by Our Diplomatic Affairs Editor Victoria Nuland, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the United States, has made a second visit to Sri Lanka within a few months. PriorMore
The controversial visit of China’s “spy ship” Yuan Wang-5 to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port from August 16 to 22 is perhaps Sri Lanka’s most commented news story, next only to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s escape in stealth from the island-nation a few weeks earlier. The reason is not far to seek; the research ship belongs to the PLA’s 5th branch – the Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) created in December 2015 to carry out space, cyber and electronic warfare. The ship is equipped with advanced electronic equipment, sensors and antennae to assist PLA’s land-based stations in tracking satellite, rocket and ICBM launches within a range of 750 km.
Sri Lanka’s foreign affairs originally allowed the vessel to dock in Hambantota from August 11 to 17. India expressed its security concerns over berthing the ship in Hambantota as soon as reports indicated that the ship was heading to the Sri Lankan port. The US also had expressed its security concerns. Perhaps in deference to India’s concerns, the ministry in a message to the Chinese embassy asked the visit be delayed until further consultations. The Chinese embassy clarified that the maritime research vessel’s visit was for replenishment and refuelling and did not pose a threat to any security or economic interests. It eventually succeeded in pressuring Sri Lanka’s defence ministry to allow the research vessel to berth in Hambantota port from August 16 to 22, after laying down conditions that it would switch off its tracking equipment.
There was much consternation in India over the Chinese spy ship docking in Sri Lanka. India expressed its security concerns over berthing the ship at the Hambantota port. The truth is that symbolism triumphed over substance
The media pundits in India went to town with analyses of how the ship’s berthing in Hambantota would compromise the security of our naval bases and satellite launch sites and missile launches. The plain truth is Yuan Wang-5 is capable of carrying out all these actions even without docking in Hambantota port. Many analyses across global media had been cautioning the US of China overtaking it as a strategic power. These analyses were basically revisiting the bogey of China’s growing military prowess in the Indo-Pacific.
Social media castigated Sri Lanka for its “ungratefulness” to India, which had gone all out to lend a helping hand in times of Sri Lanka’s economic distress, unlike China. Some critics called it a violation of the India-Sri Lanka Accord 1987, though the Accord has no specific clause forbidding the berthing of warships of other countries in Sri Lanka ports in peacetime. Moreover, Sri Lanka had been repeatedly reassuring India at various levels that it would not allow the use of its soil to pose a security threat to India.
The controversy over Yuan Wang-5’s visit is timed to draw attention away from growing India-Sri Lanka relations, which are on the apogee. Probably it is also aimed at reminding Sri Lanka that it cannot afford to ignore China’s interests, now embedded in the body politic of the island-nation. Moreover, for some time now, Sri Lanka is in talks with India at multiple levels to upgrade its transactional relations into a strategic relationship. These efforts have encouraged India to extend all out support to the people of Sri Lanka to meet their essential economic and energy requirements after the country went bankrupt. India’s support has continued, in spite of political uncertainties in the country after the unceremonious exit of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the ascent of Ranil Wickremesinghe as president.
It is worthwhile to examine the Yuan Wang-5 issue in the larger context of the strategic dynamics of the Indo-Pacific. Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and process philosopher considers “symbolism as no mere idle fantasy or corrupt degeneration. It is inherent in the very texture of human life.” His words: “there is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have consequences for the world around us” have great relevance in understanding the substance behind China’s acts of symbolism.
India celebrated Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav—75 years of India’s independence—on August 15. On that day, the Xinjiang command conducted live-fire drills near the LAC with a “new type of surface-to-air missile” at an altitude of more than 4,500 metres (14,760 feet). A report in the South China Morning Post quoted military observers to say the weapons appeared to be HQ-17A air defence missiles, part of an integrated system that can fit in a single vehicle. Yuan Wang-5 steaming into Hambantota a day after India’s Independence Day is also symbolic of China enforcing its writ in Sri Lanka despite India’s security concerns.
More than all this, Yuan Wang-5 is a demonstration of PLASSF capability as part of China’s power projection in space and cyberspace. The SSF is also designed to coordinate intelligence sharing and operations in the informatized battlefields in real time. Informatization has been the mantra of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ever since PLA thinkers drew many lessons from their observations of the US Gulf War (1991) and Iraq War (2003). In their assessment, the US used effective coordinated employment of global media, international law, and other psychological warfare techniques. The use of these techniques collectively referred to as “three warfares” could enhance results as military operations became more and more dependent on information technology tools.
The concept of “three warfares” was incorporated in the PLA Political Work Regulations for future conflicts in 2003. This has resulted in increased coordination of civil and military organs of state since then to get the best results of “three warfares”.
The timing of the Yuan Wang-5 controversy is uncanny. On June 6, India successfully carried out the training launch of the intermediate range ballistic missile Agni-4 from APJ Abdul Kalam Island off Orissa under the aegis of the Strategic Forces Command. The visit of Yuan Wang-5 is perhaps China’s way of flaunting its capability to track India’s ICBM launches. A month later, PLA tested an advanced PHL Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) at an altitude of more than 5,300 metres in the Xinjiang Region.
India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has been on a mission for some time to lay bare China’s double speak on matters related to India in many international forums. Only a month earlier, the 16th round of border talks between Corps Commanders of India and China ended in yet another stalemate. Last week in Bangkok, Jaishankar said the relationship between India and China is going through an “extremely difficult phase” after the Galwan incident in the Ladakh border in 2020. He emphasised that the Asian Century will not happen if the two neighbours could not join hands. “We very much hope that wisdom dawns on the Chinese side,” he said while replying to a question in Bangkok.
