Saturday, October 31, 2009

Survival of Maoists will pave the path to Tamil separate land in Sri Lanka, and India will pay the price for its game on Eelam Tamils.


BARSUR, India — At the edge of the Indravati River, hundreds of miles from the nearest international border, India effectively ends. Indian paramilitary officers point machine guns across the water. The dense jungles and mountains on the other side belong to Maoist rebels dedicated to overthrowing the government.

“That is their liberated zone,” said P. Bhojak, one of the officers stationed at the river’s edge in this town in the eastern state of Chattisgarh.

Or one piece of it. India’s Maoist rebels are now present in 20 states and have evolved into a potent and lethal insurgency. In the last four years, the Maoists have killed more than 900 Indian security officers, a figure almost as high as the more than 1,100 members of the coalition forces killed in Afghanistan during the same period.

If the Maoists were once dismissed as a ragtag band of outdated ideologues, Indian leaders are now preparing to deploy nearly 70,000 paramilitary officers for a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign to hunt down the guerrillas in some of the country’s most rugged, isolated terrain.

For India, the widening Maoist insurgency is a moment of reckoning for the country’s democracy and has ignited a sharp debate about where it has failed. In the past, India has tamed some secessionist movements by coaxing rebel groups into the country’s big-tent political process. The Maoists, however, do not want to secede or be absorbed. Their goal is to topple the system.

Once considered Robin Hood figures, the Maoists claim to represent the dispossessed of Indian society, particularly the indigenous tribal groups, who suffer some of the country’s highest rates of poverty, illiteracy and infant mortality. Many intellectuals and even some politicians once sympathized with their cause, but the growing Maoist violence has forced a wrenching reconsideration of whether they can still be tolerated.

“The root of this is dispossession and deprivation,” said Ramachandra Guha, a prominent historian based in Bangalore. “The Maoists are an ugly manifestation of this. This is a serious problem that is not going to disappear.”

India’s rapid economic growth has made it an emerging global power but also deepened stark inequalities in society. Maoists accuse the government of trying to push tribal groups off their land to gain access to raw materials and have sabotaged roads, bridges and even an energy pipeline.

If the Maoists’ political goals seem unattainable, analysts warn they will not be easy to uproot, either.

Here in the state of Chattisgarh, Maoists dominate thousands of square miles of territory and have pushed into neighboring states of Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and Maharashtra, part of a so-called Red Corridor stretching across central and eastern India.

Violence erupts almost daily. In the past five years, Maoists have detonated more than 1,000 improvised explosive devices in Chattisgarh. Within the past two weeks, Maoists have burned two schools in Jharkhand, hijacked and later released a passenger train in West Bengal while also carrying out a raid against a West Bengal police station.

Efforts are under way to open peace negotiations, but as yet remain stalemated. With the government offensive drawing closer, the people who feel most at risk are the tribal villagers who live in the forests of Chattisgarh, where the police and Maoists, sometimes called Naxalites, are already skirmishing.

“Earlier,” said one villager, “we used to fear the tigers and wild boars. Now we fear the guns of the Naxalites and the police.”

The counterinsurgency campaign, called Operation Green Hunt, calls for sending police and paramilitary forces into the jungles to confront the Maoists and drive them out of newer footholds toward remote forest areas where they can be contained.

“It may take one year, two years, three years or four,” predicted Vishwa Ranjan, chief of the state police in Chattisgarh, adding that casualties would be inevitable. “There is no zero casualty doctrine,” he said.

Once an area is cleared, the plan also calls for introducing development projects such as roads, bridges and schools in hopes of winning support of the tribal people. Also known as adivasis, they have faced decades of exploitation from local officials, moneylenders and private contractors, numerous government reports have found.

“The adivasis are the group least incorporated into India’s political economy,” said Ashutosh Varshney, an India specialist at Brown University, calling their plight one of the “unfinished quests of Indian democracy.”

The Maoist movement first coalesced after a violent 1967 uprising by local Communists over a land dispute in a West Bengal village known as Naxalbari, hence the name Naxalites.

Some Communists would enter the political system; today, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is an influential political force that holds power in West Bengal. But others went underground, and by the 1980s, many found sanctuary in Chattisgarh, especially in the region across from the Indravati River known as Abhujmad. From here, the Maoists recruited and trained disgruntled tribal villagers and slowly spread out. For years, the central government regarded them as mostly a nuisance. But in 2004, the movement radicalized, authorities say, when its two dominant wings merged with the more violent Communist Party of India (Maoist).

Keith Bedford for The New York Times

Indian officers patrolled a forest around their base in Barsur, right on the edge of rebel-controlled territory in Chattisgarh.

Indigenous women walked to a market in Chattisgarh State, where villagers are caught between the Indian government and Maoist rebels.

Authorities in Chattisgarh then deputized and armed civilian posses, which have been accused by human rights groups of terrorizing innocent villagers and committing atrocities of their own in the name of hunting Maoists. Now, violence is frequent, if unpredictable, like the ambush near the village of Laheri, in Maharashtra State, carried out by the Maoists on Oct. 8.

That morning, following a tip, a police patrol chased two Maoist fighters and stumbled into a trap. Two hundred Maoists with rifles and machine guns lay waiting and opened fire when the officers came into an exposed area of rice paddies. Seventeen officers died, fighting for hours until they ran out of ammunition.

“They surrounded us from every side,” said Ajay Bhushari, 31, who survived the ambush and is now the commanding officer in Laheri. “They were just stronger. They had more people.”

The Maoists felled trees across the only road leading to the village. The police, already wary of using roads because of improvised explosive devices, marched their reinforcements 10 miles through the jungle, arriving too late at the scene.

Officer Bhushari said violence in the area had risen so sharply that the police now left the fortified defenses of their outpost only in large groups, even for social outings. The Maoists also killed 31 police officers from other nearby outposts in attacks in February and May.

“It’s an open jail for us,” he said. “Either we are sitting here, or we are on patrol. There is nothing else.”

About 40 miles from Laheri, a processing plant owned by Essar Steel has been closed for five months. Maoists sabotaged Essar’s 166-mile underground pipeline, which transfers slurry from one of India’s most coveted iron ore deposits to the Bay of Bengal. “I’ve told my management that I’ll take a team and do the repairs,” said S. Ramesh, the project manager for Essar. “But I can’t promise how long it will last.”

The Essar plant is part of broader undertaking by the government and several private mining companies to extract the resources beneath land teeming with guerrillas. Mr. Ramesh said 70 percent of India’s iron ore lay in states infiltrated by Maoists; production in this area is stalled at 16 million tons a year even though the area has the potential to produce 100 million tons.

Mr. Ramesh fretted that India’s growth would be stunted if the country could not exploit its own natural resources. Yet he also cautioned that the counterinsurgency operation was no cure-all. “That alone is not going to help,” he said. “We are not fighting an enemy here. We are fighting citizens.”

With police officers dying in large numbers and Maoists carrying out bolder attacks, the debate around the insurgency has sharpened in India’s intellectual salons and on the opinion pages and talk shows.

The writer Arundhati Roy recently called for unconditional talks and told CNN-IBN that the Maoists were justified in taking up arms because of government oppression. Others who are sympathetic to the plight of the adivasis say the Maoist violence has become intolerable.

“You can’t defend the tactics,” said Mr. Varshney, the Brown University professor. “No modern state can accept attacks on state institutions, even when the state is wrong.”

Local people are caught in the middle. On a recent market day in the village of Palnar, women balancing urns of water on their heads and bare-footed, emaciated men came out of the forests to shop for vegetables, nuts or a rotting fruit fermented to produce local liquor. As peddlers spread their wares over blankets, the nearby government office was locked behind a closed gate.

“It’s a bad situation,” said one villager who asked not to be identified, fearing retribution from both sides. “The Naxalite activities have increased. They have their meetings in the village. They tell the people they have to fight. The people here do not vote out of fear.”

Another man arrived on a motorcycle from a more distant village. Several months ago, the police raided his village and arrested more than a dozen people after accusing them of being collaborators. A few were Maoist sympathizers, the man on the motorcycle said, but most were wrongly swept up in the raid. Now, Operation Green Hunt portends more confrontation.

