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Sri Lanka: Ex-IPKF Intelligence Chief sets the record straight

Paper No. 5763                                        Dated 11-Aug-2014

by Col. R. Hariharan

Sulochana Ramiah Mohan/ Interview
Courtesy: Ceylon Today, August 10, 2014 URL:

Former India Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) Intelligence Corps Head Colonel Ramani Hariharan tells Ceylon Today Sri Lanka’s twin failures, to start a meaningful reconciliation process with Tamils and the absence of a transparent process to investigate the alleged human rights violations and war crimes have created a climate of suspicion among the people about the intentions of the Rajapaksha Government. He says: “As long as this environment does not change, Tamil Nadu political parties will use it to political advantage.”

Q: Did India help ‘create’ the LTTE backed mainly by Ms Indira Gandhi?

A: I am disappointed with this question because it trivialises the entire struggle of Tamils as a creation of India. It is hard to imagine anyone would think that without Mrs Indira Gandhi everything would have been hunky dory in Sri Lanka. 

As long as people don’t introspect and understand the complex phenomenon of Sri Lanka’s ethnic relations I see little hope for peace and amity in Sri Lanka’s fractured society. And that would be a pity.

I wish the birth and rise of LTTE were as simple as India “creating” it. It was one of the 32 odd Tamil extremist groups that sprouted and thrived when political and democratic methods of articulating Tamil demands failed to yield results.  The TULF contested the polls with a call for Tamil Eelam and won maximum support from the people in the North and East. But it failed to turn its electoral victory into tangible political gains. So extremists pushed them aside and rose up.  In short, the rise of Tamil militancy represents the failure of Sri Lankan polity (including Tamils) to politically resolve their problems. 

In July 1983 when the LTTE – then a small rag tag body – ambushed a Sri Lankan army vehicle it gave an opportunity for JRJ to engineer anti-Tamil pogrom in Colombo perhaps for political reasons to pander to Sinhala right. And Indian involvement was inevitable as thousands of Tamil refugees landed in Tamil Nadu.

I am not fully in picture about Indian support to Tamil extremist groups. But to the best of my knowledge, PLOT and TELO hogged Indian attention and support as they had networked better with Indians.

Q: It’s a well-known fact that Rajiv Gandhi backed the LTTE later on. What have you to say?

A: India used the militant groups as a pressure point when its political efforts to help Tamils failed and the LTTE was one such group. What else you want me to say?

Q: Why was Indian showing keen interest on retaining the LTTE, the purpose of protecting a guerrilla organization?

I think there is confusion in semantics here. India was not “retaining” LTTE or anyone else. My answer to earlier question holds good for this.

Q: Did did you get instruction form Rajiv Gandhi to support the LTTE?

A: I never got any instruction to support LTTE from anyone let alone Rajiv Gandhi who was the Prime Minister. I got involved with Sri Lanka only when Indian Peace Keeping Force moved into the island when JRJ asked for it.

To keep the record straight, we were fighting the LTTE even when President Ranasinghe Premadasa came to power and got chummy with the LTTE to send the Indian troops back to India.  It gave a lease of life to Prabhakaran who was desperate. And Sri Lanka paid the price for this act of brinkmanship by prolonging LTTE’s life by another 15 years or so.

Q: When the Sri Lankan Forces were about to capture LTTE supremo Prabhakaran at   the Vadamarachchi military operation India threatened Sri Lanka not to go with the operation. Why was that?

A: I do not know. Neither MI nor Army was privy to such decisions. Kindly address the question to one of the politicians of that period. He may be able to answer the question.


Q: Is it justifiable India invaded Sri Lankan skies to drop food parcels.   Was it to end ties with J R Jayawardane (JRJ)?

A: Probably a diplomat is the right person to discuss justification issue. As I see it, nations do this kind of thing if they feel it is in their national interest. So we find in international relations justification comes after the action.

I think the air dropping of food packets - Operation Poomalai – violating Sri Lankan airspace was one such action. It would probably be justified by Indian leadership of that time as it served a humanitarian purpose and forced JRJ to take India seriously. 

Q: Can you name the places where the Tigers had their training camps in India?

A: I do not know. I was neither involved nor informed of such details as I was working as a faculty in Military Intelligence School during the period.

Q: Ms Sonia Gandhi government finally supported the Sri Lankan government to wipe out the Tigers in 2009. Was it a genuine support to get rid of them, after all Tigers killed her husband, Rajiv Gandhi.?

Mrs Sonia Gandhi was never in the government. It was led by Dr Manmohan Singh. I have no knowledge of decisions taken by Govt of India on this count. I can only guess. If you read my articles of the relevant period (these are available in my blog you may be able see that my analyses concerned mostly military operations and not political backroom decision making in India or Sri Lanka.

