Tuesday, November 29, 2011

India-Sri Lanka Relations: A Critical Review

India's policy toward Sri Lanka has undergone several twists and turns during the post independence period. From a policy of active involvement, it took a handoff policy after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. However, given the geographical continuity and ethnic affinity India cannot isolate itself from the developments in the island republic. The recent activities and policies pursued by Pakistan and China is also a matter of great concern to New Delhi.
India's long term interests in Sri Lanka will be a political solution which guarantees the safety and security of all minority groups in the unified country and the removal of extra regional forces which pose a threat to India's security environment. In this paper I propose to highlight some of the important issue which has a bearing on India and Sri Lanka relations.
For the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the also Tamil Diaspora scattered in different parts of the world, Tamil Nadu is their original homeland. For the Sinhalese India is the closest neighbor whom they can always lookup towards help and favor. Despite these close ties, India's policy towards Sri Lanka has always had a negative impact on bilateral relations. The love - hate relationship compounded with the fear of a big brotherly attitude had always made Sri Lanka look at India with suspicion. India, although being in an advantageous state, did little to install confidence in the southern neighbor. What is more New Delhi antagonized its neighbor by its short sighted policies. The ambiguous role played by Central Government in New Delhi and Tamil Nadu Government towards the protracted ethnic conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese also played a big role in India burning its hands by its involvement in Sri Lankan issue. While the ethnic crisis is an emotional issue, Indian policy towards Sri Lanka was also guided more by its strategic interests due to the location of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The Sri Lankan Government should also be given equal credit for contributing towards love – hate relations. Despite her awareness of India's security concerns, Sri Lanka has always tried to play a divisive role by inviting external actors in the affairs of Indian Ocean and thus act against India's interest. A telling example of this attitude became apparent when Sri Lanka allowed Pakistani Air Force to refuel during the Bangladeshi war of 1970. Thus Sri Lanka's self-interest is also one of the reasons for India's over arching security concerns especially on the issue of extra regional presence.
Impact of Ethnic Conflict
The Indian intervention in Sri Lanka, could have been avoided. The India Sri Lanka accord should have been signed between the Colombo and the Tamils and India should have acted as the guarantee. The Indian forces sent to Sri Lanka became a victim to the hasty and un co-ordinated policies of India. Having fought against the LTTE on behalf of the Sri Lankan Government the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was sent out unceremoniously by the Sri Lankan Government. The Tamils who had welcomed the IPKF with open arms also played their part to get the IPKF out of Sri Lanka, bringing to an end India's controversial involvement in Sri Lanka. The end of Eelam War has opened a new chapter in India Sri Lanka relations. India need not now be worried about the presence of the third navy (Sea Tigers), Air Force (Air Tigers) and suicide cadres in the Indian Ocean. But the absence of LTTE does not mean that there is no threat arising from the Indian Ocean, rather the close relations of Sri Lanka with China and Pakistan has increased strategic concerns for India.
Approximately 17 years ago around this time of the year Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi landed at Colombo airport by an Indian Air Force plane in the thick of the Sri Lankan crisis.
He was not taken to the city in a cavalcade by road. Instead, he landed at Colombo's Galle Face by an Indian military helicopter as IAF planes guarded the airspace. Across the seafront were to be seen Indian Navy ships which had been positioned apparently for any contingency.
Sri Lanka was facing a grim situation caught as it was in ethnic crisis. President Jayawardene, who needed a helping hand, had clearly succeeded in persuading Rajiv Gandhi to lend him one.
The result was the India-Sri Lanka Agreement which the two signed later in the day. Among other things, it provided for India sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force to bash up the LTTE which was threatening to carve out an independent Tamil Eelam in the northern and eastern Sri Lanka.
One could feel the tension in the air. President Jaywardene's dissenting Prime Minister, R. Premadasa, stayed away to signal Sinhala opposition to the agreement.
By agreeing to send the IPKF, India instantly provoked a strong reaction among the Sinhalas so much so that on the following day a Sri Lankan Navy rating attacked Rajiv Gandhi with a rifle butt when he was inspecting the guard of honour. India's Prime Minister could have lost his life that day a few minutes before he boarded the IAF helicopter for the airport to fly back to India.
