Monday, April 20, 2009

China-SCO Military Exercise - A Show of the Chinese Military Might?

This essay on China-SCO military exercise originally appeared on the ORF website.

Russia and China, along with other member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), are planning their anti-terror exercise, “Peace Mission 2009” in the summer of 2009 in northeastern China. Chinese defence minister Liang Guanglie made the announcement regarding the exercise after a successful meeting with the Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in 2008. The Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, quoting Chinese Ministry of Defence, stated that Peace Mission 2009 is intended to move beyond the original goals of fighting terrorism, extremism and separatism to a larger objective of strengthening the “strategic partnership between Russia and China.” In fact, one news report quoting an SCO official stated that these exercises will not be under the SCO umbrella, but rather a bilateral exercise. While Beijing professes that these joint exercises are intended to fight against ‘the three evils’ -- terrorism, extremism and separatism -- in reality, it has been a display of the rising profile of Chinese PLA. Will the 2009 exercise be yet another display of its military prowess? If this exercise is a bilateral one, what are its implications for the region?

Peace Mission 2009 is the third in the series; the first being “Peace Mission 2005,” in Russia’s Far East and the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, with about 10,000 people, which created huge controversy as it was seen as a Chinese preparation for an invasion of Taiwan; and the second one being in August 2007, which came under close world scrutiny as it watched one of the most complex military exercises in Asia. The Chinese exercise with the SCO members was an occasion to display and demonstrate their ability for joint operations with other forces; their combined employment of land, naval and air forces along with amphibious units; and more importantly projection of their military power. Following the exercise in 2007, Chen Jianmin of the Academy of Military Sciences of the PLA noted that the exercise assumed significance for the Chinese and “sets a new record in the history of our armed forces in troop projection and will likewise be an unprecedented test and temper of the remote mobile ability of our armed forces, and for that matter, it is of extraordinary significance”.

If we take the 2007 exercise as the model, Peace Mission 2009 will also be an extraordinary event demonstrating highly sophisticated logistic structure and jointness of the various participant militaries. The exercise in 2007, which took place in Urumqi, capital of China’s Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Area, and at the range of the Russian Army’s 34th Motorised Rifle Division near Chebarkul town, in Russia’s Volga-Urals Military District, remained significant as it involved a 10,300 km-long trans-national journey. Major chunk of the forces were from Russia and China, with Kazakhstan and Tajikistan sending an airborne company each, and Uzbekistan sending an airborne platoon and staff officers. The exercise had a total of 6,500 personnel and 80 aircraft from China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Around 2,000 Russian, 1,700 Chinese forces, and several Russian logistical support units, also took part in the exercise. Aircraft deployed for the exercise include six Russian IL-76 transport planes, nine Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground-attack jets, 14 Mi-24 Hind helicopter gun ships and 18 Mi-8 Hip helicopters. From the Chinese side, there were six IL-76 aircraft, eight JH-7-A fighter bombers, 16 Z-9 armed helicopters, 16 JG-9-W and 16 Mi-17 Hip helicopters. It also employed tanks, while Russia and China provided artillery support in the form of eighteen 122-mm and 100-mm artillery systems. The display of weapons at that exercise demonstrated the military superiority that the group intends to achieve.

The logistical arrangements involved in the 2007 exercise deserve a special mention, given the large-scale mass transportation of troops and weapon systems. In addition to the rail transportation, there was the Chinese army aviation unit, including 16 Mi-17 transport helicopters, from Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, flying a distance of 2,700 kms to the drill venue. This was significant in the sense that China was able to test the capability of PLA aviation troops due to the long distance that it covered as also the complicated topographic and climatic conditions on the way and possible language difficulties with the ground forces in Russia. Chen commenting on this long-distance transportation noted that “the long distance and large-scale projection in organic units with heavy weapons to overseas would render the Chinese forces a hard-won opportunity to temper the remote mobile ability.” He added that these exercises would in addition to “honing the ground forces and testing the ability of railway transportation would also steel the remote delivery ability of the Air Force and the remote mobile ability of the Army Aviation troops.” The PLA Daily reported that according to sources, this was the first time for the PLA Air Force units to participate in multinational joint military exercise in a foreign country in organic units and in such a large scale, the first time to use new-type home-made weaponry and equipment to participate in actual-troops exercise, the first time to organize the air force units to do exercise by relying on airports, training sites and various support facilities of foreign troops and the first time to participate in the exercise in a foreign country to be watched by the heads of state of several countries.

