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Sri Lanka is India's problem
November 29, 2006
Israeli designed Kfir jets roar into Jaffna peninsula and the east coast to deposit bunker busters and other demonic payloads. The casualties mount. The United States aggressively trains the Sri Lankan Special Forces. Pakistani generals and military personnel train and advise their counterparts in Colombo. China provides economic support. When are the Russians coming, I wonder?
Yet India, refusing to be shaken from its stupor, remains on the sidelines and fiddles. Or, so it seems.
The well worn expression '�using a sledgehammer to break an egg', comes to mind. With such enthusiastic support, it is no wonder the Sri Lankan government conducts a relentless campaign of terror against the Tamil civilians.
Pakistan, a near failed state, a hotbed of terrorism, a sanctuary and haven for terrorists and home of the nuclear bazaar, to be advising Sri Lanka on fighting and containing terrorism, is a perversion of justice. It is a kick in the butt for all those who cherish decency, justice and egalitarian values.
Has Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence setup shop in Colombo? South India would be a deliciously close and accessible playground for the Pakistanis, wouldn't it?
And what is Israel, fresh from its pummeling of Lebanese civilians, doing in Sri Lanka? Does Israel have the moral authority to be fighting another man's war? The Israeli strategy and methods of warfare are coming through clearly in the tactics adopted by the Sri Lankan forces.
Recently, a few thousand miles away in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, 18 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli tank fire. A grief-stricken father cradled the remains of his six-month old baby in his arms. All he had left of the baby was a bloody lump of flesh. Stunned and dazed residents, crazed with pain and anguish, stared into space in disbelief or wept in each others arms.
The Israeli response? 'Oops, wrong coordinates!'
A few days later, eerie echoes of Beit Hanoun played out in the towns of Killinochi and Varakai. Sri Lankan armed forces bombed a hospital and shelled a school where civilians were taking refuge. Civilian death toll keeps rising.
The strategy to combat terror with terror is gaining in popularity. Civilians and infrastructure be damned. Recent events in South Lebanon, Gaza and Sri Lanka bare testimony to this appalling shift in thinking.
The Sri Lankan state has successfully claimed the moral high ground. The picture painted for foreign consumption is that the state is the helpless victim of Tamil aggression. The frequent pogroms the Tamil community was subjected to, is old hat and not discussed anymore.
The US' policy toward Sri Lanka appears to favor castrating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam while propping up the government with weapons, funding and training. As was evident in Lebanon a few weeks ago, civilian casualties are an unpleasant but necessary price to pay. The US now makes innocuous statements and looks the other way when civilians are killed.
Is the Trincomalee harbor a reason for this new found camaraderie? New friends and safe harbours are needed all the time when you're in the business of policing the world. An entire population was removed from Diego Garcia to accommodate a military base, so is it surprising that bombs and dollars are provided in exchange for a natural deep water harbour? And the Sri Lankan government appears desperate enough to trade its soul, if it means defeating the Tamils.
The current crop of nationalistic, war-mongering parliamentarians is ill-suited for navigating the waters of peace and reconciliation. Bloated with hubris, they brutally prosecute the war using paramilitary forces, sophisticated weapons and children.
Yes, the state does use child soldiers, while unabashedly pointing an unsteady finger in accusation at the LTTE. And, what can you say about a government that uses warplanes to strafe civilians and refugees so they could be herded to predetermined camps?
Another recent and terrifying development is the reappearance of the 'White Van', synonymous with abductions and killings and was at its most horrifying in the 1980s when thousands disappeared. Most victims are Tamil and the kidnappings are conducted in government-controlled areas. This is yet another alarming example of the government operating outside the law.
The state hit a new low last week when it gunned down popular Tamil politician Nadaraja Raviraj in cold blood. Articulating his concerns and grievances in all three languages, Raviraj tirelessly fought for the Tamils. His number came up when the powers that be figured he had to go. Raviraj was mowed down in his prime leaving behind a young family and a massive void in the ranks of the Tamil leadership.
The dictionary describes 'terrorism' as follows: Violence or the threat of violence, especially bombing, kidnapping, and assassination, carried out for political purposes
The Sri Lankan state fits this description like a glove.
The world frets about negotiating a peaceful settlement, yet has remained callously quiet and indifferent to state sponsored atrocities. The most one hears are pithy statements of 'regret'.
Madness and mayhem embrace the Island. This is uncontrolled and unapologetic violence and hatred. Yet, they say the country is not at war.
Fires are burning at India's doorstep and some major players are in there jostling for space. So, why is India dithering? It is time for India to wake up from its slumber and step in to the fray. Past experience may have been unpleasant but the time has come to be assertive, demonstrate leadership and to take charge. The time for 'study' or for 'monitoring the situation', is over.
The notion of not interfering in the internal affairs of another state is quaint and antiquated. The flames of war may soon leap across the Palk Strait to lick at India's borders. This is now India's problem.
If ever there was a time ripe for India's intervention, this is it. Setting aside considerations of political expediency, India should act to stop the bleeding. If nothing else, the humanitarian crisis demands a response.
There are constant comparisons made with China and a yearning to be on the same playing field, yet India is always a step or two behind. It is happening yet again in Sri Lanka. India is still a non-starter, and as a player to be reckoned with, is a yawn.
I sincerely hope this is not a deliberate show of aloofness. I have faith that India will not turn its back on the Tamils and sell out for its 30 pieces of silver.
Not long ago, Sri Lanka was the sleepy and idyllic backwater known mostly for its natural beauty and tourism. Then, the challenge and opportunity was to serve French toast and young boys to eager and hungry German tourists. And we thought we had problems. Oh, for those lazy, hazy days of endless summer.
As a famed folk singer reminds us, '�The times they are a-changin'.
The unpleasant truth is that while battles may be won and lost, the war will persist for as long as a military solution is pursued. An entire people cannot be bludgeoned to death. A strong and vibrant community cannot be subjugated for ever.
The cry for peace and justice rings loud and clear as Lanka convulses from the horrors of war. Tread gently and walk in peace, for as history teaches us, you never know what tomorrow brings.