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Pakistan ‘guiding’ Sri Lanka’s war

A group of Pakistan Air Force officers stationed in Colombo have been guiding the Sri Lankan military in carrying out air-mounted operations against the LTTE, a former counter-terrorism chief of India’s External intelligence says.

The Pakistani officers have also been involved in drawing up plans for a decapitation airstrike with bunker-buster bombs to kill LTTE leader Vellupillai Pirapaharan, Mr. B. Raman says.

The appointment of recently retired Deputy Chief of the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) as Islamabad’s representative to Sri Lanka is a deepening of Pakistan’s support, he says, adding the move is a concern for India’s national security.

“About 12 to 15 members of the Pakistani Armed Forces, including four or five from the Pakistan Air Force, are stationed in Colombo to guide the Sri Lankan security forces in their counter-insurgency operations,” Mr. B. Raman, wrote on August 18, quoting reliable Tamil sources.

“The Pakistan Air Force officers have reportedly been guiding the SLAF officers in effectively carrying out air-mounted operations against the LTTE,” he said.

“They have also been reportedly involved in drawing up plans for a decapitation strike from the air, with bunker-buster bombs, to kill [LTTE leader Vellupillai] Pirapaharan.”

Mr. Raman served as additional secretary at the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external espionage agency, and headed the counter-terrorism division at RAW for more than a decade till his retirement in 1994. He is presently Director of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

“Pakistan, which has already been playing a discreet role in assisting the Sri Lankan security forces in their operations against the LTTE even before Mr. [Mahinda] Rajapakse became the President, has further increased its involvement in the counter-insurgency operations.”

“Of all the three [Sri Lankan] services, the SLAF has the closest relations with its Pakistani counterpart,” Raman says.

Technical personnel of the PAF play an important role in the repairs and maintenance of the aircraft and other equipment of the SLAF. Sri Lankan aircraft have been sent to Pakistan for overhauling.

Recently Sri Lanka has accepted Pakistan’s proposal to appoint Air Vice-Marshal Shehzad Aslam Chaudhry as the new Pakistani High Commissioner to Sri Lanka in place of Col (retd) Bashir Wali Mohammed.

Col. Wali Mohammed, a former Director of the Pakistan Intelligence Bureau and a former senior officer of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has completed his two-year tenure in Colombo.

On August 14 he narrowly escaped an explosion which killed four commandos in his security detail. The Sri Lankan government blamed the LTTE for the attack, the first on a foreign ambassador in the conflict.

Hours earlier the same day, SLAF bombers levelled a children’s home in Mullaitivu, killing 51 teenagers and four staff and wounding 150 more youngsters.

“The posting of Air Vice-Marshal Shehzad Chaudhry, who had in the past handled air-mounted operations against the Baloch freedom-fighters, is expected to further step up the Pakistani involvement in [Sri Lanka’s] use of air strikes to subdue the LTTE and intimidate the Tamil population,” Mr. Raman says.

“While India cannot justifiably object to it, the increasing involvement of Pakistan in the counter-insurgency operations is a matter of serious concern from the point of view of India’s national security,” Mr. Raman says.

“The clandestine co-operation between the armed forces of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which has been there even in the past, picked up momentum after an unpublicised visit by Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, then Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, to Colombo in September 2003,” Mr. Raman says.

India had never objected in the past to the close military-military relations between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but Gen. Aziz Khan’s secret visit upset Delhi, Raman says.

This is because Gen. Aziz Khan “had co-ordinated Pakistan’s proxy war against India through various jihadi terrorist organisations [and] played an active role in the clandestine occupation of Indian territory in the Kargil”

“Under the influence of the Pakistani advisers, the Sri Lankan Government’s counter-insurgency operations are becoming increasingly ruthless,” Mr. Raman says. “There have been many instances of targeted killing of innocent civilians through actions on the ground as well as from the air.”

“This will only drive more Tamils into the arms of the LTTE,” he fears.

“Since Mr. Rajapakse took over as the President in November last year, more innocent civilians have been killed by the Sri Lankan security forces than in the [recent] past.”

“Pakistan, which has already been playing a discreet role in assisting the Sri Lankan security forces in their operations against the LTTE even before Mr.Rajapakse became the President, has further increased its involvement in the counter-insurgency operations [since November 2005],” Mr. Raman says.

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