July 2, 2022

India’s Lanka Odyssey: Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka

Written By: AS Kalkat

Dedicated to the fallen IPKF Heroes and the IPKF Veterans

The Indo – Sri Lanka Accord

In 1987 the Indian political scene was in turbulence. There were vague accusations against the Government on defence purchases. In Tamil Nadu, a hue and cry was being raised against the atrocities being committed by the Sri Lankan military on the hapless Tamil population in Sri Lanka, and the Tamil Nadu government was demanding Indian intervention to ensure the safety and security of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population.

At that time, Sri Lanka’s population of approximately 21 million, consisted of 75% Sinhalese, 18% Tamils (12% Sri Lankan Tamils and 6% Plantation Tamils) & 7% Tamil speaking Muslims. The Tamils were mainly located in the Northern and Eastern provinces except for the plantation Tamils who were concentrated in the highlands in the Central Provinces. The Northern Province consisted of 80% Tamil population, mainly concentrated around Jaffna City which was the Provincial Capital. Tamils constituted one-third of the population of Eastern Province along with one-third Sinhala & one-third Muslims (Moors).

With General Elections due in India in 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was concerned about his party’s election prospects in Tamil Nadu. There was also concern that the movement for an independent Tamil homeland could spread to Tamil Nadu. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi hence decided to use India’s military force to coerce the President of Sri Lanka into signing the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord in July 1987.[1] The Accord envisaged cease-fire between the belligerent parties, surrender of weapons by the armed Tamil militant parties, amendment of the Constitution of the Unitary State to create a federal structure thereby ensuring provincial autonomy for the Tamil majority Northern & Eastern Provinces. The Accord also envisaged India providing a peace keeping force if asked by Sri Lanka Government for accepting the surrender of weapons by the Tamil militants and for ensuring security in the two Provinces. The Sri Lanka Army was to be confined to barracks in the Northern & Eastern Provinces. The Accord also required the Indian Military Force to assist in the conduct of elections in the two Provinces after which the two Provinces would be merged into a single North-Eastern Province (NEP) resulting in a Tamil majority province. Thereafter, the Constitution of Sri Lanka would be amended by the 13th Amendment to create Sri Lanka as a federal political state which would give the Provincial Governments greater autonomy in governance; it was currently based on the British Westminster System which gave very little authority to the provinces.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi discussed this matter with the Indian Army Chief, Gen K. Sunderji who was himself a Tamil. Gen Sunderji belonged to a princely family of Travancore State and had been made an officer in the State Army at a very young age. On Travancore’s merger with India, its Army was merged with the Indian Army. Sunderji thereafter joined the Mahar Regiment and retained his original seniority, which put him in line to become Indian Army Chief at a later stage. When the Prime Minister asked his advice, Gen Sunderji assured him that the LTTE would be rounded up in a matter of weeks. But that assessment proved to be hopelessly off the mark. It took the Indian Army three years with over 1,200 killed and almost 7,000 wounded to restore order.

Growth of Tamil Militancy

LTTE in Sri Lanka is an example of a civil unrest and militancy transiting to insurgency and ultimately morphing into a terrorist organisation. The genesis of the movement lay in the grievances of the minority Tamils of deprivation and discrimination by the majority Sinhalas in Sri Lanka. The Tamils were seeking protection of their identity, language and areas of their habitation from the spread of massive Sinhala influx since 1956. The Tamil movement, starting with civil unrest, gradually escalated to open confrontation with the civil administration. The Sri Lanka response to this was to seek a military solution by launching military operation designated War of Liberation against the militant Tamil groups. The Tamil parties upped their demand to independence (Tamil Eelam) and a separate Tamil State. The main militant Tamil groups were LTTE, Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF) and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF). Amongst the militant groups, the LTTE led by Prabhakaran achieved dominance. The ruthless action by the Sri Lankan military to isolate and starve out the Tamil areas in the Northern & Eastern Provinces led to large scale uprooting of Tamils. Over a hundred thousand fled to India in fishing boats and were housed in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu.

LTTE leader Prabhakaran was highly ambitious and ruthless and dreamt of becoming the sole arbiter of Tamil destiny. He wanted to settle for nothing less than an independent Tamil State in Sri Lanka. He systematically eliminated leaders of other insurgency groups and used this to strengthen his cult and the LTTE. The large influx and presence of Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu which had a population of 45 million Tamils had serious implications for India. India decided to engage with Sri Lanka for a political resolution of the issue which culminated in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord (ISLA). At the time of signing of the Accord, LTTE, PLOTE, TELO, ENDLF and EPRLF were the prominent insurgency groups. PLOTE, TELO, ENDLF and EPRLF accepted the Accord and surrendered their weapons. However, the LTTE refused to do so, which led to open conflict with the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF).

LTTE Organisational Structure

The LTTE group leaders were under Area Commanders and it was also effective in harnessing the seafaring traditions to form what was to become Women Sea Tigers. Women cadres came up formally in ground operations around 1988 onwards.

Prabhakaran was the Supreme leader. He was assisted by Anton Balasingham, political commissar, and a military council comprising of Mahendra Raja a.k.a. Mahathiya the second in command, Sathasivam Krishnakumar a.k.a. Kittu, Kumarappa in Jaffna, Pulendran (later Karuna) in the East and Pottu Amman (intelligence wing). The military council was assisted by Yogaratnam Yogi (political wing), Sornalingam a.k.a. Shankar (Air Wing), Sivanesan a.k.a. Soosai (Sea Tigers). The LTTE strength was assessed as 7,000 hard core fighters, 3,000 helpers (Pandiyan) and an indeterminate number of sympathisers. The group resorted to summary executions, burning people alive, and awarding death sentence for ordinary offences to keep both the civilian population and their rivals in check. Inability of other groups to challenge the LTTE was largely due to an absence of a charismatic leader and also due to internal power struggles within their organisations. The use of military force by the Sri Lankan government without a matching political strategy increased support for LTTE and its methods.

The LTTE financed their organisation through a variety of methods Chief among them were extortion of the shopkeepers, taxation of the Tamil population, looting banks and government treasuries and smuggling and trafficking of arms, people and drugs. They also resorted to hijacking of maritime traffic and received funds from the overseas Tamil diaspora sympathetic to their cause. Beginning from 1983 to 1897 almost all major extremist groups including LTTE had established overseas cells among Sri Lanka Tamil Diaspora particularly in London. They became a major source of support. The LTTE used the expertise among the diaspora for media management and providing real time information. It cultivated many other media persons for propaganda. It also cultivated low level government officials and political leaders overseas sympathetic to them by spending money.

Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF)

On the request of the Sri Lanka Government, India sent an infantry division to Sri Lanka in last week of July for overseeing the arms surrender process by the militants. While most militant groups complied with handing over their weapons, the LTTE refused to do so. The Division Commander was ordered by Delhi to use force to disarm them. The LTTE resorted to attacking the peace keepers. Taken by surprise the IPKF suffered large casualties and open fighting broke out between the IPKF and LTTE.

By the time India got involved, terrorist attacks by LTTE had been on the rise. Initially these attacks had been against the Sinhala population. However, early in 1987, LTTE leader Prabhakaran resorted to attacks on the other Tamil parties to wrest leadership of all Tamils in Sri Lanka. The ruthless methods of LTTE also instilled fear amongst the civilian Tamil population for obedience to the dictates of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran. After assessing the situation, the Indian Government, in consultation with the Sri Lanka Government decided that the LTTE would have to be forcibly disarmed and while doing so, the safety of the vast innocent civilians would also need to be protected against the murderous attacks on them by LTTE. Consequently, a force of five divisions (15 brigades & three para commando battalions (Special Forces) was built up in North & East Sri Lanka under a head quarter designated as HQ IPKF. In addition, para-military forces comprising one Assam Rifles battalion, two CRPF battalions, one CRPF Mahila (women) company and one TA battalion were also included. Ad-hoc complements of Indian Air Force & Indian Navy were also part of IPKF. I was appointed the Overall Force Commander of IPKF. This entailed a politico-military task. IPKF was involved in joint forces operations and in essence was a joint forces command without being designated so. This anomaly did create some problems in its operations which fortunately were overcome by personal interaction with the concerned Air Force and Naval Commands.