“Life is very difficult,” the man said. “The Naxalites think we are helping the police. The police think we are helping the Naxalites. We are living in fear over who will kill us first.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sri Lanka Pressed to Investigate Possible War Atrocities - NY Times.


International pressure is mounting on Sri Lanka’s government to investigate atrocities that may have been committed during the final stages of its war with the Tamil Tiger insurgency as two new reports from the European Union and the State Department detailing alleged human rights abuses were released this week.

The reports come as Sri Lanka also faces intensifying criticism for its decision to keep more than 250,000 Tamils who were displaced by the fighting in closed camps that critics have likened to internment camps. The government says it plans to allow 80 percent of these people to return to their homes by the end of January, but insists that it must first weed out any remaining Tamil Tiger rebels hiding among them.

The European Union report in particular, which could lead to the withdrawal of trade concessions worth tens of millions of dollars to Sri Lankan garment and fisheries industries, represents the first time the Sri Lankan government has faced a serious sanction as a result of its conduct of the war.

Economists and business officials said the loss of the trade concessions, known as GSP-plus, could be a serious blow to an already ailing Sri Lankan economy. The country’s large garment industry will likely bear the brunt of the impact because as much as 60 percent of the country’s apparel exports go to the European Union.

Tariffs on some products could go from zero or near zero to between 5 percent and 18 percent, said E. M. Wijetilleke, the secretary general and chief executive of the National Chamber of Commerce of Sri Lanka. Such increases could sink smaller companies that cannot cut costs to match bigger and lower-cost producers in China and India, he added.

“Some small-scale firms will not be able to survive and they will have to lay off the workers from their jobs,” Mr. Wijetilleke said. “There will be a huge impact on the economy.”

The garment industry in Sri Lanka employs about 270,000 workers directly and an additional 50,000 indirectly, according to estimates by Oxford Analytica, a research firm.

The State Department report , which was released Thursday, was largely a catalog of mostly unverified abuses by Sri Lankan forces and the Tamil Tigers based on reports from the American Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city and commercial capital.

Because of limited access to the war zone by independent aid groups, human rights investigators and journalists, the report does not draw conclusions but urges the Sri Lankan government to investigate the allegations.

Questioned why the report did not take a tougher line, a State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, defended the conclusions at a briefing with reporters this week.

He said the Obama administration was calling on the Sri Lankan government to open the closed areas to international scrutiny, to investigate the allegations and to bring to justice anyone responsible for atrocities.

So far, the Sri Lankan government has proved adept at eluding international scrutiny and seemingly indifferent to even the harshest criticism of the Western countries on human rights issues.

It successfully maneuvered its allies on the United Nations Human Rights Council to transform a stern demand for an international war crimes inquiry into a resolution celebrating its triumph over the Tigers. Efforts by Western countries to stall a $2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka from the International Monetary Fund also failed.

International efforts to press Sri Lanka to release Tamil civilians from a vast network of army-run camps in the country’s north have borne little fruit. More than halfway to the government’s self-imposed deadline to let almost all of the displaced people return to their homes, fewer than 10 percent have been allowed to leave, according to the United Nations, human rights organizations and aid groups. And some who have left the camps have been settled in other camps rather than being sent home, according to Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.

“I think it is fair to say now they never intended to keep their commitment to return the displaced because they have consistently reneged on their promises,” Mr. Adams said. “Their promises are not to the international community, they are to the people in the camps.”

Sri Lankan officials denied this, saying that the government had in the past few days begun relocating 41,685 people from the camps to their homes in what was the battle zone. They rejected the notion that the Tamil civilians were being held prisoner.

“It is not a concentration camp where they are, and they are not being taken to a lesser concentration camp anywhere else,” said Lucien Rajakarunanayake, a spokesman for Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

KP's arrest led to many downfall of pro-Tamil channels?

It puzzles me that why "pro-Tamil" channel- won't function anymore. Here is the message from its website.

