallout of Sri Lanka’s dependence on Pakistan for defence supplies notwithstanding—we see nothing wrong in it as that country has always answered Colombo’s distress signals as a true friend—the haste that the government is making to reinvigorate the security forces points to how unprepared successive governments have been militarily. Peace processes have always sapped the armed forces as governments tend to confuse the absence of war with peace and get lulled into a false sense of complacency during a truce. When they remember the difficulties the armed forces are in, it is often too late. This time around, fortunately, the LTTE has not been able to torpedo the peace process and wrong-foot the government, the way it did in the past.

As for ‘truce friends’ Sri Lanka has many but it has only a few true friends who are prepared to help it through thick and thin. It is time the government stopped chasing the illusion of seeking military assistance from ‘truce friends’ who are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Sri Lanka’s sovereignty or territorial integrity matters little to them. Anything goes, in their opinion, by way of resolving the conflict—even a Cyprus type solution or something like the Machakos Protocol in Sudan’s conflict. Some of them are already toying with the idea of UN intervention! With such friends, Sri Lanka needs no enemies!

Finally, one can’t but wish India had adopted the same nonchalance in the 1980s and avoided interference with Sri Lanka’s internal problems through the creation of the LTTE. Had it done so, there wouldn’t have been a conflict, to begin with and tens of thousands of lives including that of Rajiv Gandhi, who together with his mother created the monster of Sri Lanka’s terrorism, would have been saved. But when its intervention is sought, it turns its back. One is reminded of the poodle of the legendary court jester, Andare: If asked to go, it would come and if asked to come it would go.

Having such friends is always problematic.

-IOL

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May 4, 2006 - Posted by | Media Journalism, News and politics, South Asia, World News

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