Defence - Page 6

Sri Lanka: Revisiting the Tamil Tigers Spy Chief

Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran along with many senior LTTE leaders was killed in the military confrontation with Sri Lanka’s armed forces in May 2009. With that military debacle in the Mullivaaikkaal area of Mullaitheevu district,


NATO nuclear compass rendered unavailing


The visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Minsk on Monday, accompanied by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, turned out to be immensely consequential for European security. 

Putin drew attention to it rather obliquely at his news conference with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko at the fag-end of his initial statement when he revealed in an undertone the dramatic decision that Russia will provide a de facto “nuclear umbrella” to Belarus. Putin framed the historic decision in the following way: 

“I believe it is also possible to continue implementing President Lukashenko’s proposal on training the Belarusian Army combat aircraft crews that have been re-equipped for potential use of air-launched ammunition with special warheads. I want to stress that this form of cooperation is not our invention. For example, the United States have conducted similar activities with their NATO allies for decades. These coordinated measures are extremely important in view of the tensions at the external borders of the Union State [Russia and Belarus.]” 

Moscow has long voiced concern over the US keeping nuclear weapons in Europe and providing to NATO allies the technical capability to deliver nuclear warheads with nuclear-certified fighters. Air forces from across NATO regularly exercise nuclear deterrence capabilities. 

In fact, disregarding the current heightened tensions, the NATO held a “routine, recurring training activity” through the fortnight from October 17 to 30 in an exercise over north-western Europe involving 14 countries and up to 60 aircraft of various types, including fourth and fifth generation fighter jets, as well as surveillance and tanker aircraft, and as in previous years, US B-52 long-range bombers flying from Barksdale Air Base in Louisiana. 

Russia kept protesting against such brazen acts by the US and NATO in violation of the 1970  Treaty on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation, which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. Apparently, the Kremlin has decided to react to the US belligerence, even if modestly and somewhat apologetically. 

To be sure, in the backdrop of the NATO’s direct involvement in the Ukraine conflict and the new policy by the Biden Administration allowing “first use” of nuclear weapons, Moscow is left with no choice.  

Over the past two decades, there has been a steady proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world and nuclear stockpiles have increased around the globe, while international relationships that could limit their proliferation have soured. And in the most recent months or weeks, the threat posed by these weapons has loomed larger than ever before since the end of the Cold War. 

On March 28, over a month after the conflict erupted in Ukraine, the White House announced that President Joe Biden had signed off on a months-long, Pentagon-led review of US defence strategy and nuclear weapons policy and transmitted to Congress the classified version of the National Defense Strategy, which included the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and the Missile Defense Review (MDR) as annexes. 

The NPR reflects Biden’s rethink not to follow through on his 2020 electoral pledge to declare that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons was to deter a nuclear attack. Succinctly put, Biden’s new thinking leaves open the option to use nuclear weapons not only in retaliation to a nuclear attack, but also to respond to non-nuclear threats. 

Biden’s policy declares that the fundamental role of the US nuclear arsenal is to deter a nuclear attack, but will still leave open the option that nuclear weapons could be used in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the US or its allies and partners. The Wall Street Journal reported quoting US officials that those extreme circumstances might include nuclear use to deter enemy’s conventional, biological, chemical, and possibly cyberattacks. 

Although Cold War ended and nuclear war plans have been reduced since the mid-1990s, the US and Russia maintain their strategic forces on a “launch under attack” posture. Conceivably, Biden’s latest decision was likely influenced by the looming confrontation with Russia over Ukraine.

It will be a huge risk for Moscow to disregard the possibility of the US resorting to a nuclear strike against a non-nuclear threat in the Ukraine conflict, such as, for instance, Russia’s use of hypersonic weapons, which the NATO simply lacks the capability to counter. 

Suffice to say, by providing nuclear umbrella to Belarus, Moscow is both strengthening its deterrent capability against a western attack as well as enhance its second strike capability. This is by no means an impromptu decision. 

In retrospect, Defence Minister Shoigu’s unannounced visit to Belarus on December 3 falls into perspective. During the visit, Shoigu and his Belarusian counterpart Viktor Khrenin signed a protocol on amendments to the two countries’ joint regional security agreement of 1997. 

Neither side divulged the contents of the secret protocol. However, there was a small giveaway —  the signing ceremony was held at the Machulishchy air base outside Minsk, rather unusual. Now, Machulishchy air base in the Minsk oblast used to serve as a strategic bomber base and interceptor base for the Soviet Union. It was one of nine major operating locations for the Tupolev Tu-22 Blinder in the mid-1960s, the first supersonic bomber to enter production in the Soviet Union. 

After the signing ceremony, Shoigu went over to Minsk and met Lukashenko. Indeed, there are rumours floating around that a Russian attack on the Ukraine’s western region and Kiev (100 kms away from Belarus border) cannot be ruled out in a forthcoming winter offensive. 

Be that as it may, prior to the visit to Minsk, Putin chaired a meeting with permanent Security Council members, via videoconference, last Friday to “review current issues of ensuring national security in various spheres… [and] also discuss our interaction with neighbours on certain highly significant aspects.” 

And on Saturday, Putin visited the joint staff of all military branches involved in Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, to be briefed by commanders about future operations from a short-and mid-term perspective. Indeed, things are happening on expected lines.

Back on July 3, this was what Lukashenko said in a speech at the wreath-laying ceremony on the occasion of Belarus Independence Day: “We are the only country that supports the Russians in this struggle. Those who reproach us, did you not know that we have the closest alliance with the Russian Federation? With a state with which we are building a single, powerful, independent state – a Union state. Where there are two independent nations in the Union.

“And that they [Washington] didn’t know that we had created a single group of armed forces in the union of Belarus and Russia for a long time? In fact, a unified army. You knew all this, so why are you reproaching us today? We were and will continue to be together with fraternal Russia. Our participation in the ‘special operation’ was determined by me a long time ago.”

Equally, on Monday, Lukashenko announced the deployment of S-400 and and Iskander missile systems. All in all, it is possible to view Putin’s Minsk visit, first in 3 years, from the angle of Russia’s expected winter offensive. The NATO has been put on notice about Belarus’ deterrent capability. 

from Indian punchline. Click here to read the original

Islamic State renews its threat to Sri Lanka


Through its new issue of the “official” magazine of the Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) has renewed its threat to Sri Lanka while commemorating its dead extremists during the Easter attacks in 2019.

The latest issue of the Voice of Kuarazan, the regular publication of ISKP, has featured four-page article on Easter Attacks where they have hailed the terrorist acts of Saharan and his team.  

“The Jamaah of the mujahidin decided to carry out an istishhadi operation in the churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, and the Amir Selected, in addition to him, 7 other members for the blessed istisshhadi operation, who were, Abul Mukthar, Abul Haleel, Abu Hamza, Abu Bura, Abu Muhammad, Abu Abdullah, Abu Umar. With success from Allah, the istisshadi operation was successfully conducted by the aforementioned mujahidin”, the article said.

However, exaggerating the casualties of the carnage, the magazine noted that, “As a result, about 650 Christians and mushrikin were killed and 22 mujahidin were martyred in this attack”

While renewing the threat, “ On the behalf of all the people who were burned solely for the reason that they brought Imman on Allah only, today we have gathered to take revenge and undertake an action. What are we going to do? After killing our people, making our children orphans, making our sister widows, and after killing the mujahidin, they have come here for tourism and holidays. So we have embarked on a noble cause, a noble transaction with Allah. To kill them by sacrificing our lives!”.

[ by our Defence Correspondent]

Sri Lanka: Diabolical mind of LTTE Spy Chief – Part 2

The first part of this article published last week narrated certain aspects of the life of Sivashankar alias ‘Pottu Ammaan’ the much-dreaded intelligence chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although my original intention was to write a two-part article, I have been compelled to make it a three-part article in order to do justice to the information that I have been able to gather about Pottu Ammaan.

Sivashankar known as Pottu and Pottu Ammaan joined the LTTE in 1981. He obtained Indian arms training after July 1983 in Uttar Pradesh as part of the first batch of tiger trainees. After getting Indian training, Pottu functioned as one of Prabhakaran’s bodyguards. It was during this period that Pottu became a fanatical follower of his leader. He served the tiger ‘numero uno’ with slavish devotion. Pottu’s personal loyalty to Prabhakaran was unswerving and unquestionable.

After a stint as the boss’s bodyguard, Pottu was sent to be in charge (poruppu) of the “Karai” (shore) operations in Vethaaranyam area on the Tamil Nadu coast. The LTTE had set up camps in this area. Pottu was in overall charge.

Coastal operations were of paramount importance in the eighties of the last century as the LTTE was heavily dependent on Tamil Nadu as a rear base. Arms, medicine, fuel and other vital supplies were sent to northern Sri Lanka via sea from the Tamil Nadu coast. There was also a steady flow of cadres to and from Tamil Nadu by sea.

In charge at Vethaaranyam

Pottu discharged his duties efficiently but ruthlessly. One of his lesser known responsibilities at Vethaaranyam was the liquidation of cadres who fell foul of the leadership or were suspected of being traitors and double agents.

They were clandestinely killed, stomachs slashed and bodies dumped in the sea. Family and friends in Sri Lanka would think the persons concerned were in India while those in India would think they were in Sri Lanka. But the poor victims would be in Davy Jones’s locker.

