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Updated: March 17, 2011 12:11 IST

How India kept pressure off Sri Lanka

Nirupama Subramanian
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The Hindu

In the final stages of the war with the LTTE, New Delhi played all sides but discouraged international attempts to halt the operations.

India played a key role in warding off international pressure on Sri Lanka to halt military operations and hold talks with the LTTE in the dramatic final days and weeks of the war in 2009, confidential U.S. Embassy cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks showed.

The cables reveal that while India conveyed its concern to Sri Lanka several times about the “perilous” situation that civilians caught in the fighting faced, it was not opposed to the anti-LTTE operation.

They also show that India worried about the Sri Lankan President's “post-conflict intentions,” though it believed that there was a better chance of persuading him to offer Sri Lankan Tamils an inclusive political settlement after the fighting ended.

After its efforts to halt the operation failed, the international community resigned itself to playing a post-conflict role by using its economic leverage, acknowledging that it had to rope in India for this.

In the closing stages of the war, New Delhi played all sides, always sharing the concern of the international community over the humanitarian situation and alleged civilian casualties in the Sri Lankan military campaign, but discouraging any move by the West to halt the operations.

In January 2009, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a “short notice” visit to Sri Lanka. The Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, Vikram Misri, briefed the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission and other diplomats about the visit, in a cable dated January 29, 2009 (189383: confidential).

At a two-hour meeting at President Rajapaksa's residence, attended by the army chief, defence secretary and other top officials, Mr. Mukherjee stressed he was in Colombo with “no objective other than to ensure that human rights and safety of civilians were protected.”

Mr. Misri told the diplomats that while domestic political considerations were a factor in the Indian calculus, “New Delhi is deeply worried about the humanitarian crisis in the Vanni. He added that Indians throughout the country, not just in Tamil Nadu, are troubled by the high level of casualties sustained by Tamil civilians caught in the crossfire.”

From Mr. Mukherjee's statement at the end of his visit, it was clear that India did not oppose the operations. “I stressed that military victories offer a political opportunity to restore life to normalcy in the Northern Province and throughout Sri Lanka, after twenty three years of conflict. The President assured me that this was his intent.”

Indian theme

This was to remain the Indian theme, except for a brief period in April 2009, when New Delhi, under pressure in the context of elections in Tamil Nadu — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a partner in the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), was feeling the heat of the Sri Lankan operations — made an attempt to press for a pause in the operations, if not a cessation.

In a meeting with U.S. Embassy Charge d'Affaires Peter Burleigh on April 15, 2009, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said the Sri Lankan government had made clear it “did not want a UN Envoy in resolving the conflict with the LTTE, nor was the GSL interested now in direct negotiations with the LTTE or in a cease-fire”, which is in a cable sent on April 15, 2009 (202476: confidential).

The Foreign Secretary told Mr. Burleigh that the Indian government had advised Sri Lanka against rejecting all such proposals out of hand and “offered a suggestion that the GSL consider offering an amnesty to all but the hard core of the LTTE.”

But he also pointed out there were questions about what constituted the LTTE's core and what modalities would be used to make such an offer.

The Foreign Secretary “acknowledged that the space for such discussions was small and flagged President Rajapaksa's electoral considerations as militating against anything that could be viewed as a concession to the LTTE. ‘Quiet diplomacy' outside of Sri Lanka faced serious challenges and the Sri Lankan government would have to ‘be dragged, kicking and screaming' to talks.”

Mr. Menon highlighted another problem: in “India's view, the group was sending conflicting signals and there was a real question as to who spoke for Prabhakaran”. He also questioned whether Prabhakaran understood the situation he faced.

Ruling out the possibility of Indian involvement in any such process between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government, Mr. Menon told the U.S. official that the ongoing elections in India made such efforts “impossible.”

Still, he left Mr. Burleigh with the impression that India was not opposed to the idea of talks at that late stage.

“He asked whether the U.S. was interested in such talks and said India would think about participation, perhaps with other states under UN auspices, in an effort to obtain a peaceful conclusion to the conflict,” the charge wrote in the cable.

Three weeks later, U.K. Special Envoy for Sri Lanka Des Browne, visiting New Delhi on May 6-7, heard from Foreign Secretary Menon and National Security Adviser (NSA) M.K. Narayanan(cable 206806: confidential, May 13, 2009), that while there was “domestic political pressure” on India to do more on Sri Lanka due to the ongoing elections (the Tamil Nadu Assembly election was on May 13), “there was little anyone could do to alleviate the fighting as Sri Lanka government forces moved towards the end game of defeating the LTTE.”

