Nearly six months after Sri Lanka’s stunning military triumph in the 26-year-old civil war at the cost of thousands of civilian lives in the final weeks alone, the peace dividend remains elusive, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa setting out — in the name of “eternal vigilance” — to expand by 50% an already-large military. China, clearly, was the decisive factor in helping end that war through its generous supply of offensive weapons and its munificent bilateral aid. It even got its ally Pakistan actively involved in Rajapaksa’s war strategy.
India’s role, although it has received little international attention, was also deplorable. For years, India had pursued a hands-off approach toward Sri Lanka in response to two developments — a disastrous 1987-90 peacekeeping operation there; and the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. But having been outmanoeuvred by China’s success in extending strategic reach to Sri Lanka in recent years, New Delhi got sucked into providing major assistance to Colombo, lest it lose further ground in that island-nation.
From opening an unlimited line of military credit for Sri Lanka to extending critical naval and intelligence assistance, India provided sustained war support in defiance of a deteriorating humanitarian situation there. A “major turning point” in the war, as Sri Lankan Navy Chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda acknowledged, came when the rebels’ supply ships were eliminated, one by one, with Indian naval intelligence inputs, cutting off all supplies to the rebel-held areas. That in turn allowed the Sri Lankan ground forces to make rapid advances and unravel the de facto state the Tigers had established in Sri Lanka’s north and east.