| A Sri Lankan soldier stands guard at the site of an explosion in Colombo (Reuters file picture)
New Delhi, Oct. 10: The Indian armed forces have cleared military hardware for export to Sri Lanka, among other countries, after Colombo requested a number of items.
The chief of naval staff, Admiral Arun Prakash, told The Telegraph in an interview here today that military items for export had been “cleared for security”.
The clearance is not specifically for items requested by Sri Lanka but also covers them.
“The policy so far has been not to give them (Sri Lanka) offensive weapons. But our instructions from the government are we must do everything to protect the sovereignty and integrity of Sri Lanka,” Prakash said.
“We have been in dialogue with DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation). We can now export some types of sonars, radars, electronic warfare suites and some makes of naval guns,” he said.
The navy chief limited himself to saying that some exports to Sri Lanka were cleared. He acknowledged that Colombo has requested Delhi for “a lot of things”. The politics of giving military aid to Sri Lanka is complex.
“As far as we are concerned, military-to-military relations with all our neighbouring countries are very good — Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh.... For instance, if our ships require berthing and replenishment facilities anywhere in the region — Seychelles, the Maldives, Mauritius, Sri Lanka — they are available,” he said.
Delhi has been dithering over Colombo’s long list of hardware that it needs in its fight against the LTTE.
Colombo has made it plain that it wants a defence cooperation agreement with Delhi. But three factors have played on Delhi’s Lanka policy before taking any step that might be interpreted as interventionist.
First, Delhi’s policy has so far been not to arm neighbours with equipment that could pose a threat to India.
Second, there are concerns over the political fallout from Tamil Nadu.
Third, India has burnt its fingers in Sri Lanka with the peacekeeping force it sent there in 1987 and does not want those memories to be revived.
But now apprehensions that Pakistan and/or China are stepping into the vacuum created by lack of Indian critical support are coming true.
Sri Lanka has already sourced military hardware from Pakistan as India winked.
Delhi is worryingly monitoring Islamabad’s efforts to use its arms supply to Sri Lanka as a lever to create a point of consternation in the island nation.
In August, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told MDMK chief Vaiko that India will not do anything to reinforce the Sri Lankan armed forces.
But it is the Indian Navy’s job to monitor and guard against the LTTE, which has a seaborne capability.