By Mano Ratwatte –
As a follow up to my initial thoughts I would like to raise issue about Sri Lanka’s relationships with India and the US
My best days as student were spent in amazing Punjab amongst Sikhs. I saw how the Indira-Cong I machinations and how they used Jarnail Singh Bindranwale to divide up Akali Dal votes in the prosperous state of Punjab to win control of the state legislature, ending up in disaster. Armed Tamil separatism and Sikh separatism are progeny of games Cong I played. I am not being anti Indian when I make these statements.. Sikhs are a fierce hardworking genuine people who take lots of pride in their state. Talk to Sikhs if you want to learn about what Cong-I did in Punjab in the 1980s and their sorrow and anger. India is not all a Bollywood movie with Salman Khan gyrating to bangra.
It is clear that in 2009, if India had not given the green light Sri Lanka would not have been allowed to militarily defeat the fascist Tamil Tigers; they had displayed many times that they were not willing to settle for anything other than a racially exclusive Eelam under their iron fist. This is not a defense of the alleged HR violations but a statement based on reality. India would not have let Sri Lanka defeat the Tigers if it didn’t want to. Ipso facto. India is the regional superpower, and if it didn’t want the Tigers defeated, there would still be war today. The Rajapakse regime kept India updated throughout the entire finale’.
In contrast, India’s actions in 2009 signaled a different and welcome mindset from the 1980s when India felt their interests were threatened and intervened to stop the Vadamaarchchi operation. At that time, it was afraid of Sri Lanka’s obvious hostility towards India during the JR regime. The Indo-Lanka pact made clear references to Sri Lanka not being used in any manner deemed inimical to Indian interests. It viewed the Voice of America transmission station with suspicion.
India never felt threatened by its friendly southern neighbor before 1977. It moved strategic bases and air commands closer to Sri Lanka after 1977because relationships had become really sour between the two nations with JR’s overt attempts to anchor itself to a geographically infeasible and impractical alliance elsewhere.
Keep in mind, this same India (which armed, trained and financed separatism) was the first nation to come to Ceylon’s aid in 1971 when the first JVP war broke out. There were ships anchored outside Colombo bringing in weapons and ammunition and willing to help Mrs. Bandaranaike in case the situation became hopeless. IAF Helicopters were used to drop leaflets asking JVP cadre to surrender.
Later on after the disastrous IPKF period, (and its human rights transgressions no one wants to talk about) and the paranoid actions of a ultra nationalist Sri Lankan President life soured for Indo-separatist relations. After the Tigers murdered Rajiv Gandhi public opinion about them changed radically. This is well documented. The Tigers knew they were facing defeat and could have surrendered even after Kilinochchi fell; they misread India and they even misread US abilities to influence India. What was Sri Lanka’s mistake? It was absurd to claim that there were no civilian casualties. No war results in zero civilian casualties; specially not when an enemy doesn’t wear combat uniforms and hides behind civilians wanting to cause them to meet their ends. What it should have done is listened to India and started the process of healing by addressing concerns about potential individual acts of excessive use of force. The longer it stubbornly stuck to claiming there were no civilian casualties faster it lost credibility. From a figure of 7,000 estimated civilian casualties figures the number radically escalated to much larger numbers. Why is that?
It is clear now that Sri Lanka has to reset its relationships with India and the US. It has to first start with India. India was very supportive of the Rajapaksa regime until the China card was overplayed. It also tested India’s patience by saying one thing and doing something different about 13A. True the blatant grab of power, and corruption and increasing autocratic rule may have played a part too but then how come no one wants to talk about the days the UNP unleashed terror in the South?
Indo-US collusion the Sri Lankan Election 2015
India and US was involved in the strategies to overthrow the Rajapaksa regime for a reason; they are worried about the growing Chinese influence. India may have also been irritated at the intransigence of the Rajapakses in implementing 13A but I doubt if the US was. The reason a team led by Mr. Eran Wickramaratne was supposedly successful in getting funds from the US, and even get John McCain’s ear,( and in particular from Republicans) is not because of the lack of democracy or concerns about human rights in post 2009 Sri Lanka. It is because of the China-factor. It is rumoured the UNP received over $50million in US support for his election and Mr. Eran Wicramakeratne’s team is believed to have played a key role in securing US support. They may have used the China card. Him and Ranil W appear to have outwitted the MR regime despite its very intrusive intelligence apparatus. Those Satellite phones Mr. Rajitha Senaratne bragged about didn’t come from China did they?
