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Mixed feelings in Lanka over India's demand

India's demand that Colombo avoid procuring arms from Pakistan and China is received with mixed feelings in Lanka, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: Jun 01, 2007 18:13 IST
PK Balachandran
PK Balachandran

Sri Lankans have received with mixed feelings India's demand that Colombo avoid procuring arms from Pakistan and China, and that it should come to India instead, even though India will not provide offensive equipment.

Sri Lankan officials have reacted cautiously to the demand voiced by National Security Advisor MK Narayanan in Chennai on Thursday. But Sinhala commentators are indignant, and the Tamil leaders are dismayed, if not angry.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona neatly skirted the issue: "We would like to work closely with India in regard to our defence requirements. We are appreciative of the assistance that we have received so far," he told Hindustan Times over phone from Singapore on Friday.

Privately, Sri Lankan officials say that statements from India's central government often reflect the need to keep Tamil Nadu in good humour. But if Naranayan's statement is meant to be taken seriously as a warning from a "Big Power" to Sri Lanka, then India should give Sri Lanka the offensive weapons which will otherwise have come from Pakistan and China, they say.

Sri Lankans are worried about the cost factor too. China is the cheapest source of arms. Even Ukraine or Russia is more costly, let alone the West.

Limits sovereignty

Sunday Leader columnist Gamini Weerakoon said that Narayanan's statement limited Sri Lanka's sovereignty. "A sovereign government should be able to buy armaments from any source," he said.

India seemed to be going back to the Indira Doctrine of the 1980s, according to which, there was no place in the South Asian region for any power "inimical to India," he said. Weerakoon feared that even the West would go by India's advice and refrain from selling military equipment to Sri Lanka.

"In 2000, when Jaffna was under siege by the LTTE, major nations including India, failed to come to Sri Lanka's rescue. India only offered humanitarian assistance. It was Pakistan and China which helped it stem the tide," he recalled.

"India claims to be a big power. But it cannot be a big power if it does not take responsibility for the security of the region. It has to ensure Sri Lanka's security," Weerakoon asserted.

Shamindra Ferdinando, defence analyst of The Island wondered why Narayanan had made arms procurement from Pakistan and China a big issue, when they were not big suppliers. "India has given more. It has given two ships and radars with Indian operators. Armoured Corps personnel are being trained in India."

Ferdinando felt that Narayanan's statement could either be a ploy to please Tamil Nadu or a smokescreen for an Indian military involvement as was the case in the 1980s when India intervened saying that "outsiders" were poking their noses into the affairs of its backyard.

He feared that, as in the 1980s, India could be worried that the LTTE might be crushed, and with its exit, a lever to control Sri Lanka would be lost.

Tamils' fear

The Tamils, on the hand, dread to think of the day when the Indian Leviathan will be militarily backing the Sri Lankan government, whose armed forces are now waging a no-holds-barred war in the Tamil North East.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP, N Sri Kantha, wondered if Narayanan's demand that Colombo approach New Delhi for its defence needs, meant that India was wanting to back Colombo's military approach to the Tamil problem.

"If this is the case, then the situation in Sri Lanka will only be further militarised and violence will increase. But the Tamils still believe that India will not encourage that, given the background of its involvement in the Sri Lankan crisis from the 1980s onwards," Sri Kantha said.

"India had fashioned the India-Sri Lanka Accord of 1987 and sacrificed 1,500 soldiers for bringing peace to Sri Lanka," he recalled.

First Published: Jun 01, 2007 16:00 IST

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