By Dayan Jayatilleka –
Does anyone know who made the decision to dabble with nuclear power sources and if that weren’t enough, attempt a tie up with a chemical and biological research institute? To put it more plainly, who even introduced the words nuclear, chemical and biological into the Sri Lankan policy agenda? Why, at a moment when we are under the scrutiny of the USA, would we even use the terms nuclear, chemical and biological, which are terms that trigger extreme apprehension in the world order and especially among those who dominate it? When we – or some of us – are sure that the West is out to get us, why would we provide the best of all possible sticks for them to beat us with?
The lead story of The Island reads as follows:
“Even as India is awaiting Sri Lanka’s response to its offer of a comprehensive nuclear pact, the dispensation in Colombo is reportedly moving in the direction of such a pact with Pakistan, seen globally as a country “with dubious non-proliferation records.” The Hindustan Times claimed in a report today that, “in an apparent tit for tat,” Sri Lanka is moving in the direction of a nuclear pact with Pakistan after India voted against it at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva early this year. At the same time, Colombo is dragging its feet on a similar pact with India by not scheduling talks despite New Delhi’s keenness to conclude the agreement soon, the daily claimed. India had offered Sri Lanka a comprehensive nuclear pact that will deal with all aspects of civil nuclear cooperation, including safety and training of professionals…Official sources here said: “We are yet to hear from them”. Meanwhile, sources said foreign secretary-level talks between Sri Lanka and Pakistan have identified civil nuclear technology as a major area of cooperation. Statements made by Lankan authorities show their intent to negotiate nuclear deals with both India and Pakistan, sources said. Sri Lanka’s overtures to Pakistan are of concern to India…It also has issues with Colombo overlooking its intention to give it the best possible deal….” (‘Sri Lanka Ignores Indian Nuclear Pact, Looks to Pakistan’ S Venkat Narayan, The Island, July 15, 2013)
The original story by Jayanth Jacob and datelined Delhi, appeared in the Hindustan Times of July 14, 2013 under the caption ‘ Lanka in N-talks with Pak after India’s UN vote snub’.
Meanwhile the lead story of Ceylon Today ran a parallel story as follows:
The Sri Lankan Government is pursuing nuclear pacts with Russia and Pakistan, a highly placed government source said yesterday, confirming that the pact with Russia has been already finalized. “We are treating our nuclear partners equally and are having discussions with about 10 countries on nuclear projects. Out of all the countries, Russia and Pakistan have shown greater interest, and as such, we are at the moment discussing modalities with nuclear agencies in Pakistan, to enter into an agreement that would develop our civil nuclear sector,” he said.
He also said, until 2012, Sri Lanka was planning on entering into a nuclear agreement with India, with talks in the pipeline for almost two years. But the country had to opt for other partners due to the lukewarm response by Indian officials, he added. “In 2010, we presented a civil nuclear proposal to the Indian authorities along with suggestions of nuclear safety with regard to the Kundankulam Nuclear Power Plant. However, we did not receive a positive response up until the time we reached out to Russia and Pakistan,” he noted…
…”Indian officials reached us with a comprehensive nuclear energy plan in the latter part of 2012, but we had to put it off, as Sri Lanka had not yet pursued avenues of nuclear energy and had been only concentrating on using nuclear energy for civil purposes,” a government source said…
…One report said, India had offered Sri Lanka a comprehensive nuclear pact that would deal with all aspects of civil nuclear cooperation, including safety and training of professionals. One round of talks was held in October last year, and India had also forwarded a draft pact, it said.
Since then, Delhi has been waiting for a Lankan response on dates for further talks. It quoted official sources as saying, “We are yet to hear from them,” despite offering a ‘comprehensive pact.’
Responding to the statement, Sri Lankan officials yesterday said the comprehensive pact was drafted in a manner in which India would get the best out of the deal.” (‘SL-Russia sign nuclear pact’, Gagani Weerakoon, Ceylon Today July 15, 2013)
As alarming is the story that I read on the website Colombo Page, dated July 13, 2013 which read:
“Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry has sought assistance from Pakistan’s University of Karachi to establish a world class research facility in the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU).
