The Mil­i­tary Fac­tor

Given their ear­lier mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion, there is more room for Sri Lanka and Pak­istan to ex­pand mu­tual ties.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Brian Clough­ley The writer is a South Asian af­fairs an­a­lyst.

Sri Lanka’s ties with Pak­istan are solid and both coun­tries seem ea­ger to ex­pand co­op­er­a­tion in po­lit­i­cal, commercial and mil­i­tary fields.

On May 19, 2009, the Sri Lankan Army com­pletely sub­ju­gated the Lib­er­a­tion Tigers of Tamil Ee­lam (LTTE or ‘Tamil Tigers’) in the north of the coun­try. Their leader, Velupil­lai Prab­hakaran was killed along with 17 of his clos­est fol­low­ers, bring­ing to an end a dread­ful civil war that caused the deaths of over 80,000 people in its 27 years.

There is no doubt that the Tamil mi­nor­ity, mainly in the north of the coun­try, had been grossly dis­crim­i­nated against by the Sin­halese and it was un­der­stand­able that they would protest strongly. But the ter­ror­ist in­sur­gency di­rected by Prab­hakaran was so in­tense and bru­tal that ex­treme ac­tion was nec­es­sary to es­tab­lish the author­ity of the elected govern­ment.

Pak­istan took note of Sri Lanka’s even­tual mil­i­tary suc­cess, but in Is­lam­abad and Rawalpindi, the politi­cians and the mil­i­tary heeded the price in hu­man suf­fer­ing in the course of over­com­ing the fa­nat­ics, for a sim­i­lar penalty that might be ex­acted in the event of Pak­istan govern­ment’s or­der­ing a com­pa­ra­ble full-scale mil­i­tary on­slaught in North Waziris­tan.

Be­fore the in­sur­gency, the Sri Lankan armed forces (like those of Pak­istan be­fore the in­va­sion of Afghanistan sparked vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism in the re­gion), were trained mainly in con­ven­tional war­fare and the army’s main dif­fi­culty was to re­train in coun­terin­sur­gency war­fare con­cur­rently with con­duct­ing op­er­a­tions against the rebels.

In­dia sup­ported the Tamils, and the wors­en­ing sit­u­a­tion did not im­prove when In­dia vi­o­lated Sri Lankan sovereignty by us­ing its air force to drop tons of sup­plies to the LTTE when they were be­sieged in Jaffna by the Sri Lankan Army. Then New Delhi pre­vailed on the Colombo govern­ment to ac­cept a mil­i­tary con­tin­gent, the In­dian Peace Keep­ing Force, that be­gan op­er­a­tions in 1987 and with­drew, de­feated, two years later. At its peak it num­bered 100,000 but was un­able to over­come the LTTE who suf­fered over 1200 dead.

Af­ter the In­di­ans left, the war see­sawed be­tween the two sides – with Prab­hakaran’s in­sur­rec­tion­ists be­ing on the as­cen­dant most of the time. Ca­su­al­ties were hor­ri­fy­ing, with the army los­ing 1200 soldiers in 1998 alone and the LTTE com­mit­ting many hideous atroc­i­ties. There were cease-fire agree­ments, just as there have been in Pak­istan’s western ar­eas, but noth­ing worked and even­tu­ally the army was trained well enough and was of a suf­fi­cient size to take the of­fen­sive to the end of 2006 af­ter a surge in LTTE ter­ror­ist at­tacks on civil­ian tar­gets, in­clud­ing many sui­cide bomb­ings, the mur­der of the highly re­spected for­eign min­is­ter and 17 in­ter­na­tional char­ity work­ers and the at­tempted as­sas­si­na­tion of Pak­istan’s high com­mis­sioner.

The rea­son for the at­tempt on the life of the high com­mis­sioner was ap­par­ently the sup­port given to Sri Lanka by Pak­istan, both in po­lit­i­cal terms and through mil­i­tary hard­ware and train­ing. In­dia ob­jected to such as­sis­tance and al­though New Delhi had no rea­son to sup­port the Tigers, hav­ing re­ceived a drub­bing at their hands, it was galling for it that there was grow­ing trust and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Colombo and Is­lam­abad.

Many coun­tries con­sid­ered that Prab­hakaran was pre­pared to en­gage in ne­go­ti­a­tions that could re­sult in a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment, but when it be­came ob­vi­ous that he was in­tent only on cre­at­ing havoc, the Sri Lankan govern­ment and army took the gloves off. The western world ex­pressed dis­ap­proval of Sri Lanka’s meth­ods in its fight for sur­vival as a na­tion and re­fused fur­ther pro­vi­sion of de­fense equip­ment and pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary as­sis­tance. Sri Lanka turned to Pak­istan, which it­self was suf­fer­ing from the vi­cious ex­trem­ists.

