Why Indian troops should never return to Sri Lanka
It was the first time India had sent its troops beyond the seas to Sri Lanka in July 1987 to engage the very militants India had trained, armed & funded. The Indian Army Chief Gen. Sundarji declared “if the LTTE does not agree and wants to take on the Indian Army, we will finish them within a week or 10 days” Ironically, it was with the very arms India had supplied, that LTTE killed over 1200 Indian peace keeping soldiers & officers while maiming over 3000, eventually suffering a humiliating return to back to India in 1990 where no one arrived to welcome them. The Indian Peace Keeping Force garlanded initially by Tamils came to be called by Tamils as the Innocent People Killing Force. The intent of sending Indian troops & what invariably happened need greater scrutiny to avoid any repetitions While India fast-paced a political decision over military preparedness to send Indian troops to Sri Lanka to protect its asset (LTTE) from getting militarily defeated by Sri Lankan troops, the present reasons for another Indian deployment would be on the guise of protecting Indian assets in view of the increasing number of secret pacts getting signed on account of the economic crisis prevailing in Sri Lanka. While the government may look at grabbing any carrot to solve the financial situation of the country, overlooking the geopolitical incursions may result in a greater catastrophic outcome.
President JR welcomed IPKF but President R Premadasa requested IPKF to return & then Indian PM V P Singh withdrew the Indian troops & the last batch arrived in Chennai on 31 March 1990 but no official from Tamil Nadu or the Centre arrived to welcome them. They were viewed as failures just as remaining LTTE were viewed in May 2009. IPKF brought neither peace after coming nor peace after leaving Sri Lanka. Exactly 14 months later LTTE assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu.
Ironically it was Sri Lanka that decided to build a memorial for the IPKF in Colombo in 2008, a year before LTTE was defeated. https://www.army.lk/news/indian-army-chief-solemn-ceremony-pays-floral-tributes-fallen-jawans-ipkf-memorial-2
By 1987 LTTE had just over 5000 fighting force while the Indian Army boasted over 1.1million of which over 100,000 was sent to Sri Lanka. Inspite of victories over Pakistan in 1965 & 1971 Indian troops failed to fight India-trained LTTE.
“Gandhi may have decided to risk Indian troops in Sri Lanka as his only remaining option to prevent the Sinhalese from implementing a military solution (against LTTE)” (The Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka 1987-1990 a case study in Operations Other Than War by Maj. James D Scudieri)
He outlined 4 phases in covert operations by India:
Phase One, pre-October 1984, consisted mostly of general intelligence activities until the July 1983 riots which prompted the initiation of large-scale training of Tamils.
Phase Two, October 1984-October 1986, was the heyday of RAW’S work with the militants while also playing the various groups, thirty-seven of them, against one another. The LTTE emerged as the most powerful body during this stage. Unfortunately for RAW, they also became increasingly independent.
Phase Three, October 1986-May 1990, demonstrated RAW’S failure to control the LTTE.
Phase Four, May 1991-late 1992, saw a crackdown against the LTTE and their supporters in Tamil Nadu, and cooperation with Sri Lankan intelligence and security agencies.
If the Accord was signed under duress, the contents of the Accord had to also be forced upon Sri Lanka including the merger of North & East provinces ‘to be devolved power by changing the political structure of Sri Lanka from its Westminster model to a federal structure” and making Tamil the official language. India hailed accord as a masterpiece in ‘Indian diplomacy’
President R Premadasa & IPKF
- R Premadasa was elected President of Sri Lanka on 10 January 1988
- He was against the Indo-Lanka Accord & the presence of the IPKF
- He refused to accept the credentials of the Indian High Commissioner
- J N Dixit had to be recalled to replace the Indian High Commissioner
- President Premadasa send Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe with message to the Indian Commander of IPKF to confine his troops to “barracks” & leave Sri Lanka within 24 hours. The letter sent by the President was not given as the Indian General had replied that they would ‘fight to keep the mandate’.
- Signed in Colombo between Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi & Sri Lankan President J R Jayawardena on 27 July 1987
- Indo-Lanka Accord was a failure as India failed to deliver on its promises including disarming Tamil militants
Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) & Operation Pawan
- IPKF landed in Sri Lanka on 30 July 1987 (3 days after Indo-Lanka Accord was signed)
- The IPKF was directly under Indian Army HQ for operations, intelligence & civil affairs & under Southern Command for logistics.
- By March 1988, IPKF had 5 divisions comprising 75000 Indian soldiers stationed in North Sri Lanka initially.
- Initial stages of IPKF operations IPKF were routinely ambushed, officers killed by sniper fire & LTTE even had inside information on all IPKF moves. LTTE even celebrated these deaths by displaying dead Indian soldiers caps, ID, boots etc.
- IPKF soldiers were flown in from all parts of India & dumped to the battlefield in Sri Lanka without even 3 hours of familiarization.
- IPKF’s 1st casualties were 5 soldiers from its finest unit – the paracommndos who were waylaid by LTTE on 8 October 1987. LTTE burnt them in public with tyres thrown around their necks.
- This led to the heli-dropped 10 paracommando & 13 Sikh light infantry raid on 11 October 1987 on the Jaffna University Campus where Prabakaran & his top aides were living. The 30 member platoon led by Maj. Birendra Singh (related to Natwar Singh) were encircled by LTTE & wiped out except one (sepoy Gora Singh) & taken prisoner by LTTE & was humiliated by Prabakaran & sent to tell the fate of IPKF.