The Defence Ministry of Sri Lanka has requested the University of Karachi to help the Ministry establish a multidisciplinary research facility similar to the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) at the University of Karachi, in KDU, a university press release said.
Director of ICCBS, Prof. Dr. Muhammad Iqbal Choudhry has said that the KDU has decided to set up the research facility at a cost of $10 million.
The multidisciplinary research facility will be set up in compliant with international standards under the guidance of Patron-in-Chief of ICCBS, Prof. Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman. The ICCBS Administration would transfer technology and expertise between the two countries, the Director said.
A delegation of the University of Karachi comprising Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, Vice-Chancellor Prof. Dr. Muhammad Qaiser and the ICCBS Director Dr. Choudhry has recently visited Sri Lanka and met with the higher officials of the Defence Ministry and the KDU.
The Vice-Chancellor of KDU, Major-General Milinda Peiris, has welcomed the Pakistani scientists, and discussed the issues related to setting up of the world class research facility in the KDU, Sri Lanka’s only national military medical institution of higher education.” (“ Pakistan’s expertise sought to establish research facility in Sri Lanka Defence University”, Sat, Jul 13, 2013, 07:02 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.)
Pakistani scientists? In the fields of chemical and biological research? A nuclear power pact with Pakistan and Russia? In a world of sound-bites, tweets and optics, it looks and sounds very bad. It really does not matter if we need nuclear power for our domestic needs. It does not matter if we our well within our rights. It does not matter if we are entitled to seek cooperation with anyone in the realm of chemical and biological research.
What does matter is that it doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t feel right. And it can be used to frame us. Once a country gets into the frame on nuclear, chemical and biological issues, the pressure never stops and the costs are punitive. We could be perfectly innocent of all wrong doing or wrong intention. Our motivations may be as pure as driven snow. It wouldn’t matter. This is more so if we have a bad name already, however unfairly, in the West, which we do. It is decidedly so if the sources we have chosen to cooperate with are themselves regarded – however unfairly—as alarming or slightly dubious by the West.
Going by the news reports, we have opted to go with Russia and Pakistan on the issue of nuclear power. The same reports say that alarm bells have gone off in India as we have ignored a tie-up with them on this matter. A further report says that the Kotelawela Defence University is seeking a tie –up with a research centre in Pakistan, such as the Chemical and biological research Centre at the University of Karachi.
Pakistan and Russia are certainly among Sri Lanka’s staunchest friends and have proven this through thick and thin. That is beside the point. The N-word is something to be avoided at all costs. So too, are the C-word and B–word. Taken together they constitute an explosive cocktail.
The countries that found this out the hard way are many. Iran is the latest. It is true, as the Non Aligned Movement upheld that Iran has every right to peaceful nuclear energy. That moral right hasn’t helped Iran ward off excruciating sanctions. Sri Lanka unlike Iran has no oil either. Not even if Exxon can discover natural gas deposits off our shores will we have the economic wherewithal to offset an economic squeeze.
It is by no means my contention that Sri Lanka should sign a deal on the issue of civil nuclear power with India. We should drop any thought of civil nuclear power and cooperation on that subject with anyone, until we are in much calmer waters internationally. This includes the restoration of a healthy relationship with the USA.
Any sentence with ‘nuclear’ in it – and certainly any sentence with ‘nuclear’, ‘chemical’ and ‘biological’ in it– would help open another front against Sri Lanka. This is far worse than any human rights and/or humanitarian issue. It triggers whole other associations and sets in motion far more serious machinery. As bad as it is, things are far worse when a country accused of possible war crimes is associated with another country with an even worse profile in the international media– however unfair that is –on chemical, biological and nuclear issues. We shouldn’t touch it; any of it.
*Dr Dayan Jayatilleka was Sri Lanka’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, Geneva and is on the International Expert Group of Security Index, Russian Centre for Policy Studies, Moscow-Geneva-Monterrey