The entire world remains confronted with the horrors that unfolded yesterday throughout Sri Lanka. Whilst the country remains under curfew, the authorities have pinned the blame for the attack on an obscure group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ). NTJ is reportedly an Islamist terror group that as noted by Sri Lankan authorities, has multiple links to foreign countries. The links to foreign countries appears to hold the key to determining who is really behind the attacks. Notably, it has been reported by journalists that the group trains in Chennai in Tamil Nadu – the same location where LTTE had previously trained. Others yet claim that NTJ is such a small and obscure group that even if it wanted to pull off such an attack, it did not have the capacity to do so.
As the Muslim population of Sri Lanka is less than 8% of the country’s entire population, it is difficult to conceive that any genuine local Islamist group would seek to stage such massive attacks when the possibility of any material gain would be limited by the fact that not only is Sri Lanka’s Muslim population at harmony with the Buddhist majority, but the population of Muslims is incredibly small. This contrasts sharply with the situation in Syria where a Sunni Muslim majority was weaponized against a leadership comprised of the minority Alawite faction.
Therefore, due to NTJ’s foreign links, it is highly likely that a foreign entity, most likely a foreign state or state intelligence agency was behind the attacks and that the men on the ground who have been captured are merely pawns in a much larger and even more dangerous game. When it comes to seeking to pin-pointing the country with a clear motive for orchestrating the attacks, India is the one that springs immediately to mind, not least because NTJ reportedly trains where the LTTE once did.
India has a long history of seeking to manipulate the power balance in Sri Lanka in order to turn the country into something of an Indian protectorate. These attempts have notably been resisted by most contemporary Sri Lankan leaders who seek an independent foreign policy that aims at securing win-win friendship not only with India but crucially, also with China and Pakistan.
In spite of this, India was one of the first open backers of the LTTE’s reign of terrorism that gripped Sri Lanka beginning in 1983. India ultimately paid a price for its dithering in the early stages of the Sri Lankan civil war. By the end of the 1987, India had given up on LTTE and instead sought to influence the situation by committing a deeply controversial peace keeping force to Sri Lanka whose overall effect only served to provoke further violence. As a result of India’s 1987 decision to publicly “switch sides”, LTTE assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. In spite of this, it has been widely known in Sri Lanka and elsewhere that in spite of the official rhetoric in New Delhi, India’s RAW intelligence agency resumed covert support of LTTE later in the 1990s.
Since the end of the war against LTTE in 2009, India has sought to monopolise foreign influence in a post-war Sri Lanka that has developed ever more economic ties with China and plays a key role in the Belt and Road initiative. This has clearly been a source of consternation for an Indian state that has a track record of meddling in the affairs of both Sri Lanka and the much smaller Maldives. In both Sri Lanka and the Maldives, political factions are often divided by foreign observers into a pro-India side and a pro-China side. Although such divisions are not black and white, there is a level of truth to such descriptions. As such, India recently engaged in what geopolitical expert Andrew Kroybko described as a “electoral regime change in the Maldives”. This came after the prominent BJP supporter Subramanian Swamy called for a traditional war against the Maldives.
India was clearly looking to the south both in terms of Maldives and Sri Lanka for much of late 2018 and early 2019. Beginning in late 2018, Sri Lanka experienced a serious political crisis after President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former political rival (and former President) Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to Sirisena and his supporters, the proximate causes of Wickremesinghe’s dismissal were personal, cultural and class differences that Sirisena called irreconcilable. Furthermore, it was claimed by some in the Sri Lankan press that the sacking of Wickremesinghe was due to an Indian backed assassination plot against the President which resulted in the abrupt about face in respect of the Sri Lankan President’s loyalty. Later however, Sirisena assured Indian Premier Modi that he had never made such an accusation.
But while Sirisena took the time to assure India that stories regarding an Indian assassination plot are ‘fake news’, an inevitable geopolitical justification for Wickremesinghe’s sacking was offered from many quarters of Indian media.
According to the Indian narrative throughout the end of the 2018, the traditionally/”formerly” pro-India Sirisena dismissed the pro-India Wickremesinghe in favour of the pro-China Rajapaksa due to pressure from Beijing. Of course, no one has been able to present any evidence of any Chinese involvement in the matter while China itself has taken a diplomatic line on the matter that has respected Sirisena’s decision in a rather subdued manner.
Ultimately, the courts overruled Sirisena and Wickremesinghe has continued to serve as the country’s Prime Minister.
Whilst the saga which pitted Wickremesinghe against Rajapaksa on the orders of Sirisena does ultimately seem to have been a completely internal matter, India clearly has not forgotten that Sirisena had moved to install a Prime Minister who ostensibly was more favourable to China and less so to India. As Sri Lanka is a much larger country than Maldives, meddling in the political situation was clearly going to be more difficult than the “electoral regime change” that New Delhi pulled off in Malé. Beyond this, whilst Indian media did their best to meddle in the situation in Sri Lanka during late 2018 and early 2019, this may well not have been enough to satisfy elements of the Indian deep state seeking revenge against Sirisena.
Beyond this, the timing of the attacks is incredibly suspicious. After India’s recent provocation against Pakistan resulted in humiliation after Pakistan downed two Indian jets and safely captured and later released an Indian pilot, it can be logically deduced that India sought to create a different regional disturbance against a target that is generally seen as “softer” from the Indian perspective vis-a-vis Pakistan.
As Sri Lanka defeated LTTE ten years ago, the atmosphere of peace that had prevailed may well have created a false sense of security that was ripe for exploitation. Even before Colombo named an obscure Islamist group as the culprits of the attacks, Indian politicians up to and including Narendra Modi began banging the drums of jingoistic Islamophobia as is par for the course when it comes to the radical Hindutva BJP.
Therefore, when one connects the dots, one sees that India stands to uniquely benefit from Sri Lanka’s turmoil not only in terms of internal electoral politics but in terms of weakening a Sri Lankan government that in spite of its allegedly pro-India Prime Minister maintains healthy and growing ties to China and Belt and Road. Thus, the attack could well serve as a “punishment” for Sri Lanka’s “crime” of moving closer towards Belt and Road. Making matters all the more beneficial for India is that a relative of the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s family was also killed in the attack which took place on a five star hotel in which he was staying. It cannot be ruled out that RAW had knowledge of this and specially targeted the hotel in order to inevitably inflame Bangladeshi sentiment against Sri Lanka for its self-evident security failure.
Taken as a whole, India has clear motives for seeking to destabilise Sri Lanka at this time. What’s left for Sri Lankan investigators to do is make the foreign links of NTJ know to the wider world whilst Sri Lanka must also record and make public the voices of the surviving suspects so that experts can determine if the suspects speak in the language, dialect and vernacular that one would expect. Also, the bodies of the terrorists must be examined to determine whether they are circumcised or not. This is crucial as previous Indian false flag attacks have involved non-circumcised men (therefore not Muslims) participating in allegedly Islamist attacks whilst also, previous false flag attacks in India allegedly involving Pakistanis were later exposed due to the fact that the “Pakistani” suspects could not speak Urdu or any other official Pakistani language but instead spoke in languages and vernaculars common only to India.
Therefore, while it cannot be concluded with certainty that yesterday’s atrocity was a false flag attack, it can certainly not be ruled out. As such, anyone with a clear motive for conducting a false flag attack should be thoroughly investigated by the Sri Lankan authorities.