Holbrooke, Devolution and War games

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

(Admiral Leighton W Smith USN, C in C US Navy Europe and NATO and Allied Forces Southern Europe (1994-6) – who with his staff had prepared a military briefing on Bosnia for Holbrooke, the chief US envoy to Yugoslavia(1995+)

I always think of this excerpt whenever I read Dayan Jayathileke (DJ). Coincidentally Holbrooke US Ambassador to Germany, Assistant Secretary of State and head of the US negotiating team at the Dayton Peace talks wanted to ‘bomb for peace’.

He also used to encourage the Croats and Bosnians to take additional territory before the cease fire even while negotiating peace. He was known to give unsolicited advice to others especially military officers and was regularly rebuffed by them especially so by Brit Gen Sir Rupert Smith Commander UN PROFOR Sarajevo and Admiral Smith. So Holbrooke impressed DJ but not the warrior Smiths. Strike a chord?

As for devolution, there are many experts on the subject (this does not include DJ and imitators). I have no intention to dwell on it. It was clear that at one time very few wanted it. When 8 of the 9 Provincial Councils started functioning, the country, less the corrupted, cursed. Why then is DJ carrying out propaganda, including veiled communal slants, for it?

Whatever is decided by the politicians should ensure the Tamils of Jaffna are given every opportunity to enjoy life and progress much the same as everyone else in SL. The Sinhalese meanwhile should not be made to regret whatever course their leaders take. Recent history and its cost if it is not already forgotten, will no doubt guide and weigh heavily on the minds and conscience of all concerned.

What is of concern is DJ’s urge to paint a doomsday scenario if his gratuitous warnings, veiled threats and advice on devolution are not heeded. One wonders whose cross he is carrying? It is certainly not the Tamils.

He misinterprets, invents, conjures, insinuates, threatens and boasts while hurtling an assorted and bewildering number of double edged shafts. Many have heard him before. There is no panic. He has been a politician (Minister), author, journalist, diplomat and of course a political scientist ‘but not an accurate one’ (Don Mahindapala).

DJ rummages around and produces a Holbrooke quote addressed to Milosevic the Serbian President (both no longer living) ‘I don’t give a damn what happened half a millennia ago, we’re living now” .Was this mentioned to deliver a smashing if not slanted left hook to drop Sinhala Buddhists for the count. Nobody should take Holbrooke‘s lack of refinement seriously. This was his pet phrase. But is this, when quoted by DJ, a barb aimed at the Sinhalese who quote their history? Prof GH Peiris (Island Mid week review 5 June 13 page III) says to DJ “demonizing Sinhala Buddhists …. is an objectively counterproductive past time”?

Is DJ who is also an expert in ‘strategic cum military matters’ as Peiris, tongue in the cheek alludes and DJ gratefully laps? DJ does not select non Buddhists for vilification. Is it his view everything bad in SL is Buddhist Sinhala?

DJ has always sweated hard to impress that he is at one moment in Moscow, (INTEG?) next having breakfast in Singapore with the PM there, then in Paris, Vienna, Delhi (oops), Havana (cigars?) and of course lecturing diverse militaries. The people he knows are all famous including we are reminded ad nauseum, Maj Gen Mehta (Indian) and one Stephen Ratner.

He conjures a R2P scenario to sort out what is absolutely and only a SL sovereign issue (13 A) that concerns no one else including his Indian friends. He produces MK Anthony, Indian Defence Minister to bolster his blows.

The latter apparently made a reference to SL at the opening of what DJ states (Island 5 June) is the “brand new” IAF air base at Thanjavur, (Tanjore) Tamil Nadu from where a squadron of SU 30s Mk1, air superiority, heavy, all weather long range (3,500kms) fighters are based. They are in about 5 other air bases too for that matter. It is as though DJ wishes SL to believe that IAF Thanjavur (less than 15 minutes flying time to Jaffna) was ‘scrambled’ on 27 May 2013 to put SL on red notice? Thanjavur’s objectives outside of its primary air defence rol, as also stated by Anthony, will be to provide protection for its Navy, Indian Ocean shipping lanes and vital installations in the area. Anthony spoke of defence to the Islands, quite clearly Andaman and Nicobar.