Prior to induction of IPKF, a civil war had been raging in Northern & Eastern Provinces. Many Tamil insurgent parties had sprung up, LTTE, EPRLF, TELO, EROS, NDLF etc. Of these the leader of LTTE, Velupillai Prabhakaran was the most cunning and ruthless. He proposed to the other Tamil party leaders to meet at Batticaloa in the Eastern Province to discuss their future plans. Most leaders complied; others sent their senior representative. Once they had assembled, Prabhakaran had all of them killed in cold blood by his LTTE cadres. From this time onwards Prabhakaran became the undisputed leader of the Tamil insurgency movement.

The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was inducted into Sri Lanka on 30 July 1987 initially in Jaffna which had almost 90% Tamils and was the strong-hold of the LTTE. They reacted violently and soon fighting broke out between the IPKF & LTTE. Initially, an infantry division had been inducted and the GOC (General Officer Commanding) of the division planned a surgical strike against LTTE leadership, who were reported to be meeting at their tactical headquarters in Jaffna University. The area around Jaffna University was crowded and there were only two open fields where heliborne troops could be landed in a night operation, a football field and a smaller playground; both surrounded by residential buildings. The GOC planned to land 120 para commandos of 10 Para Commando Battalion and 360 soldiers of 13 Sikh LI. On the night of 11 October, the first flight of two helicopters landed 40 para commandos on the football field. Almost immediately, they came under fire from surrounding buildings and even from tree tops. The LTTE had sophisticated radio equipment and they had broken into the IPKF frequencies and knew the attack was coming. That night, the helicopters could not land the entire assault force and only a total of 80 para commandos and 30 personnel of 13 Sikh LI managed to land. The troops on all sides were surrounded by the enemy and had to wait for morning before reinforcements could come in. The Sikh LI radio operator was killed immediately on landing and the platoon lost contact with the Division HQ. In the fog of battle the Sikh LI platoon got separated from the para commandos. Throughout the night they fought with depleting manpower and ammunition. By morning of 12 October, there were three soldiers left and had completely run out of ammunition. They fixed their bayonets and decided on one last charge against the enemy; only one man, Sepoy Gora Singh survived. He was wounded and was taken prisoner by the LTTE.

The men of 10 Para Commando had spread-out and gone after their original target – the LTTE leadership. Unable to locate the LTTE HQ and outnumbered they took up defensive positions in two single-storey buildings and for 18 hours they kept the numerically stronger LTTE at bay by preserving their ammunition and picking their targets judiciously. On the morning of 12 October, the CO of 10 Para Commando, Lt Col Dalbir Singh himself led the rescue mission with his remaining men and three T72 tanks. However, all the roads leading to the university had been mined and boobytrapped by the LTTE and the tanks found it difficult to advance. The tank commander, Maj Anil Kaul did something that the LTTE were least expecting; he took his tanks to the railway line that ran behind the university and drove on the rail track right up to the scene of battle. A little later, the rest of 13 Sikh LI along with 4/5 Gorkha Rifles broke through and took control of the area. The LTTE leader Prabhakaran was injured in the leg but fled moments before the IPKF troops entered. In this battle, 13 Sikh LI lost 29 brave soldiers. Maj Kaul was wounded in the battle and lost an eye. He was awarded the Vir Chakra for his gallant action.

