The Sri Lankan ethnic crisis has simmered and boiled for decades without a solution in sight. As the Lankan army closes in on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in what is believed as the final squeeze, human rights activists and others are concerned at the tremendous cost to civilians.
Colonel R Hariharan (retired), a specialist on South Asia military intelligence, served in Sri Lanka as the head of intelligence for the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990, a crucial period in the ethnic conflict.
Col Hariharan joined readers on Rediff Chat on February 5, 2009 to answer their queries on the crisis in Sri Lanka and about India's role in the conflict, if any. Here's the chat transcript:
jefferson asked, LTTE will be finished off,alright,but does that in anyway give us a strategic advantage in the region?I do not think so,as on any given day srilanka is going to side with pakistan due to their own vote bank politics and china for their deep distrust of India.
Col Hariharan answers, at 2009-02-05 11:57:23I do not agree with your views. India-Sri Lanka common networking is far beyond Pakistan-Sri Lanka links. Sri Lanka has signed a free trade agreement with India and the trade is poised to reach $ 4 billion. Nowadays national security involves not only territorial security but economic security as well. So the relationship will flourish when Indian investment goes to northern province.
vijaykumar asked, I feel if LTTE joined hands with TULF and other moderate Tamil organisations, the Sri Lankan would have got the support of India and Sri Lanka cannot antagonise India. Here the LTTE made the biggest blunder by eliminating other Tamil leaders and antagonising India by assassinating Rajiv Gandhi. Now they have no friends in the world except some unemployed politicians from Tamilnadu.
Col Hariharan answers, I fully agree with you.
senthil asked, Hi Col.Hari, Why did the IPKF behaved more biased and made the atrocities against tamilian in Eelam? Does Indian army has moral values for this action?
Col Hariharan answers, Wrong. This is mostly propaganda and unfortunately army has no direct way of answering such accusations. Ask this question to politicians who spread this and govern countries. In war there are aberrations and army punishes in courtmartial many people even now in J and K for offences.
ved asked, Jai Hind Sir, Sir is it possible to separate the LTTE and Srilankan Tamils? in a sense, does a Lankan Tamil back the LTTTE? or is it just a self-proclaimed authority for Tamils?
Col Hariharan answers, It is a fact that the LTTE has killed more Tamil leaders than Sri Lankan authorities or army. Tamils are mortally scared of giving their opinion on LTTE. But at the moment LTTE is the only powerful force that was listened to by the Sri Lanka govt.
neog asked, When the ailing Indian prime minister took time to condemn the bombing of innocent civilians in Gaza, but hes very much comfortable with indian tamils getting killed every day. This is why people losing their faith in something called India.
Col Hariharan answers, I partly agree with you. We should condemn killing of Tamils by all including LTTE. And we should also condemn killing of others - Sinhalas and Muslims and Tamils by LTTE. Unfortunately we dont react like that but America does.
vijaykumar asked, Why India is not highlighting the killings of Sri Lankan Tamil leaders by LTTE? In fact it is LTTE not Sri Lankan Government is responsible for total elimination of local Tamil leadership and intelligensia.
Col Hariharan answers, See my earlier answers on the same issue.
neog asked, We Indians should understand the history of conflict, most of the commentators are not aware of many facts. RAW created LTTE to fight against Srilankan government, till then tamils were following Gandhian approach. Most of indians esp. outside tamilnadu think this is srilankan problem and indians should not worry about this. But the fact is Srilankan government never gave citizenship to Indian Tamils in srilanka and they were treated as second class people. One thing i must praise of Srilanka and Indian government, they both did a commendable job in hiding these facts from the common people. Supporting LTTE and Supporting Tamils in srilanka are two different things, as a indian citizen i do not support LTTE, but i feel for the suffering of Indian Tamils there at srilankan millitary hands. Please refer to wiki and other neutral sources and educate yourself for the sake of humanity. Can hariharan deny any of these facts??
Col Hariharan answers, These are your perceptions.Dont call them facts. Dont give super powers to RAW to create LTTE. Prabhakaran started it much before RAW got into picture.
