India Continues Secret Military Ties with Sri Lanka - The New Indian Express

India Continues Secret Military Ties with Sri Lanka

Published: 01st Dec 2013 09:46:48 AM

India’s diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka may face rough weather due to pressure from political groups in Tamil Nadu, but its defence ties would continue as usual through joint training, sharing of warfare expertise and military exchanges.

Indian Defence Ministry sources say that “political diplomacy with Sri Lanka may go through its pulls and pressures from political parties in Tamil Nadu, but military ties would not get tied down by such considerations” and would go on as usual.

“Political issues won’t affect military ties. There is an Indian security consideration involved in defence ties with Colombo. Sri Lanka is a very important nation in the maritime domain in the Indian Ocean Region,” a senior Defence Ministry official said.

There was also a clear signal in this regard in the form of Indian Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi’s five-day visit to the island nation this week, where he met the Sri Lankan political and military top brass to share critical inputs on military matters concerning the Indian Ocean region.

The Navy chief’s visit, though, was down played by the Indian defence establishment, whose members refused to talk about it till the visit was over, just as the External Affairs Ministry played down Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse’s two-day stay in New Delhi on Thursday and Friday.

Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse’s brother Gotabaya met with senior officials in the Indian External Affairs and Defence Ministries, but the meetings were kept under wraps till he left for Colombo on Friday.

In the case of Admiral Joshi, while Colombo went public about his visit and participation in the Galle Maritime dialogue that focused on Indian Ocean Region, New Delhi preferred to maintain a stoic silence about his visit.

Only earlier this month, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had skipped the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet in Colombo, where India was represented by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid. The Indian government took this decision under pressure from political groups in Tamil Nadu who are opposed to any diplomatic ties with Sri Lanka over the ethnic Lankan Tamils’ rights issue.

Indian Navy chief, during his stay, attended the Galle dialogue earlier in the week where he pitched for regulation of private maritime security forces, against the backdrop of the recent Indian experience in detaining an American-owned cargo ship off the Tamil Nadu coast.

Joshi was joined at the meet by naval leadership from 35 other maritime powers from the region. He also interacted with Gotabaya there. During his stay, Joshi met Sri Lankan Chief of Defence Staff General Jagath Jayasuriya and Navy Commander Vice Admiral Jayanath Colombage, where the two sides discussed various military cooperation topics, particularly in the maritime domain such as anti-piracy operations and maritime crimes.

On the last day of his visit, Joshi met President Mahinda Rajapakse, where the two discussed the Indian offer to train Lankan Navy officers in the B.Tech course at the Indian Naval Academy (INA) at Ezhimala, Kerala.

The Indian Navy chief assured priority to Sri Lankan officers at the INA from among the foreign applicants. Sri Lankan foreign minister professor G L Peiris was present during those discussions, in which bilateral cooperation in anti-piracy operations was a key topic, say sources.

The two sides also talked about curbing the attacks on Indian fishermen at the high seas by the Lankan naval forces.

Indian Navy chief travelled around the island nation to several major maritime locations, including Trincomalee and Mannar.

Power Play

After the PM skipped the commonwealth summit, India is believed to be going through a phase of having lowest leverages with Sri Lanka in recent years. But there is an opportunity to up the leverage with Sri Lanka interested in ensuring the UNHRC reprimand in March next year is not that harsh. India hopes this allows it to play a role, so that it regains strategic space in Sri Lanka. It requires this ‘leverage’ to be able to extract commitments from Colombo on fishermen issues, keep the lid on inclination in the ruling regime to dilute 13th amendment and that the northern provincial government is allowed to function.

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