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Why did Sri Lanka ignore India's terror alerts?

May 07, 2019 12:01 IST

'The residual historical hostility against India was certainly a factor,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

The Indian election campaign of 2019 will go down as the most negative ever in our electoral history.

Both sides have harped more on the negatives of the other side than their own positives.

These elections have seen political parties running to the Election Commission of India virtually every other day with complaints against each other.

It reminds me of the bad old days of Indian cricket when the team, in doldrums, was fond of appealing frequently to the umpires!

Political parties have cynically vitiated the process in such a way that the Election Commission's credibility has been eroded. This will have long-term repercussions for Indian democracy that has always prided itself on a free and fair electoral process.


Be that as it may, one very tragic consequence of this gamesmanship has been the recent terror attack in Sri Lanka.

As a frequent visitor to and long time student of Sri Lanka's internal dynamics, one is well aware of the undercurrent of 'anti-Indianism' in the Sri Lankan polity.

The roots of this go back to the first millennium CE. Emperor Rajendra Chola created a vast empire in South East Asia and invaded Sri Lanka 17 times. During these invasions he destroyed the Buddhist shrines of Anuradhapura and built a Shiva temple at the site.

Sri Lankans have never forgotten this history and were and are suspicious of Indian motives. At the peak of the Indian Peace Keeping Force operations in 1987-1988, then Sri Lankan prime minister Ranasinghe Premadasa even supplied arms and ammunition to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to fight the Indian Army.

There was widespread belief in Sri Lanka that India would never withdraw from Sri Lanka.

The anti-Indian feeling has abated somewhat since then as India kept its pledge and withdrew its forces in 1990. It is another matter that the same Premadasa was a victim of the LTTE.

After the LTTE's defeat 10 years ago, Sri Lanka has seen much desired peace. The terror bombing on Easter Sunday, April 21, shattered this decade of peace. The ease with which the terror attacks were carried out revealed that Sri Lanka had let its guard down.

What is shocking is that almost a month before the gruesome attacks, Indian intelligence had given a detailed warning that included the likely targets and dates. Not just that, India also provided Sri Lanka with detailed addresses and telephone numbers of the would-be suicide bombers.

This was no vague 'alert', but a detailed plot of the terror attacks. Sri Lankan officials completely ignored the warnings and took no action. As a result, close to 250 people lost their lives.

Why did the Sri Lankans disregard the timely warning? The residual historical hostility against India was certainly a factor.

Another equally important factor was the disarray in the Sri Lankan government apparatus due to the ongoing 'cold war' between the president and prime minister.

It is also a matter of record that the Sri Lankan establishment has long been hobnobbing with Pakistan and all manner of jihadi outfits to 'balance' the Indian influence on Sri Lanka.

Despite all that, it still begs the question as to why the Sri Lankans ignored the inputs of Indian intelligence.

The answer lies in the constant barrage of propaganda in the section of the Indian media that depicts the current Indian government as anti-Muslim.

Lending its ears to the anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists of the Indian media, the Sri Lankans assumed the warnings of impending terror attacks were part of a diabolic plan by Indian Rightists.

From this 'conviction' to ignoring timely inputs about the terror attack was a logical step as far as Sri Lanka was concerned.

The damage these attacks have caused to the Lankan economy is tremendous. Tourism, the mainstay of the Lankan economy, has taken a hit and it will take great efforts to recreate confidence in minds of potential tourists.

The Sri Lankan terrorists's links to India have become visible. India can no longer view its southern parts as immune to the virus of ISIS ideology.

ISIS's statement that the Sri Lankan attacks were revenge for what happened in Syria to ISIS is laughable to any sane individual. But to its ideologically motivated fanatic followers it makes perfect sense.

Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) has been a Sri Lanka watcher since 1989.

Col Anil Athale (retired)