LTTE old timers remember a particular incident illustrative of Pottu Ammaan’s monstrous cruelty. A cadre from Nelliaddy called “Chandran” was suspected of being a “traitor”. About to be executed, Chandran managed to run away after injuring a few cadres.

Pottu was enraged. The escapee was caught and brought to Pottu who trussed him up in a sack tied to a rope on a tree. The sack was dashed again and again by Pottu himself on the tree trunk. He then battered the sack with an iron rod. Chandran was reduced to pulp.

But Pottu’s stay in Vedaranyam had its pitfalls too. A calamity that befell Pottu in Vethaaaranyam in 1985 had its repercussions in Madras now Chennai.

PLOTE abducts Pottu

What happened then was that Pottu Ammaan, in charge of the LTTE coastal camp in Vethaaranyam had got into a heated argument with People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) operatives in the Tamil Nadu coastal region. In those days, the PLOTE had more cadres than the LTTE. Pottu and his bodyguard were outnumbered by the PLOTE contingent. Suddenly the PLOTE members seized Pottu and bodyguard and whisked him away to a PLOTE camp. Pottu Ammaan had been abducted by the PLOTE.

A furious LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran assigned to his deputies Shankar and Aruna, the task of freeing Pottu Amman. A round of talks between PLOTE military commander Jotheeswaran alias Kannan and Sornalingam alias Shankar took place in the residence of a Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Member of Parliament considered to be close to the PLOTE leadership. The talks however failed.

Shankar then revised his strategy and telephoned Dr. Sivanathan of the Tamil Information Centre (TIC) at Mahalingapuram in Chennai and asked him to arrange a meeting with the PLOTE’s Kannan the military leader. Kannan arrived with his retinue of bodyguards and engaged in discussions with Shankar at the TIC. At one point Shankar whisked out his gun, fired on Kannan’s foot and quickly placed his gun against Kannan’s head.

Shankar pulled out Kannan’s firearm and began firing into the air, while prodding Kannan with his own gun towards a waiting vehicle with Aruna as driver. The PLOTE bodyguards could do nothing as their leader was taken captive. Later, the LTTE negotiated from a position of strength with the PLOTE and exchanged Kannan for Pottu Amman and his bodyguard.

The extraordinary lengths to which the LTTE went to free Pottu Ammaan illustrated the regard with which he was held by the tiger supremo Prabhakaran.

Shankar who later pioneered the LTTE Air wing was killed by the Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) on the Oddusuddan-Puthukkudiyiruppu road on 26 September 2001. Kannan who along with PLOTE leader Umamaheswaran alias Muhunthan engaged in a shoot-out with LTTE leader Prabhakaran alias Karikalan and Sivakumar alias Raghavan at Pondy bazaar, Chennai in 1982 met with an equally tragic end later.

Kannan along with a group of PLOTE members including deputy leader Vasudeva and senior leader Subash were lured for “talks” to Pulipaainthakal near Kiran by the erstwhile eastern tiger commander “Col” Karuna in 1987 during the ceasefire period after the Indo-Lanka accord. It was a trap and they were massacred by Karuna and his cohorts.

Pottu relocated to east

After the humiliating abduction incident, Pottu was relieved of his duties on the Tamil Nadu coast and relocated to the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. He functioned in the Batticaloa and Amparai districts as a key associate to Basheer Kaakaa, Aruna and Kumarappah when they were in charge of the eastern region at different times. Pottu’s stay in the east was very eventful. It was in Batticaloa that Pottu met, loved and got married to his wife Vathsala.

It was also in Batticaloa that a gun-toting Pottu suffered the ignominy of being walloped with a broomstick by a Tamil woman who knocked the pistol out of his hand. The brave lady who is no more was none other than the irrepressible Kala Tambimuttu. Kala was the wife of former Batticaloa district MP Sam Tambimuttu and daughter of ex-senator Manickam. The only son of the Tambimuttus, Arun, is a budding politician in Batticaloa. The above mentioned incident and Pottu’s marriage will be delved into in greater detail at a later stage in this article.

When war erupted with the Indian army in October 1987, Pottu was recalled from Batticaloa and sent to Tamil Nadu again to oversee the smooth flow of supplies from the state. He moved from place to place utilising Indian fishermen to help transport goods often posing as a smuggler dealing in contraband.

On one occasion Pottu along with some Indian fishermen was arrested on charges of smuggling. Fortunately for Pottu the Indian officials thought he was an ordinary smuggler and not a tiger operative. After languishing in jail for a while Pottu bribed his way out to freedom. On another occasion he was involved in a shoot-out where an official vehicle of the Indian Customs was damaged.

Tied “Thaali” in Tamil Nadu temple

Pottu then returned to Jaffna and engaged in guerrilla operations against the Indian army. Pottu sustained injuries in his stomach in a skirmish and recuperated in the Wanni where Prabhakaran himself had relocated to. Thereafter Pottu went to Tamil Nadu clandestinely for further medical treatment. It was indeed an irony that tigers injured in fighting with the Indian army on Sri Lankan soil were able to get clandestine medical treatment in Tamil Nadu. Vathsala too went to Tamil Nadu. Both entered wedlock ceremonially in a Hindu temple where the groom tied a “Thaali” around the bride’s neck. Earlier their marriage had been registered in Batticaloa.

After full recovery Pottu returned to Sri Lanka and was entrusted in mid-1988 with the responsibility of administering the LTTE’s intelligence wing. It was called the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service or TOSIS. The TOSIS chief Vasanthan had left the LTTE after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.

After taking over, Pottu revamped the intelligence division and remained in charge for the next 21 years. As the years progressed he began acquiring a fearsome reputation. His status in the LTTE grew. Pottu became Pottu Ammaan.

Running the intelligence wing

As stated last week Pottu Ammaan was autocratic in running the intelligence wing. An incident related by a veteran government official is rather revealing. This gentleman had to shuttle between Colombo and Jaffna on account of his duties during the war days. His son had joined the LTTE and was working with explosives.

Pottu Ammaan enlisted or intimidated the officer into carrying things from Jaffna to Colombo and vice versa. The official had to obey Pottu’s diktat. One day Pottu summoned the official and showed him two boys. He was ordered to take them to Colombo and arrange for their stay. The official who had been for long a schoolmaster and had interacted with young boys took a look and expressed misgivings about one. He felt the boy in question was not up to the task.

“I am telling you from experience Ammaan. Not this fellow. He will be caught,” the official demurred. But an adamant Pottu snapped back. “Old man you take both or I will put you in the bunker prison.” The official had no choice other than to take both to Colombo. As he feared one of the boys was caught by the Police. As a result the official himself was arrested and detained for several years until his release after the 2002 ceasefire. This incident was personally related to me by the official concerned.

Another Tamil journalist living in Colombo had a similar experience with Pottu Ammaan. The journalist was in contact with the LTTE and had met some leaders including Pottu. Thereafter Pottu used to telephone him and chat. The journalist was thrilled. But one day two tigers turned up at his residence claiming that Pottu Ammaan had sent them. He was asked to accommodate them. The journalist living in a Sinhala neighbourhood refused and turned them away. Pottu was angry and threatened him. Fearing the worst the journalist soon left the country with his family.

Pottu’s power grows

In the initial stages after the intelligence division was restructured (explained in detail in article last week) most intelligence department heads reported to Prabhakaran as well as Pottu Ammaan. Gradually Pottu Amman became the intermediary through whom everything was reported to the LTTE chief. Pottu would meet the LTTE supremo at least four or five times a week.

There came a time when Prabhakaran was virtually inaccessible to senior LTTE leaders. Only Pottu Ammaan could see the supremo at any given time. Also Pottu Ammaan was the only tiger leader who could meet with Prabhakaran while carrying arms. All others had to hand over their arms before being granted a rare audience.

This state of affairs was caused by a massive threat perception. The Indian espionage agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) as well as the LRRP deep penetration squads of the Sri Lankan Army were greatly feared. The fear of the “enemy within” made a paranoid Prabhakaran become increasingly alienated from tiger leaders and cadres. Pottu Ammaan became all powerful and at one point was “controlling” the day to day activities of the leader.

Kiruban escape

The suspected RAW operation of staging an “escape” in Tamil Nadu and sending the “escapee” Kirupan to assassinate Prabhakaran was one attempt allegedly foiled by Pottu and Kapil Ammaan.

Kirupan masterminded the massacre of 13 members of the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) including its secretary-general Padmanabha, Parliamentarian Yogasangary and North-Eastern provincial minister Kirubaharan. This happened on 19 June 1990. Kiruban was arrested at a security roadblock near Pudukkoattai and held in the Vellore jail.

Kiruban allegedly made his escape when being transported under armed Police escort from Vellore to the Pudukkoattai courts. He reportedly shot dead two Policemen when fleeing to the Rameshwaram coast. He returned to Jaffna and regaled the LTTE supremo and other tiger leaders with tales of his sensational escape. But Kiruban’s “escape” was viewed suspiciously by Pottu and his deputy Kapil Amman.

They suspected that RAW had “turned” or converted Kiruban into a double agent and enacted a staged escape to hoodwink the LTTE leadership. Kiruban had been sent by RAW to assassinate Prabhakaran was the conspiracy theory of Pottu and Kapil. So Kiruban was tortured and executed after he was made to confess.

There is however a school of thought that believes Kiruban was innocent and was not an agent of the RAW. He had displayed much innovative acumen by undertaking such a daring escape to reach home only to be executed as a suspected RAW agent. It was felt that Pottu had acted over zealously or with an ulterior motive in handling Kiruban.

Mahathaya “coup d’etat”

The other and more important counter-intelligence success claimed by Pottu Ammaan was the crushing of the so-called Mahathaya “coup d’etat”. The Kirupan episode too was allegedly connected to the Mahathaya affair in which the LTTE’s deputy leader Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias “Mahathaya” was executed for conspiring to assassinate Prabhakaran and other top leaders. Again the RAW was blamed for “poisoning” Mahathaya’s mind and for “turning” a tiger cadre called “Engineer” into a double agent.

Pottu first arrested Engineer who returned from India after obtaining a Jaipur foot artificial limb. His leg had been blown away earlier in a landmine explosion. Thereafter it was alleged that the tiger deputy leader was conspiring with the RAW to stage an internal coup and oust Prabhakaran. It was alleged that Mahathaya was planning to execute Prabhakaran, Pottu Ammaan and 10 other senior tiger leaders and seize the LTTE leadership.

Mahathaya was arrested and tortured by Pottu Ammaan and a “confession” extracted before his execution. The videoed “confession” was screened to all cadres in order to justify the execution of the deputy-leader.

Thousands of cadres and leaders were detained and interrogated for suspected complicity. These included senior leaders like Jeyam, Yogi and Thamilselvan’s elder brother Paramu Balasubramaniam alias Moorthy. All three were reinstated later.

Many of the interrogated senior tigers were Pottu’s friends and colleagues. Embarrassed to supervise the interrogation personally, Pottu delegated the task to some juniors. They inflicted much physical harm and torture. The former political commissar Yogi’s hearing was affected as a result of the torture. Jeyam then the Vavuniya district commander had his nails removed.

Hundreds of others suspected of being Mahathaya loyalists were tortured and killed. These included members of the tiger contingent functioning as Mahathaya’s bodyguards.

Gowrikannan alias Susheelan

One of the senior leaders killed was former Kilinochchi district commander Rasanayagam Gowrikannan alias Susheelan. He was arrested months after Mahathaya’s arrest. The circumstances of Susheelan’s arrest and execution shed much light on the cruel and diabolical mindset of Pottu Ammaan.

Susheelan had got married barely a month before his arrest. Three siblings of his wife were LTTE cadres. The chief guest at Susheelan’s wedding was none other than Pottu Amman himself. He participated joyfully cracking many jokes at the bridegroom’s expense. He took his leave after wishing the new couple many years of wedded bliss.

Barely one month later, Pottu’s henchmen arrested Susheelan. He was interrogated and tortured. The Rasanayagam family in Nelliaddy had been supportive of the LTTE and had a cordial relationship with many senior tigers including Pottu Ammaan. They made pathetic entreaties to Pottu Ammaan but nothing could move the intelligence chief.

Susheelan’s mother whose favourite child was her youngest son was heartbroken. She died soon after her son was detained by the LTTE. Despite many appeals Pottu Ammaan refused to let Susheelan attend his mother’s funeral. Susheelan himself “died” in captivity later.

A close friend was to ask Pottu later as to why he encouraged Susheelan’s marriage and attended the wedding ceremony weeks before his arrest. Pottu’s reply in Tamil was characteristic. “If I tried to block his marriage or declined his wedding invitation, Susheelan would have got suspicious and fled from Jaffna. I attended the wedding to lull him into a false sense of security.”

Despite claims of an intelligence triumph by Pottu Ammaan over the Mahathaya affair there are many who doubt whether the ex-deputy leader was indeed guilty. It is said that Prabhakaran was resentful of Mahathaya’s popularity after the formation of the LTTE’s political front the Peoples Front of Liberation Tigers (PFLT). The proponents of this theory feel that Pottu was acting at the behest of Prabhakaran to “frame” Mahathaya on a conspiracy charge. This was how the former Soviet Union’s intelligence chief Beria functioned as the “running dog” of ruler Stalin.

“Col” Karuna revolt

Another instance where Pottu Amman scored and increased his clout with Prabhakaran further was the Karuna Ammaan revolt. Pottu apparently was warning Prabhakaran that the LTTE’s former Eastern regional commander, Vinayagamoorthy Muraleetharan alias “Col” Karuna was treacherous and urging pre-emptive action. But Prabhakaran who had a soft corner for Karuna would not listen and restrained Pottu from acting. Karuna himself was not too worried about Prabha but was very fearful that Pottu could fix him.

Matters came to a head when Karuna defied an order from Prabhakaran summoning him to the Wanni and revolted openly. This reinforced Pottu’s position that Karuna was conspiring and was not to be trusted. As events unfolded and Karuna chartered his own course by collaborating with the Sri Lankan state, Pottu’s stance was vindicated in the eyes of Prabhakaran. Regretting his earlier refusal to act against Karuna as urged by Pottu the LTTE leader began relying excessively on Pottu Ammaan thereafter.

Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan 

This close affinity and mutual reliance between Prabhakaran and Pottu Ammaan continued to prevail with Pottu Ammaan remaining faithful to Prabhakaran till the very end. The details of Pottu Ammaan’s demise along with other matters would be related in the third and final part of this article.

Sri Lanka: Navy Day

Sri Lanka Navy which is held in high esteem as the First Line of Defence of the Nation is marking the organization’s 72nd Anniversary today (09th December 2022). At the directives of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, a wide range of programmes are being conducted in each Naval Command, giving prominence to time-honoured naval customs and religious practices. In addition, capital ships of the Sri Lanka Navy will rest at anchor off the Galle Face Green today (09th December), giving the public an opportunity to have a glance at some of the major ships of the Sri Lanka Navy.

Coinciding with its anniversary, 222 officers as well as 3548 senior and junior sailors were promoted and advanced to their next higher ranks and rates on 09th December, at the recommendation of Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne. Incidentally, 02 officers to the rank of Commodore, 56 to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, 58 to the rank of Lieutenant, 67 to the rank of Sub Lieutenant, 07 to the rank of Acting Sub Lieutenant and 32 to the rank of Midshipman were promoted, soaring the officers’ promotions to 222.

In the meantime, 692 personnel to the rate of Ordinary Seaman, 287 to the rate of Able Seaman, 951 to the rate of Leading Seaman, 1259 to the rate of Petty Officer, 330 to the rate of Chief Petty Officer, 18 to the rate of Fleet Chief Petty Officer and 11 to the rate of Master Chief Petty Officer, taking the tally of junior and senior sailor promotions to 3548.

From its small beginnings, the Navy has etched its name in the annals of Sri Lankan history by its courage and commitment for the protection of the nation. In the run-up to World War II, the Ceylon Volunteer Naval Force was established in the country by the Naval Volunteer Force Ordinance No. 01 of 1937. Subsequently, the Ceylon Volunteer Naval Force was renamed as the Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 01st October 1943.

In the 1950s, the Navy sought to usher in a new chapter by establishing a regular naval force. Accordingly, the Royal Ceylon Navy was established by the Navy Act No. 34 of 1950, on 09th December 1950. Since then, the Royal Ceylon Navy has been entrusted with the sole responsibility of protecting the country’s maritime space. Going from strength to strength, the Royal Ceylon Navy became the Sri Lanka Navy in 1972 when Sri Lanka became a republic.

In the early 1980s, with the commencement of terrorist activities in the country, the role of the navy, which had been of ceremonial nature until then, was transformed into a military role. Over the years, the Navy has been strengthened in terms of manpower and naval capability for the national task of eradicating terrorism from the country. As the First Line of Defence, the Sri Lanka Navy played a praiseworthy role during the humanitarian operation which finally brought down the curtains on terrorism which scourged the country for nearly 30 years.

Source: Sri Lanka Navy

Sri Lanka: Revisiting the Tamil Tigers Spy Chief


Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Veluppillai Prabhakaran along with many senior LTTE leaders was killed in the military confrontation with Sri Lanka’s armed forces in May 2009. With that military debacle in the Mullivaaikkaal area of Mullaitheevu district, the LTTE – known as the tigers – ceased to be a functional entity in the island.

Among those reported dead in May 2009 was the LTTE’s much-dreaded intelligence chief Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias ‘Pottu Ammaan’. Though Ammaan is spelled by many as Amman with a single ‘A’, this writer uses a double A because it is phonetically more accurate in terms of pronunciation. Incidentally ‘Ammaan’ in Jaffna Tamil usage denotes maternal uncle. Many senior LTTE leaders were addressed respectfully as Ammaan by members of the movement in those days.

LTTE Intelligence chief Pottu Ammaan was at the time of the LTTE’s military defeat, the de-facto No. 2 of the tigers. The de-jure No. 2 was Baby Subramaniam who was second only to Prabhakaran in terms of seniority within LTTE ranks. However it was Pottu Ammaan who functioned operationally as the No. 2. Though reported dead and subsequently pronounced legally dead, the fact remains that Pottu Ammaan’s body or remains were never found. This has led to much speculation about the LTTE intelligence chief not being dead.

This writer has over the years received many queries from readers about Pottu Amman. Many of them ask me whether Pottu Ammaan is yet alive. The fires of doubt in their minds is fuelled by persistent rumours and occasional media reports of a sensational nature. Several readers have also been wanting to know more details about the LTTE intelligence chief. It is against this backdrop therefore that this two-part article focuses on Pottu Ammaan with the aid of some of my earlier writings.

