Defence - Page 8

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,


ISKP Calls for Jihad Against India

On September first week, the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP) published issue 13 of its Voice of Khurasan magazine which featured an article scorning India and a separate profile of an Indian jihadist, according to the report published in Militant Wire. As part of ISKP’s strategy of expanded regionalization and internationalization, India has become a higher priority enemy of the group, and recruitment efforts targeting Indian Muslims have been boosted, the report added.

The article, titled “A Message for the Oppressed Muslims in the Cow Worshippers’ State”, says there is a “genocide” occurring “under the nose of [the] UN”. ISKP says “Hindu fanatics” have subjected Muslims to “systematic oppression” for the last 75 years.

ISKP says it is up to individual Muslims to turn the situation around since actors such as “the taghut of Pakistan” do not intend to help their supposed coreligionists in Kashmir. Indian Muslims, they say, are the targets of “state-sponsored Hindu terrorism”. The author(s) warns that “our enemies are well prepared to destroy us” and that “they will not show us mercy”.

The solution, according to ISKP, is to “throw away the shackles of humiliation” and “return to your religion – i.e. jihad in the way of Allah.” ISKP says “the only way you will be able to reclaim your glory is to pledge your allegiance to our Khalifah and clean the historical land of Khilafah from the filths of idolatry and idolaters.”

Public Centric Police: How to Get There?


In every civilised society, a police system exists for the common good of the community. World over, the primary duty of any Police Force is the prevention and the detection of crime and criminal law enforcement with the view to apprehending perpetrators of crime and collecting evidence against them, enabling them to be prosecuted in courts of law and to maintain public tranquility.

Of course, based on the nature of the structure of the State and its organs and the system of law and justice, the structure and the powers and functions of the Police vary from country to country. Due to 130 years of British colonial rule, Sri Lanka inherited a police system similar to its former colonial ruler — the United Kingdom.

In many countries, including Sri Lanka, laws and statutes specify the functions of the Police Force, the obligation for it to be an institution for crime prevention and to function in this capacity. However, it meets with misunderstanding and often veiled opposition when it seeks to assert its preventive and social role. This attitude which is widespread among the public must be changed. The Police essentially need to secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the Rules of Law.

Law and order is the basic foundation of any civilised society. The most fundamental issue for the Police is dealing with the community. Over the passage of time, the tasks of the Police in serving the community have become more complex and extensive. The Police have to accomplish the impossible and therefore have to develop an operating mode that is acceptable to most of the people most of the time. The role of the Police is vastly different to the approaches of other State apparatus with a totally divergent “culture” and an arduous 2 x7 duty to perform, which needs to be understood by society.

The fundamental duty of the Police is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and properties; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence and disorder, and to respect the Constitutional rights of all people to liberty, equality and justice.

Nevertheless, people most of the time seem to be unaware that they expect the Police to perform an arduous and difficult task. Moreover, they are often a scapegoat for the community’s social and moral default.

Police in Sri Lanka are primarily responsible for the maintenance of law and order, prevention of the commission of crime, detection of crime, investigation of crime with the view to identifying and apprehending suspects, collecting evidence and thereby facilitating their prosecution in courts of law
When exercising this primary duty, Police are often criticised for their coercive role, while on the other, their attempts at purely preventive and social work are ill-received. “That’s not their job” is often heard with allusion to the alleged incompatibility between their coercive functions and their preventive aspirations.

Due to serious security threats faced by the country as a result of separatist terrorism perpetrated by the LTTE up until mid-2009, the Sri Lanka Police were compelled to assume additional responsibilities for the protection of the State, sovereignty, its national leaders, the civilian population, and property. In this regard, the Sri Lanka Police were required to perform unconventional duties similar to those performed by the security forces. The deployment of Police personnel to perform national security functions did lead to virtually one-half of the entire 85,000 odd Police Force deployed either in the Northern and Eastern Provinces referred to as ‘Operational Areas’.

As a result, the number of Police personnel available to perform conventional Police duties such as patrolling for the purpose of preventing the commission of crime, early detection of crime and receiving intelligence and conducting criminal investigations, became far less than the actual number required to carry out such duties and responsibilities effectively.

Be it either the former or the latter reason, the Police alone cannot solve the crime problem or establish Order. Police certainly could do better with the active participation of the community. The civic community must support compliance with the rule of law, instead of looking to the Police as merely an institution responsible for controlling criminality, public tranquility and/or Law and Order. An excellent case in point is the last General Election. The public well understood the importance of good behaviour and obedience to Law and Order, except in a few isolated negligible number of incidents. This perceptive approach of the public made the role of the Police relatively uncomplicated and helped them to discharge their duties towards enforcement of Law and Order with a positive note for the conduct of a fair and peaceful election. This undoubtedly enhanced the public trust in the Police.

Going by this illustration, for the Police as the enforcing arm of the Law, it is needless to say that the public adherence to discipline and observance of the rule of law undoubtedly rest as pre-requisites, they being the main stakeholders to achieve this objective. This is the most important fabric and foundation, essentially needed if we are to progress as a nation.