தனிப்பட்ட காரணங்களுக்காக இந்த இணையத்தளம் இயங்கமாட்டாது என்பதனை அறியத்தருகின்றோம்.
This is to advise due to personal reasons this website will not be functioning anymore.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Diwali to All !

India gets ready with new dress for Diwali while 300k+ Tamils who are confined into concentration camps in Vavuniya look for the ways to change the ones that they're wearing for months and weeks.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Behind The Sri Lankan Bloodbath

Thousands of noncombatants, according to the United Nations, were killed in the final phase of the Sri Lankan war this year as government forces overran the Tamil Tiger guerrillas. Nearly five months after Colombo's stunning military triumph, the peace dividend remains elusive, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa setting out--in the name of "eternal vigilance"--to expand by 50% an already-large military. Little effort has been made to reach out to the Tamil minority and begin a process of national reconciliation.

China, clearly, was the decisive factor in ending the war through its generous supply of offensive weapons and its munificent aid. It even got its ally Pakistan to actively assist Rajapaksa in his war strategy. Today, China is the key factor in providing Colombo the diplomatic cover against the institution of a U.N. investigation into possible war crimes, or the appointment of a U.N. special envoy on Sri Lanka. In return for such support, Beijing has been able to make strategic inroads into a critically located country in India's backyard.

Unlike China's assistance, India's role has received little international attention. But India, too, contributed to the Sri Lankan bloodbath through its military aid, except that it has ended up, strangely, with its leverage undermined.

For years, India had pursued a hands-off approach toward Sri Lanka in response to two developments--a disastrous 1987-1990 peacekeeping operation there; and the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a member of the Tamil Tigers. But having been outmaneuvered by China's success in extending strategic reach to Sri Lanka in recent years, New Delhi got sucked into providing major assistance to Colombo, lest it lose further ground in Sri Lanka.

From opening an unlimited line of military credit for Sri Lanka to extending critical naval and intelligence assistance, India provided sustained war support despite a deteriorating humanitarian situation there. A "major turning point" in the war, as Sri Lankan navy chief Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda acknowledged, came when the rebels' supply ships were eliminated, one by one, with input from Indian naval intelligence, cutting off all supplies to the rebel-held areas. That in turn allowed the Sri Lankan ground forces to make rapid advances and unravel the de facto state the Tigers had established in the island nation's north and east.

Sri Lanka, for its part, practiced adroit but duplicitous diplomacy: It assured India it would approach other arms suppliers only if New Delhi couldn't provide a particular weapon system it needed. Yet it quietly began buying arms from China and Pakistan without even letting India know. In doing so, Colombo mocked Indian appeals that it rely for its legitimate defense needs on India, the main regional power. It was only by turning to India's adversaries for weapons, training and other aid that Colombo pulled off a startling military triumph. In any event, Colombo was emboldened by the fact that the more it chipped away at India's traditional role, the more New Delhi seemed willing to pander to its needs.

Indeed, Rajapaksa deftly played the China, India and Pakistan cards to maximize gains. After key Tamil Tiger leaders had been killed in the fighting, Rajapaksa--to New Delhi's mortification--thanked China, India and Pakistan in the same breath for Sri Lanka's victory.

Today, India stands more marginalized than ever in Sri Lanka. Its natural constituency--the Tamils--feels not only betrayed, but also looks at India as a colluder in the bloodbath. India already had alienated the Sinhalese majority in the 1980s, when it first armed the Tamil Tigers and then sought to disarm them through an ill-starred peacekeeping foray that left almost three times as many Indian troops dead as the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan.

India's waning leverage over Sri Lanka is manifest from the way it now has to jostle for influence there with arch-rivals China and Pakistan. Hambantota--the billion-dollar port Beijing is building in Sri Lanka's southeast--symbolizes the Chinese strategic challenge to India from the oceans.

Even as some 280,000 displaced Tamils--equivalent to the population of Belfast--continue to be held incommunicado in barbed-wire camps, India has been unable to persuade Colombo to set them free, with incidents being reported of security forces opening fire on those seeking to escape from the appalling conditions. One of the few persons allowed to visit some of these camps was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said after his tour in May: "I have traveled around the world and visited similar places, but these are by far the most appalling scenes I have seen ..." Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said recently that India has conveyed its "concerns in no uncertain terms to Sri Lanka on various occasions, stressing the need for them to focus on resettling and rehabilitating the displaced Tamil population at the earliest." But India seems unable to make a difference even with messages delivered in "no uncertain terms."