A British High Commission contact briefing the U.S. Embassy political counselor on this meeting said the Indian officials were concerned about the humanitarian situation, but “were more upbeat on chances to persuade President Rajapaksa to offer Tamils a political solution once fighting had ended.

The two Indian officials were “slightly more optimistic of the chances to persuade President Rajapaksa to offer the Tamils a genuinely inclusive political settlement once fighting had ended. It was the Indians' impression that President Rajapaksa believed this was his moment in history, i.e., a chance to bring peace to the island for good, but that the Sri Lankan Army was an obstacle, having been emboldened by its victory over the LTTE.” They told Mr. Browne that if Sri Lanka did not implement the “13th Amendment Plus” devolution plan quickly, a new terrorist movement could quickly fill the vacuum left by the LTTE's defeat.

Their advice to the British special envoy: it was “useful to have Sri Lanka on the UNSC's agenda, and to issue periodic Presidential Statements, but it would be counterproductive for the UN to ‘gang up' on Colombo; providing Rajapaksa with a rationale for fighting off international pressure would only serve to bolster his domestic political standing.”

On May 15, the U.S. Charge met Mr. Menon again for “a discussion on the urgent humanitarian situation” in Sri Lanka, in a cable sent on May 15, 2009 (207268: confidential).

Acknowledging the “dire situation,” the Foreign Secretary said pressure needed to be put on the Sri Lankan government to avoid civilian causalities. But once again, “he cautioned that bilateral diplomacy would be more effective than highly public pressure in the UN Security Council or the Human Rights Council.”

For a ‘pause'

By then, under pressure from UPA coalition partner and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, New Delhi had already tried to get the Sri Lankan government to go easy on the war-front.

On April 23, Mr. Burleigh wrote (203792: confidential) of his meeting that day with the Indian Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Menon told him that in a phone call to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later that day, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee would propose that the U.S. and India coordinate an international effort to force the Sri Lankan government “to take appropriate political steps to bring stability to Sri Lanka and a return to normalcy in the Tamil regions.”

He told Mr. Burleigh that the Indian Cabinet had decided to make “a new appeal to pause military operations” and provide relief to civilians trapped in the war zone.

Mr. Menon and Mr. Narayanan then made a quick visit to Colombo on April 24. On their return, the NSA told Mr. Burleigh, in a cable sent on April 25 (204118: confidential), that the Sri Lankan President had “more or less” committed to “a cessation of hostilities”.

Mr. Rajapakse would make the announcement on April 27 after consulting his Cabinet. Mr. Narayanan asked the U.S. to “keep quiet” about it until it came.

The announcement did come, but not for a cessation of hostilities. Declaring that combat operations had ended, the Sri Lankan government announced heavy-calibre weapons would no longer be used. The Defence Ministry warned this was not a cessation of hostilities or ceasefire, and said the push into a 10-km swathe of land where the LTTE leader and the members of his inner circle were holed in would continue.

Briefing Delhi-based diplomats during his May 6-7 visit, Des Browne, the U.K. special envoy, said he believed Sri Lanka could be forced through monetary inducements to accept a post-conflict role for the international community, according to the cable sent on May 13, 2009 (206806: confidential).

“At the end of the day they'll want the money,” Mr. Burleigh quoted the U.K. special envoy as saying. Mr. Browne noted that the government had expended “vast resources” for the war, and emphasised India's “unique role” in the post-conflict scene.

But it appears that the U.S. was worried India might shy away from such a role, and Mr. Burliegh suggested in his cable that “the time is ripe to press India to work more concretely with us on Sri Lanka issues.”


I appreciate the efforts of 'The Hindu' in bringing light into the secret world of US cables. Now, I simply can't wait for your morning daily, to start reading, everyday. I have even un-subscribed to another daily, to really hooked up to 'The Hindu'.