C. Wright Mills in his book “Sociological Imagination” has referred to social problems quite correctly as a threat to values. The high level of literacy, social mobility and the long history of exercising the adult franchise cannot be single-handedly considered as influencing forces to transform the behavioural patterns of individuals. Efforts to prevent crime must therefore include the teaching of conventional values. In this context, it is also necessary to find ways to strengthen individual bonds to society, commitment to the conventional order and participation in conventional activities. The best way is to strengthen the institutions that socialise people and continue to regulate their behaviour throughout life — the family, the school, and the workplace — address the individuals as part of society and teach necessary values for social wellbeing. In this backdrop, personal or inner controls are as important as social or external controls in keeping people from committing crimes and for the observance of the Rule of Law.

Thus, it would be seen that the solution to control crime is not only in the hands of the Police. It has a combination of multiple factors, to put it very simply, the public behaviour, their perception; attitudes; more importantly obedience to the law, respect for authority, upholding values, investment in customs and traditions – they all too play a major role, a role that will certainly be supportive in the maintenance of Law and Order by Police. Therefore, Civil society essentially plays a pivotal role and needs to be a driving force to support the Police in the flow of information to curb crime or could group together to support crime prevention mechanisms, stop other violations adversely affecting the wellbeing of the community and respect and observe the Rule of Law.

In the light of what is said, the conception of its vocation in the field of crime prevention must, at the outset, be shared by all those who are capable of helping the Police either through moral influence in the country or through their professional relations with the Police such as judges, sociologists, criminologists, social workers, probation officers, and, above all, peace-loving citizens.

It must be regarded with no separation that Policing in a democratic society is a Public Political function. It emanates from the three divisions of the Government, namely, the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. All of this is subjected to civilian oversight, with the community finally responsible for all the processes dealing with crime and criminals. What the Police are, what they do, how they do, how well they fulfill the expectations, how professional they are, and what improvements they need are political questions, that inevitably need to be viewed as prerequisites for enhancement and enforcement of the laws.

On the other hand, reinforcements of informal controls on individual behaviour are the most vital way to reduce the incidence of crime. Compliance with most laws does not depend upon the likelihood of them being enforced, but upon the acceptance of informal norms and a concern for the feeling of others. The participation of all social institutions in the maintenance of peace and public order is a must and they could be partners in systematic crime preventive action through more effective Police-Community cooperation, which is seriously lacking in our country.

If you look back, history reveals that crime has been analysed in the last century from every aspect; biological, theological, sociological, psychological and economical. The evolution theory has taught us that we evolved from an animal state where killing and being killed were part of nature’s design. Millions of years have passed and we have shed more of our instinct. Our minds are, however, still preoccupied with the most predatory instincts, and society is pervaded by overt and covert forms of violence generating a general climate of irrationality.

No police system in this world has ever succeeded by functioning in isolation. No Police Force in the world has been able to effectively deal with crime and other Law and Order problems without the active support of the community it serves. Therefore, as leaders of civil society, as conscientious community and social leaders, as responsible citizens of Sri Lanka, all should help the Police in the discharge of their duties and functions.

Given this orientation, crime and disorder are major concerns to be dealt with by Police and could be termed “Community Malignancies” that would imperil the quality of living and morality to a very harmful extent. It is in this theoretical matrix that the community’s role and responsibility in crime prevention have to be viewed as decisive.

Unlike in totalitarian systems, in a democratic society, the police function depends, to a considerable degree, on self-policing by every citizen. This dictum comes into play a pivotal role as law observance is the most salient part of law enforcement. Traffic management is a case in point. The Police spend a great deal of time and resources doing it, but most of the actions (tasks) are done by motorists who have to abide by road rules. Hence, the order cannot be secured only through fear of punishment and the public too have an important role to play to obey the “Rules of Law”

Ironically with the social changes, the approach of the Police in dealing with Law and Order has to be generally one of professional development, including elevation of recruitment standards, extensive training covering a wide range of subjects including Police-community relations, strengthening against submissions to the demands of politicians and expansion of specialised training, resources to some degree and the gradual emergence of police-community relations.

The purposes of these areas and developments in the recent past have been to strengthen the implementation of equal protection under the law for all citizens, to foster and improve communication and mutual understanding between the Police and the community and to enhance Police education and training especially to deal in social and behavioural attitudes to meet the ever-changing challenges, vastly different to the conditions of yesteryears.

Against this backdrop, the social behaviour of people must be also well understood. The current social behaviour is that many people become so preoccupied with their own personal issues that they pay little attention to larger community problems. This situation has distanced the people from supporting the Police by way of providing true and genuine information and responsiveness to curb crime and for productive enforcement action.