- The bodies of the Indian soldiers were stripped & piled near Nagaraja Vihar Temple for public display & cremated throwing petrol.
- Remembering India’s crimes against Tamils: The Valvettithurai Massacre when IPKF killed 64 Tamil civilians.
- “Peace keepers” ended up shooting & killing people to be better known as the “Innocent People Killing Force”
- IPKF was tasked to set the stage for elections in the merged North East province to enable its puppet (Varatharaja Perumal) to become Chief Minister.
- On 10 December 1988 Varatharaja Perumal, the Chief Minister of NE Province was sworn in by President R Premadasa.
- IPKF fired 32 rockets using Mi-25s at the Chavakachcheri bus station which resulted in the killing of 28 Tamil civilians.
- Collateral damage resulting in the deaths of civilians were put down to the Chetwode Oath – where the safety & well-being of troops came next to only the nation’s security for an Indian Army Officer.
Comments by Lt Gen A.S. Kalkat (Retd), SYSM, PVSM, AVSM, VSM 1st Commander IPKF
- Called by Lt Gen Satish Nambiar (Military attache in London) from sabbatical for fellowship with International Institute for Strategic Studies in London as Gen. K Sundarji wished to Gen. Kalkat to report for duty.
- Members of the Indian High Commission in Colombo went on to hold key roles in India J N Dixit India’s high commissioner to Colombo became the National Security Advisor
- Hardip Singh Puri who was Political Consular became a Union Minister
- S Jaishankar who was First Secretary became Foreign Minister.
- Memoirs of Gen. Kalkat “I was clear that I would not let my National Flag to be disgraced or my soldiers or equipment harmed. I also knew that I had enough troops to take on the Sri Lanka Army.“
- Memoirs of Gen. Kalkat – the Indian “MEA had overlooked the first principle of intervention in civil unrests—that most conflicts have a political dynamic and ultimately require a political resolution. It is only the government of a country that can give a political dispensation to its citizens and not an outside power”
Examples of India’s political bullying
- “India coerced the Government of Sri Lanka headed by President Jayawardena into signing the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord literally at gunpoint” Lt Gen A.S. Kalkat
- Indian Air Force violating Sri Lanka’s Airspace by “Op Poomalai” dropping humanitarian aid over Jaffna “was effective power projection” (Lt. Gen. A S Kalkat)
- Kalkat the ‘Accord which forced the Sri Lankan government to give the minority Tamils as much as 1/3 of the total land area of the country & that too its most fertile part’
Comments by Maj. Gen (Retd) Harkirat Singh (former officer of Indian Army heading IPKF) – “Intervention in Sri Lanka” book
- Claimed Indian HC to Colombo J N Dixit asked him by phone on 15 September 1987 to eliminate Prabarakan when he arrived to meet IPKF.
- Harkirat claimed he refused to carry out the order “we are an orthodox Army & we do not indulge in shooting at the back”
- Hakirat had informed Overall Forces Commander Lt. General Deepinder Singh regarding the call from Dixit & he too agreed order should not be carried out.
- It is likely Prabakaran got to know about this later & this played a key role in his decision to assassinate former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi.
Article by Shekhar Gupta on Col. Anil Kaul an IPKF officer
- “this is not a war anybody had expected and regrettably, prepared to fight”
- the mistakes by India – “72 tanks, Mi-25 helicopter gunships had come without ammunition, infantry had been airlifted from places as far as Gwalior and thrown into battle without even three hours of familiarisation. There is no excuse for this kind of complacence” (journalist Shekhar Gupta)
Sri Lankan President during signing of Accord – J R Jayawardena
Sri Lankan President after merged NE elections – R Premadasa
Sri Lanka Army Commander – Lt. Gen. Hamilton Wanasinghe
Indian PM – Rajiv Gandhi later V P Singh whose manifesto included ‘withdrawal of IPKF’
Indian HC in Colombo – J N Dixit
Indian 1st Secretary in Colombo – Hardip Puri (under Dixit) who drafted peace agreement with Mahaththaya (later assassinated with 257 of his men by Prabakaran on 28 Dec 1994 for being an Indian spy)
Indian Army Commander – Lt. Gen. Bipin Chandra Joshi
Indian PM’s advisor – Ronen Sen
BBC Correspondent in Colombo – Mark Tully
IPKF Commanders – Lt. Gen. Kalkat / Maj Gen Harkirat Singh / Gen. Sundarji
IPKF Deputy Brigade Commander – Col. D S Saraon
IPKF Tank commander – Maj Anil Kaul (lost an eye & hand in battle with LTTE) passed away on 27 December 2017.
IPKF – Maj. Gen. Ashok Mehta married to political journalist Aditi Phadnis
If Indian intelligence manipulated “our boys” the LTTE and other Tamil militants in late 1970s and early 1980s, the same intelligence have secured greater penetration across the island nation over the years where it has been able to even dictate regime change & election results. Thus, the ground level presence and influence over locals is something Sri Lanka’s intel units should worry about, moreso in the light of increasing numbers of Indian ‘investments’ across Sri Lanka where any civil unrest (orchestrated or natural) gives the impetus for India to demand greater ‘security’ over its assets. This translated eventually may lead to the return of Indian troops and possibly expanding to QUAD troop presence as an excuse to further diplomatically throttle Sri Lanka.
Have we thought about these scenarios & planned counter-actions or we simply going to ignore all warnings?
Shenali D Waduge