I once again appreciate 'The Hindu' For the pleasurable reading.

from:  Navaneeth Chakrapani
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 01:57 IST

Much damage has already been done. Let the past go into the History.
Atleast now some remedial measures should be immediately initiated to grant the remaining few Tamils a decent and dignified living

from:  Smesan
Posted on: Mar 22, 2011 at 01:18 IST

People here comment LTTE as terrorist group but the Indian Troops no different either. No one can forget the atrocities committed by IPKF. Finally the Indian Government has own the war by joining hands with Pakistanis, Chinese and Isralies. Congrats. But in the process of taking revenge on Tamils we have lost Katchativeeu which was a territorial part of India.

from:  Rajan
Posted on: Mar 20, 2011 at 17:39 IST

Please accept my thanks for bringing out the true color of the Indian politicians.I do not know whom I should vote for the next elections.

from:  Nikilesh
Posted on: Mar 20, 2011 at 05:19 IST

The fate of LTTE was decided by itself. World nations including India had pleaded many times to LTTE to find a peaceful solution. But sense of invincibility and pride led to their downfall. But I feel it is time Indian government start the process of dialogue with Sri Lanka to protect the rights of Tamil minorities and make sure equality is preserved.

from:  Abhishek
Posted on: Mar 19, 2011 at 22:57 IST

LTTE is the outcome of Sri Lanka state atrocities. They are not the cause but effect. Sri Lanka is still pursuing its atrocities. LTTE is not the end but a new beginning of the Tamilars struggle in a Global scale. As of now the Chinese stand to gain by all of these. Unsound India who listened to MK Narayanan and the Keralites Mafia!.

from:  Kalai
Posted on: Mar 19, 2011 at 15:11 IST

No matter how nicely foreign news papers put their articles though, they cannot comprehend what Sri Lankans have been through. Simple truth, cannot express how glad the common Sri Lankans are that LTTE is a thing in past. No where in the world you find perfect politicians or governments, Mahinda Rajapakse government did what nobody thought possible with the support of India, Pakistan, China etc. Now the foreign countries are crying for the fact that they have lost whatever the political leverage they had over Sri Lanka due to end of War. The countries that provided asylum to those who supported LTTE, countries such as Australia, UK, Norway, Switzerland, France etc will bear the brunt in future.

from:  Ranga
Posted on: Mar 19, 2011 at 11:14 IST

Thanks India for your betrayal of the people who always looked up to you for their protection. Most of the people who comment here about LTTE have no clue as to what brought them towards the brutality.It was the continuous atrocities unleashed by the state since the independance of 1948 against hapless Sri-Lankan Tamils with the 'Massive Islandwide Pogrom' of 1983 against the Tamils is what created the LTTE. We, Tamils for more than 3 decades, used the Gandhian 'Non-violence agitation for equal rights with the majority dominated governments of Sri-Lanka since the independance in 1948 but rebutted every time with force. It is indeed unfortunate that the LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi and fought with the Indian peace keeping force. No Tamils are proud of these two sad incidents, nevertheless, it was the LTTE that minimized/prevented the majority thugs from committing atrocities against Tamils for more than 3 decades. One fascinating fact about the Sri-Lankan armed forces: Their total number is 300,000 and out of this may be 3 are Tamils and the rest are Sinhalese. This should explain the ferocious and wanton killings of the minority Tamils by the state. What chance did the Jews have against the Nazis?

from:  Arul Sittampalam
Posted on: Mar 19, 2011 at 03:38 IST

LTTE was a terrorist organization who committed atrocities against humanity, used their own clan as human shield and called them martyers after they were killed in cross fight. LTTE was responsible for killing Shri Rajiv Ghandhi, and I cannot blame his widow Sonia for taking revenge and not supporting a terrorist organization who was responsible for killing her husband.

from:  Nemal
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 23:13 IST

Should the folks from Bengal support India's cause or Bangladesh's? Should our Punjabis support the Punjabis from Lahore? How do we feel when some Indian Muslims support Pakistan? SL army went a bit too far, I agree. But after everything said and done, it will be a terrible mistake to have those events impact India's stability. India is a country because we all feel Indian 1st and then Tamil or Bihari or Hindu or Muslim. Let us make sure that some misguided fanatics don't break this thread.

from:  Avanti
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 22:59 IST

I think Indian strategy was short sighted, more so because of the people involved like Narayanan and Menon. There is no second view that LTTE had to be neutralized but strategies do not stop there. Post LTTE what was India's role? India should have taken suo moto action and committed largely towards building Sri Lanka, particularly North Eastern Lanka. But Narayanan and Menon thought otherwise. It is under the 'control' of this Kerala mafia that India has consistently lost its supremacy in many areas - defence, foreign policy, space and even internal security. One must seriously view the 'crucial' appointments at 'strategic' places within India that works counter productive to the nationhood. All scams that present government is facing is rooted somewhere - please do the research and save the country.

from:  A.S.KUMAR
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 21:39 IST

Ranjan, on the 17th has raised the question of Rajiv Gandhi's killing.