While such an extensive military exercise has only further strengthened the western (and even Indian) belief of the Chinese military might, the Chinese offer a different argument that should be given its due. Major General Wang Haiyun, a former Chinese military attaché to Russia, did speak to the PLA Daily (PLA Daily, July 25, 2007) on the exercise, where he stated that it should be seen from two specific aspects that it demonstrates the resolve within the SCO, “in clamping down on the three evil forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism,” and secondly, to “generate positive influence on regional peace and stability, and make great contributions to anti-terrorism in the world.” Further, Officer Guo Wenhui of the PLA’s General Staff noted that “it is a practical way to improve the PLA’s capability to tackle terrorist threats.” It is estimated that the Chinese PLA has had 17 joint military exercises with the troops of several countries, including the US.

While the western projection of Chinese military threat is one facet, a more interesting aspect is the Chinese use of military diplomacy as a significant tool in the conduct of its foreign policy. Matsuda Yasuhiro of the Japan-based National Institute of Defense Studies (NIDS), has detailed the various facets to China’s military diplomacy, ranging from strategic level activities that include defence consultations and strategic dialogues; arms transfers, regional activities, including state to state military protocols, opening of military bases; participation in military exercises, professional military education exchanges, besides cooperation in non-traditional security areas, like sending armed forces to counter-terrorism exercises, UN Peacekeeping operations.

While China has maintained that these exercises or multinational cooperation are a step in the fight against terrorism, several countries, including India has concerns on its real intentions. It is very clear that these exercises are meant to do a power projection of the Chinese military might, in addition to its own experiment with several new weapon systems and as well as to experiment the inter-operability of forces from different countries as also to experiment the combined use of land, air, naval and amphibious units in a joint atmosphere. The exercises are also clearly meant to gather intelligence on the kind of forces in place (particularly in the case of India, Japan and the US), understanding their defence planning and thinking, learning how other Asian nations manage their military. The exercises are also indicative of the Chinese efforts in restraining the US influence in these countries, as also to counter/extinguish any “China threat theory” that might exist in any of these countries. Meanwhile, the Chinese want the world to believe that the Chinese military diplomacy is only to support the larger foreign, diplomatic, political, economic and security agenda set forth by the leadership of the Party/State, and not on a separate, independent agenda of its own.

Lastly, if the 2009 exercise is a demonstration of a further strengthened bilateral relations between Russia and China, it has serious ramifications for the region. One explanation for the partnership could be that as China grows stronger in military, economic and political terms, Russia wants to bring Beijing under its umbrella and ensure that it does not become an adversary in its neighbourhood. On the other hand, from an Indian perspective, a strong Sino-Russian partnership could be dangerous for India in more ways than one. Firstly, it will affect Indo-Russian defence ties. These ties will get diluted in a gradual manner if Russia is not careful about the balance between its ties with Beijing and Delhi. Second, how this partnership will affect outcomes in the United Nations, especially at the Security Council, needs to be seen. Moscow might be compelled to follow Chinese line at the UN, particularly on issues concerning India such as Kashmir. The strengthened partnership will affect decision-making in several international fora. Thirdly, strengthened defence ties will be part of this particularly close relationship and the technology and defence items that are transferred to China might find their way to Pakistan. In fact, there could potentially be Russian arms floating around in other neighbouring countries too, including Sri Lanka. Such developments on India’s neighbourhood may not be very palatable to India.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Randon Thoughts on China Factor in Indo-US Relations