Now on a six-day tour of South America, Jaishankar said China has cast a shadow on bilateral ties by disregarding border pacts with India. He said the relationship cannot be a one-way street. “They are our neighbour and everybody wants to get along with their neighbour…But everybody wants to get along with their neighbour on reasonable terms. I must respect you and you must respect me,” he added. The EAM said “from our point of view, we’ve been very clear that if you have to build a relationship, then there has to be mutual respect. Each one will have their interests and we need to be sensitive to what the concerns are, of the other party.”
Sri Lanka is caught not only in the midst of muscle flexing between India and China in the Indian Ocean region, but it is also facing the flak of the strategic maelstrom blowing across the Indo-Pacific, after the visit of the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan on August 2. President Xi Jinping had spoken to POTUS Joe Biden, a month earlier to prevent the visit. According to media reports, President Biden not only told Xi that he “could not oblige” as the US Congress was an independent body, but also warned the Chinese president against taking any “provocative and coercive” actions if the visit took place. Pelosi’s visit may be considered a big loss of face for Xi, particularly when he is poised to be re-elected as the CCP General Secretary in the next few months. The invectives China has used to condemn the US and its allies on this issue show that the stand-off over Taiwan is likely to continue for some time. We can expect the spill over of the continuing US-China confrontation in the Indian Ocean region in the coming months. It is imperative that China’s symbolic acts are studied to gauge the substance behind them to understand its intentions.
The Indian security establishment and media had gone tizzy with the Yuan Wang 5’s visit to Hambantota in Sri Lanka. The media was abuzz with many comments based on figments of imagination on the subject. The aim of this article is to dispel such false notions/interpretations based on legal provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), bilateral agreement between India and Sri Lanka and the basic tenets of submarine operations.
Myth 1: This visit is in violation of the clause in the India Sri Lanka peace accord of 1987 that a military vessel cannot berth in Sri Lanka without New Delhi’s consent.
First, there is no such clause in the agreement which primarily deals with the understanding between India and Sri Lanka on tackling the civil war then involving the Sri Lankan establishment and the Tamil Tigers.
Second, Sri Lanka is a sovereign nation, and it is well within its rights to permit any warship or any military support vessel to berth in their ports based on a diplomatic clearance.
As a diplomatic courtesy, New Delhi was informed of the visit.
Third, this is peace time and there is no hostility in the region which should have raised a question mark on the Chinese vessel’s itinerary.
Fourth, Sri Lanka had laid down two conditions to be followed by the Chinese vessel: The Vessel Automatic Identification System (AIS) was to be always kept on and that the vessel should not violate the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) norms of Sri Lankan waters.
These conditions would have been agreed upon by the Chinese establishment and thus the vessel was permitted to enter Sri Lankan waters.
Myth 2: The ship entered Hambantota to spy on Indian military-related sensitive activities on the east coast.
The Chinese research vessel is a satellite uplink and down link ship.
The ship has adequate EW (electronic warfare) capabilities, and it can easily monitor the Indian coast while operating in international waters as per the provisions in the UNCLOS.
She does not have to enter a port in Sri Lanka to fulfill this mission.
It may also be noted that Chinese research vessels have been operating in the Indian Ocean routinely and this is not the first occasion.
Myth 3: The vessel has been deployed in the Indian Ocean to gather oceanographic data for submarine operations.
Research vessels are well within their rights to gather oceanographic data in international waters as per the provisions in the UNCLOS (Articles 55, 56, 75, 221(1)).
However, there are restrictions whilst operating in the EEZ of a coastal State who has special rights regarding the marine scientific research, exploration and use of marine resources including energy production.
The difference between territorial waters and the EEZ is that the former confers full sovereignty over the waters whereas the latter confers merely sovereign rights for the coastal state below the surface of the sea.
If the Chinese vessel adhered to these norms, it was not violating any international regulations and operating within the framework of the UNCLOS.
Myth 4: Oceanographic data which is collected by research vessels adds to the data bank and could be interpolated for submarine deployment.
This data which is referred to is primarily the temperature profile visa vis the depth of water in an area which is useful for strategic deployments of submarines.
It made sense in olden days when such data was not available on open sources. In modern times, this data is readily available on open sources.
The US National Oceanographic Data Center and British Oceanographic Data Centre are established sources to get oceanographic data inputs.
Further, this information is more theoretical as the underwater medium is dynamic in nature and the data pertains to the time and date when it was collected.
Hence other than interpolating certain theoretical inferences, this data is of little practical utility for submarine deployment.
Moreover, in real time a submarine commander would ascertain the temperature layer in his patrol area and assess the situation before adopting the tactics to be employed notwithstanding the information available in the data bank.
As far as this vessel is concerned, the primary role is the tracking and support of satellite and intercontinental ballistic missiles as per directions of China’s People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force.
The vessel can also be deployed for other research activities like space tracking and satellite operation monitoring.
It may also be noted that the sequence of events that preceded the ship’s arrival clearly indicate that there have been extensive deliberations between all stakeholders prior to the government of Sri Lanka permitting this vessel to berth at Hambantota.
In this context, it is important to note that in the current crisis, Sri Lanka must depend on China to a large extent notwithstanding assistance from India, US, Japan and the IMF bailout.
Talks between China and Sri Lanka are in progress to work out a favourable debt restructuring which is also a pre-condition for an IMF bailout.
For this, Colombo will need to toe Beijing’s line which could have been a major factor to permit berthing of this vessel and in such a situation India needs to display diplomatic forbearance.
It appears that New Delhi has clearly taken a balanced view in this case.
