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Colombo conundrum

india Updated: May 31, 2007 23:16 IST

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On the face of it, it is not surprising that Sri Lanka has decided to shop for military equipment in China and Pakistan. Colombo has conveyed to New Delhi that it has no other option since the security forces need air defence equipment to counter the LTTE’s aerial threat. The rebels recently acquired an aerial dimension by using light aircraft to hit targets. In August 2005, too, there were proposals for Colombo to consider signing

a Defence Cooperation Agreement with China and Pakistan if India did not enter into one with Sri Lanka. But this time round, the Lankan government may have a valid reason to turn to Beijing and Islamabad for help, as domestic political compulsions tie New Delhi’s hands and prevent any stepped-up military cooperation with Sri Lanka. As a result, India provides only technical assistance to Sri Lanka in the form of air radars and training personnel to man them.

It is unfortunate that petty politics should prevent the implementation of India’s defence agreement with Sri Lanka, instead of bilateral relations being given fast-track treatment.
There are two reasons why New Delhi cannot afford to adopt a wait-and-watch policy. One, with its morale buoyed by the high impact of their air operations, it is not improbable that the LTTE may try to reassert itself in sea or land operations. India has as much reason as Sri Lanka to be alarmed about such attacks as the recent hijacking of an Indian trawler by the LTTE — in a bid to smuggle weapons — proves. Second, there may not have been any public mention of a role for India in Sri Lankan affairs after the tragic eight-year period from 1983 to 1991, but that doesn’t detract from the geo-political realities, which dictate that if any third party has a role in resolving the conflict, related Indian concerns must be addressed. And the best way to address them would be to find a way to strengthen bilateral ties in all spheres, including the military.