State of US-China relations will affect Indo-US relations. Neither do we want to see very close relations between the two countries like during the Clinton administration, where they “want to jointly manage south Asia” just as they did post-1998 n-tests. On the other hand, we do not want to see them hostile to each other and get into conflict situations, where India being a neighbor, may be forced to take sides. That could prove dangerous for India. While the two extremes should be avoided, there are increasing concerns about China, its rise, particularly on the military side. The rising profile actually translates into hardline postures adopted by china in various decision-making foras and those decisions are more taking care of china’s national interests reasons than for regional and global issues. Every country will pursue its national interests, but if they are pursued in a short-sighted manner without any regard for other country could be harmful. Here, China’s repeated attempts at curtailing India’s rise could prove a limiting factor in improving the atmospherics of this important bilateral relationship.

China’s hardlining positions in the last few years, clearly a result of its increasing international profile, is creating difficulties for India and other regional players. It has toughened positions on the border issues, Arunachal Pradesh, Tibet issue. China adopted a less than constructive role in the last few years, evident at the September 2008 NSG meeting, post-Mumbai attacks at the UNSC, and most recently at the ADB where it vetoed and withheld its approval on a development loan for India’s northeast Arunachal Pradesh. Such behaviour on the part of china is going to create increasing frictions on the bilateral relations as well as on the emerging Asian strategic framework.

Such concerns on the part of US and India had become the basis for closer indo-US relations in the last few years. In fact, indo-US nuclear deal was the result of such a line of thinking. The more sec concerns with china, the more we will look at the US for closer relationship. How and whether the US reciprocates in another matter. So far it has. But how the Obama administration will look at the China and india is extremely important. Especially under the current circumstances where china and the US are caught in a symbiotic relationship. Their closer ties are bound to have effect on Indo-US relations. However, this is not to suggest that this is a zero sum game, that improvement in one relationship will necessarily lead to complete downturn in the other relationship. It might be correct to say that it will be a negative sum, where a strengthened US-China relationship could slowdown in certain aspects. An improved Indo-US relationship will have negative effect on Sino-India ties as well as a slowdown in US-China relations. Similarly, an improved US-China relations will raise the antenna in New Delhi and could affect both US-India as well as Sino-India relations.

US partnership with China on a range of issues on global governorship, is understandable, from North Korea to Afghanistan and Central Asia to the current economic crisis, but if this relationship is strengthened at the cost of India, it could lead to a slowdown of Indo-US relations. It will also have its ramifications on the emerging Asian security order.
This is not to say that the US does not have any concerns. At least until early this year, these concerns were pretty loud and clear.

At the same time, closer Indo-US partnership – concern for china. India’s rising profile of which Indo-US relations is one aspect, continues to worry China. Although India has never been formally listed as one of the challenges that China faces, it certainly irks them to see a more powerful India in its neighbourhood. As India continues to re-define and modify its foreign and security policies, given its increasing stature in the international arena, it calls for a dynamic debate on how Beijing views this emerging pole.

There have been several analyses pointing out to Chinese concern on a rising India –talking about India’s democratic and capitalist orientations, India’s territorial disputes with China, talking about India having a militaristic and religion-based strategic culture. Similarly, China views India as a “future strategic competitor” that would join any anti-China grouping in the future. In fact, one of the well-known scholars, Mohan Malik brings to the fore an internal study undertaken in 2005 that recommended China to undertake measures to keep the current strategic leverage in terms of territory, P-5 membership, and the Nuclear Club, hold on to diplomatic advantages through its special relationship particularly with India’s neighbouring countries and as also maintain the economic lead over India. This has become evident several times in the recent past, which all is an evidence that China does not willingly accept India's rise on the world stage, nor the prospect of closer US-India ties. However, India’s rising stature is a reality and China has to live with that reality.