Sivashankar Alias ‘Pottu’

Shanmuganathan Sivashankar alias Pottu Ammaan a.k.a. Pottu functioned for more than two decades as the pivotal head of the LTTE’s powerful intelligence division. Pottu served the LTTE for nearly 30 years having joined the movement in the early 80s of the previous century. When the LTTE launched its attack on soldiers in Thinnevely on 23 July 1983 it had only 23 full-time members and seven part-time helpers. Pottu was one of the original 30. Though his family resided in Naayanmarkattu, they were from neighbouring Ariyalai.

There was a time when Ariyalai in Jaffna was second only to Valvettithurai (VVT) in providing recruits to the LTTE. Senior leaders like Santhosham master, Kannaadi Prem and Bhanu were residents of Ariyalai. Veteran LTTE leader Basheer Kaakaa and Pottu were also from Ariyalai but were residents of Nayanmaarkattu adjacent to Ariyalai. However from childhood, Sivashankar had moved with Ariyalai kids of his age and used to hang out more in Ariyalai than Naayanmaarkattu.

Sivashankar’s father Shanmuganathan was also known as Shanmugalingam. He had been working as a clerk in Nuwara-Eliya district for many years. The family lived in Jaffna because of schooling for the children. At one point of time, several LTTE members including Charles Anthony alias Seelan had rented out the front room adjoining the Verandah as a “safe house” and stayed there for a while. It is said that Pottu’s father continued to reside in the hill country till the late 90s. Since very little was known to the Sri Lankan authorities about Pottu the son was supremely confident that his father was in no danger.

Pottu studied at Maheswari Vidyalayam, Canageratnam MMV (Stanley College) and Jaffna Hindu College. Tall, handsome and smart, he was very popular with his friends. Apparently he did not excel in studies or sports but won a lot of essay competitions. Sivashankar was recruited to the LTTE by former tiger Batticaloa district commander Basheer Kaakkaa and ex-LTTE Trincomalee district commander Santhosham. This was in late 1981. Earlier he had worked as part-time helper. Upon joining the LTTE as a full-timer, Sivashankar was assigned the nom de guerre Kumanan. But as the days went by he became known as ‘Pottu’ which interestingly enough was a nickname used by friends from school days.

Origin of the nickname Pottu

The origin of that nickname Pottu is rather amusing. Pottu is the mark or thilak placed on one’s forehead. Usually Santhanam (sandal) or Vermillion (Kunkumam) is used for daubing a pottu in temples or on auspicious occasions.

The rise of the Tamil nationalist , Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) also known as the Federal Party and in later times the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in Tamil politics led to the dominance of concepts like struggle and sacrifice in Tamil political discourse. A militant manifestation of this tendency was the custom of placing ‘Irathappottu’ or bloody thilaks.

Aroused by the hawkish sentiments of Tamil political leaders, highly emotional youths would mount platforms, prick or cut their thumbs and place the oozing blood as ‘pottu’ on the foreheads of the leaders pledging their blood and life for the Tamil cause.

Apparently young Sivashankar too had on one occasion climbed on to the stage in a frenzy, ripped his hand with a razor blade and placed bloody pottus on the foreheads of Tamil leaders Appapillai Amirthalingam and Vetrivelu Yogeswaran. This was during the highly emotive 1977 election campaign where the TULF espoused a separate state called Tamil Eelam. Yogeswaran was the TULF candidate for Jaffna electorate then.

Sivashankar’s emotional gesture was perceived hilariously by his friends. He was teased and called Pottu after that. The name struck and later when he joined the LTTE the Pottu name lingered on and his new comrades too began addressing him as such.

As Pottu’s seniority increased the suffix ‘Ammaan’ was added. As stated earlier Ammaan means maternal uncle in Jaffna Tamil usage. Seniors in the militant movement are addressed as ‘Annan’ (elder brother) ‘Master’ or ‘Ammaan’. Apart from the official nom de guerre Kumanan, other names used by Shivashankar occasionally were Moorthy, Kuyilan and Kuruvi. But it was as Pottu that he was known best. His international radio sign was ‘Papa Oscar’.

‘Vediyarasanân’ (explosion king)

In later years when the LTTE began triggering off explosion after explosion in Colombo and other areas, some tiger leaders like the LTTE’s former political adviser Anton Balasingam referred to Pottu facetiously as ‘Vediyarasanân’ (explosion king). Interestingly Vediyarasan is also the name of the legendary warrior-king who ruled Neduntheevu or the Island of Delft. Tamil folk dramas are staged about Vediyarasan in the ‘Naattukkoothu’ tradition still.

First LTTE batch

The July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom with its consequences was a watershed in Tamil politics. India played an active role by providing arms training for Tamil militants known as ‘boys’ then. Sivashankar alias Pottu went to Uttar Pradesh in North India for arms training as part of the first LTTE batch. The 1st batch comprised trainees who were a blend of ‘old’ members and new recruits. Among Pottu’s comrades in the first batch were Kittu, Ponnammaan, Soosai, Aruna, Victor, Curdles, Pulendrhian, Rajesh, Gnanam, Imran, Pandian, Ganesh, Paduman and Kanthan.

After getting Indian training Pottu functioned briefly as Prabhakaran’s bodyguard. It was during this period that Pottu became a fanatical follower of his leader. He served his leader with slavish devotion. Pottu’s personal loyalty to Prabhakaran was unswerving and unquestionable.

Pottu was entrusted in mid-988 with the responsibility of administering the LTTE’s intelligence wing. He remained in charge for 21 years until May 2009.

The evolution and growth of the LTTE intelligence division has been quite remarkable. Being a guerrilla organisation the LTTE lacked resources in signals, electronic, imagery or technical intelligence. But these were compensated for greatly by excessive reliance on HUMINT or Human Intelligence.


The LTTE Intelligence wing was initially formed in December 1983. It was called the Tiger Organization Security Intelligence Service or TOSIS. Its first head was a family member of a well- known smuggler in Valvettithurai. This person now living in a Western country bore the nom de guerre Vasanthan. The first head of TOSIS also had a pilot’s license. Vasanthan left the LTTE after the 1987 Indo-Lanka accord.

The TOSIS mainly functioned from Chennai during those days. Its role was minimal and somewhat nominal. The Indian intelligence agency RAW (Research and analysis wing) held some elementary training sessions for TOSIS. One of the early ‘intelligence’ tasks was the monitoring of maritime movement in Trincomalee harbour. The LTTE also ran a military office (MO) in Chennai headed by Thalayasingham Sivakumar alias Anton Master. The MO was more or less a prototype of a military intelligence unit.

Meanwhile the former LTTE Jaffna commander ‘Col’ Kittu set up his own local intelligence outfit. It was headed by ‘Ideas’ Vasu who also was from VVT. Vasu along with Ponnammaan and Curdles was killed in the Kaithady bowser explosion of 14 February, 1987. After Prabhakaran returned to Jaffna from Tamil Nadu in January 1987, he formed another intelligence unit called BETA-2. This was supervised by the former LTTE deputy-leader Gopalaswamy Mahendrarajah alias Mahathaya.

Took over in 1988

The TOSIS was re-located to the northern mainland known as Wanni in 1987. The BETA-2 and all other regional intelligence outfits were merged with it. The TOSIS underwent a renaissance after Pottu took over in 1988. He was ably assisted by Bosco alias Potko who at one time was studying to be a Catholic priest.

The LTTE gained much territorial control after the Indian army departed in March 1990. Using Jaffna as the base, Pottu began expanding, streamlining and developing the intelligence division. While Potko attended to administrative functions Shanmuganathan Ravichandran alias Charles was in charge of external operations. Charles who adopted the name Arulventhan later was a direct recruit of Pottu Ammaan. Charles was introduced to Pottu by the latter’s bodyguard Kili during the Indian army period. External operations was a euphemism for attacks outside the North-East particularly Colombo.

Charles was sent to Colombo during the ‘peace talks’ period with President Ranasinghe Premadasa. It was during this phase that the LTTE infiltrated Colombo easily. Charles diligently set up a clandestine tiger network. After war resumed in June 1990, this outfit got into action. Among the early operations was the car bomb assassination of deputy defence minister Ranjan Wijeratne and vehicle bombing of JOC headquarters in Colombo.

The intelligence division was in the meantime being revamped. The LTTE made a systematic study of the chief intelligence agencies of the world. According to ex-LTTE members who had been intelligence operatives, the training manuals of Pakistan’s intelligence agency the Inter State Services (ISI) were obtained and utilised for training intelligence wing cadres. The LTTE also copied many methods and stratagems of Israel’s Shin Bet and Mossad, say former LTTE members.

One attribute gleaned from the Israelis was to utilise Thamizh as the language of operation for intelligence purposes just as Israel used Hebrew. Though known as TOSIS once the LTTE’ intelligence division became totally Tamilised as it progressed. Special branches were begun within the intelligence division.

One such unit was called the ‘Viseda Vevu Pirivu’ or special reconnaissance unit. This was headed by Sashikumar or Sashi master who was decorated by Prabhakaran personally for the successful operation of 8 August 1992. This was the explosion at Aralithurai where a vehicle was blown up killing several top security officials including Denzil Kobbekaduwe and Vijaya Wimalaratne.

Demarcated intelligence division

In 1993, the intelligence division was demarcated into the ‘Thesiya Pulanaaivu pirivu’ (National intelligence division) and ‘Iraanuva pulanaaivu sevai’ (Military intelligence service). Pottu was in overall charge of the entire intelligence division in general and national intelligence service in particular.