This election result may work out in Sri Lanka’s favor if they realign and get close to India and US and allay their fears of allowing China a foothold in Sri Lanka. Talks of punishing Sri Lanka for HR issues in 2009 might be a bit more tempered with this realignment of interests. Under MR, Sri Lanka made a mistake by overplaying the China card. However the new regime and its foreign policy mandarins in Colombo better never forget that India armed, trained and financed terrorism in Sri Lanka long before 1983. If you recall in 1987 when India violated Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and carried out the infamous “Parippu drop” no one cared; there was no UN condemnation or no outcry from any major power. Sri Lanka did not fit into the equation of big power politics during the cold war. What should the new regime in Colombo do? Allay Indian and American fears. Cyprus in 1975, was invaded by Turkey but no one really cared. When big powers feast, small nations are just appetizers to be gobbled up.
In my ignorant view, some of the contentious issues that Sri Lanka has to deal with after resetting relations with India.
Please make every attempt to reduce or end the heartache of the estimated 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees languishing in India. Make sure to screen hardcore Tigers, but please facilitate the earliest repatriation of Sri Lankans back to their motherland. The heinous acts of 1983 are still entrenched in victims minds. Others fled the years of war and shelling and are likely to be severely traumatized. They are Sri Lankans and should rightly be able to live freely and without fear again in Sri Lanka.
The illegal fishing issue. Sri Lankan Tamils are the most affected by blatant theft of Sri Lanka’s natural resources. Indian fishermen use bottom trawling equipment thereby denuding a lot of the regenerative stock of fish. Publicity should be given in India, and specially in S.India that SL naval measures to protect Sri Lankan fishermen are in fact pro Sri Lankan Tamil and not anti Indian. I felt that message was not sold to chauvinistic S Indian Tamil politicians during the MR regime. Sharing resources and allowing certain days where fishermen from both sides can fish in each other’s waters maybe one feasible compromise provided there is monitoring of the methods being used. The message is one of protecting Sri Lankan tamils and their livelihood
Potential long term security issue. Sri Lanka has an illegal immigrant problem S.Indians desperate to leave India for better opportunities in Sri Lanka. Jailbird Jeyalalitha akka and other Tamil hindu racist Chauvinists in Madras/Chennai can scream their heads off but if Sri Lanka were that horrible for S.Indians why are there so many illegal immigrants in Sri Lanka after 2009? On a recent trip, I also noticed a lot of Hindi Speaking Indians who are residents in Colombo. In contrast, how many skilled Sri Lankans are freely employed in India in lucrative positions? Has India reduced obstacles to investment in India by Sri Lankans? How many Skilled Sri Lankans or unskilled Sri Lankans are employed in India? Where is the reciprocity?
Ilegal Indians are reportedly even peddling sarees in rural Sri lanka and working in rice paddies. Remember how RAW operated in the 1980s? Why is this not being stopped and illegals sent back? Why is Sri Lanka’s immigration authorities not using a system such as the US does to fingerprint and photograph every non-Citizen tourist at the airports? A lot of these illegals disappear after coming on tourist visas.
Does no one see the long term national security threats? Encourage legitimate tourists from the region but be careful and have better intelligence measures to stop even regional terrorist groups from trying to use Sri Lanka to harm western or Indian interests at the same time. Get Indian help to monitor radical Islamic Jihadi movements from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Welcome legitimate Indian tourists but not the two-bit hawkers who come here to sell sarees or work in the paddy fields or restaurants because they do not bring in any foreign currency reserves into Sri Lanka.
Illegal drug smuggling from India across Talaimannar with alleged political involvement in Sri Lanka and India. Scarce resources will be far better spent cracking down on the import and distribution of dangerous drugs from India and Pakistan; and apprehending their political sponsors than prosecuting people for the possession of Marijuana/Ganga. Will Sri Lanka think of legalizing marijuana while combating the deadlier drugs?
Does Sri Lanka want a situation like Sikkim? Do our new Foreign ministry politicians know what India did to Sikkim and how it treats Nepal and Bhutan? Do you want a situation where RAW and Indians will engineer some attacks on Indian interests/investments and use that as a pretext to invade again? Have you forgotten how RAW acted in the 1980s? This may have been possible if not for the election result of January 8th; it may now not look that plausible if the new regime works to allay Indian fears of China. India has always been paranoid and afraid of China because of its humiliating military defeat in 1962 and Chinese attempts to destabilize their North Eastern states.