Lastly, while the actual mission of the Yuan Wang 5 is not known, it is quite possible that she has been deployed for a genuine space-related assignment.
The article was originally published on rediff.com
Time turns a page to mark a year since the re-emergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan through the colossal failure of the Biden administration’s botched military withdrawal. The threat that the Taliban now emanates to Asia and the world is not pristine but rather a neo-mandate of its former leadership. This is not to say that its leadership is weak or incapacitated as the same leadership is ultimately responsible for kicking the Americans out whilst largely being operational out of Afghan cave systems. It is simply to say that there exists a visible shift in Taliban strategy towards international acceptance and ratification.
During the pre-9/11 days of Taliban control in Afghanistan, the country hosted a profusion of training camps run by al-Qaeda and other terror groups.During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s and 80s, thousands of fighters from the Muslim world flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Young fighters that formed the Afghan Mujahedeenincluded Osama Bin Laden from Saudi Arabia and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi from Jordan who would ultimately form al-Qaeda and the Islamic State respectively.
As passenger airliners flew into the majestic towers in daytime New York, Bin Laden became a more influential entity than any other government, leader or organisation in modern history. As the towers fell to dust, America fell to its knees, thus triggering the global War on Terror – an ongoing conflict that has snatched millions of lives and dismantled countless communities across the world.
Twenty years down the line, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a major political win for the Taliban cementing their return to power in Central Asia. This return to power is not merely a Taliban comeback but rather the aggravation of the al-Qaeda alliance in the region.
With the Taliban’s phoenix-like rise to power, dozens of terror and non-terror groups across the world sent them their congratulations and praises – including Sri Lanka’s Tamil National Alliance. Naturally, groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State cells are bolstered in their international politico-religious agendas as Afghanistan has once again become a haven for threat groups. The highly unstable and ever-changing political situation in Afghanistan clearly illustrates how tribes and government groups have often switched sides and backed terror groups to ensure their own survival.
The Taliban had emerged through the Afghan Mujahedeen as a defensive group that assembled to form a bulwark of sorts against Soviet assault on the traditional Pashtun culture. This initial stance by the Taliban has cemented their popularity among the Pashtun people for decades. However, the Taliban’s historic ties, familial relations and shared outlooks with other groups had resulted in a slow infiltration of the Taliban to function as a jihadist group. The Salafi Wahhabi ideologies that emanated from the Gulf had ideologically penetrated the Taliban ranks to shadow its Pashtun roots and embrace fundamentalist and violent Islamist perceptions.
Although twelve months have passed after the rise of the Taliban, the world has not seen the violent consequences of Biden’s failure – yet. A momentary glimpse of the boiling pot was made when it was revealed that Ayman al-Zawahiri had taken refuge in the capital of Taliban-controlled Kabul. Al-Zawahiri remained al-Qaeda’s most consequential leader after Bin Laden was shot in Abbottabad, Pakistan eleven years ago. The very fact that al-Zawahiri was given refuge in a villa belonging to Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of Taliban’s Afghanistan, underpins the threat that the Taliban posits to the world at large.
The Taliban in itself may not necessarily be a threat to global security as its neo-mandate appears to focus on national governance and international ratification – however, the group’s emergence to power creates a black hole in Afghanistan that functions as a terror haven for other terror groups to train, bolster and consolidate. Groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba threaten regional security especially in India, while groups like al-Qaeda threaten the status of global security. Both groups operated training camps during the Taliban’s previous phase of power and are likely to run camps under the new Taliban.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda were linked to the killing of Maldivian journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla back in 2014 and have sowed seeds of discord in the country since the 1990s. Terrorist networks in South Asia do not stop at borders and easily transcend them. This is especially true of international global terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State brand of terrorism.
The Taliban/AQ alliance and Islamic State, however, are rivals. Although Salafi Wahhabism has infiltrated the ranks of the Taliban, the top leadership of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda have deep-rooted long-standing disputes. Operational as Islamic State Khurasan Province (IS-KP), its attacks have become frequent in targeting Taliban efforts in a tug-of-war fight for power, dominance and authority in the region and amongst the population. The two groups frequently engage in propaganda campaigns against each other that easily divide and sow discontent.
Sri Lanka, at present, is a figurative sitting duck amidst a massive geopolitical powerplay between the US, Russia, China and India while the threat of terrorism looms from the black hole in Central Asia. A unified Islamic State and Taliban/AQ alliance would spell doom for South Asia and other regions of the world.
Two of the deadliest Islamist terror attacks that occurred in South Asian history are tied to the Islamic State. The 2019 Easter Attack killed more than 270 people in Sri Lanka and was the largest IS attack outside of Iraq and Syria and the 2016Dhakaterror attack killed 22 people. This acts as a clear indication of the propensity for the Islamic State brand to be adopted by local bad actors to gain political advantage and recognition for their terror attacks globally. Earlier this year, Indian authorities arrested two terrorists belonging to the al-Qaeda-affiliated Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The two men, according to the arresting officers, were planning to conduct deadly attacks in the state capital of Lucknow. In the same month, three were arrested in connection with setting up terror networks in Kolkata. The overall risk of the Taliban and its affiliates inspiring regional conflict is significant and growing.
Many high-ranking officials of the Islamic State cite South Asia as an important region for their activities. Even though they have enjoyed success of sorts in the form of successful terror attacks, they have not gained a strong foothold there yet. With the largely successful decimation of the IS caliphate in the Middle East, IS has not been able to appoint a charismatic leader, build a strong chain of command in the region or sustain coordinated operations in South Asia. However, after the US killing of al-Qaeda’s al-Zawahiri in Taliban-controlled territory in July 2022, the possibility looms of a temporary truce between al-Qaeda, Taliban and IS working together. If this fusion transpires, the threat to global security will rise significantly.