The story of the loss of India's preeminent role in Sri Lanka actually begins in 1987, when New Delhi made an abrupt U-turn in policy and demanded that the Tigers lay down their arms. Their refusal to bow to the diktat was viewed as treachery, and the Indian army was ordered to rout them.

Since then, Sri Lanka has served as a reminder of how India's foreign policy is driven not by resolute, long-term goals, but by a meandering approach influenced by the personal caprice of those in power. The 1987 policy reversal occurred after then Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene--a wily old fox--sold neophyte Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi the line that an "Eelam," or Tamil homeland, in Sri Lanka would be a dangerous precursor to a Greater Eelam uniting Tamils on both sides of the Palk Straits. In buying that myth, Gandhi did not consider a simple truth: If Bangladesh's 1971 creation did not provoke an Indian Bengali nationalist demand for a Greater Bangladesh, why would an Eelam lead to a Greater Eelam?

Actually, the Tamils in India and Sri Lanka have pursued divergent identities since the fall of the Pandyan kingdom in the 14th century. While the Eelam struggle is rooted in the treatment of Tamils as second-class citizens in Sri Lanka--where affirmative action has been instituted for the majority Sinhalese and a mono-ethnic national identity sought to be shaped--the Tamils in India face no discrimination and have been fully integrated into the national mainstream.

Another personality driven shift in India's Sri Lanka policy came after the 2004 change of government in New Delhi, when the desire to avenge Gandhi's assassination trumped strategic considerations, with the hands-off approach being abandoned. That handily meshed with the hawkish agenda of Rajapaksa, who began chasing the military option soon after coming to power in 2005. "It is their duty to help us in this stage," Rajapaksa said about India. And Indian help came liberally.

In fact, such has been the unstinting Indian support that even after the crushing of the Tamil Tigers, India went out of the way to castigate the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, in June for shining a spotlight on the deplorable human-rights situation in Sri Lanka, including the continuing internment of internally displaced Tamils. India accused Pillay--a distinguished South African judge of Indian descent who has sought an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by all sides in Sri Lanka--of going beyond her brief, saying "the independence of the high commissioner cannot be presumed to exceed that of the U.N. secretary-general."

The costs of lending such support have been high. New Delhi today is groping to bring direction to its Sri Lanka policy by defining its objectives more coherently, even as it struggles to respond to the Chinese strategy to build maritime choke points in the Indian Ocean region. Indeed, India has ceded strategic space in its regional backyard in such a manner that Bhutan now remains its sole pocket of influence. In Sri Lanka, India has allowed itself to become a marginal player despite its geostrategic advantage and trade and investment clout.

More fundamentally, the pernicious myth Jayewardene planted in Gandhi's mind triggered a chain of events still exacting costs on Indian security and interests. In fact, nothing better illustrates the fallacy Jayewardene sold Gandhi than the absence of a Tamil backlash in India to the killings of thousands of countless Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka this year, and to the continued incarceration in tent camps of 280,000 Tamil refugees, including 80,000 children. In fact, even as the Sri Lankan war reached a gory culmination, India's Tamil Nadu state voted in national elections for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Gandhi's widow, Sonia Gandhi, although that governing coalition had shied away from raising its voice over the Sri Lankan slaughter.

Today, the upsurge of Sinhalese chauvinism flows from the fact that the Sri Lankan military accomplished a task whose pursuit forced the mightier Indian army to make an ignominious exit 19 years ago. Consequently, Colombo is going to be even less inclined than before to listen to New Delhi. Indeed, the manner in which Colombo played the China and Pakistan cards in recent years to outsmart India is likely to remain an enduring feature of Sri Lankan diplomacy, making Sri Lanka a potential springboard for anti-India maneuvers.

Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, is the author, most recently, of Asian Juggernaut: The Rise of China, India and Japan.