There were rumblings of this debacle in the Parliament, and they were informed that an Overall Force Commander, Lt General Kalkat (I was promoted to Lt Gen) had been appointed to command the operations. The Indian PM was away at Vancouver to attend the CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet) and thereafter he was proceeding to Washington to address the US Congress. I was told that it would be a shame if Jaffna was not captured by the time the Indian Prime Minister was to address the US Congress. After all, India was a major Asian power with the third largest army in the world. Thus, my priority became capture of Jaffna.

After the Jaffna University debacle, Army HQ did a re-check and realised that the IPKF was undermanned, under equipped and over stretched. It needed more Infantry, T-72 tanks and amphibious armoured fighting vehicles (BMPs). Therefore, another airlift began with IL 76 & AN 12 aircraft; so heavy was the air traffic at Thambaram Airbase in Madras (Chennai) that the runway cracked. By end October, the IAF had flown 2200 transport and 800 helicopter sorties to ferry material and men for IPKF.

For the Indian soldiers, trying to bring peace in a foreign country was challenging. It was impossible to distinguish between LTTE cadres and Tamil civilians as the LTTE would often hide their weapon under the lungi (dhoti) and fire at the IPKF soldiers in crowded areas, then hide their rifle and melt away among the people. Anyone over the age of 10, male or female, could be an armed and deadly adversary.

I observed that all previous attempts to capture Jaffna had been by frontal attacks which involved fighting in highly built-up areas, involving house to house clearance, which resulted in heavy casualties to our troops. I therefore decided to launch only a feint frontal attack employing tanks and carryout a double envelopment with the infantry and attack Jaffna from the rear. The western force of the envelopment faced fierce opposition but ably led by Brig Manjit Singh they succeeded. In this action Maj Ramasamy Parameshwaran bravely fought his way and was killed in action. He was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously, India’s highest award for conspicuous bravery above & beyond the call of duty. Brig Manjit Singh was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. We captured Jaffna incurring much lesser casualties than would have resulted by the frontal approach. Mr Ronen Sen, who was the PM’s advisor on political affairs in the PMO was informed of the same on 26 October.

After capture of Jaffna Town the IPKF was assigned a new mission of conducting operations in the Northern & Eastern Provinces to bring them under IPKF control and to bring about normalcy so that elections could be conducted. For purpose of my operations, I divided the area into four sectors, each under an infantry division. The sectors were designated Northern (Jaffna Peninsula) Sector, Eastern Sector (Trincomalee District), Southern Sector (Batticaloa District), Central Sector (Vavuniya District). The sectors, conforming with the Sri Lanka administrative districts, helped coordination with the Sri Lankan Government. Language was a barrier between my soldiers and the civil population, so men from the Madras Regiment battalions were inducted and distributed to the other battalions.

At this stage the IPKF strength was about 80,000 personnel as under: –

Army

Divisional HQs: 4 (54, 4, 36 & 57)

Infantry Brigade: 15 (45 infantry battalions)

Para Commando battalions: 3

Mechanised Infantry battalions: 2

Armoured Regiment: 1

Navy

Naval Liaison Officer: 1 (Captain Rank)

Troops & Tanks Landing Ship 1; rest on as required basis

Civil shipping chartered by Indian Navy

Air Force

MI 8 Helicopter Squadron: 1

HIND Attack Helicopter detachment

AN 32 sqn: 1 (Medium carriage capacity)

IL76 det: Heavy Lift capacity

Para Military

Assam Rifles battalion: 1

TA battalion:1)

CRPF battalions: 2

Mahila (women) company, CRPF: 1

Others

DRDO: Communication Team

MEA: Political Advisor (1)

MHA: Political Advisors (2)

I & B Ministry: Doordarshan and AIR Team

P & T Dept: Telecom Detachment.