As the US shifts its foreign policy from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region, intense conflict and deep-rooted crises could materialise within South Asia.With the Taliban firmly ensconced in Afghanistan and enjoying political freedom from the lack of pressure the United States previously applied, this possibility is strongly underpinned. Training facilities, recruitment efforts, and offensive staging capabilities could all be protected under this terror ecosystem being redeveloped in Central Asia.
This is of course coupled with the ignominious failure of the Biden-Harris administration in abandoning billions of dollars worth of state-of-the-art equipment – something that now gives the Taliban and its allied terror factions greater access to launch mid- and high-level operations across South Asia. The high-tech equipment has effectively equipped the Taliban to be a force to be reckoned with.
Sri Lanka, at present, is a figurative sitting duck amidst a massive geopolitical powerplay between the US, Russia, China and India while the threat of terrorism looms from the black hole in Central Asia. A unified Islamic State and Taliban/AQ alliance would spell doom for South Asia and other regions of the world. The establishment of intelligence-sharing mechanisms among regional and international agencies will significantly reduce the threat that emanates from Afghanistan. Likewise, strict monitoring of online spaces, especially social media and chat rooms, is paramount to a strong defence capability against an ideologically-charged terrorism threat. Sri Lanka must brace herself for impact.
On August 9, the National Defense University in Washington DC welcomed three new CISA alumni to the International Fellows Hall of Fame in a ceremony held in Sydney, Australia during NDU’s 16th Alumni Continuing Education Security Seminar, the statement issued by College of International Security Affairs of National Defense University (NDU).
During the event, Admiral (Ret) Travis Sinniah) has been recognized for his service as Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy. He is the first Sri Lankan to be inducted.
Meanwhile, Major General Abdulla Shamaal of the Maldives, who is also the first Maldivian graduate to be inducted and Major General Molefi Seikano of Botswana were also recognized for their respective services.
“We thank them and their families for their commitment to the service of their fellow citizens and to the safety and security of their respective regions and the globe. Together we can overcome today’s security challenges,” the statement further elaborated.
Admiral Travis Sinniah, WWV, RWP, RSP, USP, ndu, psc was a Sri Lankan admiral and the 21st Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy. He has served as the Commander of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Naval Area and as Flag Officer Commanding the Naval Fleet. He was the second Tamil to be appointed the commander of the Sri Lankan Navy after Rajan Kadiragamar in the 1960s.
Click here to watch his Farewell Speech as the Commander of Sri Lanka Navy;
Admiral Travis Jeremy Liyanduru Sinniah was educated at Trinity College, Kandy, and St. Joseph’s College, Trincomalee. He joined the Naval and Maritime Academy, Trincomalee, as an Officer Cadet in 1982, and graduated in 1984. He was selected to attend the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, from which he graduated in 1986. His training at HMS Dryad, HMS Mercury, HMS Collingwood and HMS Vernon at Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, has been among the best in the world. He has served on board British Warships during his time at Dartmouth.
Admiral Sinniah was the senior-most naval officer to be in active combat operations at sea during the war. He was awarded the highest combat medal (granted to a living officer) for exceptional valour and gallantry, the Weera Wickrama Vibhushanaya (WWV), and recommended for field promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral on account of his exceptional contribution to the war effort. His most significant Gallantry awards are the Weera Wickrama Vibushanaya (WWV), awarded for individual acts of gallantry and conspicuous bravery of a military nature of a high order in the face of the enemy, the Rana Wickrama Padakkama (RWP), awarded for exceptional gallantry in the face of the enemy and the Rana Sura Padakkama (RSP), awarded and re-awarded for gallantry in the face of the enemy. His other awards are the Uththama Seva Padakkama (USP), the Vadamarachchi campaign medal, the Riviresa campaign medal with clasp, the North & East operation medal with double clasp, the Sri Lanka long service medal with clasp, the Purna Bhoomi operation medal, the Sri Lanka independence 50th anniversary Medal and the Humanitarian operation medals for the north and the east with clasps.
The admiral received his specialization in Naval Communications and Electronic warfare at HMS Mercury, Petersfield, Portsmouth and INS Venduruthi, Cochin, India. He attended the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, India and was conferred the Master of Science degree in Defence and Strategic Studies. He followed a special course on Diplomacy and holds a Diploma in International Studies.
Admiral Sinniah is a Counter Terrorism Fellow (CTF) of the National Defence University, Washington DC. USA and he was made the “Distinguished Graduate” at the NDU for the year 2005. Admiral Sinniah followed the Defence Cooperation Course conducted by the Defence Institute of Security Assistance Management, Ohio.
Admiral Sinniah is a front line Executive Officer who has served in all the Squadrons of the SLN. He has held the prominent appointments of Flag Officer Commanding Naval Fleet, Commandant Naval and Maritime Academy, Deputy Area Commander East, Commandant Volunteer Naval Force and Commander Eastern Naval Area. He has commanded the flag ship of the Sri Lanka Navy, SLNS Sagara. He served in the Elite 4th Fast Attack Flotilla as a Squadron Commander and subsequently commanded the Flotilla as its Commanding Officer (FAF4). In addition, he has served as Commanding Officer on board Sri Lanka Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessels, Fast Missile Vessels, Fast Gun Boats and Fast Personal Carriers.
The admiral has held various staff positions at the Naval Headquarters, which include Naval Assistant to the Commander of the Navy, Staff Officer Projects and Plans, Senior Staff Officer Research and Development, Director Naval Projects and Plans and R & D and Deputy Director Naval Administration. He has also served as Deputy Area Commander of the Eastern, Northern and North Western Naval Commands.