But please look at how heavily militarized Sikkim, Kashmir and the North Eastern States of India are(where foreign tourists are not allowed without special permission from their Defence Ministry). Why should India tell Sri Lanka where it should have military bases or not? Are we to believe than hardcore brainwashed militants who spent 6 months to an year in a camp are “Born again” and will never resort to violence and terrorism given a chance? Those hapless tamils were brainwashed into hating all Sinhalese. There is a generation of Tamils lost to it by the Tamil tiger brainwashing tactics. Hopefully with the ability to travel freely and with reconstruction, these brainwashed youth will come to realize the hapless conditions they face are the same conditions faced by poor Sinhalese youth.
While resetting relationships, the new government and Mangala Samaraweera better be aware of how India deals with Nepal, Bhutan and also learn about their own history in dealing with insurgencies in the North-Eastern states and how they dealt with the Khalistani movement in the great prosperous state of Punjab. Those little skirmishes were much less lethal than what Sri lanka had to deal with thanks to India arming and training terrorists long before 1983. This is where JR Jayewardene erred. He felt he could align himself with the US during the cold war and veered away from the pro Indian foreign policy of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s (prudent) regime. UNP’s leading politicians attacked the Gandhi’s personally. JR wanted to join ASEAN and were roundly humiliated by them. This was still during the cold war. End result? India actively working towards destabilizing Sri Lanka by using Tamil separatism. The best period of comfortable relationships with the 4th largest military power in the world happened during the Indira Gandhi – Sirimavo Bandaranaike era. It is JR Jayawardene’s regime who blew it; it is JR’s regime that was also responsible for the cruel attacks in July 1983. To this date no responsible UNP leader has apologized to the Tamil people.
If you sign a Trade Agreement with India, you will destroy even the nascent manufacturing sector in Sri Lanka. It is already suffering from dumping of low quality goods from China and India and a flood of Indian employees depriving Sri Lankans of opportunities to work in India or even inside Sri Lanka. Thus the only nation to gain in such a favored status agreement will be India and Indians who will enjoy the relatively higher superior standards of living in Sri Lanka.
China and India need unfettered access to the shipping routes. China with their String of Pearls policy has gone on a path of building ports and engaging in massive visible infrastructure development projects from Africa to South Asia for a reason. It is not just India and US that are thinking in the strategic long term; Vietnam which has historically been at odds with China for hundreds of years, is veering towards a military partnership with the US to protect their booming offshore oil investments in the contested South China sea;.it plays a critical role in Asia’s economy. One-third of the world’s shipping passes through its waters. Huge reserves of oil and gas may well lie beneath the seabed. As a result, its bordering states – Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam – are fighting over resource rights.
Oil and energy security are the words to remember as Sri Lanka resets their soured relations with India but not at the risk of sacrificing the very strong 60 year old ties with China which has always stood by Sri Lanka even in International Forums and bailed us out many times. Even if it costs more to invite US firms to drill for oil and natural gas, it maybe a smart move for the new regime to allocate some of the surveyed blocks to US firms or European firms as well as Indian and Chinese firms. It will be a tough balancing act, but if Sri Lanka gets hauled up in front of ICJ, then China will be its only genuine friend unless we lose that valuable long term relationship by becoming too cozy with the US and India and humiliate ourselves.
Sri Lanka did not play a major part in International strategic plans of the US until recently. The China factor is the key issue here. The US destabilized Maldives because of fears of Chinese expansion. It was quick to endorse the illegal overthrow (Hillary Clinton) of the regime there until there was a public outcry. These are their long term goals and are based on energy security.
Sri Lankans have a right to be outraged at the dirty games played by India and its role in arming, training and financing terrorism in the 1980s, but RealPolitik (Chancellor Brandt) dictates a more realistic look at these relationships if Sri Lanka is to remain an independent nation as it has for over 2,000 years and not a Colony or a compliant nation like Nepal or Bhutan whose foreign and economic policies are ruled by India.
Perhaps if only Sri Lanka was oozing Oil and Natural Gas, with US energy companies drilling for it and selling it, it could have remained a Rajapaksa dynastic model democracy for many more Astrological cycles? Jesting of course, but keep in mind India is on $100Billion dollar military revamping binge because PM Modi wants make sure “no nation will cast its evil eye on India again”. (It has very close relations with Israel too and buys a lot of weapons from them)Given that any given day it can roundly defeat Pakistan in a conventional war, its long term strategic fears are about China. Sri Lankan leaders shouldn’t forget its geographic(unfortunate?) location unlike JR did; setting the stage for the 28 year hell it went through after India decided to arm, train and finance separatism under the Indira-Rajiv Gandhi Cong I doctrine. A good starting point to press the reset button maybe to examine the 1970s .