Indian Railways Team

Tamil Nadu State Electricity Board Team

Indian Red Cross Team

Maintenance of such a large force overseas was a gigantic problem; however, it was handled by the IPKF Brigadier in Charge Logistics, Brig N. K. Bahri, outstandingly. The two Provinces consisted of nearly 30% (18,000 sq km) of the total area of Sri Lanka (65,000 sq km). It became clear to me that due to the difficulty of identifying LTTE fighters from ordinary Tamils we would have to clear the area in a manner that the LTTE did not filter back. I was fighting with the caveat that innocent civilians, women and children must not be harmed. For this, the cleared areas would have to be kept sterile by sealing it with cordons. I therefore decided to operate from both flanks of each Province inwards clearing and sealing cleared areas step by step.  By following this method, we were able to drive the LTTE into the centre of each Province. The LTTE, finding themselves hedged in broke south-west into a dense jungle (forest) called Wani Jungles. It was a huge primary forest with tall trees and lot of foliage. The IPKF surrounded the Wani Jungle and isolated the LTTE from the rest of the population in the Northern & Eastern Province.

After hard fighting, the IPKF was able to wrest control of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. I found myself in the unenviable position of having to administer these Provinces comprising one-third of Sri Lanka. This meant catering for the daily life of the population. I appointed Town Commandants of Brigadier rank for Jaffna and Trincomalee. Police Service was non-existent to look after criminal activity and I asked the Indian Government for assistance. Two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions and much later a Mahila (women’s) company on my request were sent from India. To cater for electricity, staff from Tamil Nadu State Electricity Board was provided. For running the railway Tamil Nadu Railway TA company was sent. For the medical service the Indian Red Cross sent a detachment. I found myself involved in the political affairs in the two states for which the Indian Army is neither trained nor expected to do so. I asked for Indian Administrative Service (IAS) & Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officers. The IAS officers (2) were placed with the two Town Commandants, and I located the IFS officer with me as political advisor. The IFS officer fell ill due to the difficult environment and had to be evacuated to India; the IFS officers were not accustomed to living in harsh conditions and there were no takers for the job. On my persistence I was intimated that the First Secretary of the Indian High Commission in Colombo Mr Jai Shankar would act as my political advisor.

When the situation was under control, I informed both the Government of India and the Government of Sri Lanka that the conditions for conduct of election have been created and the elections may be ordered. A problem arose; there had been no census conducted for many years due to the prevailing insurgency situation prior to the arrival of IPKF and the electoral rolls had to be prepared for the election. I undertook to get it done along with the Sri Lankan Chief Election Commissioner and their Attorney General. With the help of the Sri Lanka Election Staff and my officers, we were able get the electoral rolls prepared. I had to visit Colombo often for this where I also met Mr Lalith Athulathmudali the Sri Lanka Foreign Minister. A brilliant person, he was also a Privy Counsellor of UK. He was a great help and guide.

The IPKF assisted the Government of Sri Lanka in the conduct of elections in the two Provinces without the LTTE being able to disrupt them. In many cases, IPKF secured the routes for voters from their home areas to the polling booths. The polling booths were guarded and the transportation of ballot boxes and polling staff by air and road transport was catered for. The elections were held successfully with 60% voting and consequently the Northern and Eastern Provinces were merged as one North Eastern Province (NEP) by the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution. A Tamilian Chief Minister Vardaraj Perumal of the EPRLF Party was sworn-in by President J. Jayawardene of Sri Lanka. I signalled to Delhi “Mission Accomplished; await further orders”. The response from Delhi was ‘IPFK to continue to assist the Provincial Government to establish firm roots.’ Indian Prime Minister wanted to meet the newly elected Chief Minister, so I had him flown to Delhi in IPKF aircraft. The Sri Lanka Government was not happy with this as they felt that India would control the North-Eastern Province by proxy. I feel this was a mistake on our part.

At this stage a high-level Sri Lanka delegation led by Gamini Dissanayake, a senior Cabinet Minister came to India and met Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. I had also been called to attend it. Dissanayake conveyed satisfaction with the IPKF operations. He wanted the Sri Lankan Army to also participate with IPKF in the Eastern Province. Mr. Rajiv Gandhi asked my view on this request; I opposed it as it could end up in IPKF & Sri Lankan soldiers shooting at each other in the confusion of battle and the Prime Minister upheld my view. It later transpired that the Lankan interest in the Eastern Sector was that Trincomalee Coast sands had precious stones including their famous emeralds and they wanted to harvest them through their Army.