Admiral Sinniah is a respected instructor and an eloquent speaker. He has represented the Navy at innumerable seminars and conferences, and presented papers at many of them. He spearheaded the establishment of the Naval wing for the Defence Services Staff College at Batalanda, laying down its syllabi and planning its initial courses.
Admiral Sinniah is a specialist in counter terrorism and littoral warfare. He was nominated to direct the Maldivian Defence Forces (MNDF) in formulating their maritime security strategy and counter-terrorism doctrine, which was implemented in 2008; it remains as the MNDF foundation policy on counter-terrorism at sea and on land.
He was instrumental in the design and modification of naval guns for the SLN, working closely with Royal Ordnance UK, and in the design of the Super Dvora class of FAC with Israeli aircraft industries. He was also the design leader for the indigenous 30mm stabilized gun of the SLN.
Admiral Sinniah is a sharpshooter and an “X” marksman. He is an excellent IPSC practical pistol shooter who captained the navy team in 2001/2002. Admiral Sinniah is a keen sportsman, and represented the Navy in basketball, soccer, rugby, squash and badminton.
Admiral Sinniah is a battle-hardened officer who has been awarded and re-awarded for valour and gallantry. He led the Naval Task Force in the destruction of LTTE “warehouse” ships over a period of two years. This monumental operation, “Sagara Balaya”, was the turning point in the war against the LTTE, and heralded its end. He has 37 LTTE hits under his command, and counts over 70 hits by the fleet during his tenure as Commander of the Fast Attack Flotilla. Admiral Sinniah was the officer who apprehended the infamous LTTE ship “Kadalpura” with 19 black sea tigers on-board, including the LTTE second-in-command and 9 LTTE leaders, a significant milestone in the course of the war.
Admiral Sinniah has been mentioned in dispatches and personally commended by the President of Sri Lanka for acts of conspicuous bravery, exceptional gallantry and outstanding service to the nation.
Prior to his appointment as the 21st Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy on 22nd August 2017, Admiral Sinniah held the post of Commander Eastern Naval Area. After his appointment as the Commander of the Navy the veteran naval officer introduced a new deployment of naval ships and craft in the northern seas. The initiative produced imminent results causing a significant drop in the number of Indian fishing trawlers entered into the Sri Lankan territorial waters.
Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Taimur arrived at the port of Colombo on a formal visit yesterday morning (12th August 2022). The visiting ship was welcomed by the Sri Lanka Navy in compliance with naval traditions.
The 134m-long ship is commanded by Captain M Yasir Tahir and it is manned by 169 as the ship’s complement.
In the meantime, the Commanding Officer of PNS Taimur is scheduled to call on Commander Western Naval Area at the Western Naval Command Headquarters today. The ship is expected to remain in the island until 15th August and the crew of the ship will take part in several programmes organized by the Sri Lanka Navy to promote cooperation and goodwill between two navies.
Further, PNS Taimur is expected to conduct a naval exercise with the Sri Lanka Navy in western seas on its departure on 15th August.
Meanwhile, PNS Tughril an identical warship belongs to the Pakistan Navy arrived in Sri Lanka on an official visit on 13th December 2021 and conducted a successful naval exercise with SLNS Sindurala off the western coast on 16th December. Naval exercises of this nature with regional navies will enable each partner to overcome common maritime challenges in the future, through enhanced cooperation.
PNS Taimur is the second of four frigates of Type 054 A/P being built for the Pakistan Navy. The lead ship of the class, PNS Tughril, was commissioned on January 24, 2022. PNS Taimur was launched on 29 January 2021, and the Chinese shipyard completed the ship in 17 months.
Pakistan signed an initial contract for the delivery of two Type 054 A/P frigates in 2017. An additional contract for two more ships was announced in June 2018. According to the contract, all four ships are built in China and the first two are expected to be delivered to the customer by year-end. HZ Shipyard seems to kept its commitment by delivering the second Type 054 A/P frigate on time.
The Pakistan Navy is currently undertaking an important renewal of its fleet, with the procurement of several modern platforms: In addition to these frigates from China, Pakistan will also commission new corvettes from Turkey and OPV from the Netherlands. It is also modernizing its submarine force. In 2016, Pakistan agreed to pay China $5 billion for the acquisition of eight Chinese Yuan-class type-041 diesel submarines by 2028 in order to shift the force balance with its archrival India.
The Type 054A is a multi-role frigate and is recognized as the backbone of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) fleet of surface combatants with 30 vessels in commission. They have a length of 134 meters, a beam of 16 meters for a displacement of 4,000 tons. They have a crew complement of 165 sailors and are fitted with:
- a H/PJ-26 76mm main gun
- 2×4 CM302 anti-ship missiles
- 32x VLS cells for HQ-16 surface-to-air missiles
- 2x Type 730 30mm CIWS
- 2x Triple Torpedo launchers
In PLAN service, those frigates feature a Type 382 radar which shares a close resemblance with the Russian MR-710 Fregat radar. Unlike the Pakistan Navy variant – whose first ship-in-class is fitted with an SR2410C radar – the Type 054A in Chinese Navy service does not feature a long-range/metric wave radar.
Who is Sara? Was she really a suicide bomber brained washed through Islamic extremism or a mole planted by a spy agency to track the motives of Islamic extremists who led the Easter attacks which killed nearly three hundred innocent people and wounded many more? Why is this mysterious lady continuing to dominate headlines while giving conspiracy theoreticians importance? Let us take a close look at the events surrounding her life during the Easter carnage in 2019.