Sashi master was placed in charge of military intelligence. He held this post till 2004 when Prabhakaran appointed Charles in his place. Sashi was placed in charge of special operations and training.

After Charles was killed by the Army in January 2008 in Mannar, Sashi master was re-appointed in charge of military intelligence. Sashikumar and ‘Col’ Sornam fought to the end in Mullivaaikkaal and died on 15 May.

National Intelligence Division

The LTTE National Intelligence Division had five known departments. The intelligence gathering section known as ‘Thagaval segarikkum pirivu’ was headed by Kapil Amman who was also the deputy chief of intelligence. The research and publications department known as ‘Aaivu matrum veliyeetu pirivu’ was headed by Maathavan master.

The special operations department known as ‘Viseda seyatpaadu pirivu’ was under Janan master. The infamous ‘Karumpuligal’ (Black tigers) suicide unit was also under this section. The ‘Payitchi matrum Tholil nutpa [pirivu]’ (Training and technology dept.) was under Aathavan master. The administrative department known as ‘Nirvaakappirivu’ was under Shankar. After he was killed by the Army’s LRRP in 2001, Gaddafi took charge.

Military intelligence service

The military intelligence service headed by Sashikumar alias Sashi master had five known departments. The ‘Viseda Vevu’ or special reconnaissance department was headed by Charles aka Arulventhan and later Irathinam Amman. The administrative department known as ‘Nirvaagapirivu’ was also supervised by Sashi master.

There were also three ‘Iraanuva thagaval segarippu pirivugal’ (military intelligence gathering units) for the Army, Navy and Air Force. These units had to gather information about all army, navy and airforce installations, movement of personnel, etc. These were headed by Gauthaman.

Intelligence division cadres were carefully screened with background checks before recruitment. New recruits underwent intensive training that lasted at times for nearly a year. Trainees were kept in isolation and had to wear masks for group sessions so that their faces were not seen by each other.

Training was varied. The black tiger suicide squad members were given specialised training that included how to walk in crowded streets without knocking on people while wearing an explosive laden suicide jacket or belt. Sinhala language lessons with proper emphasis on the ‘accent’ was also imparted to those carrying Identity cards with Sinhala names.

Field agents

A typical LTTE cell located outside the North-East had four to six members. They were called ‘Velikkala muhavarhal’ or field agents. One did not know the other and each was assigned separate duties. Each cell was handled or coordinated by a ‘pirathhana muhavar’ or principal agent. At times the principal agent interacted directly with the field agents. At times an intermediary called ‘Idainilaiyaalar’ was used. 

An elaborate network of safe houses, storage facilities, dead letter boxes, etc. was set up by the LTTE intelligence. Earlier the tigers utilised Tamils of North-Eastern origin for setting up the supportive network. Later they focused on Indian Tamils. Gradually the tigers began enlisting Muslims and Sinhalese using enhanced financial remuneration as an incentive. The ceasefire period from 2002 February was a windfall. An intricate network was established.

A noteworthy feature of this phenomenon was the infiltration of Police and Armed Forces. Initially a media personality was used to cultivate potential double agent recruits in the Police and Armed Forces. Huge sums of money and in some instances expensive property were given as incentives. Most of these officers were Sinhala or Muslim. Some of these personnel were later identified and apprehended. Sri Lankan officials were immensely impressed by the extent to which Pottu Ammaan had elevated the LTTE intelligence division.

Bosco alias Potko

The LTTE’s intelligence wing was a mere fledgling when Pottu took over. It was Pottu Amman who developed it to unbelievable levels. As mentioned earlier, he was aided greatly by Bosco alias Potko who at one time was a student in a Catholic seminary.

Some of Pottu’s old acquaintances were initially flabbergasted at Pottu’s metamorphosis as Beria to Prabhakaran’s Stalin. Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was the dreaded Chief of Secret Police in the Old Soviet Union during the dictatorial rule of Josef Stalin.

One of his classmates now in Canada told me once that Sivashankar was a ‘mokkan’ (idiot) in studies. He was amazed at Pottu’s growth in later life and observed, “I just don’t know how he is running the intelligence division so well nowadays.” But then academic brilliance is not a pre-requisite to run an intelligence outfit. What is required is lateral thinking, practical approaches, devious, cunning, organisational skills, shrewd judgement of men and matters, and above all perpetual paranoia about everything.

Expertise in playing cards

An indicator of Pottu’s ability and talent was his acknowledged expertise in playing cards. He was very fond of playing cards. A former LTTE colleague of Pottu told me that he (Pottu) could be woken up from sleep at night for a game of cards. He was always ready for cards. On one occasion, the tigers had to flee from a safe house because an army patrol was approaching. Pottu had apparently forgotten to take away a bag of home made grenades with him but had not forgotten to take away his pack of cards. Pottu was not the intelligence chief at that time.

Pottu was apparently a marvel at ‘Three Naught Four’ and was able – within a short time – to gauge which cards were being held by his adversaries. He would play his cards accordingly. Pottu had the uncanny ability to both bluff as well as call the bluff of his opponents. This was a trait which stood him in good stead as intelligence chief.


Pottu Ammaan however was autocratic in running the intelligence wing. He also had a cruel streak which made him a much dreaded man within and outside the LTTE. Once in 2002, Pottu Ammaan was a ‘surprise’ participant at a political discussion between the LTTE and MPs from the newly formed Tamil National Alliance (TNA). I asked LTTE political strategist Anton Balasingham then in London about Pottu’s inclusion in a political discussion. Balasingham chuckled and replied that Pottu was included to intimidate (verutta) the MPs.

The much-dreaded Pottu Ammaan’s reign of terror came to an end in May 2009. How and why that happened would be delved into in grater detail in the second part of this article

India: Jointness Mantra


Almost 3 months after his appointment as CDS, Gen Anil Chauhan has maintained silence. He travelled to Def-Expo in Gujrat and along with three service Chiefs to NDA Khadakvasla, the cradle of jointness – symbolically a deft move. Initial briefings and scrutiny of feedback from Services on theatrisation are over. Integrated capability development requires a Joint Procurement Agency which was produced by Defence Planning Staff in 1988. The absence of institutional memory causes time and cost overruns.

CDS has become synonymous with integration and theatrisation, the task given originally to late Gen Rawat. Jointness was to be achieved in 3 years but no timeline was set for Integrated Theatre Commands. Not surprisingly, days after Gen Chauhan’s appointment as CDS, Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, in the run-up to IAF Day on 8 October, admitted that inter-service differences had not been reconciled and a discussion was warranted to find a solution to take theatrisation forward. He reiterated the traditional objections of IAF: the paucity of resources, just 30 fighter squadrons today and best case of 35 to 36 squadrons by 2035; 24X7 AD cover required concentration of resources and separating the two (AD Command and Theatre Command) will affect joint strategy.

Gen Rawat, not averse to shooting from the hip, had stirred a hornet’s nest by suggesting IAF was an extension of Artillery and essentially a combat support arm. ACM Chaudhari’s recent comments included a ‘future ready IAF to include space and cyber-space, abridged decision-making chain of command and need for a joint strategy’ while each service had its own doctrine. As a precautionary, he added:” IAF is not opposed to integrated theatre commands (theatrisation)”. He also advocated the need for an equivalent national security strategy. NSS is a vital document on integrating the whole of government effort that every President in the US is mandated to produce once in his term. Biden issued an interim NSS in March 2022 and on 12 October, a final one. The Biden strategy talks of ‘strategic competition with China, the US’s ‘most pressing challenge’. “We will effectively compete with PRC which is the only competitor with both the intent and increase the capability to reshape the international order while constraining a dangerous Russia’.

On India, it says ‘as it is, the world’s largest democracy and a Major Defence Partner, the US, and India will work together bilaterally and multilaterally to support our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific”. For a long time India used to define its military challenge as: while Pakistan is the immediate threat, China remains the long-term challenge. That was dramatically reversed by China’s incursions in Ladakh. The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols DoD Reorganisation Act in the US brought about sweeping changes, especially on integration and jointness; almost simultaneously in the UK, the Heseltine reforms introduced the CDS legislation. India is allergic to the idea of a written document outlining national security objectives, their orientation, and their pursuit. No White Paper has seen the light of day even though India had a CDS for nearly three years. India is defiantly proud of its strategic autonomy and that it is among the world’s leading economies with the third largest military.

India feels that not articulating NSS is a strategy, though there is one. The Raksha Mantri’s Operational directive with 8 contingencies to three Service Chiefs is considered good enough. A Joint Services Doctrine 2017 on release was found with many loopholes. The Breaking News is that NSS is being scripted by NSA.

The current debate on theatrisation has turned into prioritising structures, strategies, and capability building. Movement on capabilities has been tardy due to insufficient funding and somewhat retarded by Atmanirbharta in absence of quality R&D and a developed military-industrial complex. The IAF is stuck at 30 squadrons for two decades and an RFP for 114 MRCA stagnates for 5 years. Legislation mandating conceptual and structural transformation through the CDS system instead of amendments to Service Acts must become the path to integration. NSA Ajit Doval who heads DPC is working on NSS from an integrated review of defence, foreign, and development -in other words, the Strategic and Technology Environment meshed with fiscal allocation.

