The roots of ethnic tension in Sri Lanka can be traced back to colonial rule, which exacerbated the divide between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority. After gaining independence in 1948, discriminatory policies targeted at the Tamil community led to grievances and demands for equal rights and autonomy. The emergence of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a militant group fighting for Tamil rights reached a turning point with the anti-Tamil riots in 1983.
India’s Military Intervention: Sri Lanka
India’s military intervention in Sri Lanka in July 1987, following the signing of the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord, holds significance in India’s military history. They were codenamed “Operation Pawan,” this operation aimed to bring peace and stability to the island nation amid the ongoing Sri Lankan Civil War. This article sheds light on the importance of Operation Pawan, recognizing the sacrifices made by the Indian armed forces and emphasizing the need to honour the legacy of the brave soldiers who lost their lives or suffered grave injuries during the operation. It also acknowledges the significant roles played by the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy, building upon their impressive achievements in past operations.
Operation Pawan and its Objectives
After the peace accord was signed, India launched Operation Pawan in response to a request from the Sri Lankan government to disarm militant groups, particularly the LTTE, in the North and East. The primary objectives of the operation were to enforce the peace accord, provide humanitarian assistance, and create a conducive environment for implementing political solutions.
Indian Armed Forces’ Involvement and Sacrifices
During the post-independence era, the Indian Armed Forces executed a remarkable overseas operation called Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. This 32-month-long operation involved a massive deployment of troops and resources. The Army, Air Force, and Navy all displayed incredible courage and significantly contributed to the operation’s success
The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) comprised over 80,000 troops from various units, including infantry divisions, an armoured regiment, mechanized infantry battalions, and special forces.
The Air Force provided unwavering support to the IPKF with various aircraft, conducting over 70,000 sorties, a record for any Indian Armed Forces operation. The Navy was vital in transporting troops and supplies, conducting combat landings, and regaining control of strategic locations.
Challenges and Achievements during Operation Pawan
Operation Pawan was not without challenges. The IPKF faced resistance from the LTTE and other militant groups, leading to intense battles and loss of life on both sides. The mission’s complexity was further amplified by the need to balance military operations with humanitarian efforts, as thousands of civilians were caught in the crossfire.
Despite these challenges, Operation Pawan achieved significant milestones. The IPKF managed to disarm several militant groups and restore a semblance of peace in some areas. They also helped resettle displaced Tamil civilians and facilitated the delivery of humanitarian aid to war-affected regions.
The Impact and Outcomes of Operation Pawan
Operation Pawan had considerable implications for both India and Sri Lanka. While the Indian armed forces achieved their immediate objectives, the long-term consequences were complex, impacting India-Sri Lanka relations, regional geopolitics, and the dynamics of the ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka.
For Sri Lanka, Operation Pawan represented a period of mixed emotions. While the intervention curtailed some of the violence and paved the way for negotiations, it also stirred resentment and strained diplomatic ties between the neighbouring countries.
Operation Pawan showcased the country’s commitment to regional peace and stability in India. However, it also drew attention to the challenges of overseas military interventions and raised debates about India’s role in intervening in the internal affairs of other nations.
Legacy and Lessons Learned
Operation Pawan remains a significant chapter in India’s post-independence military history. It exemplified the bravery and dedication of the Indian Armed Forces in their pursuit of peace and justice. The sacrifices made by the soldiers during the operation underscored the human cost of such missions and emphasized the need for thoughtful planning and diplomacy in future interventions.
The lessons from Operation Pawan have undoubtedly influenced India’s approach to peacekeeping missions and humanitarian interventions in the following years. The country’s focus on engaging in diplomatic efforts, peace negotiations, and regional cooperation became more pronounced.
India’s intervention in Operation Pawan demonstrated its commitment to solidarity with those seeking refuge and protection, ensuring they receive the dignity and security they deserve. The operation marked a crucial chapter in Indian military history, with the Army, Air Force, and Navy showcasing extraordinary courage and dedication, making it one of the most significant overseas missions in India’s post-independence era.
As we reflect on the past, it is essential to remember the lessons learned from Operation Pawan and strive for more peaceful and inclusive solutions to conflicts in the future. By doing so, we can honour the sacrifices of the brave soldiers and work towards a world where justice and compassion prevail.
Lt Col Manoj K Channan, (Retd)
Veteran, IPKF Operations, Sri Lanka