Kumar asked, It is quite ridiculous that the ruling party in TN is trying to impose its will on India's Lanka policy. The latest being asking Lankan military personnel who had come for training at an air base in TN to leave under pressure from politicians in TN. Can the centre's foreign policy be held hostage to local politics?
Col Hariharan answers, I think TN govt has shown commendable restraint on the subject. It could be for political reasons; but I feel it can contribute better if it can parley with Tamil leaders in Sri Lanka to evolve a political proposal to solve Tamil issue of devolution.
NS asked, Mr. Hariharan.... do you think Rajiv Gandhi made a mistake in sending the IPKF when SL Govt went back on many peace prcesses in the past. Our army men laid down their lives for some other country's internal problem. IPKF in end was unwelcomed by both LTTE and SL govt.
Col Hariharan answers, I think Rajiv was taken in by JR Jayawrdane the then President of Sri Lanka. He was a wily old political fox. And Rajiv was new to politics. I think our troops were sent hastily with no clear political or military mandate.
mpadmam asked, You said that "the LTTE had not bothered to cultivate ties with India." But they tried their best to find a favour with the Indian government. It was the Congress government who after 18 long years of silence wnat to use the Rajiv Ghandi's killing as a excuse to punish the Tamils and side along with the Sinhala Government in Sri-Lanka.
Col Hariharan answers, You call killing a popular leader of India as an excuse! This is the problem if you deal with the issue thinking that the LTTE is the only saviour. People can decide their own destiny. They should be allowed to do so. Who has been punishing whom? When nations deal with issues they do have selective amnesia. I fear this is affecting your viewpoint.
Mani asked, Recently LTTE website said Next battle would be probably in TN and not in Lanka. Do you see such possibilities?
Col Hariharan answers, Let the LTTE survive the day and get Tamil Eelam; then we will see.
Ravi asked, Dear Sir, What are the options of suppressed people (in SL) when their non-violence movement is not yielding any results for about 30 years ?.
Col Hariharan answers, Good question. This is what is bothering me. India and four co-chairs now come hard on Sri Lanka to get the devolution process through. They can do it because they have a big clout. Tamil politicians on both sides of Palk Strait should evolve a viable package and put it up. Instead of that they are fighting among themselves!
jitu asked, If central Govt comes under pressure from tamil nadu , to negotiate with Srilanka for peaceful talks with tiger rebels, wont it be contadictary to its stand in Kashmir?
Col Hariharan answers, Theoretically yes. But where is Prabhakaran, there is a warrant out for him in two countries!
Ela asked, Srilanka is the only country which does arial attacks towards their own civilians only after Adolf Hitler. It's a known fact that civilians are killed by SL Armed Forces. Why india is providing military assistance to srilanka? why we train Srilankan Forces in India? why we provide huge sum of money to continue war without interest? Why we are doing false propaganda in media? Do you think that a organisation can survive without people support for around 30 years? Leave me, you, and fellow others... Eelam tamils, the ones who suffer supports LTTE what's our problem? why we are interfering their state of affairs?
Col Hariharan answers, I am against use of air force against own citizens. But about India's problems with LTTE - none. Dont expect us to intervene when LTTE is in trouble. We intervene politically only. Dont go gaw gaw over Indian arms, hardly any. Get hold of other guys like Pakistan and China on this.
Hash asked, Sir, Unlike India, don't you think Srilanka has got a free hand in finishing terrorim in its backyard...No human right activists, no UN, no USA and ofcourse no Unruly neighbour like Pakistan?
Col Hariharan answers, I agree because 32 countries had branded LTTE as terrorist and the US is waging a global war on terror. Sri Lanka President has cleverly used this opening when the world got tired of Sri Lanka-LTTE bickering during the peace process
Shahezadi asked, Sir Vanakkams from this side of the Vindhyas. It has been talked about for long, but can you clarify on the kind of assistance India, through RAW and otherwise, extended the LTTE in those halcyon days?