Gen Chauhan is determined to press on with Eastern Land Command (China); Western Land Command (Pakistan); Air Defence Command; and Maritime Theatre Command. Northern Command dealing with LAC and LOC will be merged later with ELC and WLC. Air Space Command and Cyberspace Command commissioned in 2017 are likely to be operational shortly though there are teething problems with ASC. One other entity will also be operationalized shortly- the Special Operations Division consisting of Battalion Special Forces, Garud, and Marcos squadrons. This will later upgrade to Special Operations Command. Gen Chauhan must invite ACM Chaudhari for talks to smoothen wrinkles in establishing ITCs with as little difference as possible. Political oversight is essential to prevent irreconcilable differences. A periodic review will be useful.

President and U.S. Ambassador Commission the U.S-donated Cutter


On November 22, 2022, the President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Secretary to the Minister of Defense Kamal Gunaratne, the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne and the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie Chung attended the commissioning of the Navy Ship Vijayabahu, formerly the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, in Colombo Harbor.  The United States had donated the ship to Sri Lanka on October 26, 2021 as part of its continuing commitment to strengthen Sri Lanka’s ability to protect its maritime sovereignty and security.

Viewing the commissioning ceremony with Sri Lankan dignitaries, Ambassador Chung extended her appreciation to the ship’s officers and sailors for their skillful handling of the ship during the voyage.  She also expressed her thanks to the families and loved ones of the sailors for their sacrifice during the crew’s long absence.  

Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is seven times the size of its land area and maintains a Search and Rescue area nearly 25 times as large. The new vessel is capable of performing wide-ranging operations that include conservation of marine resources, search and rescue of naval and fishing vessels in distress and interdiction of drug and weapons smuggling among other crucial functions. 

The Vijayabahu is the third ship donated by the United States to the Sri Lanka Navy, preceded by the Gajabahu in 2018 and the Samudura in 2004, which continue to patrol the nation’s waters.  The latest ship, a former Hamilton-class high-endurance 115-meter cutter, undertook one of the longest voyages in Sri Lankan naval history embarking from Seattle, Washington, on September 3 and arriving in Colombo on November 2, 2022. 

In its former U.S. role, the then-Douglas Munro enforced fishing regulations in Alaskan waters, seized trawlers engaged in illegal practices and interdicted 11.5 tons of cocaine off the coast of Mexico, one of the largest hauls in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.  After the 2004 tsunami, the cutter provided food and water to Indonesians and later seized a vessel overtaken by pirates off the Horn of Africa.  The ship also rescued survivors of numerous shipwrecks in dangerous and frigid waters off the Alaskan coast.

The transfer of the vessel is just one point in a long history of cooperation between Sri Lanka and the United States in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region.  The U.S. is committed to supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to protect its sea lanes, which are vital to alleviating the current economic crisis.

Commissioning of the Navy Ship Vijayabahu, formerly the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, in Colombo Harbor. [ Photo: US Embassy in Colombo]
Commissioning of the Navy Ship Vijayabahu, formerly the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, in Colombo Harbor. [ Photo: US Embassy in Colombo]

CIA Role in Afghan Evacuation


America’s longest war, Afghanistan, has been called “the forgotten war,” which, for those who fought in it and are still suffering from it, is an insult added to its horrible end only a little over a year ago. Many questions, meanwhile, remain about its open-ended mission, such as why we stayed on a decade after killing the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks and dismantling his lethal networks. But it’s the chaotic ending of the  conflict last year that’s about to get renewed attention at the hands of House Republicans, who, having won a narrow majority in the midterms, have declared their intent to launch a new investigation of President Biden’s botched evacuation and raise it to a boil by the 2024 election season. They will have plenty to work with.

Such an inquiry will be sticky for the GOP, however, since President Trump’s 2020 Doha Agreement with the Taliban to end the U.S.-led war, which excluded the democratic government in Kabul from all negotiations and teed up the disaster of August 2021. Republicans will also struggle to escape the fact that Trump’s anti-immigrant policies the previous year also meant that less than 2,000 Special Immigrant Visas—a quarter of the annual allotment—were approved for Afghans, leaving a backlog of 18,000 applications of interpreters and other contractors by the time the Taliban took Kabul, thus creating the urgent need for the “largest U.S. military airlift in history.”

If they desire a credible inquiry, House investigators should also consider scrutinizing the role the U.S. intelligence community played in the final outcome of the war—the good, the bad and the ugly—when their efforts cost some lives while saving others. 

They might begin with the untold story behind the defining image of the ignominious ending, the sight of that behemoth U.S. Air Force cargo plane taking off from Hamid Karzai International Airport with desperate Afghans plummeting from its massive fuselage and wheel coverings onto the runway and through Kabul rooftops.  (Human remains were found in the wheel wells when the C-17 landed in Qatar.)  The world watched, aghast, as the viral video spread across Twitter and TV. 

Secrets of the C-17

Why the C-17 Globemaster III took off with so many civilians clinging to it remains officially unanswered. An Air Force spokesperson at the time said an investigation had been initiated but also offered spin: “Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security situation around the aircraft, the C-17 crew decided to depart the airfield as quickly as possible.” 

But the real reason, according to  a new book on the chaotic August 2021 evacuation, was that the plane held an MH-47G Special Operations helicopter stocked with sensitive and classified systems for flying clandestine, low-altitude night sorties for special mission units like the Army’s Delta Force. According to accounts gathered together by retired Green Beret Lt. Col. Scott Mann for his book Operation Pineapple Express,  the top U.S. military commander at the airport, a Navy SEAL admiral, feared the twin-rotary chopper, a modified version of the venerable Chinook and flown by the Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, would fall into the hands of the marauding Taliban. So off they went.

The horrifying sight of bodies falling from the C-17 was just one of several incidents in which U.S. clandestine services’ priorities during the hasty Noncombatant Evacuation Operation, or NEO, were often placed above all else—particularly human life. President Joe Biden had promised Americans that the Kabul evacuation would not have a “Saigon moment,” like the one captured in the indelible photograph of Americans scrambling aboard a helicopter from a rooftop as communist troops descended on the South Vietnamese capital in 1975.

There was “zero” comparison between Afghanistan teetering on the edge, Biden assured nervous Americans, and Saigon’s shocking collapse, in which thousands of Vietnamese who had worked with U.S. forces, including the CIA, were abandoned. 

“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a [sic] embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable,” Biden told a press conference on July 7, 2021. 

But it was. 

In mid-August the entire U.S. diplomatic and security contingent at the embassy in the Kabul Green Zone was hastily evacuated by helicopters—not from the embassy’s rooftop, to be sure, but from an adjacent soccer field. Some 1,800 Americans were flown two miles away to HKIA by the morning of August 16. Diplomatic Security agents involved in the embassy evacuation and NEO were recently decorated for heroism.

How similar was it to Saigon? The answer is a “walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,” as Kris Kristofferson might say. Whatever, the end was a rout, recorded in countless hours of deeply shocking and saddening photos and videos that are certain to be resurrected come the 2024 presidential election season, shredding Biden’s boasts about evacuating an astonishing 124,000 people the last two weeks of August. 

Fact: The C-17 Globemaster III was on an intelligence mission to ferry a highly advanced special operations chopper for use in last-minute clandestine rescue missions in Afghanistan. But it landed on a concrete sea of chaos. The huge runway was being overrun by 10,000 or more civilians who soon forced all air ops to halt. Rather than unload the sensitive cargo, the crisis forced the top commander at the airfield, U.S. Navy SEAL Rear Adm. Peter Vasely, to order the C-17 back in the air, even as other planes remained parked. Why? It was to protect the chopper in its belly from capture or its classified systems from being pilfered by the Taliban or the crowds, according to author Scott Mann. 

The decision was confirmed in the transcript of an interview Vasely later gave to U.S. Central Command investigators:  “Late morning [August] 16th, the mass of civilians on HKIA slowly began moving north across the runway, overwhelming the U.S. security forces aligned to attempt to contain the crowd. I ordered the one C-17 and two C-130s to leave.” 

Unsaid was whether Vasely knew that civilians had piled onto the retractable wheel covers (called humps) of the massive cargo plane as it taxied to take off on the single runway.  Apache AH-64 attack helicopters were hovering low over the asphalt using their rotor wash to blow civilians out of the plane’s path. He likely did not know about the civilians until the plane was long gone.

And yet the killing of innocent civilians around the airfield didn’t stop there. It was more deliberate and committed more often by “friendlies” than Taliban, who were busy outside  beating those clustered around the airport with rubber batons and rifle butts. 

During the mad scramble by the U.S. to exit Afghanistan after the stunningly rapid  collapse of the U.S.-supported government, U.S. military senior commanders and diplomats made deals with numerous devils  to exit without further calamities. The airport was the only place left to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan green card holders, legal permanent residents and “special interest” persons after the  controversial decision to close Bagram Airfield north of the capital and desert it overnight on July 2. 

Another consequential decision by American commanders inside HKIA was to accept a CIA offer on August 16, as revealed in Operation Pineapple Express, to clear up to 10,000 civilians from the runway and ramps by using the spy agency’s large Afghan paramilitary “surrogate” force, hardline fighters who had  carried out the Agency’s capture/kill ops. The airport crowds had forced air ops to cease after the infamous C-17 was wheels up that sunny Monday morning.

That group of seasoned Afghan militiamen were known as National Strike Units (NSU), a notorious outfit that had to change its name from “Counter-Terrorist Pursuit Teams” after years of human rights abuses came to light. The price demanded for clearing HKIA of the civilian crowds was a guarantee that  the U.S. military would airlift the CIA’s surrogate forces and their families out of Kabul.