Further, as in the past, large numbers of today’s youth do not submit to traditional behaviour controls, in or out of school. Problems of discipline loom large in and around classrooms. School behaviour, to say the least, especially at the upper levels, is often marginally criminal, often violent, as many witness during big matches and in the newly emerged ‘demonstration culture’, turning dangerous and frightening and even to the extent of students manhandling the teachers. Therefore, obviously, the maintenance of order continues to be important in a school setting. The fact is that if anger or hostility is accompanied by physical attack upon school staff, fellow students or property, the optimum atmosphere for teaching or learning is bound to rapidly deteriorate. Teachings at school levels and in homes and improving the quality of instructions and monitoring the activities and behaviours of students will improve the discipline and order to make children good citizens.

Public support, community-wide interest and individual participation, therefore are important to be enlisted. In other words, the information that allows the Police to exert formal control must be supported by the people.

Therefore, mutual assistance among the various components of society will certainly encourage the Police to become more functional. The best solution is to have only one urge and that should always be allowed to exit; the urge to live in peace. In this context, not only the Police but the people too have a vital role to play.

The community must understand that Police need the community in their role and that such participation is equally beneficial to all segments of the community. Public interest in the Police-community relationship at times surmounts adversely when civic peace and order are threatened by dissident groups in street demonstrations, confrontations and the like. Unfortunately, such treacherous actions have now become more common than in the past. Often these events spill over into violence and Police are quickly labelled as “villains”, forgetting the fact they are guardians of the law.

Today, people are used to a culture of taking to the streets, blocking the roads, thus inconveniencing the peace-loving public, to bring forth their grievances in the form of protests, seeking the intervention of the authorities to resolve their problems. Such situations have, of late, been a common site with no single day passing by without a demonstration taking place. The publicity drawn on such events for public consumption has also led to the replication of occurrences in the guise of democracy, little realising the ill effects to the community in particular and public tranquility in general.

Citizens must understand that the prevention of violent situations is not the responsibility of the Police alone. A just social order for all is the ultimate answer and reaching this goal is a vital responsibility also of the community. One of the most enduring Policing tenets attributed to Sir Robert Peel – the 19th Century British Home Secretary, who played a key role in the establishment Metropolitan Police Act is the adage “The Police are the People and the People are the Police”. The truth of the saying could be made real only when the community plays a hands-on role in making their neighbourhood safe and observing the Rules of Law. The citizens essentially need to understand the core values of the society they live and collaborate between them and the Police to uphold and maintain Law and Order.

It is unlikely that many instances of Police action have ever been completely satisfactory to everyone concerned; for no matter how brilliant or efficient may be, it is at most times not viewed with enthusiasm by the thwarted or apprehended offender or his or her family, friends and/or interest groups. Constructive criticism must come by way to improve the efficiency of the Police but certainly not in the way of destructive criticism to incapacitate and/or ridicule their image. Therefore, the community needs to alter this adversarial element in its relationship with the Police to understand that in all their functions, the Police carry out a multifaceted responsibility assigned to them by the community they serve. Public participation to assist the Police in their duties must be understood as a civic right of the community and not to enable the Police to win popularity contests.

Reduction of crime through community involvement, reduction of fear of crime, solicitation of information from the public, involvement of the community in Police functions and improvement of the image of the Police Force are some of the key factors that require to be listed.

The Police need the public in their role as a supportive body. The public has frequently taken the position of not wanting to get involved and then pointing the finger of blame at the Police for rising crime. This is not to say that the Police can simply point the finger of blame back at the public. What it means is that the responsibility of an efficient Police Force is two-way; it needs public support and participation to deter offenders from working against society and, on the other hand, the Police need to improve their professionalism to serve the public.

Public support, community-wide interest and individual participation, therefore are important to be enlisted. In other words, the information that allows the Police to exert formal control must be supported by the people. However, information must be truthful and should not be brought forth due to other dubious reasons, such as personal enmity, professional and personal jealousy, resentment and intervention of interest groups to fabricate evidence. Such irresponsible transgressions will only divert the attention of the Police on a wrong trail, making the end result pessimistic and negative.

Citizens must be the ones who are the major reporters of crime, witnesses of crime and accusers of wrongdoers; they are the information sources for the Police to act swiftly for the benefit of the community at large.

Police require community-based support in crime prevention and enforcing the Rule of Law. This approach of the public will exemplify the problem-solving nearness to Police and community relations, in which citizens could function as the eyes and ears of the Police. The public should not remain passive, only to protect individual interests. Public support is few and far between. Although one can observe a descending trend in civic engagement across the globe, it is amply clear that at least a minimum level of civic participation is essential to sustain effective implementation of the Rule of Law. The civic consciousness indisputably still holds great value and correspondingly needs citizen mobilisation as a driving force, if we are to translate the enforcement of Law and Order.

Citizen involvement in crime prevention and control cannot be considered an unrealistic expectation in today’s context; many citizens are apathetic and prefer that Police alone be responsible for maintaining law and order. Citizens must, therefore, should not forget the fact that all policing is community policing and the job of the Police will be easy if the citizens obey the Rules of Law.

Abraham Maslow has said that “when one’s only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. The public participation in assisting the Police is twofold: to be disciplined and to cooperate with the Police in the prevention of crime and the preservation of public tranquility.

