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The Rediff Special/Colonel John Taylor (retired)
'The Jain Commission report sheds a lot of new light on what the IPKF was up against, both at home and in Sri Lanka'
The India-Sri Lankan Accord
After a lot of diplomatic activity, Rajiv Gandhi visited Colombo and signed the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord, with Jayewardane. (Rajiv Gandhi almost got assassinated there itself, at the hands of a Sri Lankan sailor, who was part of the guard of honour.) The LTTE was not impressed. According to a number of LTTE cadres with whom I came in contact, "The cunning old fox (the LTTE's nickname for Jayewardane) has fooled the innocent young lamb (Rajiv Gandhi)." As events were to unfold later, this proved true.
Induction of the Indian Peace Keeping Force
As per the terms and conditions of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord the Sri Lankan army would return to its barracks and the Indian army would keep the peace between Sri Lankan Tamils and the ethnic Sri Lankans (This was greatly resented by the Sri Lankan army, especially the younger cadre of officers and men. Their national pride was hurt. For them the IPKF was a foreign army on their soil doing their job. On many occasions they showed their sullen displeasure by violent verbal outbursts and non-co-operation during the entire IPKF stay in Sri Lanka).
The Indian army contingent consisted of an infantry division who landed in Jaffna by air and sea. India had sent peacekeeping forces earlier to the Congo and Gaza. The Indian army contingent thought this was another foreign assignment. The IPKF came more like a ceremonial army -- all spit and polish and not realising they would have to FIGHT. They came without sufficient maps, radio sets or even cooking utensils!!
When the IPKF came there was a series of ceremonial meetings with representatives of the Sri Lankan government, its army's top brass, the LTTE cadres, the Tamil people. It was a hero's welcome all the way -- garlands and speeches everywhere. Even a few arms were surrendered in public by the LTTE.
Then the Sri Lankans did something that changed the whole complex of things. There were about 12 middle and higher LTTE cadres in the custody of the Sri Lankan army at the Pallali air base. The LTTE requested the Indian army to see to it that these 12 persons were not airlifted to Colombo for interrogation. Commanders at all levels spoke and an assurance was given that these 12 LTTE cadres would not be flown out of Pallali. However, the LTTE got wind that the 12 persons were being shifted the next day at 5 am
Cyanide capsules were slipped in to the 12 men and they all committed suicide. The LTTE went on a rampage; massacring a number of Sri Lankan villagers. The die had been cast. The IPKF was called out to keep the peace -- it meant war with the LTTE, something that was not foreseen.
The IPKF operations
Many critics of the Indian army have called the Sri Lankan episode 'India's Vietnam.' The LTTE also boasted of 'stopping' the fourth largest army in the world. These statements are totally untrue. Any military person or war correspondent will tell you that an army to be successful in its operations must have intelligence, political will and support and freedom of action to plan and execute its operations. The IPKF had none of this.
The IPKF went into Sri Lanka unprepared. Initially, they were told that their presence was enough. They were ill equipped. No proper maps, and those available were very few in numbers. They knew nothing about the LTTE (whom they had to ultimately fight against). No artillery guns, no tanks or APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers). They were on foreign soil and had to deal with a hostile civil population (Tamils) and government (Sri Lankan). Even the DMK government in Tamil Nadu was not exactly friendly. It was a known fact that all LTTE casualties were treated in hospitals in Tamil Nadu. All their supplies also came via Tamil Nadu.
In the thrust towards Jaffna the LTTE fought well, but the IPKF showed them that they were no match when it came to full- scale war. After this operation when the LTTE was sent fleeing back into the jungles, it was a low intensity conflict involving patrolling to keep the LTTE at bay, running essential services and keeping the roads open. Banks, post offices, railways, transport, everything was being run and manned by the IPKF -- even holding elections (though it was a one-sided affair as the LTTE boycotted the election). The IPKF commanders were the collector, the superintendent of police, the station master, driver, guard and even cashiers in the bank.
The IPKF successfully administered the entire north and eastern regions of Sri Lanka, while successfully keeping the LTTE locked up in the jungles. The IPKF had to pay a heavy price in terms of casualties during its two year stay (1987 to 1988) -- losing almost a man a day. Killing three LTTE cadres every day may make good statistics but it gave little comfort to the widows and families of the IPKF who lost their dear ones.
The IPKF operations were not military in nature -- it was a politically guided and intelligence-oriented operation in which the army commander had little or no say. New Delhi took all the decisions. Wars are not planned and fought this way -- but then very few understood this then and even now. The Jain Commission report sheds a lot of new light on what the IPKF was up against, both at home and in Sri Lanka.
Finally, a few words about the LTTE. They were a highly motivated group of militants who knew the terrain they operated on. They were very innovative, resourceful and had an excellent intelligence network which allowed them to strike anywhere, anytime -- successfully. Their hit squads have killed top leaders in Sri Lanka and India. Their operations are very well planned, skilfully executed and they have the ability of operating anywhere (ground of their choosing).
The brutal assassination of EPRLF leader Padmanabha in June 1990 because he was a 'betrayer' was carried out ruthlessly and smoothly. It was almost like a dress rehearsal for the Rajiv Gandhi assassination. They also successfully assassinated President R Premadasa, during his re-election campaign (on similar lines as the Rajiv Gandhi assassination).
Premadasa was known to be pro-LTTE during the IPKF operations. Even he was not spared as he was considered a threat and of no further use to the LTTE. While the IPKF was in Sri Lanka they had successfully eliminated a major portion of the LTTE's middle order leadership. A few top leaders were also killed.
Prabhakaran, the LTTE supremo, was desperate. The IPKF had to be made to leave. They had caused irreparable damage to the LTTE leadership. Prabhakaran held talks with Premadasa and ensured the IPKF was withdrawn. He then plotted to take revenge on the man who had come very close to finishing off the LTTE's military wing.
On May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated at Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu. The LTTE did it and the Jain Commission's interim report has taken six years to try to tell us why.
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