India had willy-nilly jumped into the Sri Lankan mess. In the process it actually earned the anger of both the Sinhalas who hated India for sending its troops to Sri Lanka and the LTTE which the IPKF was to fight against. What was essentially a fight between the Sinhalas and the LTTE became an open conflict between India and the LTTE. No wonder, President Jayawardene was known for his cleverness.
Whatever President Jaywardene's calculations, India's relations with much of the dominant Sri Lankan opinion had become suspect. The IPKF was seen as an occupation force, and India as a hegemonistic neighbor. Centuries of a happy relationship had given way to a quick-fix that did not work but left a legacy of intense distrust.
Seventeen years later, now one, however, experiences a sea-change in the relations between India and Sri Lanka. Distrust has given way to the belief that India means well for Sri Lanka and is a friend and not really a Big Brother, throwing its weight around.
India's Support
The end of the ethnic conflict was accompanied by the displacement of 300,000 Tamil civilians. New Delhi’s primary concern in recent months has naturally been about the rehabilitation of internally displaced Tamils. With an investment of $110 million, India has provided emergency supplies of medicines, temporary housing and cement, and undertaken demining of Tamil habitats located in the battle zones. But this is necessarily only a beginning, in a larger package of assistance that New Delhi has to provide to the Tamil population in the war-affected parts of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. With plans underway to have an Indian Cultural Centre and renovate the famous Duraiappan Stadium in Jaffna, India would have to invest substantially in building higher educational and technical training institutions in Tamil areas to enable the Tamil population to integrate into an emerging pluralistic and economically dynamic Sri Lanka.
Politically, President Rajapakse should be persuaded to implement the provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lanka Constitution enacted in 1988, pursuant to the Rajiv Gandhi-Jayawardene Agreement of 1987. Moreover, if a return to a situation of Tamil discontent fuelling insurgency is to be avoided, it would only be wise for Sri Lanka to also enact legislation to implement the provisions of the “Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka Amendment Bill” of August 3, 2000, and effectively end human rights violations of innocent Tamils.
This Constitutional Amendment Bill was presented after extensive consultations by President Kumaratunga’s advisers G.L. Peiris and Neelan Tiruchelvan and was withdrawn because of domestic opposition. The implementation of this bill, together with the 1988 Constitutional Amendment, will largely address Tamil concerns and aspirations. But, at the same time, the Tamils of Sri Lanka would have to recognize that with the East becoming very different from the North in terms of its ethnic composition, demands for a united north-eastern province may no longer be tenable.
Concerns naturally exist in India about growing Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka and especially its partnership in the development of Hambantota Port. This port, being built with a concessionary Chinese loan of $300 million, will eventually have a LNG refinery, fuel storage facilities, three separate docks, together with facilities for ship repair and construction. It can serve as a base for bunkering and refuelling. Moreover, China has been the largest supplier of military equipment to Sri Lanka in recent years and is involved in projects for the construction of highways, railways and a coal-based power plant.
India has extended the Lines of Credit amounting to $592 million to Sri Lanka for upgrading of the Colombo-Matara rail link, the supply of railway equipment and construction of railway lines in Northern Sri Lanka. Proposals are under consideration for the interconnection of the grids in Sri Lanka and India. But New Delhi would do well to ensure that negotiations are finalized for constructing a 500 MW power plant in Trincomalee.
Tamil Nadu Issue
Tamil Nadu's role in the India-Sri Lanka relations can never be ignored. Due to the close ethnic and geographical proximity, Tamil Nadu had always tried to have a say in India's policy towards Sri Lanka. However on many occasions New Delhi bypassed Tamil Nadu in its crucial decisions.
