Sri Lanka is facing a century of humiliation and shame as the Rajapaksa family is selling the island off to foreign powers to stay in power.
Sri Lanka is in deep economic trouble. Sri Lanka is going down the same road as Lebanon and Ukraine have both gone before her. The Sri Lankan political leadership has shown that it is neither capable nor willing to stabilize the country and serve national interests. They seem to be hell bent on trading the future of the nation to stay in power for a few more years. Thus, the island nation, the oldest nation state on earth with more than 2600 years of history as a nation state, is facing a century of humiliation and doom. The only difference is that in Sri Lanka, unlike in other countries, the leadership is not willing to do what needs to be done to stop this downward spiral.
The overgrown crisis in Sri Lanka has surfaced in the form of a financial management issue in recent years. The current debt crisis and balance of payment is just the tip of the iceberg. Every area of social services has been in crisis for decades. Consequences of long ignored structural issues inherited from pre-independent Sri Lanka, exacerbated by decades of misguided policies compound by exploitative nature of our social structures and corruption, are causing a general collapse of the state. The victory of Mathripala Sirisena in 2015 was a testament to the desire of the country to find a fix to these long-ignored issues in Sri Lanka. Due to the inability of the center right government led by President Sirisena to deliver the change people needed, in 2019 they elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa. On top of this, the country was in shock after the Easter Attacks and feared the possibility that Sri Lanka may become a logistical and operational base for the aggressive and militaristic American Indo-Pacific policy. One of the main reasons why the Sri Lankan voter supported the current government was to take Sri Lanka’s non aligned foreign policy forward and to prevent Sri Lanka from being a part of the US Indo-Pacific game plan against China.
However, the Rajapakse family who heads the current government is understood not to be taking any efforts to follow up with their own promises to keep Sri Lanka away from the QUAD alliance led by US military and the US Indo-Pacific strategy. India has emerged over the last few years as the proxy power who coerces Sri Lanka into the American sphere of influence in the Indian ocean. This was evident in Rajapakse’s attempt to hand over the eastern terminal of the Colombo port, one of the most important ports in Asia. There were a number of highly damaging agreements with the Indians, ranging from handing over the oil tank farm in Trincomalee, to energy plants in the northern islands, to cronies associated with the Indian top brass. As the economic crisis is going over the point of no return and the financial situation is in free fall, the Indian government seems to be demanding the pound of flesh from Sri Lanka in exchange for their credit lines. As economic worries keep getting compounded, the Rajapaksas seem to be willing to go to any length to keep borrowing and avoid economic restructuring by agreeing to any demand coming from the QUAD alliance members, no matter how much they are counter to the national interest. The Rajapaksa family now plans to sign a highly controversial maritime security agreement with India, which may attempt to see the Sri Lankan navy reduced to surveillance agents of QUAD in the Indian ocean.
Sri Lanka seems to be falling firmly into the trap laid by the US and the Indian strategists to secure the island nation as a hub for its attempted control over the Indian ocean. Prof Rohan Gunaratne, known for his links with the US defense establishment, as well as Milinda Moragoda, referred to as ‘our man’ in the leaked US embassy cables, are significant forces behind the suicidal path that Sri Lanka has taken. Agreeing to incorporate Sri Lankan naval maritime surveillance capabilities into the American naval overlordship of the Indian ocean is extremely troubling. President Gotabaya has unfortunately decided to allow naval liaisons to be permanently placed at the Bahrain-based intelligence sharing office by the US navy, called the Intelligence Fusion Centre. This is in addition to the data protection act passed on a proposal by Namal Rajapakse as the minister of digital infrastructure that supersedes the right to information act. The new act, instead of protecting the integrity and sovereignty of national data, seems to allow it to be absorbed into the intelligence apparatus of the combined US-India operations in Sri Lanka. Another significant development is the upcoming purchase of a 4,000-tonne naval floating dock by the Sri Lankan navy to be positioned in Trincomalee and capable of making repairs to frigates and destroyers. This will start the transition of the Trincomalee harbor from a civil facility to military facility capable of handling large naval operations for policing the Indian ocean. India seems to be interested in gaining direct control over land in Trincomalee district in a departure from its previous policy of bullying Colombo to gain access when needed. The program to take over large sugar plantations via a Singaporean proxy on Indian behalf is a good example for this strategic shift.
Not all plans are going well for Indian interests either. The most notably, the governor of the eastern province Mrs. Anuradha Yahampath has categorically told the president that she unequivocally refuses to sign the approval to allow the Indian take over of the Trincomalee oil storage facility. But on another front, thanks to the collaboration of another Rajapakse, the Finance Minister is said to have agreed to hand over the Trincomalee harbor complex to the Indians. A bigger threat to energy security of Sri Lanka was the handing over of the monopoly of natural gas for power generation for perpetuity under the Yugadanavi deal.
More disturbingly, allowing the Indian government to set up three secret bases in Jaffna, Trincomalee and Matara respectively will allow the Indian and American governments to put a dangerous surveillance network over the maritime traffic in order to police the Indian ocean. This is carried out under the pretext of establishing Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres. These facilities will be set up by Bharath Electronics of India according to the cabinet paper submitted by Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the Minister of Defense. Such bases may one day secretly end up becoming armed and unarmed drone command and control centers. It must be noted that the company that is going to set up these camps, Bharat Electronics Limited, is an Indian government-owned aerospace and defense electronics company, which primarily manufactures advanced electronic products for ground and aerospace application. This poses a significant risk to Sri Lanka’s national security interests as well as international maritime security over the Indian ocean. The possibility of using these facilities to operate armed drones over conflict regions around the world may even put Sri Lanka into possible violations of the international law and lead to the country being held legally, politically and morally responsible for war crimes and violations of the international humanitarian law.
Rajapaksa’s willingness to drag Sri Lanka into the US-India sphere of influence will also invalidate Sri Lanka’s position as a neutral trading hub in the middle of the Indian ocean. In this context the visit by Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the United States to Sri Lanka poses new questions. Victoria Nuland is a key character behind the regime change operation in Ukraine in 2014 and played a significant role in handing over the power of the Ukrainian state to far right and Nazi groups who previously had been the political minority.
This will seriously hamper the potential economic recovery that Sri Lanka needs in the long term. In other words, the short-term power games that the Rajapakse family is playing to stay in power for a few more years may prolong the suffering of the Sri Lankan population for decades to come and may risk the stability and balance of power in the Indian ocean. Sri Lanka seems to be forced into a path similar to the one that Ukraine took since 2008. This outlook of the future doesn’t hold much for the island nation, unless its government finally prioritizes national interests. Once a country falls into a fighting ground between world powers or is economically and politically weakened by one side to be used as a vessel, it takes decades, if not centuries to get out of this debacle. One of the best examples is China following the Opium Wars in the mid 1800s. It took China more than 100 years to end foreign occupation of the most important economic centers of their country, unify the nation under a central authority and guarantee the sovereignty of its people. And still, even now Western imperial powers continue to use Hong Kong as a vessel of some sort to inflict political instability in China. This is what awaits us, should Sri Lanka allow its territory to be carved up by regional and global powers in exchange for temporary financial aid that provides a very limited breathing space for the crumbling economy, and continue to allow its security shere be used as a satellite for the militarisation of the Indian ocean by QUAD.
What we see is the beginning of Sri Lanka’s own century of shame, where difficult times are being exploited politically, economically and militarily by regional and global powers led by the US and India to carve up the island.