Lalith Weeratunga, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Secretary, flew to New Delhi earlier in the week to brief Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Indian think tanks on the developing political and military situation in Sri Lanka.
External Affairs Ministry sources told Hindustan Times on Sunday that Weeratunga met his counterpart, TKA Nair, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, and Tourism Minister Ambika Soni and interacted with a number of think tanks.
Weeratunga stated the Rajapaksa government's perspective on the four aerial raids conducted by the LTTE in March-April, and explained the contents of the devolution proposal recently submitted by the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to resolve the ethnic conflict in the island country.
The daring air raids by the LTTE have pushed the Sri Lankan government to shop for appropriate air defence equipment abroad and seek help from friendly countries, including India. Earlier, India had worked out an air defence system for the capital city of Colombo and given two 2D radars free of charge.
But clearly, these were not enough. Ground radars are not enough for effective air defence. Aircraft must have radar facilities on board and they should be able to undertake operations at night. The Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) was ill-equipped in these respects and knowing these, the LTTE had always attacked at night.
India had earlier been involved in the modernisation of the Palaly airbase in the northern district of Jaffna. But the Sri Lankans would not accept India's conditions and decided to go ahead with the work themselves.
However, given the dangers of encouraging the growth of a rogue Air Force in the region, India has agreed to continue cooperation in setting up an air defence system. The Sunday Times has reported that an Indian team had arrived in Colombo on Friday to examine the working of the 2D radars and set up one more.
According to The Sunday Times the Sri Lankans are looking to buy MIG 29 aircraft, fully equipped for night operations. But experts consider this a White Elephant and of little use in tackling the LTTE's slow moving, low flying aircraft. They recommend the Indian HAL HJT-36 and the K-8 used by Pakistan and China, which have the right speed and capability to tackle the Zlin Z-143 aircraft of the LTTE.
The American Pacific Command had recommended in 2002 that MI-24 helicopter gunships, already with the Sri Lankan Air Force, be suitably equipped and used, as these were very useful in fighting insurgencies, including an aerial threat.
They can land and takre off anywhere, are of the right speed and are heavily armed. The Americans had also said that instead of buying more aircraft, money should be spent on buying spares and maintenance which the SLAF was lacking in.
Dismay over devolution package
While New Delhi may take a sympathetic attitude to Colombo's demand for assistance to fight the Flying Tigers, it is unlikely to view the devolution package proposed by Rajapaksa's party with favour. The package says that the unit of devolution will be the district and not the province. This is a blow to the Tamils who have been demanding "provincial autonomy" in lieu of full independence since 1948.
When President JR Jayewardene proposed District Development Councils in 1981, the Tamils rejected it demanding autonomy for the whole of the Tamil-speaking North East. When they worked the DDCs, they found that they had no powers.
India favoured provincial autonomy and wrote into the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987, a provision for a united North-Eastern Province with devolved powers. But in 2006, the Sri Lankan Supreme Court declared the unification as illegal and the North and East were de-merged.
Meanwhile, in 1990, the North Eastern Provincial Council had been dissolved, and since then, it has remained only on paper. In April 2007, the ruling party said that the unit of devolution would be the district and not the provinces.
The LTTE and the moderate Tamil parties, including those aligned with the government, have rejected the proposal. This has created a political stalemate. Given the political vacuum, it is feared that it will be filled by war. And efforts to kick start the peace process may prove to be futile.