Almost immediately it became clear that the price paid was much higher.

Bridge Too Far

The 82nd Airborne Division failed at its fundamental mission of securing the airfield, insiders note, because they could not get enough paratroopers on the ground when the crowds flooding the runway forced a stop to air operations the day after Kabul fell. But the CIA’s NSU paramilitaries—ironically, all clad in retro Vietnam tiger stripe camouflage fatigues—quickly cleared the airfield of the civilians with help from the Army’s Delta Force, a smattering of 82nd Airborne paratroopers, and Taliban teams, with U.S. Marines creating a buffer between the once warring parties. “Within two hours, [they] had 400 [Afghan paramilitary] guards protecting the south side,” one U.S. official told CENTCOM’s investigators. 

How they achieved this was ghastly, as several U.S. Marine Corps officers on the airfield explained in a terrific recent HBO documentary, Escape From Kabul.

“The Afghan unit that was there, the way they got people off [the airfield], to the point, was just running everyone over and shooting them,” Marine Lt. Col. Chris Richardella, a battalion commander, said in the film. 

“They killed them,” another Marine officer bluntly told the filmmakers. A third Marine officer in the documentary said he witnessed “people being executed on the airfield.” 

Richardella said it was after dark and he observed civilians dying in the headlights of the NSU paramilitaries’ trucks as they plowed into the crowds—but, he added, the brutal tactics succeeded. By 10:30 that night, the airfield was once again secured and planes were landing and taking off again just after midnight.

The brutality of the four NSU teams, known as units 01, 02, 03 and 04, didn’t end there. Their violence was often directed at Afghan Special Operations soldiers on the run from the Taliban. Call it a violent twist on the “crabs-in-a-barrel” cultural phenomenon—the CIA surrogate forces were now inside HKIA and a nearby CIA base, and the Afghan government forces simply were not.

The NSU teams pulled security at several gates where Afghans and foreign nationals were allowed to enter HKIA in an unorganized trickle. No one in the U.S. diplomatic mission in Kabul or at the White House had adequately planned for a NEO of that size despite months of warning signs that Ghani’s government would fall after the U.S. withdrew from the country in July 2021. (More on that below.) 

At North, East and Abbey Gates, CIA’s tiger-striped paramilitaries were often more violent toward their countrymen than the Taliban outside the coils of concertina wire, who were trying to control the teeming masses of civilians and partner forces, such as Commandos, Special Forces and others, attempting to flee the country. This is evidenced in photos, video and by eyewitnesses beaten by the surrogate forces or who witnessed them kill fellow Afghans in cold blood.

“When I stood outside North Gate, one CIA paramilitary came and beat me on my back with his AK-47 stock, striking on my shoulder. He hurt me really badly,” Zahir, a former interpreter for U.S. special operations who remains in hiding in Kabul, told SpyTalk. 

Others I’ve spoken to witnessed NSU men firing into the crowds or suffered themselves from Kalashnikov butt strokes, like Zahir. This brutality by NSU fighters is on display in the opening scenes of another forthcoming documentary, NatGeo’s Retrograde.

Once Army Maj. Gen. Chris Donahue, a former Delta operator and the 82nd Airborne’s commanding general, arrived at HKIA on August 18, he began to have daily face-to-face meetings in the South Terminal with the commander of the Taliban’s Red Unit to discuss securing HKIA from ISIS attacks and facilitate the exodus of Americans and Afghan allies, according to soldiers from his paratroop division and the CENTCOM report.  

To that end, Biden even did something extraordinary, as CENTCOM’s report explained. “POTUS directed … the sharing of intelligence for force protection threats with the Taliban (en extremis),” which were on paper handed to the Red Unit commander. “This intelligence sharing built trust and opened critical lines of communication with the Taliban commander,” the CENTCOM report added.

Few trusted the Taliban to allow evacuees to pass unharmed.

CIA operatives did many good things, too. They acted swiftly to help secure the airfield, even bribing individual Taliban commanders securing the enormous perimeter as the race was on to evacuate at-risk Afghans and Americans, according to one officer there at the time. CIA officers also helped some Afghan special operators gain access to the base and guided American citizens and “special-interest Afghans” into HKIA using a secret entrance named Liberty Gate on the north side of the airfield.

Top military and Biden administration officials have boasted of evacuating 124,000 people during the NEO airlift, but have skillfully avoided questions about how those evacuees navigated the world’s most dangerous airport commute in order to get on a plane, or who helped get them safely to the entry control points.

In reality, it was not the United States government. Most got inside HKIA with their own perseverance and luck or with the help of ad hoc veterans groups located in the U.S. who used encrypted app group chats, such as Operation DunkirkTask Force PineappleAllied Airlift and others, to communicate with their Afghan brothers.

When an AP story revealed that special operations forces had choppered 169 Americans to HKIA from the Baron Hotel on August 21—a compound that overlooks the airport’s Abbey Gate—CNN quoted Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby as confirming that the mission was approved by the ground commander. “He executed a mission that he believed was in the best interest of helping these Americans, and he did,” Kirby said. 

But, few if any among those 169 people were Americans. They were British, and the mission was flown by the 82nd Airborne’s pilots, not special ops, at the request of Her Majesty’s armed forces, senior military sources have told me. 

That incident and other rumors of SAS “rescue missions” of British nationals perpetuated a myth during the evacuation that American special operators were also rounding up U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghan allies throughout Kabul or even outside the capital. 

Nothing could have been further from the truth. 

On Their Own

Those wishing to leave had to get to the last U.S. outpost on their own, with the exception of 3,000 U.S. embassy Afghan staff and their families who were brought into HKIA aboard chartered buses.

Delta Force operators were only permitted by senior U.S. military and political leaders to execute a few rescue missions outside the wire of HKIA or from the CIA’s nearby Eagle Base, retrieving only a few dozen at-risk people—a statistical drop in the bucket, as thousands of frightened U.S. citizens and partner forces in Afghanistan desperately tried to find a way out. The SAS rumors, incidentally, were also untrue.

Why weren’t special mission units allowed to rescue more people? It was Washington’s chronic aversion to risk, senior officers have told me, citing fears of a disastrous “Blackhawk Down”-style urban street fight with the Taliban.

As a result, planeloads of U.S. citizens were left behind in Kabul, along with tens of thousands of Afghan Special Operations soldiers, while the CIA evacuated almost all of its surrogate forces. At least 600 Americans made it out months later on Qatar-organized flights with the aid of volunteer groups such as Project Dynamo.

But in the utter chaos of August 2021, Americans waving blue passports were beaten by Taliban outside HKIA— even while Pentagon spokesman John Kirby was shrugging off such reports in his daily televised briefings. 

America and all its military might could not help its own citizens.

Abandoned en masse among Afghan forces were two groups most at risk of Taliban retribution after America had cut its losses and retreated from the war. Most of the 18,000 Afghans—mostly former interpreters—who were awaiting processing of their special immigrant visas were not evacuated, as well as most of the 18,000 Afghan Special Operations soldiers who had fought side-by-side with American Green Berets, SEALs, Marine Raiders and Rangers for two decades. 

(NatGeo’s Retrograde takes you inside a 10th Special Forces Group team room at Fort Carson, Colorado, where Green Berets discuss the Taliban’s sudden victory over Kabul and how to leverage the volunteer groups to get their Afghan brothers stateside. The active-duty soldiers used those non-government resources successfully, and avoided the Afghans’ capture and Taliban interrogation about those Germany-based Green Berets who had been training Ukrainians for years ahead of the Russian invasion.)

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the likely new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee come January, issued his own report in August deploring the abandonment of partner forces.

“As the Taliban’s advance on Kabul progressed, there was no organized effort to prioritize the evacuation of critical Afghan military personnel who possessed unique knowledge of the U.S. military’s tactics, techniques, and procedures and could thereby pose a security risk to America if they could be forced to divulge their knowledge to a U.S. adversary,” he said. 

Their American friends, mostly active-duty and retired Green Berets, have received countless photos and videos in the 15 months since the U.S. exit of Afghan commandos, Special Forces and National Mine Removal Group operatives murdered by the Talibs now in power, who had publicly promised all was forgiven.

Amid the chaos, thousands of NSU surrogate fighters with their families were transported from Eagle Base (which CIA operatives burned to the ground on August 26) to HKIA for evacuation from Kabul. That effort contributed to the over-crowding of the airport that day and was among the reasons U.S. commanders stopped most entries of Afghans into the airport in the hours leading up to the ISIS suicide blast at Abbey Gate that night, according to sources who were there. The other reason for the long gate closure was ISIS threat reporting, which was constant for several days. 

Approximately 200 civilians and 13 American service members were killed in the ISIS suicide bombing just after 5:30 PM local time, which effectively ended the NEO.

Some have called what happened an intelligence failure, but that’s not quite right. No intelligence assessments anticipated the fall of Ghani’s government would come within six weeks of the U.S. withdrawal from Bagram Airfield. But sources also say there were no classified assessments that gave Afghanistan’s elected, albeit corrupt, government any chance of survival once the U.S completely left, sources told SpyTalk. Various assessments predicted that the collapse would occur in October or December 2021, or, most optimistically, by February of this year. 