The Times of India, Deccan Herald and the Hindu reports of the opening ceremony of the base said nothing about SL. Indian media referred to the base as ‘new’ but not ‘”brand new” for good reason. It has been in existence from 1940 when it belonged to the RAF who handed it over to the Airports Authority. The IAF took it over in 1990 and upgraded it unhurriedly from air field to air base. Certainly the IAF did not upgrade Thanjavur and station SU 30 Mk1s to devour SL even if the prospect makes DJ hysterical. Why was this misinterpreted by DJ? Is this ‘the eagles are coming’ scenario an intellectual interdiction?

DJ strains to educate readers on basic geography if not IAF strategy, as if no one else but he knew that Pakistan and China are to India’s west and east respectively, and SL is to the south. Has India not got amongst others, intercontinental and intermediate, air to air, air to surface, surface to surface missiles from Prithvi, (range 700kms) to Agni III (3,500kms) that can carry nukes too. So what is the sudden threat to SL that DJ discovered if not invented at Thanjavur to coincide with his devolution download? Has Mehta or even Ratner told him something confidentially? Should we all start getting into air raid or is it nuclear bomb proof shelters straight away or wait for DJ to give the ‘all clear’ 13 A signal?

We have had 4 years of a wonderful peace and much happiness after 26 years of harrowing conflict. So why is DJ hallucinating that the ‘international community’ wants to reappear in SL? Are they the ghosts or proxies of the Diaspora terras? DJ slyly disparaging the SL forces says that “in any future scenario….. there will be no Tamil army ( was there one before?) fighting the Indians or anyone else who may come along”. Is this his hope and prayer? For whom? He presses on “There will be no foreign troops in the Sinhala areas and therefore no possibility of a protracted heroic guerilla war of national liberation”. Is he at the same time mocking our troops and predicting Armageddon for the Sinhalese?

Are there International Community mercenaries being tasked to take out SL’s army in Jaffna so that thereafter the Sinhalese can be separated and isolated from the people of Jaffna and then engaged/ destroyed, vaporized? DJ calls it R2P.

DJ must know that if anyone decides to attempt to ‘come along’, it won’t be like the ‘last time’ (1987) either.

Our troops are already in Jaffna to give a fittingand extremely warm welcome especially to anyone DJ has in mind. The TNA says there are 16 army Divisions in the North. If so, they are in but not confined to barracks as in1987. They are some of the most battle hardened, professional and skilled troops around. In 1987 there was only an ersatz division with little artillery and just wheeled armour in Jaffna with enthusiastic but severely limited air and sea defences. Of course there were ‘terras’ too who gave the invading R2P 100,000 strong IPKF a bloodier nose than the Chinese did in the Aksai Chin mountains in 1962. A reminder was given them recently when just 30 Chinese soldiers sojourned in Ladakh for 2 weeks. India sat tight.

Has DJ any idea what the R2P martyrs strength will be? Or is he predicting a Bosnia type NATO bombing campaign even though Holbrooke, had he been alive, (Vietnam was his first foreign service posting) would probably “not care a damn”? DJ who doesn’t want “protracted heroic guerrilla war” must know “the next time” will be in an almost totally Tamil area? Will he clarify about and for whom does he speak?

Whose victory or remembrance will it be if the 13A is jettisoned and DJ’s dire prediction of R2P occurs? The last time 23,000 soldiers and 77,000 others were killed, many as a consequence. They will be remembered. Does SL need to hear DJ by DJ anymore?

“Military officers are not trained to be politicians, we do not eat like them, drink like them……….. talk like them. And that’s not good or bad. It’s just a fact of life” (Admiral Leighton Smith USN).

– Asian Tribune –

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