The elections had also enabled Sri Lanka to conduct its General Election and the result was that Mr Premadasa was elected the President of Sri Lanka, President Jayawardene having opted out. Sri Lanka has an Executive Presidency with the President having all the powers. At this stage, India’s High Commissioner, M. N. Dixit had a problem. He had been a very effective High Commissioner and had played a major role in drafting of the Indo – Sri Lanka Accord; he was jokingly referred to by his colleagues in the Foreign Ministry as India’s Pro-Consul in Colombo. The new President would not give time to present his credentials. Till the credentials are accepted, the envoy remains just an ambassador or High Commissioner in waiting. It was a polite message to India that President Premadasa did not want Mr Dixit as India’s High Commissioner. Delhi got the message and Dixit was replaced by L. N. Mehrotra whose credentials were promptly accepted by the Sri Lankan President. Mehrotra was a recognised linguist and well versed in Oriya language which is the grammar for Sinhala language.

At the Brink of War

Mr Premadasa had always been antagonistic to the Indo Sri Lanka Accord and as Prime Minister, he absented himself from Sri Lanka when the Accord was being signed, by planning a visit to Japan. In his election manifesto, he had stated that if elected President, he would expel the IPKF from Sri Lanka. Immediately after the election I got a call at my HQ in Trincomalee from the President’s office that the President was sending a letter for me by a special messenger. Meanwhile HC Mehrotra had been told of the contents of the letter by the President. He called me and said that the letter in essence was ordering IPKF out of Sri Lanka. If I did not vacate all my forces from the territory of Sri Lanka within 48 hours, he would declare IPKF an army of occupation and order his military to attack the IPKF. Mehrotra could not offer me any advice and I called Ronen Sen at the PMO which was my ‘ordered communication channel with Delhi on political matters’ and apprised him of the situation. He told me that ‘Boss-man is away campaigning’, and that he couldn’t offer any advice in this matter. I told him “In that case I will do what I have to do”.

I went to the airport to receive the President’s representative and as the plane from Colombo landed, out stepped the Sri Lanka Army Commander, Lt Gen Hamilton Wanasinghe. The SL Army Chief had the rank of Lt General as the rank of full General was held by the Chairman Joint Chiefs, Gen Cecil Ranatunga. Gen Wanasinghe was a good friend since we had been operating together and I had been to his house for dinner. He said ‘Amar, can we take a walk on the tarmac,’ so we walked together on the airfield. He said he was in a quandary; ‘his President had ordered him to serve me an ultimatum for IPKF to leave the shores of Sri Lanka within 72 hours and if we did not do so he will declare IPKF an army of occupation and order his forces to attack it.’ He asked me what should he do?

“You should obey the orders of your President,” I told him.

“If I do so, what will you do?” he asked.

“I will do what I must do; fight to defend my mandate, my soldiers and equipment. It could have unpredictable consequences,” I told him.

He said nothing more and left for Colombo without handing me the letter from the President. Mark Tully, the BBC Correspondent for South Asia had got a whiff of what was happening from his contacts in Colombo. He chartered a special plane and flew into Trincomalee. When I got back to my HQ I saw Mark Tully there, inquisitive as ever. I called my Chief of Staff, Lt Gen N. K. Kapoor and told him in the hearing of all what had transpired and asked him to take down my orders. I dictated; in case we are attacked by the Sri Lankan Forces, we will not only fight them but will also target the source of their origin. I ordered 57 Division in the North to be prepared to attack southwards and to capture Anuradhapura which was close to Colombo; 36 Division in Trincomalee to attack Westwards across the Provincial boundary and join up with 57 Division at Anuradhapura. Further objective and orders will be given later. The inference was obvious; Colombo would be the next objective. The Sri Lanka Army Liaison Officer who was attached with my HQ as per protocol was also present and soon after I finished, he quietly slipped out of my HQ and ran to the nearest telephone. As a precautionary measure I had ordered a Combat Command to take positions at the entry of the road leading to the Eastern Province from Sri Lankan controlled territory. Our T 72 tanks make a frightening sight. Sri Lanka responding likewise lining up their armoured cars which of course were no match for the T 72 tanks.