He may not know that Rajiv asked the Army commander to soot and kill Prabakaran, when he was to attend an interview with him at the army HQ at Palali - Jaffna. The Commander told Consul Dixit, that since he has called for discussions he cannot kill him!

Besides, I went home for a weeks visit to Jaffna to see my mother, and landed before the IPKS attack - started the day after I landed - I saw the atrocities by the army. For three weeks I could not even contact my wife (overseas) for three weeks. I could not get out for six weeks. It was terrible, several properties were plundered and taken to Madras for sale, women were reaped, it goes on and on. The women who let the bomb go off was a woman raped by soldiers. I had personally seen the houses looted.

The army group entered the civil hospital of Jaffna, the major hospital, and with arms on fire - killing a large number of very innocent civilians, doctors and patients. Can you put up with it? This was one of the worst atrocity of the army.

Individuals and individuals who totally form a community - so killing an individual cannot be considered a blame on a society to which that killer belonged.

A Premier of a country must also be a respectable and loving person - otherwise be out of it - never for power and money. Never let another "Borphous" scandal occur!

from:  Canaga
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 15:20 IST

We Eelam tamils will not ever, ever,ever, ever forget India's role in destroying our freedom struggle and making us slave of Sinhalese, and will never forgive Tamil Nadu political leaders for selling us. One day, maybe in 10,20 30 years, Tamils will have to take-up arms again to free themself.

from:  Vijay
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 04:31 IST

Kudos to The Hindu for the 'Leaks' and the writer for throwing more light on the ethnic conflicts of Sri Lanka.It would do well to partially recollect here the past events of Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Tamils and native Sinhalas are two distinctly different races with their own discordant cultures.The ethnic conflicts between them is a deep rooted longstanding malaise.The inveterate nature of the hatred between the ethnic groups was exemplified in the reckless attack of a Sinhala soldier on late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi while he was acknowledging the 'guard of honour' during one of his visits to the island.It is a pity that so far there has not been necessary and sufficient political will either on the part of Sri Lanka or that of India to make these two races live amicably.In the circumstances the Sri Lankan Tamils were left to protect themselves from the savage discriminations of the Sinhalas, against their life and properties.Sri Lankan Tamils depended heavily on India to come to their rescue but India,for inscrutable reasons, was not responding up to their expectations.In the absence of angels to protect them,Velupillai Prabhakaran,the LTTE leader with his imperfect visionary virtues, emerged on the scene. All along his life he was an effective political counterweight in the Sri Lankan politics and did his best to save the Sri Lankan Tamils from the savage inhuman treatment meted out by the Sinhalas.India ought to have taken more pains to understand Prabhakaran and his followers.This understanding would have given a leverage in the dealings of India with Sri Lanka.India could not hold a candle to Canada or Norway in taking a brief for Sri Lankan Tamils.Further India hobbled the struggles of the Sri Lankan Tamils for equality of treatment by declaring the LTTE as terrorists.This prolonged declaration of the LTTE as terrorists gave and is still giving wrong signals to the world community.India ought to have been wise enough to perceive a constituency in Prabhakaran and his followers without declaring them as terrorists in the perilous context of Sri Lanka's unconcealed flirtations with China and Pakistan.One could not help recollecting the prompt rescue measures taken by the USA some years ago in respect of her two journalists who were in trouble.Consider also the great pains taken now by the USA in redeeming Raymond Davis from Pakistan.After the LTTE the fate of the Sri Lankan Tamils is an open secret.Our hearts could only go for the perennial woes of the Sri Lankan Tamils who are more sinned against than sinning.

from:  G.Rajaram.
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 02:20 IST

I applaud 'The Hindu' for publishing wikileaks cables, exposing the true colours of Indian government,diplomats and officials.It is time Indian Government gets its act together by stoppping this double game.India should be firm with its foreign policy without caving in to external pressure, maintain its dignity as a matured democracy.India is viewed as too weak a country to take a firm decision on its own, on many internal as well as external matter,despite its size,large population and democracy.It is a pity that the new young generation failed to rise up to the occasion and make a political correction.