The creation of this kind of community participation requires the collaborative effort of all social agencies as a complementary option to conventional law enforcement. The impetus of building a Police-Public partnership will certainly bring forth success in civilian policing for the wellbeing of the community and is bound to ameliorate the maintenance of Law and Order to enhance the quality of life.

India Commissions its First Indigenous Aircraft Carrier


“Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the new Naval Ensign for Indian Navy at Kochi on 2 September 2022 on the sidelines of the commissioning of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant,” Indian High Commission in Colombo said in a statement.  

“The new Naval Ensign has done away with the Saint George’s Cross in centre which is symbolic of Indian Navy’s historic association with United Kingdom. The first change to the Indian Navy Ensign, post-independence was made in 1950, where in the Indian tri colour was inserted on the left top corner,” it added.

The statement further reads as follows;

It may be recalled the other aircraft carrier of Indian Navy INS Vikramaditya had visited Colombo in January 2016, generated huge interest amongst the locals and strengthened the bonds of friendship between the two countries. In continuation of India’s maritime cooperation with Sri Lanka, a Dornier Maritime aircraft was gifted to Sri Lanka Air Force on 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence on 15 August 2022. The Dornier will enhance endeavours of Sri Lanka for maritime security in the region.

The commissioning of the first indigenous 45,000 Tons Aircraft Carrier INS Vikrant has showcased the quantum leap by India to design, build and operate an Aircraft Carrier, which is the most advanced and extremely complex platform operated at sea. The ship is 262m long and can cruise upto 28 knots. The ship can carry more than 30 aircraft and helicopters onboard including indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH).

Indian Navy has been actively engaged with Sri Lanka Navy in facilitating engagements like Deck Landing Practice and Copilot experience on indigenous ALHand Sail Training Experience onboard INS Tarangini for SLAF/ SLN personnel in March 2022.In line with the Government of India’s ‘Neighbourhood  First Policy’ spares for SLNS Sagara, SLCG Suraksha and AN 32 are being, provided on grant basis byGovernment of India to ensure optimal operational availability of platform and thereby improve security in the region.

Supporting Sri Lanka’s fight against COVID-19, Indian Naval Ship Shakti arrived in Colombo on 22 August 2021 carrying100 tons of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) from Visakhapatnam.Further, Indian Naval Ship Gharial was specially tasked for expeditious delivery of medical supplies to Sri Lanka in April and June 2022. To commemorate 75 years of India’s Independence, an Artificial Limb Camp, sponsored by Government of India was conducted by Bhagwan Mahaveer Viklang Sahayata Samiti (BMVSS), an Indian NGO for the disabled defence personnel of Sri Lanka Armed Forces in Colombo and Jaffna in February-March 2022.

Towards capability and capacity building measures for Sri Lankan Armed Forces, agreements were signed for provisioning of 4000T Floating Dock and installation of Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre for SL Navy in March 2022. The initiatives by Government of India would help in realisation of the vision ‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’ (SAGAR).

Sri Lanka’s First Firm Steps at Economic Reforms


President Ranil Wickremesinghe took tentative steps to bring a semblance of orderly governance during the month. He ended the month presenting an interim budget to stabilize economic growth with the aim to create a surplus by 2025. After the exit of the Rajapaksa’s, the hopes of Wickremesinghe restoring democratic governance were belied when the government used the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to rounded up the Aragalaya leaders, drawing severe criticism from civil society and the UNHRC. There is a sense of disappointment among the people to see parliamentarians reverting to riding their hobby horse – jockeying for power, tinkering with legislation in the name of curbing executive powers of the president and endlessly talk of the elusive “all party government”.

On the positive side, the young energy minister Kanchana Wijesekara seems to be making honest efforts to tame and rationalise energy pricing and distribution. The talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have progressed, though efforts to reschedule creditors is making halting progress, with China playing truant. President Wickremesinghe seems to have succeeded in his tightrope act in foreign policy so far, despite the India-China differences coming alive over China berthing its spy ship in Hambantota port in spite of India’s security concerns.

Interim budget and economic reforms

Presenting the Budget, President Wickremesinghe said the government’s aim is “to create a surplus in the primary budget by the year 2025.” The Daily FT listed six salient aspects of the budget. These included the announcement on billions of rupees-worth social safety measures, quit notices to public servants over 60, restructuring for key 50 state owned enterprises (SOE), measures to kickstart revival in agriculture, industry and tourism, write off default loan of farmers and announcement of wide-ranging revisions to many existing legislations. Every Sri Lankan would agree with his remark that the country “can no longer be a nation dependent on loan assistance, we can also no longer be used as a tool of interference by other countries with strong economies. All our collective vision should be to make our country strong and stable, in order to stand independently.”