Two days before the suicide attacks, Zahran Hashim’s wife Hadiya alias Siththiya, Muhammadu Hasthun’s wife Sara alias Pulastini Mahendran, and Mohammed Azad’s wife Abdul Raheem Feroza along with a few others left for Kanthankudy to find their safe place to buy time for possible subsequent attacks. They had brought a vehicle from Kattankudy to pick them up. The van was driven by Riyaz, a close associate of Zahran and his family.
Sara and Zahran’s Wife left Colombo
On their way to Kattankudy, they did not forget to buy white colour clothes from Jayasundara Textiles, a shop located in Giriulla. Feroza carrying Hadiya’s daughter entered the clothing store followed by Hadiya and Sara. It has been confirmed that Hadiya had bought two outfits, Sara four and Feroza three. Authentic sources reaffirmed that they have bought white clothes to use during Iddah after the deaths of their husbands. According to Islam, Iddah or “Iddat is an Arabic term which means the period of waiting and is observed by Muslim women. It is a period of chastity which a Muslim woman is bound to observe after the dissolution of her marriage due to the death of her husband or by divorce before she can lawfully marry again.”
As per the Quran described, the observing period for a widow is four months and ten days. But some sources suspected that they have bought the white clothes for detonating bombs at targeted locations though there is no evidence to support it. However, investigators have found substantive evidence to prove that they have dressed in white after the Easter attacks.
It was in the afternoon of April 18 in Colombo for the first time that Zahran told Hadiya that he and his group is planning to leave for Hijra known as greater emigration, and request her and the kids to live with his parents if he did not return. “In the Islamic tradition, Hijrah refers to Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Makkah to Medina in 622 CE. However, the Islamic State (IS) has manipulated this term to attract Muslim followers to its territories.” Zahran vowed that all responsibilities would be taken care of by his brother Rilwan alias Abu Kital. Then Zahran asked Rilwan to take his wife and two children along with others in the group to Kattankudy immediately.
As scheduled, the group left Colombo for Eastern Province via Panadura on the morning of April 19 and reached a safe house in Nintavur, Kathankudy at around 2.30 am on April 20. The group included Hadiya, her two children, Sara, Rilwan, Feroza, and Riyaz, who drove the van. It was the first time in months that the extended family members, including Zahran’s parents, had met. From April 20 to 26, 2019, the group used various tactics to hide from the security forces. Investigations have revealed that they used several houses in the area as safe houses during this short period. Eventually, their last hideout was a single-story house in the Bolivarian village in the Saindamaradu area.
It was the late afternoon of April 26th 2019, and the area, like many other places in the countrywas drowning in fear due to the most horrendous coordinated terrorist attacks in history. Several people in the mosque turned their attention to two men who went to pray at the Jumma Mosque that afternoon because of their suspicious behaviour. It did not take long to spread the news; many people were sceptical about the newcomers to their village.
The group chose to hide in a house in Bolivarian village in Saindamaradu area and determined that no one would pay attention to them. But their assumption was wrong. Bolivarian village is a Venezuelan-funded housing project for tsunami victims. The land selected for this project was previously used for paddy cultivation but due to its environmental difficulties, it was decided to use for the project. As a result of this project, the area was renamed the Bolivarian Village.
The group chose to hide in asbestos sheeted single floor house which has only one gate to enter or exit. It is a two-door black colour gate about seven feet high. Surrounded by four walls, the house consisted of a fairly large living area followed by a small veranda, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a toilet with a small shower area. The toilet was located near the kitchen, bordering a blind high wall about three feet from the kitchen wall. The house has a back door that allows access to the yard from the kitchen and enters the toilet. Even though that door, there is only one main gate for anyone to leave the house.
As of April 26, 2019, nineteen people, including Zahran’s family members, were staying in the house. They had collected a large number of various items, including explosives, and currency notes. According to sources, Zahran’s father Hayatu Mohammed, mother Synthi, wife Hadiya and her son Waseeth and daughter Rudaiyna, Rilwan, his wife Fatima Nafna, their children Mhra and Saheed, Sheini, his wife Fatima Afrin, their children Hamama and Umar, Zahran’s sister Hidayah, her husband Rishad, and their daughter Rubeiyda, Zahran’s second sister’s husband Niaz, Sara and Feroza.
Rilwan’s video message
The security forces received a message that a suspicious group was staying in the house around 4 pm on April 26, according to information provided by the people living in the village and the trustee of the Jumma Mosque. The security forces in charge of the area decided to search the house accordingly. Before the search of the house, the Army immediately deployed security forces to cover the entrance or exit area of the house. That was the time that Rilwan issued the video message saying that the house was surrounded by troops in his term “dogs” and that they were carrying out their plan in the name of Allah.
“By the grace of Allah, by the grace of Allah, we will get ready for what we have planned to do. we will rid this country of dogs and non-Muslims for they have no place. We will continue our effort until they are punished, may Allah be with us. Even if we died, we will die as martyrs. What we plan to do will take place at every venue. Stay with us, stay strong, believe in our word. Allah never fails to answer the prayers of the faithful. these people who do us wrong will face three times the revenge of God. This is our Jihad. We ask for this on the day of Yamul Qiyamaha where every prayer is answered and every plea is heard by Allah. Allah never fails to answer those prayers,” a joint video issued on social media by Rilwan, his father, and Shaini who was holding his son Umar on his lap were pledged.