from:  Raman
Posted on: Mar 18, 2011 at 02:14 IST

After Prabhakaran's role in Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, no political party in India would have supported LTTE. At any cost, this fight had to end one day for good and LTTE should not get sympathy for treating Tamils the way they did in Srilanka, even before the war began. If Tamil civilians were killed, the LTTE should be blamed not the Indian government.

from:  Oommen
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 23:10 IST

It is highly disconcerting that there are many who identify more closely with their home state, whether Tamil Nadu or any other, than with the Union of India. The loss of innocent lives is indeed absolutely dreadful. However, I am at a loss to gauge what India's specific response should have been. There is absolutely no doubt that the LTTE was inimical to India, having assassinated a former Indian PM. They posed a serious threat to national security. In addition, core LTTE forces were always deeply entrenched amongst civilians, as the maoists are in the east, and the terrorists are in Kashmir. In addition, several attempts at reconciliation with the LTTE never came to fruition largely due to the LTTE's attitude down to the fact they believed they could not be beaten militarily, a common cause for being unreasonable.That said the GSL really do need to reach out to the ethic Tamil population in SL, giving them equal opportunities and a stake in the future of the country, the same way that we need to engage the Kashmiris. I completely agree that a refusal to satisfy the ethnic population will create inimical forces which will carry on where the LTTE left off, a veritable lose-lose situation. India must encourage the GSL in no uncertain terms that such a policy is a definite requirement. Finally, any further murder of Indian fisherman should result in a strong response from the GOI, even as far as involving our navy. We cannot tolerate that type of foreign state-sponsored aggression against our citizens whether from Sri Lanka or any other nation.

from:  Samir Mody
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 20:15 IST

In my view, India did not take its responsibility seriously as a defender of the human rights and a protector of the minorities in the region where its influence, as a regional power should have been instrumental. India terribly failed in Sri Lanka again by taking the wrong side and it may hurt her in her mission for a permanant seat at the UN security council. The minority tamils in Sri Lanka are still not liberated from the clucthes of the majority Sinhala govt and Indian govt has aided the oppressor in all possible ways without creating a backslash in Tamil nadu.

from:  Sam
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 20:11 IST

Thank you India for supporting SL to come out of 30 year of misery.

from:  Nadikadal
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 18:57 IST

Let's make one point clear that it was not the conspiracy of INDIA but an act to pre-empt any future re-onslaught by LTTE on Indian soil like they betrayed India once by slaying Shri. Rajiv Ghandhi, when India was the one to have enhanced the strategic position of LTTE during their (supposed to be for liberation) struggle. It was the LTTE, who have deprived themselves off of any Indian help or support in their future march by the idiotic and selfish betrayal to India, thus they reaped what have been sown by them.

from:  Haja Abu Bucker
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 16:31 IST

We Sri Lankans will never forget atrocities committed by LTTE against Sri Lankans. People all over the world know the crimes against humanity committed by LTTE by holding civilians as humanshield during the last stages of the war. LTTE's terror acts now have spread to Cananda, UK, France, Netherlands etc. These were the countries once supported their atrocities, now paying the price for it.

from:  Ranjan
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 15:34 IST

'The Hindu' has done a formidable work in bringing out the conspiracy of the Indian government to attain and sustain its regional supremacy at any cost, even at the death of more than 20000 innocent people. This cruel diplomacy shows the power-hungry impearialistic external policies of the Indian government. The reasons are obvious that the similar freedom struggles within its national boundry will get strenthened once Tamils turn out to be victorious, and that it would loose its control over Sri Lanka. but time will show back India that people's revolts cannot be constrained for ever. there are reports [of course with less evidence] of the Indian army's involvement in the operation against the Tamil people. It will indeed will be a grateful revelation for the humanists if Hindu can bring out the facts of related to that.

from:  Nandhan K
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 14:08 IST

I appreciate the steps taken by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi not to support LTTE for obvious reason. LTTE dared to kill our Ex. PM shri Rajeev Gandhi and by not supporting the LTTE was sweet revenge.

from:  C M Jha
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 12:27 IST

The results of India's actions are nicely bearing fruit as the Pakistanis and Chinese continuously make deep inroads into Sri Lanka. As can be seen, 2 years after the war and no political solution has been offered by Rajapakse. Another failed effort of Indian diplomacy. We tamils will not forget - just as India worked against us, we too will work against India joining hands with the hoardes of anti-Indian forces that surround India today.

from:  Rajah
Posted on: Mar 17, 2011 at 06:11 IST
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