In the initial stages of the ethnic conflict while the Tamil Nadu and the Central Government in New Delhi were keeping a close watch on developments in Sri Lanka, they scrupulously refrained from doing anything that could be considered interference in Sri Lankan affairs, in spite of there being tremendous support from the opposition parties and other key players of Tamil Nadu for a more active policy toward Sri Lanka. However, Tamil Nadu's role became inevitable only after the Tamil militants began to play an active role in Tamil Nadu. Their presence in Tamil Nadu activated the Tamil social constituency in India and many Tamil public figures, media organizations and even local politicians started sympathizing with their cause. Tamil Nadu factor should be analyzed on the premise of two important factors; first: role of Tamil polity of both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka during the initial period of ethnic crisis, second: their role since the beginning of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Until the movement of Tamils militants into Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Nadu Government was only giving lip service and not real involvement, particularly in terms creation of Tamil Eelam.
Sri Lanka is strategically placed to exploit the geopolitical struggle unfolding in the Indian Ocean between China and India, with the United States having its own agenda for retaining its influence. While Pakistan is playing for stakes in Sri Lanka with Chinese acquiescence to queer the pitch for India, the Russians too are keeping a hawk eye on any activity in the Indian Ocean.
Considering that Sri Lanka sits adjacent to the shipping lanes that feed 80 per cent of China’s and 65 per cent of India’s oil needs, its strategic importance can hardly be ignored.
With the bulk of China’s trade passing through the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka thought it prudent to enter into a quid pro quo with the Chinese. While it drew upon Chinese support in terms of sophisticated arms and diplomatic backing, Colombo conceded strategic concessions, particularly a major new southern port at Hambantota, to Beijing. Ironically, it was India that Sri Lanka first approached for setting up a port at Hambantota, but when the Indians showed lack of enthusiasm, Colombo wasted no time in going to the Chinese.
China has developed similar port facilities in Myanmar (Burma), Bangladesh and Pakistan as part of a “string of pearls” strategy to develop its naval reach and protect crucial oil and other supplies shipped via the sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean.
In the run-up to the decimation of the Tamil Tigers, the Chinese were not only generous with weaponry but they also encouraged Pakistan to train Sri Lanka Air Force pilots and supply small arms. China sold Jian-7 fighters, anti-aircraft guns and JY-11 3D air surveillance radars to the Sri Lankan army, leaving the Pakistanis to meet the small arm needs of the Lankans.
In July last, for the first time, Sri Lanka attended the Shanghai Cooperation Council meeting as a dialogue partner, a blessing bestowed by Russia and China in recognition of its importance in the new Indian Ocean strategic game.
For India, it was none-too-easy to arm the Lankans to combat the Tamil Tigers due to the fallout this would have had in southern India, but it did provide defensive weapons and intelligence to the Sri Lankan government, besides economic aid, so as to maintain a degree of leverage with Colombo.
The Sri Lankans acknowledge that given its southern compulsions, India did give useful help in fighting the Tamil Tigers in the crucial stages. It helped the Sri Lankan navy through vital intelligence; it gave off-shore patrolling vessels and also provided a blockade against LTTE vessels.
The focus was on preventing Sri Lanka from falling into the Chinese lap and if that meant opening the purse-strings to counter-balance the Chinese supply of arms, Indian strategists were perfectly in tune with it.
There was the classic example of a $2.4 billion loan sought by the Sri Lankan government from the IMF to tackle its balance of payments problem which was refused by the IMF. Ordinarily, Sri Lanka would have turned to China, but before it could do that the Indian government indicated to Colombo that it was prepared to extend that loan if the IMF did not come round. It was indeed a case of once-bitten-twice-shy, having seen how the Chinese had grabbed the opportunity to develop the Hambantota port.
As part of its strategy to make Indo-Sri Lankan relations attractive for Colombo, the Indian government has also taken the initiative to set up a high-capacity power transmission link between India and Sri Lanka which is likely to be completed by 2013.
The 285-km-long power link, including submarine cables, over a stretch of 50 km, would enable the two countries to trade their surplus power, thereby offering a cheaper option to bridge their power generation deficit and also manage their peak demands.
The link will also help Sri Lanka reduce its use of expensive fuels and import cheaper power from India’s surplus. For India, the link would help open up a new market for its projected surplus of power.
India currently faces an over 12 per cent power deficit, with a peak demand of 109,000 MW annually. The government hopes it could add at least 62,000 MW of generation capacity in the next couple of years, with additional capacities being set up by private investors through captive and merchant power plants. This, along with the power from ultra mega power projects has fuelled hopes for a tradable surplus.