However, Wickremesinghe’s reiteration of the call to political parties to join the “All Party Government” probably has only some cosmetic value to the political discourse as the APG is a non-starter. While this may be the need of the hour, much will depend upon how the political cookie crumbles. As he said, if Sri Lanka “miss these opportunities, we will be marginalized globally.” But the credibility of his remarks is weakened as the same tainted political class is still calling the shots in the present government. There is talk of former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa returning home on September 24 from his self-exile in Thailand. If that comes true, Wickremesinghe should get ready to handle the unsavoury task of yet another socio-political turbulence.

The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has welcomed the budget. SJB MP and economist Dr Harsha de Silva saw it as an attempt by the President to change the course of the country into a ‘modern productive enterprise’ by undertaking serious reforms to stabilise and restructure the economy. To achieve this, the President has proposed the introduction of new laws like the Public Finance Management Act to run the affairs of the government and amendments to the Monetary Law Act to reduce the pressure on the Central Bank from Treasury and reduce money printing. The introduction of the new laws will have a more disciplined system of governance.

Well entrenched political and trade union interests in SOE and among public servants, Wickremesinghe is likely to face a tough task at every step in fulfilling this part of the agenda. As Dr de Silva pointed out “They (SLPP) opposed every type and every time reforms were brought up for four decades. It is a quirk of circumstances and fate almost that is them who will have to do these reforms now.” The state-owned Sri Lankan airlines is a case in point. It has accumulated a staggering $ 1 billion debt and dues comprising of $ 175 million government guaranteed international bond, $ 380 million payable to state banks, BOC and Peoples Bank and $ 80 million loan taken from BOC by mortgaging shares of Sri Lankan Catering. The government can no longer fund the national carrier given the country’s financial, forex and economic crisis.

However, the privatisation of this white elephant is going to be an uphill task, as leftist trade unions rule the roost in most of the SOEs and see a red flag in any talk of privatisation. Already, there are protests voiced against the proposed privatisation of retail distribution of fuel. Ultimately, when IMF’s structural reforms come into full play, Sri Lankans will have no option but to corral and weed out 60 odd white elephants of SOE. As PM in the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government, Wickremesinghe had co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 adopted in 2015. To retain his international credibility, he will have to bring the issue to a logical conclusion by establishing a credible judicial process to bring to book alleged right abusers. This is a humongous task as the President is dependent upon the SLPP support.

The first step in improving the government’s accountability process would be to abolish the PTA “one of the key enablers of arbitrary detention for over decades” as described by a UN body. Unfortunately, the government has used it to arrest Aragalaya protestors. Instead of doing away with PTA, the government efforts are on subsume its provisions in a National Security Act (NSA). This could only bring international criticism to the government, when it is trying to maximise its economic support. Of course, the larger question of implementing 13th Amendment in full is still lingering and this is yet another pressure point.

China’s Wolf Warrior diplomacy in action

China’s “spy ship” Yuan Wang-5 docked in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port from August 16 to 22 disregarding the security concerns of both India and the US and turning down Sri Lanka’s request to defer the visit. The research ship belonging to the PLA’s 5th branch – the Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) – created in December 2015, can carry out space, cyber and electronic warfare. It also has the capability to assist PLA’s land-based stations in tracking satellite, rocket and ICBM launches within a range of 750 km. There is more to China’s insistence on docking Yuan Wang-5 in Hambantota port than refuelling and replenishment.

China was testing the depth of India-Sri Lanka relations which have become closer than ever before. It is also a strong affirmation of China’s influence on Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean Region. This was indicated in an op-ed the Chinese ambassador to Colombo Qi Zhenhong wrote in Sri Lanka media. Hinting at India, he warned “any infringement on the national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka shall not be tolerated” (obviously by China). He further added, “External obstruction based on the so-called ‘security concerns’ but without any evidence from certain forces is de facto a thorough interference into Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence.”

The Chinese ambassador also reminded Sri Lanka of the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council to be held in Geneva where human rights issues of Sri Lanka might be stirred up, where China could help. India took strong exception to the Chinese envoy’s article. The Indian High Commission in Colombo departing from the norm, let loose broadsides on the article saying, “His violation of basic diplomatic etiquette may be a personal trait or reflecting a larger national attitude.” It added, “His views of Sri Lanka’s northern neighbour may be coloured by how his own country behaves. India, we assure him, is different. His imputing a geopolitical context to the visit of a purported scientific research vessel is a giveaway.”

It is evident, India is not prepared to tolerate any more needling from China. External Affairs Minister Jaishankar during his South American tour explained that the relationship (with China) 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 stressed that each one will have their interests and we need to be sensitive to what the concerns are of the other party.

Tailpiece: Yuan Wang-5 is currently 400 nautical miles South-Southeast of Dondra Head at the southernmost tip of the island nation. It is a matter of detail that the vessel is mapping the ocean bed in an area close to the US military base in Diego Garcia.

This article is a part of Sri Lanka Guardian Syndication. This was originally published in Security Risks Asia, a Delhi-based Think Tank. Click here to visit the original source.

Views are personal

Brussels: Hideaway of Espionage


Conjure up a list of cities considered world capitals of espionage. Those featured in movies and television, with their romantic atmosphere and scenery, include Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, London, Cairo, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, Bangkok, and Saigon.