Q: Then Indian High Commissioner J N Dixit was very powerful. Did he influence JRJ to sign the Indo-Lanka pact?

A: I think JN Dixit’s book on his Sri Lanka tenure gives enough information for you to draw your own conclusions. I never thought of asking him about it when I met him on a few occasions.

 Q: Did India force Sri Lanka to sign the agreement when the country was against it?

A: I think you are underestimating JRJ’s political skill.  He was one of the best communicators I have heard in the whole of South Asia; he could talk his way through any gritty situation.

A past master in political manoeuvring JRJ was far too wily to be “forced” by a political novice like Rajiv Gandhi into signing the Indo Sri Lanka agreement.  I think it was the other way round as Rajiv paid a heavy political price for his decision and lost his life in its aftermath. I think JRJ consciously signed the Agreement so that India commits itself to end Tamil militancy. This is borne out by India’s war with LTTE that followed.

Q: The LTTE in fact started its activities from India. Being the former military intelligence officer, how do you assess the rise and fall of the LTTE?

You are wrong on facts; LTTE started its activities in Jaffna peninsula. As a military man who has dealt with more than a dozen insurgent groups, I see the rise and fall of LTTE as yet another example of insurgent movement’s inability to convert their military power into tangible political assets. Prabhakaran committed a number of strategic errors that led him to defeat. He put too much faith in force of arms and failed to use the wonderful opportunity the peace process 2002 offered to negotiate the best deal for Tamils.  

Q: There are unconfirmed reports that the Indian military officials were present during the last lap of the war in Wanni . What is your comment on this?

A: I think the question is best addressed to your own army. Please remember I retired in 1991 and I was not involved in any capacity in Sri Lanka after 1991. In fact I have not visited Northern or Eastern province since then. So how can I comment on it? 

Q: Being a senior military officer, at which point did Rajiv Gandhi instruct you to fly troops to Sri Lanka?

A: Army officers take their orders from their commanders. I was no exception.  I was told to go to Sri Lanka a day after signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka agreement.

Q: You were aware that Gandhi was assaulted by a Naval rating in Colombo during a Guard of Honour. How did Indian Army react on receipt of that incident when India’s PM life was at stake in a foreign land?

A: We read about it. We are a professional army; so our reactions are conditioned by orders and not by media reports. 

Q: As an intelligence officer, what did you learn about Prabhakaran and the IPKF committing atrocities too?

A: Intelligence acquires information about the potential or actual enemy. MI mandate did not include collecting information on any atrocities.

Q: You have said 'Rajiv Gandhi's move on IPKF was impulsive. Can you elaborate?

A: My comment to the Times of India reporter was made in reference to the book on Mrs Sonia Gandhi written by one time close friend of the Gandhi family Natwar Singh.

Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister without either executive or political experience. He brought in the much needed young blood into the government. He was impatient to achieve results and short circuited the systems of governance more than once. I can cite a number of instances of Rajiv's well meaning but impulsive decisions.

I experienced its adverse impact first hand when I went to Sri Lanka along with the Indian troops. We were moved at short notice at the invitation of JRJ after the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement.

Indian troops were inducted without full brief and clear objectives. The troops were not ready to fight a shooting wear as they had come with minimum support elements to sustain them for a short duration. There was little back-end administrative echelons to conduct operations overseas. People from all over India were moved at short notice to man temporary headquarters in Chennai.

There were no up to date maps of the area. I walked the Jaffna peninsula as there was a shortage of vehicles. There were structural flaws in employment and command and control. When ops against the LTTE started at short notice troops were flown in to ops directly from the airport! This caused avoidable casualty.

Troops operate with optimum efficiency when ops are planned and trained to execute them in the likely theatre of ops. Only after the Headquarters IPKF  into being and took charge the advantage of joint operations command produced its impact on the operations. After that the LTTE got the drubbing and sought refuge in Wanni jungles enabling us to restore all the infrastructure including the railway communication.

Q: Were you aware that India put undue pressure on J R Jayawaradene at the behest of LTTE leader?

I am not aware of it; this is the first time I am hearing it. LTTE was a small organisation at that time and I cannot believe a big nation like India acting “at the behest of LTTE.” It is laughable.

Q: There is substantive evidence that the Tamil Diaspora is helping LTTE remnants in Tamil Nadu to regroup Do you think the LTTE is capable of regrouping and reverting to a different tactics be political or otherwise?

