By Mail Today Bureau in New Delhi
PAKISTAN had positioned its military officers and fighter pilots in Sri Lanka to assist Colombo’s war against the LTTE, apparently to dilute India’s strategic influence in the island nation.
While New Delhi could not militarily assist Colombo given the political sensitivities back home, Islamabad took full advantage of it and sent its fighter pilots who participated in attacks targeting LTTE bases, particularly after 2005 when Mahinda Rajapaksa was voted as President, Pakistani daily The News and sources in New Delhi said.
Pakistani army officers, soldiers, technicians and air force (PAF) pilots had been stationed in the island nation over the last three years for training their counterparts and participating in the attacks against the Tigers.
“The Pakistani military personnel were playing different roles on different occasions during the last three years. The military under President Pervez Musharraf went an extra mile to extend assistance to Lanka,” one of the sources said.
Pakistan’s assistance was key to the Lankan army winning several battles against the LTTE. This January, Pakistan’s defence secretary Lt- Gen ( retd) Syed Athar Ali met his Lankan counterpart , Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in Rawalpindi, wherein the two countries agreed to enhance cooperation in military training, exercises and intelligence sharing regarding terrorism.
This decision was arrived at amid reports that the PAF pilots had participated in several successful air strikes against the LTTE military bases in August 2008.
There were also reports that a trained group of Pakistani officers was stationed in Colombo to guide the Sri Lankan security forces in their counter- insurgency operations.
When Lankan army chief General Sarath Fonseka visited Pakistan in May 2008, he met his counterpart, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, to conclude the purchase of high- tech arms for the Lankan armed forces. Fonseka had reportedly finalised a deal according to which Pakistan sold 22 al- Khalid tanks to Sri Lanka in a deal worth over Rs 500 crore.
Fonseka also gave a shopping list of weapons worth Rs 325 crore to the Pakistani military. He had further sought 2,50,000 rounds of mortar ammunition worth Rs 125 crore and hand grenades.
During the past three years, Pakistan was dispatching arms and ammunition to Sri Lanka every alternative week. Incidentally, Colombo approached India’s twin adversaries China and Pakistan for military support, which utilised the opportunity to the fullest, thereby developing strategic ties with the Lankan regime.
During its key battle to overrun the LTTE’s political capital, Kilinochchi, the Lankan army was running short of ammo but was supplied mortars and grenades every 10 days from Pakistan.
The LTTE did its best to scuttle this partnership between Islamabad and Colombo. On August 14, 2006, Pakistan High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bashir Wali Mohammed, narrowly escaped a blast.