Was India’s espionage agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), instrumental in facilitating Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena’s climb to office in the January 8 presidential polls?
That question is doing the rounds since a section of the Sri Lankan media and news agencies reported the island nation expelled the Colombo-based RAW chief in December 2014 for colluding with the Opposition against former president Mahinda Rajapakse.
India was quick to dismiss the reports, claiming the official’s removal was routine transfer. The Sirisena government too has trashed the allegation. “There is no substance in the report,” claimed Sri Lanka’s new foreign minister, Mangala Samaraweera, during his visit to New Delhi last week. Rajapakse has so far avoided pinning his downfall on a RAW-engineered move.
Foreign policy is dynamic and governments the world over tag priorities to suit a convenience. Often that leads to a regime change. India, for instance, played its part in the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh fragmenting Pakistan, wrested Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Goa, Dam, Diu, Dadra from Portugal between 1954 and 1961 respectively and annexed the monarchy of Sikkim through a plebiscite in 1975. Prior to that, India had its tryst with the princely states.
The history of coups and regime changes, however, has a few common threads and consistently large players – notably the USA and UK.
Starting with the current Ukraine-Crimea crisis leading to the flight of President Viktor Yanukovych and dating back to the Czar days of Russia, the USA and UK are often seen as key players in Government upheavals and that too as an extension of foreign policy.
Here are some other examples:
1. The 1949 Syrian coup, allegedly aided by the American CIA, ended up with the country slipping into the hands of a military regime. The coup spin-offs, however, benefited the USA. Besides stifling the communists, the military regime consented to the construction of the held up Trans-Arabian pipeline to run Saudi oil to Mediterranean ports.
According to declassified CIA documents, Iran’s plans to nationalize the country’s petroleum industry in 1951 displeased the UK, which in turn influenced the CIA and launched a joint operation to topple the Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh government. The coup came in 1953, all for oil and profit threat!
2. Guatemala in 1954 saw the Jacobo Arbenz government overthrown by a CIA backed coup and installation of the military dictator Carlos Castillo Armas, the failed anti-communist movement, in Tibet since the mid 50s, encouraging insurgency in Indonesia against the Sukarno government in 1958, efforts to purge the pro-Soviet Patrice Lumumba, the first elected Prime Minister of Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960, are some instances of CIA notoriety.
3. Iraq’s Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim earned CIA attention in 1960. The subsequent coup toppled Qasim and he was eventually killed on February 8, 1963 by a Ba’ath Party firing squad in conjunction with the Arab Socialist Union in what is known as the Ramadan Revolution.
4. CIA support to overthrow the Dominican Republic President Rafael Trujillo in 1961, backing a move against Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam in 1963, overthrow of the President Joao Goulart government in Brazil in 1964, alleged involvement in bringing down the Kwame Nkrumah government of Ghana in 1966, covert resistance against the Marxist President Salvador Allende of Chile since 1970 leading to the destabilization of the country and eventual rise of general Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973 and the 1976 coup to overthrow the Argentine President Isabel Peron’s government are well chronicled.
5. Successive interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq since 1979, supporting the 1980 Turkish coup or, the Solidarity Movement in Poland during the union’s clandestine years of early 80s are some other instances when the USA chose to play the regime change game. The Iran-Contra affair and the Cuban crisis probably heaped more international embarrassment on the USA other than the overt Vietnam War. The Reagan administration facilitated arms sale to Iran in 1985 despite an arms embargo, to secure the release of American hostages held by a group with Iran links, in Lebanon. On the flip side, proceeds from the arms sales were to help fund the Nicaraguan Contras to overthrow the Sandinista government. The operation blew up with Reagan taking full responsibility.
6. The CIA backed invasion of the Bay of Pigs to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro was another failed mission that earned the USA and by extension the CIA international infamy. The April 17, 1961 invasion through the CIA-sponsored paramilitary group Brigade 2506 ended in three days, defeated by the Castro led Cuban armed forces.