India had also signed an agreement with Sri Lanka for the construction of a railway line between Omanthai and Pallai in the island’s war-torn Northern Province. It is all set to open a consulate in the northern town of Jaffna so as to enhance its involvement in “reconstruction and rehabilitation,” for which it has offered a $108 million aid package.
India is also involved in the rehabilitation of the southern coastal railway line from Colombo to Matara by providing credit worth $167.4 million. It has considerable investments in Sri Lanka, including in the retail fuel, telecommunications, hotel, cement, banking, tyre, rubber and information technology sectors.
India can draw satisfaction from the fact that in regard to Sri Lanka, its interests broadly converge with those of the US. The Americans are indeed as keen to ward off the Chinese challenge for hegemony in the Indian Ocean states as India is.
A report published by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on December 7 last called for Washington to counter Beijing’s influence in Colombo through “a broader and more robust approach to Sri Lanka that appreciates new political and economic realities in Sri Lanka and US geostrategic interests”.
However, India is loathe to Washington’s influence increasing beyond reasonable proportions in its strategic backyard. India is no doubt counting on Washington’s assistance. At the same time, however, it is wary about the US achieving too much sway in its strategic backyard.
With Mahinda Rajapakse having won a second presidential term in Sri Lanka recently, India is pursuing its interests cautiously. New Delhi wants close ties with Colombo to counter the growing influence of rival China and to open up opportunities for Indian businesses. At the same time, it is concerned that political unrest in Sri Lanka, particularly communal tensions involving the Tamil minority, will have consequences inside India, especially in Tamil Nadu.
The Indian Government’s reiteration of the call for a “political solution” to the 26-year civil war in Sri Lanka through a power-sharing arrangement between the Sinhalese and the Tamils is unlikely to find favour with Rajapakse. While keeping the sensitivities of the Indian Tamils in mind, however, India will have to tread warily by not pushing too hard.
There can be little doubt that Sri Lanka under President Rajapakse would continue to take advantage of its strategic position by bargaining with the Chinese and the Indians. The days of India pushing its agenda with the Sri Lankans to the exclusion of China are indeed over. Indian diplomacy will indeed be on test.
Manmohan-Rajapakse Meeting
In November 2011, India and Sri Lanka agreed that the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Fisheries should meet and discuss steps to ensure that peace and harmony prevailed in the waters between the two countries and Indian fishermen are not attacked by Lankan navy.
The decision was taken at a meeting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa on the sidelines of the 17th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in the Maldives.
They were of the opinion that the JWG should ensure that fishermen of India and their counterparts in North Sri Lanka, both speaking Tamil, should meet and discuss issues of common concern.
Future Ahead
It can be said that it is important that India looks at the issue of internally displaced persons numbering to 300,000 in Sri Lanka. Their needs are enormous and immediate and any delay in delaying help to these people would put them into enormous trouble. The Sri Lankan Government with all its insincerity in giving a proper political package in the past has promised a political package for the Tamils. But the fear in most of the Tamils is that Sri Lankan government would again deprive them of a package unless Indian involves itself on the side of the Tamils.
It is imperative that India adopts a pro active policy towards Sri Lanka, to not only save the people but also for its own security reasons. Economy aid could be a big trump card in India's policy. Indian corporate houses have shown interest in investing in Sri Lanka. There is also a favorable mood in Colombo in allowing Indian houses to invest. India can use this leverage to not only develop the north and east that has been affected by the protracted war.
With the end of war, Sri Lanka has become closer to China, Pakistan and Israel because of their support to Colombo during the ethnic conflict. China building the Hambotota port cannot be ignored by India. Hence it is important that India looks at these developments with great caution and ensure a proper policy toward her closest southern neighbor. India needs to invest in Sri Lanka to keep the latter in its zone of influence. India's timely help during the Tsunami has proved to the world that we are capable of handling challenges facing the region. Having proved ourselves, it is important that India should consolidate the good will amongst the neighbors.

1 comment:

the publisher said...

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Try to post best informations like this always
Indo-Pak relations: If the mountain won't come to Manmohan singh