Delhi unhappy with Jaffna bombing?

By Nirupama Subramanian


COLOMBO, AUG. 2. Within the broad parameters of its commitment to the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, India appears to be moving away from a hands-off policy on its neighbour in favour of a tough line towards the Kumaratunga Government.

The recent indication of this was New Delhi's response to the LTTE attack on the Katunayake air base and the adjoining civilian airport, expressing ``concern and disappointment'' at events and asking the Government and the LTTE to resume talks.

There was no outright condemnation of the attack. Instead, the response, which was a reply by the External Affairs spokesperson to a question, sought to link the attack to the June 30 air- strike in Jaffna peninsula, by emphasising that ``there was no room for violence and terrorism in the efforts to achieve a political solution'' to the conflict.

Based on the LTTE's abstinence from terrorist strikes since October last year, the Indian position appears to be that the Katunayake attack might not have taken place had the Government not ordered the bombing mission in Jaffna peninsula in the first place.

This is the first time in at least the last five years that New Delhi has not condemned an act of terrorism in Sri Lanka, opting instead to hold the Government partially responsible for it.

India had also taken a tough line on the air-raids, expressing the same ``disappointment at events'' then and reminding Sri Lanka that there was ``no alternative to peace''.

It was a statement that appeared to convey that India will not go along any more with the Sri Lankan Government's ``war for peace'' strategy and now believes there is no alternative but to engage the LTTE in talks.

The impact of the shift in the Indian position on relations between the two countries remains to be seen, but it has certainly not gone unnoticed here.

Defending the air-raids by citing the right of a sovereign nation to defend its territorial integrity, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar, blasted India's position as ``unacceptable and unrealistic''.

After the attack on the airport, both Mr. Kadirgamar and the President, Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, thanked the U.S., U.K., Russia and other countries that had condemned the attack.

In a comment wide open to interpretation, Ms. Kumaratunga also said that she hoped that the countries that had proscribed the LTTE would ``now realise'' how right they were.

Besides the tenor of New Delhi's reactions, there have been other indications that India is exerting more pressure now on the Sri Lankan Government to talk to the LTTE.

It was recently reported that the Sri Lankan Navy had decided not to go in for a second Sukhanya class off-shore patrol vessel (OPV) from India after taking flak at home for the purchase of the first.

But it is learnt that quite independently of and much before this, New Delhi had made a decision not to sell any more military hardware or war-related equipment to Sri Lanka, including the three air surveillance Chetak helicopters for the OPV that has already been sold.

Unlike earlier, India now also seems markedly disinterested in Ms. Kumaratunga's efforts to develop an alternative leadership for the Tamils in the north.

Courtesy: The Hindu [3 August 2001]