Another issue. India’s role and stand on Tibet may be irksome to the Chinese leadership.
China has continued to reiterate its claims on Tibet and thereby Arunachal Pradesh through a series of statements as well as action on the ground by the PLA forces. Chinese leadership’s assertion to choose the next Dalai Lama is another way of pressuring India and Tibet on its claims, because such a step would essentially mean India conceding its access to the Tawang monastery. Article 2 of the Shimla Agreement was categorical to state that China recognizing the autonomous nature of Tibet shall “abstain from interference in the administration of Outer Tibet (including the selection and installation of the Dalai Lama),” which was totally left to the Tibetan government in Lhasa. The recent Chinese interest in the selection of Dalai Lama go against the principles of this treaty. However, China will continue to maintain the stand that it does not recognise this treaty as any valid instrument.
China has unleashed huge economic and infrastructural development programmes in Tibet as part of this larger politico-military objective of systematically killing the spirit of Tibetan nationalism. The new railway line – Qinghai-Tibet line – is being further extended, linking Lhasa with Shigatse and Yadong, near the Sikkim border. Hence, if China has some concerns of India’s strengthening relations with the US and other major powers, India too has concerns of a rising China whose ambitions are not very clear.

Arms control issues: FMCT, CTBT. These are issues that are going to be taken up by the Obama administration before too long. Obama’s renewed interest in getting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) ratified by the US Senate and thereafter by other countries, including India and Pakistan could become a sore point in bilateral relations. India remains opposed to signing CTBT and this was clarified recently again by India’s envoy on nuclear issues, Ambassador Shyam Saran. He stated that India remained opposed to CTBT because it “was not explicitly linked to the goal of nuclear disarmament.” Additionally, he said, “this was crucial since it was not acceptable to legitimize, in any way, a permanent division between nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states.” Shyam Saran in fact suggested that if abolition of nuclear weapons was an agenda, then both India and the US should establish a working group at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva to chart a future direction, which could possibly be a positive and constructive link in the bilateral relations. If Obama administration is willing to look at strengthening Indo-US ties, this could be a positive agenda on the table. Otherwise, this is an area where the US and China will arrive at a common position and that could prove harmful for Indo-US relations. US and China already have similar positions on FMCT.

Terrorism: South Asia is the other area. In fact, the AfPak strategy that has come about, linking Kashmir to the security of Afghanistan, it is not a very palatable situation to India. This is exactly what Pakistan has always sought and it could possibly an area that China too agrees. There again, you have China, US and Pakistan on the same side and this could create setbacks in Indo-US relations.

A critique of Obama's AfPak strategy

President Barack Obama has called his new AfPak initiative, which he unveiled on March 27, 2009, a stronger, smarter, and comprehensive strategy that aims to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The White Paper brought out three major objectives: removal of al Qaeda’s sanctuary; helping to create an effective democratic government in Pakistan and a self-reliant Afghanistan. The US fear remains that al Qaeda is still actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe haven in Pakistan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen recently noted that it is the Afghan-Pakistan border region that is the ‘site of planning for the next attack’ on the United States. The White House claims that its strategy is well-thought out and well-resourced, although there is no estimate available as to how much it would cost the US or its other allies.