Consequently, President Premadasa changed his strategy for getting rid of the IPKF. He secretively contacted the LTTE leadership and asked Prabhakaran to send his representative to Colombo to meet him. Prabhakaran sent his ideologue Anton Balasingham who was based in London and Mahatya his military commander. President Premadasa made-up with the LTTE leaders and commenced giving them arms and ammunition to fight the IPKF. The LTTE happily joined up. President Premadasa thought that after the IPKF left his Army could then take on a considerably weakened LTTE as a result of IPKF operations, while Prabhakarn was sanguine that he could defeat the Sri Lankan military if the IPKF was not around. I came to know of these goings on as a result of an IPKF patrol intercepting a LTTE cadre. The LTTE had the practice of getting everything on record and they had secretly video-taped the meeting with President Premadasa; this LTTE cadre was carrying the video tape towards the coastline for conveying it to Prabhakaran hiding in the Wani Jungle. I immediately sent the video tape to Delhi. I also had reports of Sri Lankan helicopter landings in the Vavuniya Area in Central Sri Lanka where arms & ammunition had been delivered to the LTTE. In fact, a Sri Lanka officer, Brigadier Kobe Koduwa had been seen present. He appears to have been appointed the liaison officer for the LTTE.

At this stage, India’s Prime Minister intervened and sent his Principal Advisor Mr Deshmukh to meet the Sri Lankan President. I was also present at this meeting. It was decided that India would withdraw the IPKF from Sri Lanka. President Premadasa made full use of this meeting by leaking to the media that this meeting was regarding the withdrawal of the IPKF from Sri Lanka. He ensured that all newspapers and its sole TV Channel carried it in headlines. In fact, he got the newspapers in Colombo carry the headline “Gen Kalkat in Colombo to finalise IPKF withdrawal”. At least I made the headlines in some country! Mindful of the US and Russian withdrawals from Vietnam and Afghanistan respectively, I insisted that with a force of nearly 80,000 I will do so on my time frame and in phases. This was agreed to by all parties. I set 30 September 1990 as the date by which the withdrawal of IPKF was to be completed. In the event, we completed the withdrawal on 23 September, a full week ahead of schedule. I was the last IPKF person to leave the shores of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government gave me a ceremonial send-off, replete with a ‘guard of honour’. The Sri Lanka Defence Secretary was present to see me off. Many quipped that he had been sent by President Premadasa to confirm that I had really left! During the last phase of my withdrawal, as a precautionary measure, I had our Aircraft Carrier Forces standing by, in case Sri Lanka reneged on its agreement.

Lessons

Some important lessons of India’s military intervention in Sri Lanka are as under:

  • In securing the Accord, the MEA overlooked the first principle of Intervention; In Civil unrests most conflicts have a political dynamic and ultimately require a political resolution. It is only the government of a country that can give political dispensation to its citizens, not an outside power.
  • Before intervening in such conflicts, the intervening country must ensure that the political commitments are guaranteed by the host government. If the host government thereafter reneges on its commitments the only alternative left would be resort to ‘regime change,’ which seldom works. US learnt this in Afghanistan and
  • Managing domestic public opinion is critical. This was very well managed by the Indian Government and it ensured that there was no spillover of the separatist tendencies amongst India’s Tamils to follow the LTTE example.
  • The Exit Plan must be in place before you intervene in another country.

