By Amir Mir
It was the Pakistani defence cooperation with Sri Lanka as one of the largest suppliers of high-tech military equipment that has played a major role in the ultimate defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the hands of the Lankan army.
The three decade long quest of the LTTE to carve out a separate state for Tamils, as well as the myth that the Tamil Tigers are militarily invincible, has effectively been laid to rest, along with its supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and the entire LTTE top brass. According to well placed sources in the Pakistani establishment, defence cooperation between Sri Lanka and Pakistan had grown significantly in recent years as Islamabad, unlike New Delhi, had no problems supplying the Lankan army state-of-the-art weaponry to accelerate its counter-insurgency operations against the LTTE which has finally ended with the killing of the most wanted Tamil guerilla fighter Vellupillai Prabhakaran. The sources say it was exactly a year ago in the first week of May 2008 that Sri Lankan Army Chief Lt-Gen Fonseka came to Pakistan and held detailed talks with his Pakistani counterpart Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to finalise the purchase of high tech arms for the Lankan armed forces, which were embroiled in an intense battle with the LTTE forces even at that time.
During his talks with Pakistani military authorities, Lt-Gen Fonseka had finalised a deal as per which Pakistan sold 22 Al-Khalid tanks to Sri Lanka in a deal worth over US$100 million. General Fonseka also gave a shopping list of weaponry worth about US$65 million to the Pakistani military authorities. While the Sri Lankan army chiefís shopping list for the army was pegged at $25 million, the inventory for the Lankan Air Force was worth $40 million. He had further sought 250,000 rounds of 60mm, 81mm, 120mm and 130mm mortar ammunition worth US$ 25 million and 1, 50,000 hand grenades for immediate delivery to the Lankan army within a month. Pakistan also accepted the visiting Generalís request to send one shipload of the wherewithal every 10 days to bolster the Lankan military efforts to take over Kilinochchi, the headquarters of the LTTE.
On Jan 19, 2009, in a meeting between Pakistani Defence Secretary Lt-Gen (retd) Syed Athar Ali and his visiting Lankan counterpart Gotabhaya Rajapakse in Rawalpindi, the two countries had agreed to enhance cooperation in military training, exercises and intelligence sharing regarding terrorism. The agreement came amidst Sri Lankan media reports that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) pilots had participated in several successful air strikes against several military bases of the LTTE in August 2008. These reports further claimed that a highly trained group of the Pakistani armed forces officers is stationed in Colombo to guide the Sri Lankan security forces in their counter-insurgency operations against the LTTE.
However, it was not the first time that the Pakistan army was helping Sri Lanka militarily in its prolonged fight against the LTTE guerrilla fighters. Back in 2000, when LTTE offensive code-named Operation Ceaseless Waves overran Sri Lankan military positions in the north and captured the Elephant Pass Base and entered Jaffna, and was being feared that LTTE would run down thousands of Sri Lankan troops stationed in Jaffna, the Sri Lankans had sought Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher System (MBRLS) and other high tech weaponry from Pakistan on urgent basis.
Subsequently, MBRLS and weapons and ammunition, including artillery shells and multi-barrel rocket launchers, were airlifted in an emergency operation from Karachi to Colombo in May 2000. Later, in 2006, the Sri Lankan authorities had again sought Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher System (MBRLS) and other advanced weapons from Pakistan when Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Pakistan in March 2006 along with an 80-member delegation that included some high ranking military officials. During his talks with the Pakistani leaders, the Sri Lankan President had sought military help from Islamabad to effectively put an end to the LTTE separatist movement.
That the Lankan and the Pakistani armed forces had been working together in militarily stamping out the LTTE insurgency has already been confirmed by the Sri Lanka Army Spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakara, in a statement he had made on April 28, 2009, saying Pakistan and India had been training the Sri Lankan troops to deal with the LTTE forces. Separately but consistently, he said, the two countries had trained and equipped the Sri Lankan army to prepare and fight the LTTE. He said Lankan forces have been procuring the latest technology from both countries.
ďWe had been sending our military officers regularly to India and Pakistan for specialized training. I myself did four courses in India and three in Pakistan. We know they are rivals but we have nothing to do with that and we are benefited from both India and Pakistan,Ē said the Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakara.