Tactical Talk (Update) In 1987, similar success by the Sri Lankan army against the LTTE was checked by India’s entry into the fray, worried as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was that Sri Lanka under Jayawardene would form an alliance with the United States-China-Pakistan triumvirate, thereby providing the latter with facilities less than 20 kilometers off India’s southern coast. As mentioned earlier, the fear of a Sri Lankan alignment with countries seen as hostile to India was decisive in Indira Gandhi’s decision to arm, fund and train the LTTE – a policy that had a huge blowback in subsequent years, including the 1992 assassination of Indira’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, by a female LTTE suicide bomber. This led to the proscribing of the LTTE as a terrorist organization in India and played into the hands of the Sri Lankan government. From then onwards, India backed Colombo’s campaign against the LTTE.
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The fear of a Sri Lankan alignment with countries seen as hostile to India was decisive in Indira Gandhi’s decision to arm, fund and train the LTTE – a policy that had a huge blowback in subsequent years, including the 1992 assassination of Indira’s son, Rajiv Gandhi, by a female LTTE suicide bomber.
The LTTE had thrived on a policy of using cease-fires and “peace agreements” to recover from battlefield losses. In 1987, the LTTE had been rescued from defeat by the intervention of the Indian government, which dispatched the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to effectively partition Sri Lanka into an LTTE-held area and the rest of the country. Soon afterward, however Prabhakaran’s insistence on formal independence clashed with India’s disinclination to support a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka (for fear that it would provide incentive to some of India’s own restless ethnic groups) led to clashes between the LTTE and the IPKF. This got the attention of the newly elected President of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was convinced that predominantly Hindu India sought to extinguish Buddhism in Sri Lanka much as it had been driven out of India.
[Premadasa’s assassination] was a real lesson to those who believed that they can ride a terror tiger and dismount at will.
Premadasa began to supply weapons and cash to the LTTE (as long as they were attacking Indian soldiers) and simultaneously called for the immediate withdrawal of the IPKF, which was agreed to by the New Delhi government that had taken over in the wake of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in 1991. Of course, once the Indian force departed, the LTTE turned again on the Sri Lankan army and on Premadasa himself, assassinating him in 1993. It was a real lesson to those who believed that they can ride a terror tiger and dismount at will.
The “Stop, Go, Stop” policy pursued by successive Sri Lankan administrations in dealing with the LTTE is a textbook example of how not to deal with an insurgency. Each time battlefield losses inflicted by the Sri Lankan military caused a crisis in the ranks the LTTE would use the mediation of selected NGOs to “open peace talks” aimed at a cease-fire that would enable the organization to replenish its supplies of weapons, cash and manpower. Once these reached acceptable levels, the “cease-fire” would be broken, and the military campaign would begin again.