Despite pronouncements that al Qaeda/ Taliban is not the problem of the US alone, but an international problem, it appears that the US has a limited objective – ensuring that the Taliban/ al Qaeda do not use the Pakistan-Afghan territory to carry out terrorism against the US. This could be seen as a long-term objective and in the meantime, the US has to look at a series of short-term issues which can ensure that long-term gain. Is the US really interested in installing a civilian government or undertake nation-building activities in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The US has emphasised that its relationship with Pakistan is “grounded in support for Pakistan’s democratic institutions and the Pakistan people.” Is that valid for the US that there is a democratic government in Pakistan. The US has dealt with Pakistan military dictators for a long time in the past and has found it convenient to deal with the military leadership than the civilian government who is not control of the army and the ISI. Second, what is the guarantee that the civilian leadership in Pakistan will ensure their goal of eliminating terrorism or that they will not be party sponsoring or supporting terrorism? Benazir Bhutto is a case in point.
Under the new strategy, the US plans to deploy an additional 17,000 troops and another 4,000 that would be essentially for training purposes. These forces are meant to fight Taliban in the south and the east, as also improve the capacity of Afghan forces to go after the terrorists. Military aid for Pakistan would go into training as well as for buying helicopters, night vision equipments and other weapon system needed to fight insurgency in the tribal areas. There is also a provision for non-military aid of $ 1.5bn each year for the next five years to undertake civilian activities. Unless monitored in an effective manner, such funding will find its way into anything and everything other than civilian/ development programmes.
The US spending is supposed to be judged against a set of benchmarks. These benchmarks could be improvements in Afghanistan, better cooperation from Pakistan, and reduced violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In this regard, there is funding for a strong Inspector General at the State Department and USAID, who will oversee the spending to ensure accountable spending and avoid wasteful expenditure.
While this is all well and good, there is unease about the new policy. A recent RAND study found that only 7% of terrorist organisations end their activities because they are militarily defeated; the majority will end terror when they become part of a political process. While Obama was correct in saying that terrorism cannot be defeated militarily, the question is how the US or Afghanistan or Pakistan can ensure that these forces are brought into a political process.
Reconciliation with former enemies, the so-called non-violent Taliban, is a possibility that the US is looking at. The Hague Conference brought out clearly that the US will offer an “honourable” form of reconciliation to those Taliban fighters who renounce violence in Afghanistan as part of a revamped strategy to tackle the deepening insurgency. This makes a distinction between those who joined Taliban out of desperation and those who joined out of conviction. The White Paper made a note of exploiting differences among the insurgents “to divide Taliban’s true believers from less committed fighters.” Dennis Blair, now Director of National Intelligence, has indicated something similar. He said that roughly 2/3rd of Taliban are primarily concerned with regional issues and hence can be defeated or co-opted by the Karzai government. This can boost its ability to provide security and services beyond Kabul. But the remaining 1/3rd of the group is under the leadership of Mullah Omar and will be a tough case, because they want power in Afghanistan.
Splitting the Taliban is seen as a tactic in the overall US strategy of defeating Taliban. One way of doing this is to exploit “fractures” or fissures within the Taliban. The US, by working with other Afghans, hopes to assimilate Taliban foot soldiers into the political system. Obama in his interview to NYT suggested that he might do something similar to what was had done in Iraq – peace agreements with Sunni militias in Iraq. However, the situation is much more complex in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Splitting the Taliban is not easy. Not only is doing deals with Taliban more complex but could prove destabilising for Afghanistan. Firstly, as some analysts have brought out, unlike in Iraq, there is a sovereign government in Afghanistan and if at all any deal is done, it should be done by the Karzai government and not the US. This could otherwise prove to be what India did in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. Second, given that Taliban controls the entire southern belt of Afghanistan, it appears to be on the winning side and no Taliban will be willing to enter into a deal with Karzai or the US at this time. And in the case of Afghanistan, it has been known that tribal groups shift their allegiance depending which side is winning. Third, a deal with Afghan Taliban may not bring much positive results as long as effective command & control comes from Pakistan. In the last few years, when Pakistan has done peace agreements with Taliban, it has been after failure on the part of Pakistan army. Thus, the Taliban has always gained greater control. There is no reason why the results should be different this time. Lastly, the US risks making the same mistake as it did during the 1980s, pumping money to militia groups which, over a period of time, become dangerous and out of control.
Instead of doing deals with these militia groups and Taliban, it might be prudent for the US to strike a deal with Iran, replacing US reliance on Pakistan. The US would be able to use the Iranian port of Chabahar and the Indian-built Zaranj-Delaram highway, which links up to the ring road to Kandahar and Kabul.
Lack of good intelligence is seen as another serious issue. In this regard, Dennis Blair stated that lack of solid intelligence and understanding of Afghanistan at the level of intelligence agencies is be a serious flaw. This intelligence imbalance would hamper Obama Administration’s efforts, especially as it shifts from one theatre to another.