Not to ignore the less romantic but important cities of Moscow, Beijing, and Washington, DC.
By comparison, Brussels seems overlooked by spy novelists and film directors, but its unusual concentration of diplomatic missions to the European Union, NATO, and to Belgium itself brings a high ratio per square kilometer of diplomats and lobbyists—as well as spies. “Washington and Brussels compete for the largest number of embassies and other representations on earth” remarked an ICT (information and communications technology) executive close to the Belgian authorities. He added that the spy agencies of numerous countries, including America, Russia, and China “do whatever they want here; there are so many [espionage] issues going on that Belgian authorities don’t know where to start.”
His view was not contradicted by other Belgians in the private sector and in government, including the police, who requested anonymity when interviewed in July, commenting only on background. Another frustrated business person asked, in relation to China’s efforts, “When will we wake up?”

The observation that Brussels is teeming with foreign agents is not new: several stories appeared during 2018 and 2019, with Politico calling the city a “prime target for spooks,” and Bloomberg, calling it a “gateway for China.” A September, 2019 article in the German daily Die Welt quoted EU sources saying that the streets of Brussels were swarmed by at least 250 Chinese and 200 Russian operatives. According to Die Welt, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Union intelligence arm, warned EU officials to avoid certain restaurants and bars in the “EU District.” Supposedly the lunchtime crowds include Chinese agents trying to listen in on conversations at adjoining tables.

“The Belgians are frankly overwhelmed,” said Nigel Inkster, former director of operations for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6), now the senior advisor for Cyber Security and China at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “They have neither the resources nor the political backing they need to deal with a challenge on this scale.”

Though this problem has been under discussion for years, it seems to be getting worse because there is little action by Belgian policy makers.

One problem, said the ICT executive, is political inertia in Belgium, a country long mired in existential crisis between its Flemish- and French-speaking halves. Due in part to this fragmented political scene, it can take months to assemble a government in Belgium’s parliamentary system after the votes are counted: the most recent example is a 400-day lag between the May, 2019 election and the seating of a government in September the following year. “During this sort of standstill security is not a topic (and) we lack a security mindset in general,” the executive added. “There is insufficient organization and fragmented decision making.”

China Rising

“The power of China is much more than those who are running around here” said another ICT executive. He pointed out that equipment from Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE is still being used in all three major Belgian mobile telephone networks. From an engineering perspective, he opined that the software in telecom switches and other equipment is almost certainly updated remotely with new releases from China. “That means the network could be shut down at will,” disabling communications for the EU, NATO, SHAPE, and Belgian authorities during an emergency. And with frequent software updates being a normal part of operations, “it is virtually impossible to monitor each of them up to the last feature.” [SHAPE, which stands for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, is a NATO command with its own building in Brussels.]

The effect of unreliable communications was painfully demonstrated during the March 2016 terrorist bombings in Brussels, when mobile networks became basically unusable for several hours—including the national emergency network—leaving first responders virtually in the dark. “Belgian policy is merely declarative,” added this ICT executive, “based on all the more studies and promises, but no implementation.” This begs the question, how real is the risk that EU and NATO will be unable to communicate during a crisis if telecommunications are crippled or lost.

The specter of foreign interference with Belgium’s infrastructure was underlined this week when a foreign hack against the prime minister’s office was exposed. The affected equipment housed there serves not only the PM’s chancellery, but also the federal and local police forces, whose officers lost access to their data either briefly or for extended periods.

Belgian cybersecurity officials were uncertain of the origin. Though the sophistication of the hack suggested a major power, “the truth is we don’t know. The investigation has just begun,” said Michel Rignanese of Belgium’s Center for Cybersecurity.

A Belgian executive, speaking confidentially, expressed the similiar uncertainty about about solar modules imported from China—which make up an increasing share of the Belgian power grid that supplies Brussels. He opined that embedded semiconductors could in theory be used from afar to shut off or significantly reduce power to Brussels if desired by the manufacturer during a dispute between NATO and a hostile power.

Ralph Ahlgren, the President and CTO of the Silicon Valley solar company Soleeva, confirmed manipulation of solar technology is a technically feasible. “Megawatt-scale solar installations should always be carefully examined” to measure the risk that “backdoor channels could be used to disable or disrupt” a power network, Ahlgren said, adding that a large percentage of solar inverters used in utilities could be vulnerable in this way, with semiconductors that have a secret purpose. “For that reason, we don’t use products sourced entirely from China.”

“In Belgium there is no safety and security culture,” stated Dr. Kenneth Lasoen, a Belgian Research Fellow specializing in intelligence and defense at Clingendael, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. “The Americans do urge the Belgians to rectify the security situation from time to time,” in particular after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, which were planned and executed from Belgium. “But then, nothing happens.”