I have written an analytical article on the revival of LTTE in the latest issue of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies journal ‘Soldier Warrior.’ In the post war period Sri Lanka government has not shown adequate sensitivity to the grievances of people traumatised by war. It has failed to create a sense of security and trust in the government among them. It has not allowed the process of reconciliation to take place even after five years after war. So the population is not a happy one though the infrastructure is in place. LTTE remnants will always be on the look out to exploit local grievances to gain a foot hold for the revival of LTTE in Sri Lanka.

Despite this unhappy atmosphere, I doubt whether any Sri Lankan Tamil seriously believes Tamil Eelam is achievable. After the rout of the LTTE, the overseas remnants do not have a dynamic leader who can energise and lead them for a revival of LTTE. After all Prabhakaran took two decades to build an all powerful organisation. So the attempts to gain a foothold in Sri Lanka for reviving LTTE have been feeble.

Without support from an external power or agency, in the current global anti-terrorism scenario, no extremist movement can be exported unless the local people are motivated to go through the ordeal. I think Tamil people are too weary of war to entertain such notion. They have lost too much for too long.

Q: In J N Dixit’s book it was stated that ex National Security Minister Lailith Athulathmudali had the ability to infiltrate the Indian intelligence network to know details of plans India had for Sri Lanka at that time. What have you to say?

A: This is a bit of news to me. I was never privy to what happened in Sri Lanka before 1987.

Q: In that direction, did you believe that another foreign intelligence network was used by Lalith Athulathmudali to penetrate  the Indian intelligence network?

A: I have no knowledge of this.

Q: Erik Solheim, former Norwegian peace negotiator, told Ceylon today, that peace could have won without bloodshed, referring to the last phase of the war.  What is your take on this?

A: I doubt whether the Norwegian negotiator seriously meant it. As a strategic analyst I feel the last phase of war was too late for any external body or nation to bring about peace in Sri Lanka. Too much blood had already been shed by both sides and LTTE was on its last legs. What was the incentive for Sri Lanka to accept peace as an option? So probably it was destined not to succeed.

Q: India has been involved with Sri Lanka throughout during the LTTE facing criticisms as well as accolades.  Should India now keep away from Sri Lanka’s internal issues and politics?

A: India should keep away from Sri Lanka’s affairs as long it does not affect India’s national interest and security.

Despite all the negative hype in the media, India and Sri Lanka have built a positive multifaceted relationship to benefit both countries. This networked relationship extends now to strategic, political, diplomatic and economic spheres. In strategic security of the Indian Ocean Region there is close cooperation between the armed forces.

Q: Do you see Tamil Nadu being a stumbling block in Sri Lanka’s progress: CM Jayalalithaa has been very critical about Sri Lanka and even called for a Eelam in her election manifesto.  How do you view the Tamil Nadu politics and JJ’s staunch support for a separate Eelam?

A: I don’t think anyone seriously believes in separate Tamil Eelam anymore though they may raise slogans. In Tamil Nadu, political parties are using the Eelam issue as a vote catching device. And I don’t know how many people really vote on the basis of this issue. All the fringe parties who are vociferous on Eelam have repeatedly failed to make good in elections.

Sri Lanka’s twin failures (1) to start a meaningful reconciliation process with Tamils (2) absence of a transparent process to investigate alleged human rights violations and war crimes have created a climate of suspicion among the people about the  intentions of the Rajapaksa government. As long as this environment does not change, Tamil Nadu political parties will use it to political advantage. 

I think the biggest stumbling block for Sri Lanka’s progress is neither Tamil Nadu nor India but its lack of confidence in its ability to resolve the post war issues. This has impeded the optimal use of the hard won peace after eliminating the LTTE finally.

Q: Sri Lanka opposed to an international probe on alleged human rights violations during the last phase of the war?  Is that a right decision?

A: No. The UN probe came about only after Sri Lanka failed to use the opportunities provided to carry out a credible domestic investigation. But Sri Lanka apparently seem to have decided its stand was wrong; otherwise it is difficult to understand why it is now carrying out a parallel domestic probe with international advisors when UNHRC has started its probe.

Q: When the government was asked to let the UN panel probe, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga stated that, in that case, even the IPKF must also be investigated. Should that happen?

Instead of all this posturing to score brownie points in the media about India we should look at it objectively. Sri Lanka’s action should serve a larger objective; otherwise it would be a waste of national effort. Already it has wasted five years of peace. If Sri Lankans feel it would serve their national interest to ask for a UN probe into IPKF’s conduct they should go ahead. It is for Sri Lankans to take a call.

Personally, I think Sri Lanka should seriously set its house in order, revamp its corroded system of governance. There is no point in saying in India also these things exist. Yes; but we are talking about Sri Lanka’s problems; not India’s. 

[Col R Hariharan is a retired MI officer associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. He served in Sri Lanka as the Head of Intelligence of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (1987 to 90). E-mail: Blog:]