The other issue is whether the Obama administration, given the economic difficulties, will be able to sustain the extended commitments and for how long.
Lastly, should the US be engaged in such activities and is there ground support for the US to engage in such activities? In fact, it has been the presence of US and other foreign troops that has created strong resentment and the resultant growth of radical militia groups in Pakistan.
The new strategy emphasises more on training and thereby increasing the size as well as strengthening of the Afghan Security Forces – the Afghan Army and Police. Every American unit will be partnered with an Afghan unit; this will accelerate as well as strengthen the process of creating a more effective Afghan force (Army of 134,000 and Police of 82,000) by 2011. This is being complimented with civilian activities in fighting corruption, narcotics trade that give way to criminality and funding of insurgency. Besides interdiction, for which Iran has agreed to cooperate, the US has to think of other programmes like crop substitution and alternative livelihood programmes.
While Obama recognises that the US alone will not be able to achieve all these objectives, it is important that the US engages Iran, Russia, China, Japan and India in this regard. Iran has come on board partially, extending help in tackling the huge opium trade in the region, while emphasising its opposition to US and other foreign troops there. Russian position has been that there is a need to combine anti-terror measures with socio-economic measures to rebuild Afghanistan. Russia has expressed its willingness to participate in this effort.
How different is Obama strategy from the strategy followed over the last eight years? Increasing the civilian component and nation-building activity is a new element. Even with such addition, is it significantly different? Despite being a strong critic of Bush’s policies, Obama’s AfPak strategy appears to be a repeat of what President Bush had done in Iraq.
However, be it old or new, what is of concern is the US’ short-sighted policies, be it vis a vis terrorism or WMD proliferation. The US sidelines some of these important goals for minor, but quicker gains vis a vis certain other national security objectives. The way WMD proliferation was sacrificed for the sake of Pakistan’s support against the Soviets in the 1980s is a classic case. This short-sightedness is visible even now - in not going after other terror groups like LeT, JeM, which will in the future be critical threats to US security. Until and unless the US is attacked, they do not see the danger some terrorist groups pose. These approaches have a significant impact on other important bilateral relationships.
One case in point is Indo-US counter-terrorism cooperation. What constitutes terrorism for India has not been considered terrorism by the US. India has been the victim of cross-border terrorism from Pakistan in Kashmir and elsewhere in the north-east, whereas the US looks at Pakistan as a necessary link to prosecute the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda. The US has adopted very short-term approach in dealing with these issues and it will be a folly if India follows the US line. The US needs to formulate long-term strategies which ensure that American policies do not create the conditions that directly or indirectly encourage terrorism. Overlooking terrorism in some parts of the world because it inconveniences other American interests, or pursuing the war on terrorism in an insensitive manner can create problems in the long run.
Matters have become further complicated due to the Indo-Pakistan issues and Pakistan’s continued reliance on cross-border terrorism as state policy. Pakistan had also believed that it can support Kashmiri insurgents against India but that they would not turn against other countries or even Pakistan. Today, Pakistan is faced with this monster and the government appears to be not in full control of the situation. Additionally, Pakistan always made a distinction between terrorism directed against India and terrorism against the US and other western nations. Pakistan was prudent enough to make sure that several of the terrorist groups under its control did not act against US interests, but the terrorist groups grew under the leadership of Al Qaeda and did not appreciate the need to take orders from Pakistan anymore. The September 11 terrorist attacks in the US was one such case. Hence, be it for India or the US, there has to be a clear recognition that Pakistan remains the culprit. And accordingly, India and the US have to take appropriate actions.
Lastly, while there is acknowledgment that Pakistan is the root cause, the calls for constructive diplomacy between India and Pakistan suggests that the Obama administration is still of the view that Kashmir issue is key and resolution of the Kashmir problem will let Pakistan cooperate with the US on war on terror. That explains the Obama Administration’s keenness to mediate and seek a solution to the Kashmir problem. Obama’s comments during interviews to Time magazine in October and December 2008 and the reported consideration (earlier) of former President Bill Clinton as a special envoy on Kashmir had created major stir in the Indian political and policy circles. Obama in his interview said, “We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they (Pakistan) can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.” Some analysts in India have tended to believe that a Kashmir-specific pro-active policy need not necessarily be bad, given Obama’s pro-India statements.
The issue, however, is complicated as Obama believes that solving Kashmir as a pre-requisite for ensuring Pakistan’s support in the war on terror against Taliban and al Qaeda. Linking Afghanistan to the resolution of Kashmir dispute, as brought out in Obama’s interview to Time magazine, is problematic. Such an inclination of linking Afghanistan’s security with terrorism in Kashmir could prove dangerous and India needs to maintain a close watch. The US must retain its attention on the real problem – Pakistan, instead of getting diverted into Kashmir.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sri Lanka Presents India Five Challenges

