India's offer to help in the possible evacuation of Lankan soldiers from Jaffna has not been well-received in Colombo. "This isn't the offer we expected from India. Instead of helping us, it's undermining the morale of our soldiers," says a foreign office spokesperson in Colombo. The Sri Lankan reaction only makes apparent the mines that litter any course India may take.
The ltte too has made it clear that it'll allow soldiers to move out with just their personal belongings. "We accept that rescuing soldiers is humanitarian help. But movement of tanks, artillery guns and rocket launchers can by no stretch of imagination be construed as humanitarian aid," says a ltte source. Then, apart from the danger of leaving behind an arsenal which can be used against it in the future, India cannot afford a long-drawn military operation in a foreign country while borders in Kashmir, Rajasthan and Gujarat remain vulnerable. Any Indian intervention must, at the same time, try to work towards ensuring the political rights of Sri Lankan Tamils. But, given the lack of any consensus among Sinhala parties on that issue, that's no easy task. And to compound matters, there also seems to be no political consensus on the point in India.
Both New Delhi and Colombo have made it clear that they won't accept the ltte as the sole representative of the Tamils. But as a Tamil Nadu MP points out, "When push comes to shove, neither government talks about the existence of the other Tamil political groups." In this context, the problem of the degree of legitimacy - as a representative of Tamils - to be accorded to the ltte (which is banned in India) also needs to be sorted out. There's also the danger that relations between Colombo and New Delhi might deteriorate - what with many Sri Lankans blaming India for initially propping up the Tigers. India, on its part, can well point to the bitterness of the ipkf episode.
Many diplomatic observers believe that India must work out a time-bound programme of denying Jaffna to the ltte and at the same time permit the Norwegians to work out a solution by bringing a "militarily weak" ltte and the Sri Lankan government to the negotiating table. But finally, the fact remains that this is the third time that the Tamil Tigers have established control over the Jaffna peninsula. Given that aspect, can India be expected to make a periodic military sojourn to Sri Lanka, say, once in five years, to relieve the peninsula from the ltte?