However, the military operation was launched after they refused to surrender. Shaini and Niaz made a desperate attempt to prevent the army from entering the house and fired at the army. Niaz went out of the gate and tried to shoot at the army, but he was killed by the army in retaliation. His body was found about ten meters from the entrance gate of the house. Shaini’s body was also found lying in the yard of the house. Only Zahran’s wife Hadiya and her daughter survived with bad injures. Everyone else in the house was killed in the blasts. The other members of the household at the time were believed to beHayatuMohammed, Synthi, Rilwan, Fatima Nafna, Mihra, Saheed, Fatima Afrin, Hamama, Umar, Hidayah, Rishad, Rebeida, Sara, Feroza, and Zahran’s son Waseeth all of whom were believed to have died in the series of blasts.
Here, the first focus of the investigation on how Hadiya and her daughter survived was a matter of fate. Accordingly, a lot of important data about the incident was revealed. Realizing that the security force members have surrounded the house, they all began to wash and clean their hands and feet as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, Rilwan was preparing to blow up the gas cylinder in the house and the fuel tank of the motorcycle which was kept inside the living area.
Rilwan then assisted the others to tie up the suicide kits at home after tying up his suicide kit. Since then, Sara and Feroza have been wearing suicide kits. Hadiya has stated that she had witnessed the two of them wearing suicide kits and, Sara invites Hadiya to join them immediately to go to heaven. At that moment, Hadiya had gone with her daughter from the living room to the toilet first and then to the next bedroom. At that moment bombs exploded. Consequently, Hadiya fainted and fell. Hours later, security forces rushed her and her daughter to the hospital, and dead bodies were taken to post-mortems. Only a few bodies were found that could be easily identified. The bodies of all the others who remained in the house were dismembered.
On April 28 and 29, 2019, the forensic pathologist in charge of the area sent the bodies and body parts for post-mortem examination and obtained biopsy samples for DNA testing. After obtaining the approval of the court, the samples were referred to the Government Analyst. Unfortunately, three of those biological tissue samples had expired, the Analyst told the court on May 15, 2019. The police then referred the case to the CID for further investigation.
First and Second DNA tests
Permission was sought from the court on June 7, 2019, to obtain biopsy samples for DNA testing again from the relevant body parts, stating that three of the biopsy samples obtained were tainted. The bodies of ten adults and one child were recovered and samples were taken for DNA testing. The Judicial Medical Officer and the CID were present but for whatever reason, the Analyst’s Department officials did not attend. However, the DNA samples taken a second time were immediately sent fortests.
The results of those investigations were reported to the court three months later, on September 19, 2019. According to the relevant test report, the DNA tests could not confirm everyone in the house. Many questions than answers arose. Is it because they are not able to focus on certain parts when taking DNA samples? If not, was the number of persons in the house by the time of the explosions mentioned by Zahran’s wife wrong? Did anyone in the house escape before the explosion or at the time of the military operation? These questions made the incident even more controversial. Most people’s attention is drawn to Sara Jasmine, who returned from Colombo on April 19 with Hadiya and others. Because DNA tests could not confirm her body but all others.
What happened to Sara Jasmine, the wife of Abu Muhammad alias Mohammed Hashtun, the man who bombed St. Sebastian’s Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo? Some speculators and conspiracy theorists came up with many stories. One such story is that she has fled to India via Mannar with the support of a police officer as she was a mole of a spy agency. It has further complicated the investigations, though the most of stories were based on speculation and unsubstantiated rumours circulating throughout society. Therefore, it is important to look carefully at the actions taken by the officials of the law enforcement agencies in this country.
However, what we can reaffirm now is that the officials responsible for the first DNA tests on the victims of the explosions at the Bolivarian village house in Saindamaruthu did not pay keen attention to taking biopsy samples. Then, samples were taken from only a selected few bodies during the second round of DNA tests.
Evidence, meanwhile, showed that there was a difference between the number of people staying in the house and the number of bodies confirmed by DNA tests after the explosions. This discrepancy led to a wide social controversy and the truth was questioned. The basis for that controversy was that there was a political conspiracy behind this attack, and those who were the behind attacks helped Sara to escape. But when all the incidents in this chain of events are intertwined, it is very clear that there is no positive information or evidence to prove that there is a political conspiracy behind this or anyone who helped Sara to escape.
However, Hadiya has reconfirmed on several occasions that Sara Jasmine was present at the time of the explosions in the house. She also confirmed that she was wearing a suicide kit given by Rilwan. Shaini and Riyaz came out of the house and opened fire on the security forces, while three powerful explosions were reported inside the house. There is no credible evidence that anyone left the house after the explosions. As mentioned above, there is only one gate to enter and exit the house, which is surrounded by over seven feet high walls. It is also reported that a large number of people were watching the operation. Is it possible that anyone could have left the house at or after the explosions under such circumstances? Maj. Gen. Mahinda Mudalige, who commanded the Army in the operation, made it very clear that no one was able to escape after the Army surrounded the house since 6.00 pm on April 26, 2019.
However, the manufactured story about Sara remains as no scientific evidence to prove that she was dead. Meanwhile, a senior police officer attached to the Colombo Crimes Division has been assigned to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate the Easter Terrorist Attacks. It was November 27th, 2019. He reported that Sarah Jasmine had escaped while presenting before the Commission a testimony given by one of his informants as an eyewitness to the incident. Reports indicated that he uses a single statement of the relevant informant without any substantive details to prove the allegation. It is also clear that no detailed background study or mobile phone analysis has been conducted on the informant before presenting the evidence. So this so-called informant had changed his statements from time to time on several occasions.