And yet throughout 2021, senior leaders receiving these intelligence assessments had publicly denied the collapse of Afghanistan’s democracy was a foregone conclusion. The CIA, of course, knew differently: It was already planning how to evacuate its  people and assets. One Saigon was enough for the spies. For the rest left behind, only suffering and tragedy awaited.

This article was originally published in SpyTalks. Click here to read more content similar to this.

India: We are not Terrorists or Killers but Victims


RP Ravichandran, one of the six convicts who was released on Saturday in the assassination case of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, said that the people of north India should see them as “victims instead of terrorists or killers”.

He said that time will judge them as “innocents”.

Speaking to ANI after his release from Madurai Central Prison, Ravichandran said, “The people of north India should see us as victims instead of terrorists or killers. Time and power determine who is a terrorist or a freedom fighter but time will judge us as innocent, even if we bear the blame for being terrorists.” Nalini and Ravichandran had approached the apex court seeking release from prison-like fellow convict AG Perarivalan.

This came after the Supreme Court, on May 18, had evoked its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution to release AG Perarivalan, who was one of the seven convicts in the assassination case.

Earlier, Nalini Sriharan, one of the six convicts in the case, expressed her gratitude to the Tamil Nadu and central governments for extending “help” to her during her punishment of 32 years and said that she wants to be with her family.

Sriharan, who is the longest-serving woman prisoner serving a life sentence in the country, was released from the Vellore jail on Saturday following an order from the Supreme Court on Friday, freeing all six convicts, including RP Ravichandran, in the case.

Upon walking out of the jail, she thanked the people of Tamil Nadu, who she said, supported her for 32 years.

Speaking to ANI, Nalini spoke about her future plans whether she will live in India or shift abroad and said that all her family members have been waiting for her for a long time and she now wants to be with them.

“I want to be with my family. All members of my family have been waiting for such a long time. I want to thank the State and Central govt. They helped us a lot during this period,” she said. When asked if she would meet anybody from the Gandhi family after her release, Nalini said that she is not planning to do so while also adding that she will go “wherever my husband goes”.

“I will go wherever my husband goes. We were separated for 32 years. Our family kept waiting for us… I am not planning to meet anyone from the Gandhi family. We are under the case. There is no possibility of me meeting them. I want to thank the State and Central governments. I thank the state government for giving me parole, so I could go to the Supreme Court and try my level best,” she said.

She remarked on the order passed by the two-judge bench of Justice BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna who took into consideration the good conduct of convicts in the prison, and said that the judges have studied their cases and they know “what is wrong and what is correct”.

“Our judges know everything. They have studied our case. They know what is wrong and what is correct and what they can do, they have done it,” she said.

The Tamil Nadu government had earlier recommended the premature release of convicts saying that its 2018 aid and advice for the remission of their life sentence is binding upon the Governor.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin on Friday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to release six convicts including Nalini Sriharan of the assassination case of the former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

“I welcome the Supreme Court Verdict on the release of six persons,” Stalin said in a tweet on Friday.

“This judgment of the Supreme Court is proof that the decisions of the government elected by the people should not be shelved by the governors in the appointed positions,” he said.

Nalini Sriharan and five others were serving life sentence terms in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They were set free by the SC on the grounds of having good conduct in jail.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group during a public rally.

The seven convicts were sentenced to death for their role in the killing. They included Nalini Sriharan, RP Ravichandran, Jayakumar, Santhan, Murugan, Robert Payas, and AG Perarivalan.

In the year 2000, Nalini Sriharan’s sentence was reduced to a life term. Later in the year 2014, the sentence of the other six convicts was also reduced, and during the same year, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalitha recommended the release of all the seven convicts in the case.  

Source: Asian News International

Sri Lanka: Wickremesinghe’s Machiavellian skills


During the month, the government’s preliminary talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on structuring its economic recovery continued. However, debt restructuring continues to be delayed with China due to its preoccupation with the 20th NPC meetings of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Even negotiations with India and Japan are moving at a slow pace. Perhaps, this is due to their lingering doubts about the Wickremesinghe government’s ability to see through the structural reforms.

In this context, President Wickremesinghe must be heartened by the show of solidarity for his actions by the US and some of the EU members, despite the use of high-handed methods to suppress public protests. Internally, the passing of the 22nd Constitutional Amendment (originally introduced as 21A) to improve executive president’s accountability, the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to curb Aragalaya activism and the launching of the Rise Together (Ekwa Nagitimu) campaign at the grass roots to recoup the image of the Rajapaksas were key highlights of happenings in October 2022.

The events leading up to these important internal developments showed existing differences, not only within the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and its cohorts, but also within the opposition parties as well. Of course, during the month political leaders continued to ride their time-tested political hobby horses – new constitution, electoral reforms, call for general election and the not be missed late entrant “investigation and follow up into the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.” The government used the familiar gambit of appointing parliamentary select committees and presidential commissions to tackle the opposition moves. So, everybody continued to be busy doing something.

Strategizing economic recovery

However, President Wickremesinghe appears to be leveraging lack of unity within political parties to adopt transactional strategies to push through actions to achieve targets set in the 2022 interim budget for increase in government revenue and debt reduction. The actions taken so far, include reducing government spending, tackling public corruption, energy reforms to open retail distribution of fuel to private firms, privatise wasteful state-owned enterprises and promote foreign investment avenues. Normally, these issues are considered politically explosive. Despite paying lip service, political parties in power have seldom considered seriously implementing such measures. Given this dismal record of political parties, Wickremesinghe government’s actions do not seem to have animated the media. The Aragalaya movement has by and large eroded public credibility in political parties.

Inspite of the lack of credibility in the government, some progress seems to have been made in improving the business climate as indicated by the LMD-NielsenIQ Business Confidence Index (BCI) for October. Reporting on the state of business, Sri Lanka’s online business magazine LMD said the BCI provided “a semblance of relief; it has climbed a heartening 13 basis points to 89” during October from September’s 76. However, it quoted NielsenIQ Director-Consumer Insights Theirca Miyanadeniya’s assertion “concern over the socio-political status of the country is waning as business and people are in a race to survive against a backdrop of extreme hardships.”

With the major economies expecting a period of global recession in the coming months, it is essential that Wickremasinghe government survives to see the country through the period of economic privation in the coming months. Under such circumstances, the passing of the 22nd Amendment to the constitution 174 votes in favour and one against, may be considered as an indication of grudging acceptance of President Wickremesinghe’s leadership by over two-thirds members of parliament. The amendment was passed despite some pro-Basil Rajapaksa members of the ruling SLPP objecting to the clause on not allowing dual citizens to become members of parliament. This indicated two things: the decline of Basil Rajapaksa’s influence within SLPP and the Rajapaksas continued support to President Wickremesinghe.

The 22A is a compromise between the Yahapalana government’s 19A to curb the sweeping powers of executive presidency and Gotabaya’s 20A to restore the powers of the executive presidency. The bill was much debated by parliament members and the public and its present form represents a compromise solution reflecting some of the key elements from both the earlier amendments on the subject. For instance, it has retained the 20A clause on the powers of the president to dissolve parliament after two and half years, as against four and a half years stipulated in the19A.

On the other hand, 22A has reintroduced 19A’s clause prohibiting dual citizens from contesting elections which was allowed by the 20A. The 22A reduces some of the powers of the president enjoyed earlier under 20A, regarding appointments to high officers of the state including the Chief Justice, judges of supreme court and appeals court, chairmen of the election commission, human rights commission, and police commission and the IGP. The constitutional council created now has the power to make these appointments. The president and prime minister enjoy some influence in picking members of the constitutional council, which will have three members from civil society.


The writing on the wall is clear: Sri Lanka must achieve targets presented in the 2022 interim budget for increase in government revenue and debt reduction to overcome the worst ever financial crisis it is facing now. Otherwise, Sri Lanka’s debt will be unsustainable; international financial bodies like IMF and World Bank do not assist the economic recovery of such countries. Obviously, lack of understanding among the political parties in tackling long pending critical issues, has stood in the way of evolving a coherent national political and economic narrative to restore Sri Lanka’s credibility both at home and abroad. It will not be pragmatic to expect the political parties to give up their pettifogging and bury their hatchets to see through the crises. They are accustomed to using the economic crunch and hardship faced by the people to improve their poll prospects.

As a seasoned politician, President Wickremesinghe is using his Machiavellian skills to use factionalism existing within almost all the parties, to push through legislation to restore the economy. So far, political parties by and large are grudgingly accepting his rule for want of a better alternative. How long he survives this perilous journey will determine the future course of events in Sri Lanka. One advantage he only seems to enjoy is the moral, political, and even economic support of most of the major Indo-Pacific powers including India and China. But much would depend upon how President Xi Jinping will handle China’s economic downturn, that could have its fall out on Sri Lanka.

Tailpiece: Contact with BJP?

A columnist writing in the Colombo weekly Sunday Times said a group of former LTTE cadres identifying themselves after rehabilitation as the ‘Democratic Cadres Party’ were in New Delhi in India recently. They took part in “an event organised by a group that maintains close ties” with India’s ruling BJP. They are said to have had discussions with various influential political actors and policymakers in New Delhi. Their requests to Indian authorities included lifting of the ban on LTTE proscribed in India since 1991 and full implementation of 13th Amendment. The article said their allegations that Hindu shrines were being acquired by the Archaeological Dept and WildLife Dept under questionable circumstances seemed to have struck a chord with the audiences, “given the BJP’s aggressive campaigns based on Hindutva ideologies.”

[Written on October 30, 2022.]

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