Col Hariharan answers, I was in fighting insurgents in Assam those days. You should ask LTTE to honestly acknowledge the assistance they received from RAW. Go thru' Google search, you may get details.
Santosh asked, Col Hariharan people like you why abscond from politics? Why you people think politics is nasty?
Col Hariharan answers, I was never in politics to abscond. I left it for brilliant guys and not ordinary man like me.
theepan asked, Hello sir , why Brahmin people like you are against Tamil nationalism?
Col Hariharan answers, Because you have Dravidian colour in what you see.
Roger2009 asked, Dear Sir. What happens after army takes over and completes the sweep in sri lanka. will sri lanka then emerge as a new nation free from all troubles. Will Sri Lanka strengthen ties with India or eat the chineese loliipop and wage war against India?
Col Hariharan answers, Thank you for a positive question. I hope it happens; but in the past Sri Lanka politicians never allowed this to happen. I hope they have better sense this time. Otherwise somewhere another Prabhakaran might be born some years from now. No chance any lollipop from China; why should China use Sri Lanka to wage war? They can come directly through the border. I think they have other preoccupations of falling trade to fight with India now.
fgdfgdfg asked, Sir,Are there any lessons learnt from this major fiasco, I call this major fiasco because Tamils who are fighting in Lankan are basically from India.
Col Hariharan answers, Wrong. You mean fiasco of LTTE? People fighting there are all Sri Lankans.
sanjud asked, what is LTTE please brief in detail
Col Hariharan answers, You go to Google search and ask. You will get over 1000 pieces on LTTE. Atleast 140 of them are mine.
saun asked, In your article in todays' "Hindu", you say "The time has come for the LTTE to give up war" What then happens to the aspirations of the Tamils SL who have obviously been sidelined there? also what is going to be the effect on india vis a vis a refugee crisis that could escalate in TN?
Col Hariharan answers, By continuing a losing war you are achieving nothing. But if political process takes over you will save a few hundred lives. No refugees are coming at an alarming rate. In any case we have nearly 2 lakhs of them for the last 25 years. A few more will create little problem.
Jk asked, Dear Col, i have been closely following this issue ever since the 80s and am sure our India Army would have made the island free of this trouble had the then govts givena free run to the Indian Peace keeping force.. ur opinion on this pls
Col Hariharan answers, I partly agree. We need to think through problems and evolve clear political goal. Then only army can succeed. this did not happen.
Ela asked, Hi Hariharan, to my previous question, you said that india intervienes politically, then why we are providing training to their Forces in our land. We don't even condemn SL govt when they kill civilians. Why?
Col Hariharan answers, Sri Lanka is not an enemy country. We should condemn killing of civilians.
hoihoieee asked, Sir let me tell you, whats going to happen if this war goes like this, first off all every one in the LTTE will be shattered and the explosives will be dived with differnt people and in those case a gorilla war fare will be introduced in the region of LTTE in which a huge loss of human death and a heavy loss of monitory will be there what sreelanka is going to adopt for this crises and i think there is a amicable solution for this if the srilankan govt can give equal rights to every thig same like as sinhalas then there wont be any conflict and the LTTE can form a political party of thir own if the govt is going to supress the LTTE they are going to grow only thats for sure.
Col Hariharan answers, I wish they follow this advice. LTTE should have taken to politics when it was popular. It would have saved a lot of blood shed. 70000 people dead! 24000 Tamil youth as LTTE cadres! At the end of it families are in wilderness. Its tragic.
tamilveeran asked, What steps are being taken to ensure the well being of displaced citizens?
Col Hariharan answers, I am sorry so not enough is being done for them. I think India should take a lead.
Canadian asked, Col. Hariharan, I would like to present an international view point on the situation in Sri Lanka. Whilst it is true that the Tamil were mal-treated by the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka in the 60s and 70s but resorting to any sort of violence or terrorism is wrong in my view point. What I would like to ask you is this, how does an average Sinhali view an average Tamil living in Sri Lanka? Now that the LTTE is on the verge of extinction, at least militarily, does it mean the era of mal-treatment of the Tamils in the 60s and 70s will begin again? I am sorry if the question sounds naive but I have had only so much exposure to this situation. Many thanks A Canadian
Col Hariharan answers, I agree with you. With my experience of nearly 30 years fighting terrorists and insurgents, I think insurgency is invariably self destructive unless it has a clear political goal that is graded with using power of guns as trade off. Colombo the capital is a majority Tamil city. It elects two Tamil speaking MPs. But the contradiction is none of the policemen in Colombo speak Tamil (though Colombo is trying to remedy the situation they say; it is yet to be seen). In all small towns you find Tamil shops in Sri Lanka. But sense of security and trust between the two communities is not full because 30 years of war is clouding perceptions of generations. Let us hope it changes.
SBA asked, Sri lanka may defeat LTTE. But things will get worse, similar to Iraq, because: 1) LTTE will fight with suicide bombers only. 2) The triumphalistic mood of Sinhalese will overpower any moderate sinhalese overtures to Tamils. Political settlements/ negotiations will be dominated by the hardcore Sinhalese, so they will not succeed.
Col Hariharan answers, This is the worst case scenario. You have ignored what all the other Tamils everywhere will be doing in this period. I think we should not accept the suppression of moderate elements on both sides.
narendiran asked, Gud day sir, its nice to be here to see your view points. Sir, you might be aware of LTTE suicide squad and till now they have not participated in the current fight? what is yoour startergy if they are unleashed for the war........
Col Hariharan answers, They are not in such large nos. And the war has brought in tight security measures, so many attempts had failed.
jeffrson asked, Colonel,I do agree that FTA has done a lot good to the bilateral relationship.What is your long term view of the geo-political scenario with reference to emerging/emerged china which is already building a port at hambanbota? and this is the reason for which i expressed my doubts on srilanka.
Col Hariharan answers, Hambantota can be a potential trouble spot if India and China go to war. But Sri Lanka is so close to India, China can never have supremacy over it in case India decides to put its foot down. I think Sri Lankans know this. So we should watch Hambantota without overplaying
LTTE asked, I am indian but faith in Tamil, I want to know how peace will come back
Col Hariharan answers, We have to work towards it. I am like you only.
Suresh asked, Sir, Do you feel any possibility of a comeback for the LTTE??
Col Hariharan answers, It can come back if Sri Lanka govt does not pay heed to historical Tamil demands. I think Sri Lankans know this.
Real-Jackson asked, It is obvious that the Indian establishment has decided to back the Sinhalese fully. Is there any possible dangers in this? The Tamil Diaspora and a section of TN are clearly not happy at this. Has India planned for all this.
Col Hariharan answers, correction. India is backing the elected govt and not a dictatorship body. But I agree India should help Tamils get their just rights. India planned nothing and that is the tragedy.
99ravi asked, Do you think that srilanka government will come clean and pass the necessary amendments alowing equal rights to tamils in lanka.
Col Hariharan answers, We live on hope; I hope they do.
Ravi Iyer asked, Why can't we (India) use the same method and eliminate Naxals? Though this can be true for ULFA too, I recognize that ULFA operates close to the international border? So we can atlest eliminate the Naxals..
Col Hariharan answers, We cant use copy cat methods. Each insurgency is unique.But I agree ULFA is fighting dirty. So are Naxals. And we have not decided whether it is a problem of the state or centre.
ravichandra asked, sir, its nice to hear that sirlankan army blocked out almost all hide points of LTTE and still didn't find His chief .. my Question is if he still Alive and if he escape he might be very dangerous and powerful till next decade sir.. its better to catch him live or dead.. and Sirlankans be happy from being Away from this all activity ....
Col Hariharan answers, I think he is very much there. At least for the time being. It wont be so easy to catch or kill him. He is a wily one who always survives. Let us see what happens...
Col Hariharan says, Thank you all for your active participation. It is nice chatting with you. Keep up your interest in our neighbour. That's a healthy way of learning about our own environment.