According to the evidence presented in the Kalmunai Magistrate’s Court, the informant of the police officer who worked in the Presidential Commission had obtained information from his driver, Sivalingam Ravindran. Based on his statement, one Selvaraja Devakumar and a Chief Inspector Abubakar, both residents of Kalawanchikudi, were arrested by the Colombo Crimes Division. Both were charged with aiding and abetting Sara Jasmine’s escape. However, the person who allegedly provided information to the police officer’s informant has made contradictory statements on several occasions and later admitted before the Kalmunai Magistrate’s court that he had given false information. He also said that the police officer’s informant had asked him to tell him that he had seen the woman fleeing in the hope of getting a cash reward.
Based on the findings of the investigations carried out so far, two basic facts can be inferred. The first is that his informant had misled the police officer who was in charge of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to settle certain personal grievances. Second, Sara Jasmine’s escape to India for some reason may have been a deliberate fabrication by all involved including the police officer to get possible benefits.
However, there is still no credible evidence to prove that Sara Jasmine died in the bombings at home. Also, there is no credible evidence to prove that she fled the house at the time of the explosions. But there were serious defects in two rounds of DNA testing and the nature of collecting biopsy samples.
In this context, there are only several ideas that are said to have been given by people who claim to be informants and some of the assumptions that have been made are based on those ideas.
But here are a few basic facts to keep in mind. First, the allegations made by the informants that Sara Jasmine fled with the assistance of a police officer have been admitted by the court to be false themselves. Second, Zahran’s wife, Hadiya, has repeatedly stated that she witnessed Sara Jasmine wearing a suicide kit at the time of the blasts. It has also been confirmed that Shyam, a resident of Kalmunai, who was arrested on intelligence, has witnessed that Sara Jasmine was staying in this house. Confirming this, Rilwan also said in his final video message that he had three wives of three people who had gone to heaven a few days earlier with him and that they too would go to heaven soon. Based on these facts, it is not wrong to believe that Sarah Jasmine was present at the time of the house explosion.
Third DNA Tests
Mahendran Pulasthini alias Sara Jasmine was born on March 7, 1996 at the Kalawanchikudi Hospital. Hospital records reconfirmed that the mother had given birth to a baby girl at the hospital at 08.30 am on the same day. Born into a Hindu family, later converted to Islam due to a love affair, Sara’s life with many controversial events is very important to understand the different dimensions of the Easter attacks and the nature of the threats that may come in the future. Most importantly what happened to this girl who dreamt of becoming a medical doctor but turned into a suicide bomber for IS which led to the attacks on Easter in 2019? So it is very important to find out if she is alive or if she died in the explosions in the Bolivarian village house.
Against this backdrop, a third official request was made to the Security Council to obtain biopsies of the bodies of those killed in the explosions and to conduct DNA testing. That was two years ago, on the second day of February 2020. The request was made by Maj. Gen. Suresh Sallay, director of the State Intelligence Service. He made that request, focusing on several very important issues.
The head of state intelligence, over two years ago, observed that it was important to confirm the status of Sara Jasmine and the failure to do so could lead to serious security, legal, and social implications in the future. However, for a variety of reasons including the pandemic, the third round of DNA tests took a long time than expected.
Finally, several senior police officers went with the Government Analyst on May 7, 2021, for a site inspection of the crime scene to resolve the controversy that was emerging throughout the society. They did not forget to take Zahran’s wife Abdul Cader Fatima Hadiya to reconfirm the place. Following the site inspection, on 16 August 2021, the Government Analyst submitted a report to the CID making recommendations and observations on the matter. Saman Weerasinghe, a Chief Investigating officer of the Police, was instructed to retrieve the biopsy samples for further DNA testing to implement those recommendations immediately. Unfortunately, Mr. Weerasinghe died of illnesses, and the process was taken more time to obtain the necessary court order to collect the relevant biopsies.
When the case was taken to court on March 21, 2022, the police were able to obtain the relevant court order and the court was given time from April 08 to April 12 to obtain the relevant biopsy samples. However, the forensic pathologist in charge of the area was informed that he could not attend due to the urgent duties previously assigned to him. Therefore, April 27 was the date on which all responsible parties could participate. Accordingly, the body parts were exhumed and the required samples were taken for DNA testing. This time, the Judicial Medical Officer, Government Analyst and the CID took action to collect samples from all the relevant body parts. Therefore, this time the test will be crucial. It is to be hoped that there will be a clear scientific answer to the widespread rumours about Sara Jasmine.
Enigma of Sara Jasmine
However, no one has the right to say for sure whether Sara Jasmine died in the incident until confirmed by the thorough investigation. The unknown factors of her life as well as her current status have had a more controversial impact. This incident teaches us that it is very difficult and tedious to get the true picture of the incident which is surrounded by misinformation spread in the society through various elements and prejudices.
According to the evidence of those she last met, 23-year-old Sara Jasmine was born into a Hindu family and later converted to Islam and accepted violent extremism as the sole way to forever lasting liberation. Suicide bombers created by the LTTE and suicide bombers manufactured by Islamic extremism have opened up a new social dimension that we were reluctant to see. This abysmal transformation that takes place in someone who sacrifices their life for an individual or ideology highlights the need for an in-depth study of the society in which we live. Preventing the recurrence of such violent tendencies cannot be achieved by clinging to various conspiracies.
Social crises always make man think. How many people adapt to those temptations and focus on studying them? But unfortunately, many people tend to use any social event very easily to achieve narrow political objectives rather than seizing the opportunity to make a greater social contribution. If we close the path to the search for truth ourselves, we will become accustomed to gathering around the delusion. When delusion becomes the primary driving force in our lives, we inherit slavery over individual liberty. This is why the enigma of Sara Jasmine must be scientifically revealed. It is a form of collective social responsibility.