Preoccupied with Pakistans proxy war in Kashmir and other parts of the country, the latest developments in the seemingly interminable conflict in Sri Lanka have come as something of a rude awakening for India.
Colombo describes the military situation as "serious". And as that countrys only neighbour, it has expectedly turned to India for assistance. New Delhi, therefore, has to quickly identify its options. While doing so, the previous IPKF experience would naturally loom large. Incidentally, its well worth remembering that the IPKF performed magnificently in that country, though this isnt much consolation for the families of those killed or maimed in that venture.
Direct military intervention or assistance is thus automatically ruled out. In any case, Indias military is currently comprehensively occupied in preparing to face any Pakistani misadventure and countering its proxy war. The next option involves massive military supplies to Sri Lanka, a step fraught with its own hazards. It could irk Tamil Nadu public opinion and endanger the NDA government. Third, Sri Lankas appeal to help in the supply by sea and air of the forces in Jaffna and/or assistance in their evacuation. This runs the risk of our aircraft and ships being attacked by LTTE fire, and so sucking India into the war. Extensive humanitarian aid, therefore, is the best available option, though this must be kept totally different from the last option.
All this is not to suggest complete indifference to our neighbours plight. The first objective here should be to work for a ceasefire before the assault on Jaffna commences. As part of its diplomatic efforts, India must also examine the various devolution packages/proposals in order to reduce the degree of irreconciliability between the divergent viewpoints. For example, in March, LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingam called for a disengagement by both sides, cessation of hostilities and confining combatants to barracks. While Colombo hasnt exactly supported the idea, it hasnt rejected it outright either.
Simultaneously, the LTTE must accept ground realities. First, that there is virtually no sentiment, within Sri Lanka or outside, favouring a partition. Therefore, the legitimate aspirations of the Tamils have to be realised within a unified Sri Lanka. Somewhere down the line, it will become necessary to deal-even indirectly, perhaps through Norway, the "facilitator"-with the LTTE. Because without their active participation all efforts, however well-intentioned, are condemned to failure. Summing up, India must help, through active and sustained diplomacy, achieve a political solution to the problem. Ignoring it will not wish it away.
(The author is convenor of the BJPs foreign affairs cell and ex-high commissioner to Sri Lanka. The views expressed, however, are his own.)