This analysis on Indian Challenges vis a vis Sri Lanka appeared first on the ORF website.

While most people in India would not be unhappy to see the Tamil Tigers, and particularly their boss, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, get their comeuppance, the situation does present some complications. New Delhi’s boilerplate declarations about a ‘peaceful solution acceptable to all’ mask the serious challenges that India faces as Colombo prepares for the final push against the Tigers.

New Delhi faces five challenges. First, it is deeply concerned over the spill over effects of the ethnic conflict in terms of the refugee inflow into the Indian mainland and the political ramifications in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India. Escalation of the conflict has resulted in the exodus of more than 20,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees into India in the last two years. But this has tapered off over the last few months. It appears for the time being that Tamil civilians who are caught in the conflict are staying put in Sri Lanka as they are in restricted camps set up by the Sri Lankan government. Increased vigil on the India-Sri Lanka coastlines is also dissuading some. However, this situation may change if Colombo does not come out with a political solution once the military operations are over.
The second serious challenge is LTTE operations in and around India. LTTE activities in the Palk Bay are one cause for concern for India as Indian fishermen are often caught in the crossfire between the Sri Lankan Navy and the Sea Tigers. Another issue is that of LTTE sleeper cells in Tamil Nadu and possibly elsewhere. Most importantly, if the LTTE is defeated in Sri Lanka’s North East, they might want to continue the fight from Tamil Nadu, where they have a support base. This could, without doubt, have spillover effects on nascent Tamil nationalist movements in Tamil Nadu.
Third, the impact on Tamil Nadu politics could be significant. LTTE sympathisers, especially those active in Tamil Nadu politics, have already exploited the situation. Fear of agitation by these groups has meant that the Indian government has so far sent only relief and medical supplies to Sri Lanka. Despite requests from the Sri Lankan government for defense items, India has not supplied anything, though the Indian position has been to quietly support the Rajapakse Government. While it may be too early to say what effect the anger and resentment in Tamil Nadu will have on New Delhi, it could affect the formation of the next coalition government in Delhi. The loser in such coalition-building exercise would have an interest in stoking tensions.
The fourth challenge is of other countries meddling in Sri Lanka. India’s refusal to supply defence items to Colombo has forced it to look to Pakistan and China. Increasing defence cooperation between these countries would have adverse security implications for India. Pakistan has emerged as a major supplier of defence items, including tanks and light weapons. Additionally, Pakistani pilots are thought to have flown some of the precision strikes against the LTTE leadership. Pakistan has also been seeking to exploit the presence of the Muslim population in Sri Lanka’s East, building mosques in the region and activating fundamentalist groups there.
The increasing Chinese links with Sri Lanka are also not in Indian security interests. China is engaged in a series of infrastructure and port development projects in Sri Lanka. Of most consequence is the development of the Hambantota port, where China could possibly set up listening-posts that could be activated in times of conflict in the future. The second aspect relates to China’s defence cooperation with Sri Lanka. The warehouse of the Chinese arms supplier, Norinco, in Galle is a case in point. Sri Lanka has a credit line and its forces are permitted to take items from the warehouse as and when they need it. Lastly, there is a trilateral partnership between Sri Lanka, Pakistan and China, which is detrimental to Indian interests. The commonality of defence equipment among them has increased defence interaction between them.
Because of the election season in India, it is unlikely that New Delhi will take major initiatives. Post-election coalition politics is also likely to affect Indian options. However things turn out in New Delhi, the next Indian administration will have some serious challenges to face in Sri Lanka.