Pak­istan had been ex­port­ing mil­i­tary ma­te­rial to Sri Lanka for many years, be­cause the Ord­nance Fac­to­ries at Wah pro­duce world-stan­dard small arms and am­mu­ni­tion, mor­tar bombs, ar­tillery shells and ex­plo­sives at a frac­tion of the price de­manded by most other man­u­fac­tur­ers. Is­lam­abad was only too pleased to sell such ma­te­rial, and, in­deed, to pro­vide any­thing else that the armed ser­vices might re­quire. But China was in a bet­ter po­si­tion to sup­ply heavy weapons and air­craft at an at­trac­tive price.

It was ap­par­ent that the air­craft bought from Rus­sia and Is­rael were cast-offs of in­fe­rior qual­ity and sup­ply of spares and longterm main­te­nance be­came a se­vere fi­nan­cial bur­den, while the Chi­nese F-7s were not only more re­li­able, sim­pler to di­rect in the ground-at­tack role and very much cheaper to main­tain, but had the added at­trac­tion of pi­lot train­ing by Pak­istan Air Force in­struc­tors.

The Pak­istan Mil­i­tary Academy at Kakul had for many years taken Sri Lankan cadets and the num­bers in­creased while the Pak­istan Navy trained up to 70 Sri Lankan Navy per­son­nel an­nu­ally, in­clud­ing at the naval es­tab­lish­ment PNS Iqbal in Karachi.

Grow­ing co­op­er­a­tion did not go un­no­ticed by In­dia whose Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor, MK Narayanan stated on May 31, 2007: “It is high time that Sri Lanka un­der­stood that In­dia is the big power in the re­gion and ought to re­frain from go­ing to Pak­istan and China for weapons, as we are pre­pared to ac­com­mo­date them within the frame­work of our for­eign pol­icy.”

But In­dia’s do­mes­tic pol­icy did not cater for the pro­vi­sion of weaponry, as any such as­sis­tance would re­sult in dis­con­tent among its 72 mil­lion Tamil pop­u­la­tion. There­fore, Pak­istan and China con­tin­ued to meet Sri Lanka’s re­quire­ments. In­dian train­ing had in­cluded at­ten­dance by two Sri Lankan of­fi­cers at the De­fense Ser­vices Staff Col­lege at Welling­ton in Tamil Nadu State, but in June 2013, they were with­drawn fol­low­ing protests from the state govern­ment and were of­fered places in Pak­istan.

Li­ai­son be­tween Sri Lanka and Pak­istan de­vel­oped in other as­pects of mil­i­tary af­fairs. While both coun­tries had ex­changed in­for­ma­tion about ter­ror­ism and its ef­fects, there was ex­ten­sion of in­tel­li­gence li­ai­son in 2004-2006, when the Pak­istan High Com­mis­sioner in Colombo was Colonel (R) Bashir Wali Muham­mad, who had been the head of the In­tel­li­gence Bureau. He was the one on whom the LTTE as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt was made.

More em­pha­sis was given to di­rect co­op­er­a­tion in, for ex­am­ple, pro­vi­sion by Pak­istan of in­for­ma­tion about Tamil fund-rais­ing in Lon­don and Canada. In ex­change, Sri Lankan in­tel­li­gence did what it could (not a great deal) in in­form­ing Is­lam­abad about In­dia’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

De­fense as­pects of co­op­er­a­tion con­tin­ued to re­ceive pri­or­ity when re­tired Air Vice Mar­shal Shahzad Chaudhry was Is­lam­abad’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Colombo dur­ing 2007-2011. It re­ceived fur­ther im­pe­tus when Pres­i­dent Zar­dari ap­pointed Ma­jor Gen­eral (R) Qasim Qureshi as High Com­mis­sioner in March 2013. His ex­pe­ri­ence and acu­men have con­trib­uted to mu­tual trust. The im­por­tance that both coun­tries place in the re­la­tion­ship was em­pha­sized by an in­vi­ta­tion to Pak­istan’s then Chief of the Army Staff, Gen­eral Kayani to at­tend the pass­ing-out pa­rade of the Sri Lankan Mil­i­tary Academy in July 2013.

He gave the as­sur­ance that co­op­er­a­tion would con­tinue in ac­cor­dance with govern­ment pol­icy, which was un­der­lined at the meet­ing be­tween Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif and Pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japakse and dur­ing a visit by Pak­istan’s chief of naval staff in 2013.

Pak­istan’s ties with Sri Lanka are solid and it ap­pears that both gov­ern­ments wish to ex­pand co­op­er­a­tion in po­lit­i­cal, commercial and mil­i­tary fields. Given China’s con­sid­er­able eco­nomic in­vest­ment in Sri Lanka and Pak­istan and the cor­dial re­la­tions be­tween the three na­tions, it is likely that their con­tin­u­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion will be of ben­e­fit to all.

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