Unfortunately, American counterintelligence training for its personnel in Brussels may not be as robust as one would expect in this target-rich environment: besides the EU and NATO, there is also SHAPE. One experienced American service member commented that they had received no security training since arrival months before, and was surprised to hear that EEAS warned of spies listening in at certain eateries. “It does seem like the Americans may need additional OPSEC training for this environment,” observed Dr. Lasoen.

The Belgian National Security Strategy of 2021 signaled the intent to make the nation a “hostile environment for espionage,” added Lasoen, “but if we also came down hard on the Americans, they might retaliate.”

Another ICT executive also wondered if Washington itself might be behind the lack of action in Brussels. “Why do the Americans let this continue? Are they part of it? Do they actually benefit from it?”

By contrast, in neighboring Holland the Americans “don’t do anything …without notifying Dutch authorities,” said Lasoen, whose work has brought him into regular contact with both Dutch and Belgian intelligence. “Dutch counterintelligence is sufficiently performative to catch operations on their soil.”

Low-Key Response

For its own reasons, Washington may not have chosen to cultivate such a close relationship with Brussels—perhaps because of the plethora of agencies on the Belgian side and the difficult political culture of a small divided country.

Belgium has had it successes, such as the 2016 arrest of militants linked to the 2015 Paris attacks and more recent operations against European drug traffickers. But perhaps its most revealing success was, in retrospect, a stress test for its government: the April 2018 arrest and instantaneous extradition to the U.S. of Xu Yanjun.

Xu is the Chinese Ministry of State Security officer arrested in Brussels during his hitherto successful operation to steal jet engine technology from various sources including General Electric. Xu took one operational risk too many and was nabbed in Brussels, noted an experienced expert on the MSS, based in the U.S.

In spite of Xu’s unprecedented arrest in a Western capital, Beijing made little fuss over his case, with a few statements in English but seemingly none in its state-approved Chinese language media. A web search on the Chinese characters for Xu Yanjun, the Ministry of State Security, and Belgium (徐延军, 国安, 比利时) reveals zero coverage in mainland China’s media of Xu’s extradition to America, presumably to avoid a loss of face amongst the Chinese populace. By contrast, at the time there was wall-to-wall coverage, mug shots and all, from non-communist Chinese language sources outside of the PRC.

The low-key response contrasted sharply with Beijing’s apoplectic reaction in December that same year to the detention in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei, which led the Chinese Communist Party to arrest two Canadians living in China, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. They were only released when Meng was allowed to return to China almost three years later. Given that hostage-taking is a longstanding Chinese practice, this was an alarming but unsurprising development.

It may seem odd that Beijing chose not to punish Belgium over Xu’s arrest as they did with Canada over Ms. Meng’s detention. But with an apparently robust and valuable Chinese espionage network on Belgian soil–that may have attracted the Xu operation in the first place–Beijing might logically have decided that squeezing Brussels too hard might blow back, instigate counterintelligence action spoiling the favorable, laisse faire espionage environment there.

More than one Belgian wondered if Washington has made the same calculation: that intelligence collection in Belgium is more important than helping improve the counterintelligence capabilities of an ally. Whether or not this is true, without a significant change of minds in several capitals, including Washington, it seems that Brussels, packed with assets vital to the West, will continue to be a city “pwned” by hostile spies for the foreseeable future.

This article is a part of our syndication and republished with the permission of Spy Talks, where this piece first appeared. Click here to read the original

Hunting Down al-Zawahiri – A Step towards Peace or a Move towards War?


As two raging hellfire missiles fired from a US military drone slammed into the balcony of a compound in Kabul, the world grew less dark – another terrorist was slain. The death of al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri rang alarm bells across the world and the shock waves from this incident will be heard for time to come.

Al-Zawahiri rose to become the supreme leader of al-Qaeda after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Even during the life of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri was seen as his ‘right hand’ in terror attacks against the US and the world at large. Being one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks alongside Khalid Sheik Mohammed and bin Laden, al-Zawahiri was placed on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’listand suffered a $25 million bounty on his head. After 9/11, al-Zawahiri operated underground hiding in tribal Pakistan and Afghan hideouts.

The US security apparatus tracked him for decades as he was seen as the only 9/11 leader who had not yet been brought to justice. The US was desperate to hunt down al-Zawahiri as this would give (some) solace to the families of the victims of 9/11. US President Joe Biden announced after the strike that ‘justice has been delivered’ and that this was ‘one more measure of closure’ – something that must be answered by the very fragments of victimhood from the devastating attacks and not by someone reading a pre-written script off the teleprompter – but that’s a story for another day.

Like Anton Balasingham was the ideologue behind the LTTE, al-Zawahiri was the ideologue and theoretician that drove the al-Qaeda terror machine to wage international operational capabilities. While bin Laden was considered the ‘cave man’ leader, it was al-Zawahiri that pushed for international militancy and global jihad. Before and after the death of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri continued to function as one of the most influential leaders of al-Qaeda – or any terror group for that matter.

Al-Zawahiri hailed from a prosperous family in Egypt but fell into the ideological trappings of religious extremism – a haunting similarity to the stories of almost all Islamist suicide bombers who spilt innocent blood on that sad Sri Lankan Easter morning. Al-Zawahiri walked into the trap and then functioned as the trap by baiting tens of thousands of Islamists to fight for a rugged ideology of hate and destruction – including founding leader of the Islamic State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Portrait of the Terrorist as a Young Man: Egyptian-born Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, shown here in an undated photo published by London’s Al-Hayat on Oct. 10, 2001

Prior to becoming fixated on the Afghan-Pakistani window of war, al-Zawahiri functioned as the head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terror cell in North Africa that also aimed to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the early 1980s. Having served briefly in the Egyptian military, al-Zawahiri rivalled against Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, who was a theoretician and advocate for defensive jihad in attracting the Mujahideen to fight the Soviets. After Azzam was assassinated in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1989, al-Zawahiri joined bin Laden as his physician and ideologue.

Al-Qaeda has always been a close ally of the Taliban. For years, the members of both groups have worked collectively against their ‘outsiders’, starting with the Soviets and then the Americans. Al-Qaeda was the primary bone of contention between the Taliban and the US which ultimately led the US to fight its longest war in Afghanistan. After bin Laden launched the 9/11 attacks, America made sure that the Taliban paid the price for harbouring the group. History seems to repeat itself as once again the US is hunting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, while its Taliban rulers are oblivious to international pressures.

From the perspective of geopolitical power play, the slaying of al-Zawahiri in Taliban-controlled territory questioned not just the legitimacy of the Taliban government but also the commitments of the US to establishing peace in Afghanistan. This incident has revealed a deepening gulf between the key stakeholders of the Afghan war. As per the Doha Agreement signed between the US and the Taliban, the Taliban provided assurances that Afghan territory would not be used as a launch pad for al-Qaeda – but who trusts the terrorist?

The simple fact that the leader of al-Qaeda was relaxing in the capital of the Taliban underpins how the Taliban continues to function as a state sponsor of terror. The Taliban government has repeatedly denied knowledge of al-Zawahiri’s presence. But who doesn’t realise a top-notch jihadist sitting in your living room? Can the international community ever trust terror groups or their proxies? Of course not. While the LTTE international network banks on widespread misinformation and falsehoods, the Taliban leadership attempts a fabrication strategy of their own, in hopes of taking a step closer to international acceptance. The Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance remains vigorous in the face of their Western adversaries and antagonist terror factions.

Experts claim that the killing of the al-Qaeda leader on Afghan soil will not bode well for the Taliban government, which is already struggling to stay afloat on multiple fronts. The potential failure to gain international ratification and an almost non-functional economic functionality places the Taliban in an even tighter position. However, it could be opined that the al-Zawahiri problem could actually benefit the Taliban. The assassination of al-Zawahiri, whilst punishing the Taliban, would also equip and strengthen its pragmatists who seek to move away from fundamentalist jihad and return to its original Pashtun roots. The negative international reaction that emanates from this incident will favour the sectionalisation and sidelining of hardcore al-Qaeda defenders within the Taliban ranks. The killing of al-Zawahiri thus presents a dual benefit of dismantling current al-Qaeda leadership, as well as providing a rude awakening for the Taliban to step back and move again – a blessing in disguise with a splash of terror.

Ayman al-Zawahiri led a life of malice, hatred and utter belligerence. His death could serve as an unclimactic end to the highly influential al-Qaeda network if proper leadership fails to ascend to the thrones of terror. However, the favourable situation in Afghanistan and shifting global focus away from the Middle East and towards the Indo-Pacific allows al-Qaeda and its allied cells to be nurtured, harboured and sustained.

The level of influence and intensification contributed by al-Zawahiri to the contemporary wave of terrorism that continues to plague the world remains unmatched. Although al-Zawahiri is assassinated and the world is a much better place without that epitome of terror, his teachings, writings and speeches will continue to radicalise and convert innocents into extremists and extremists into terrorists across the globe.

Like the attack on Pearl Harbour catapulted the US into the forefront of the Second World War, the September 11 attacks propelled America to launch its global War on Terror. However, the re-emergence of the Taliban in Central Asia under props the feared possibility of al-Qaeda’s return to its tyrannical despotic rule of Islamist fundamentalism. The killing of al-Zawahiri remains one of Biden’s few successful trophies to date, but it is the next moves of the intelligence and security communities that will actually determine the future of the global Islamist threat. The threat will not cease but its operational capabilities could be greatly dismantled by much-need intelligence sharing mechanisms in the Indo-Pacific and Central Asia.

Views are personal

The China-Lanka Conundrum


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.

Media Tizzy and Myths on Yuan Wang 5


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

Future of Islamist Terrorism in South Asia


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.

Travis Sinniah: First Sri Lankan to Be Honoured by NDU


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.

Admiral (Ret) Travis Sinniah) of Sri Lanka, Major General Abdulla Shamaal of Maldives, and Major General Molefi Seikano of Botswana with CISA officer during the event [ Photo: Sri Lanka Guardian/CISA]

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.

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