Operation Pawan was a military operation conducted by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990. The objective of the operation was to restore peace and stability in Sri Lanka by disarming militant groups, particularly the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and facilitating the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed between India and Sri Lanka in July 1987.

Background of Operation Pawan

The conflict in Sri Lanka stemmed from ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese community and the Tamil minority, exacerbated by longstanding grievances over language rights, discrimination, and political representation. The LTTE, a militant Tamil nationalist organization, emerged as the primary armed resistance group fighting for an independent Tamil state in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka.

In response to escalating violence and instability, the governments of India and Sri Lanka negotiated the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, brokered by then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene. The accord aimed to address Tamil grievances through devolution of powers to the provinces, disarmament of militant groups, and the establishment of a framework for political reconciliation and ethnic harmony.

Operation Pawan was conducted between October 1987 and March 1990, spanning over two years of intense military engagement in Sri Lanka. It was primarily conducted in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka, particularly in the Jaffna Peninsula and the Tamil-dominated areas affected by the insurgency led by the LTTE. Operation Pawan was conducted by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), a military contingent comprising units from the Indian Army, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy. The IPKF was deployed under the command of Lieutenant General Harkirat Singh.

Operation Pawan was conducted through a series of military operations aimed at disarming militant groups and restoring law and order in Sri Lanka. The operation involved a combination of search and cordon operations, raids, patrols, and intelligence-driven counterinsurgency operations to neutralize LTTE cadres and seize weapons caches.

The IPKF deployed infantry, armored, artillery, and support units equipped with a range of weaponry and equipment suitable for counterinsurgency operations. The force faced fierce resistance from LTTE fighters, who employed guerrilla tactics, ambushes, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to thwart IPKF’s advances.

Despite facing significant challenges and casualties, the IPKF conducted several successful operations, including Operation Pawan’s first phase, which aimed to establish control over the Jaffna Peninsula. The operation witnessed intense fighting, with the IPKF eventually gaining control of key strategic locations and neutralizing LTTE strongholds.

Formation of IPKF:

The Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was the military contingent deployed by India to implement the provisions of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and oversee the disarmament of militant groups in Sri Lanka. The IPKF comprised units from the Indian Army, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy, totaling around 70,000 personnel at its peak.

The IPKF was commanded by Lieutenant General Harkirat Singh, with headquarters initially established in Jaffna, the epicenter of LTTE activity. The force was organized into operational battalions, including infantry, armored, artillery, and support units, equipped with a range of weaponry and equipment suitable for counterinsurgency operations.

Role of IPKF in Operation Pawan

The primary role of the IPKF in Sri Lanka was to enforce the provisions of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and restore peace and stability in conflict-affected areas. The key objectives of the IPKF included:

  • Disarmament of Militant Groups
  • Protection of Civilians
  • Facilitating Political Reconciliation
  • Restoration of Normalcy
  • Peacekeeping and Stabilization

Challenges and Controversies:

Operation Pawan and the deployment of the IPKF in Sri Lanka were not without challenges and controversies. The complex nature of the conflict, entrenched grievances, and the LTTE’s formidable resistance posed significant obstacles to the IPKF’s mission. The operation witnessed fierce fighting, casualties on both sides, and allegations of human rights abuses and collateral damage.

Moreover, the IPKF’s presence in Sri Lanka sparked resentment among sections of the Tamil population, who viewed it as an occupation force rather than a peacekeeping mission. This strained relations between the IPKF and local communities, complicating efforts to win hearts and minds and build trust with the civilian population.

Significance of Operation Pawan for India:

Operation Pawan holds significant significance for India on multiple fronts:

  1. Regional Stability: Operation Pawan demonstrated India’s commitment to regional stability and peacekeeping efforts in its immediate neighborhood. By deploying the IPKF to Sri Lanka, India sought to address the ethnic conflict and restore stability in the region, thereby enhancing its strategic influence and security interests in the Indian Ocean region.
  2. Bilateral Relations: Operation Pawan strengthened India’s bilateral relations with Sri Lanka by supporting the implementation of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and assisting in efforts to address the ethnic conflict. Despite the challenges and controversies associated with the operation, India’s intervention underscored its commitment to supporting its neighbors in times of crisis.
  3. Military Capability: Operation Pawan showcased India’s military capabilities and readiness to undertake complex peacekeeping missions beyond its borders. The operation provided valuable experience and lessons learned for the Indian Armed Forces in conducting joint operations, counterinsurgency warfare, and peacekeeping operations in challenging environments.
  4. Diplomatic Engagement: Operation Pawan highlighted India’s role as a regional leader and mediator in resolving conflicts through diplomatic means. India’s diplomatic efforts, including brokering the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord and deploying the IPKF, demonstrated its willingness to engage constructively with its neighbors and contribute to peace and stability in the region.

Operation Pawan and the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka represented India’s efforts to support peace and stability in its neighboring country and address the complex ethnic conflict plaguing the island nation. While the IPKF’s mission ultimately fell short of its objectives and faced criticism for its conduct, it remains a significant chapter in India’s military history and its commitment to regional peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts.

Read about other Military Operations by Indian Armed Forces