Epilogue

Some years later, after Prabhakaran and the LTTE leadership had been eliminated by Sri Lankan Forces, a Sri Lanka delegation led by the Sri Lankan President Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa came to India. In a reception hosted in his honour by the Sri Lanka High Commission, the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was also invited. I too was invited to the event. During the Reception the Sri Lankan President took me aside and told me that Sri Lanka was in grave economic situation, and he had requested the Indian government for a joint venture in development of the Hambantota Port in South Sri Lanka. I apprised Dr Manmohan Singh of the same and he said it appeared to be a good idea and he would look into it. I accordingly conveyed this to the Sri Lankan President. However, nothing happened on this issue. A few years later, when I had an opportunity to meet Dr Manmohan Singh, I asked him about the proposal. He said that due to compulsions of a coalition government, he could not get it through the Coordination Committee, chaired by the Congress President, as their Southern party allies were against it. This of course, brings home another lesson—the need for a strong centre to push through certain proposals in the national interest. As India did not take the offer, China promptly accepted it. Today, 70 percent stake in the port has been leased to China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (CM Port) for 99 years for USD 1.12 billion.

Author Brief Bio: A veteran of the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars, Lt Gen Amarjeet Singh Kalkat, SYSM, AVSM, VSM, was chosen to lead the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as the Overall Force Commander for which he was awarded the Sarvottam Yudh Seva Medal (SYSM); the Country’s highest award for Leadership in War & Conflict, the first ever to be so awarded. Only two more have been awarded since then, both in the Kargil Operations. The IPKF Operations is a Prescribed Case Study Subject at the US Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, USA.

Reference

[1] The award as signed is available at https://peacemaker.un.org/sites/peacemaker.un.org/files/IN%20LK_870729_Indo-Lanka%20Accord.pdf

Share:

Latest News

Join the Conversation

4 Comments

  1. It is regrettable that Gen Kalkat has once again given his person account ignoring completely the participation of Navy. We need to vet the articles for its accuracy and completeness. The induction of IPKF on 30 July 1987 was done by Eastern Fleet under adverse weather conditions in Palk Bay by a dozen ships of Eastern Fleet . The Kankesanturai harbour and Jetty were mined and there was no illumination at night. Sporadic firing b both LTTE and SLN on the ships entering harbour. There was no navigation information on depth of water, state of jetty and weather. In adverse conditions ships undertook the operation to land 1, Maratha Light Infantry Regiment under command of then Col TIpsy Brar( later VrC and Lt Gen). There were non on the jetty.
    There is no mention of the night operation by Indian Marine Special Forces ( predecessor of MARCOs) who swam the whole night and scuttled the LTTE boats and killed number of cadres in Jaffna Lagoon who were engaged in shooting down the troops being para dropped into University. Army had suffered heavy casualties due to inadequate planning. The Commandos silenced the hidden guns in Lagoon and rest of the paradropping progressed next day. The commandos earned one MVC, Three VrCs and number of NM gallantry awards. It is shocking that there is no mention of these heroic acts and making the article appear as if Army alone ran the operation.
    Lastly, when the Army casually lies became overbearing and there was no way to extricate the dead and injured from the camp, a Naval Survey ship was converted to Hospital Ship and anchored close to Kankesanturai harbour. Smaller ship came close the cost near the Beigade HQ, launched their dinghies, naval personnel beached the dinghies against LTTE Arty fire and transferred the dead and injured to the hospital ship.
    Any stor without these acts of valour is incomplete. May please be brought to the notice of the author and addition to the article should be issued.

    1. I really wonder if there was any connection between the ‘LTTE guns in Jaffna lagoon’ and the helicopter borne assault on Jaffna University ground. In any case it was stopped at night itself

      1. Agreed but documentation of Naval role is poor because they remain tight lipped and not willing to share their account . They wish to carry their legacy undersea or so it seems .

  2. Gen Kalkat has given a good perspective of conditions prevailing when President Premadasa wanted to force IPKF out. Those of us who were part of Op Jupiter now understand it better

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *