By Mano Ratwatte –
I am not an expert nor professionally trained to a foreign policy analyst. What I love to do is follow international affairs. I started to do this as a child growing up in Sri Lanka where we had access to printed media from all corners of the world. There was no TV back then. Hence what I share here are not views of a self proclaimed expert of any sort, but my interpretations of what I have seen and also experienced. Because of the long winded nature of this opinion column I would split it into two parts.
US – India
Everyone is talking about the hug Obama gave Modi. Body language is important in global relations. Remember how Angela Merkel cringed in disgust when George W Bush gave her a shoulder rub at the G8? International political watchers give a lot of credence (more than to Astrology) to body language when powerful leaders meet. It is an open secret that the Obama regime and Netanyahu’s rightwing Israeli regime do not have any body language and warmth when they meet. Theirs is one of irritability and “we are saddled with each other”. Modi’s hug was followed shortly with a joint communiqué on a “strategic vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region”.
This importance was symbolized when for the first time in modern Indian history, a US President attended their Republic day parade where India (ironically there are 600 million people without toilet facilities, a massively sub-literate, caste ridden unemancipated population and abysmal poverty in this nation with nuclear weapons) displayed its first-world military prowess even prompting a silly “thumbs up” by President Obama.
China and its large scale efforts to develop infrastructure across Asia and Africa is viewed by both nations as a threat to their security. India has never really emotionally recovered from the humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962. Sri Lanka will have no choice, however unpalatable it is, to readjust its foreign policy relationships in order to stem further interventions and possible Indian intrusions into it. Do this right but not at the expense of the very unique and strong relationship with China; keep in mind, China never supported terrorism in Sri Lanka unlike India but geographical location next to India gives us no choice. It will a tough balancing act. People advising the MR regime did not seem to have a grasp of complex geo-political games people play and overplayed the China card. Interestingly, Obama goes onto mention Sri Lanka too. What does it mean? Keep in mind, that Sri Lanka will never be the main course in Big power banquets, it’s just a side item or an appetizer.
The “US-Indo affair”
This cozy relationship is of newer origins. As in many places of the world, immediately following World War II, US policy was based on its racist attitudes towards third world nations of dark skinned peoples in newly independent nations of the world. It tended to be condescending and patronizing and both the US and USSR were trying to establish a series of client states in hotspots across the world..(I have encountered patronizing and condescending people even as an American citizen even amongst my white academic colleagues who were clueless and didn’t know the difference between communism or socialism; so this is not far-fetched and is well documented in declassified documents released by the US State Department) . Even in the 1970s, racist American Presidents like Watergate Nixon (he called Mrs. Gandhi a stubborn bitch),and racist American policy makers like Kissinger hated India during the cold war and were prone to making racist statements about Indian leaders, because it was not a client state. India and Sri Lanka at that time were fiercely non-aligned states with a socialist bend but were secular democracies; and their interests coalesced. During the cold war, US had a penchant for supporting brutal military dictators in Pakistan(and many other places where it overthrew democratic regimes that refused to be client states) to safeguard its military interests.
India rejected US demands that it not recognize communist China in 1948 irritating the global superpower. Its relationship with the US was mostly one of either open hostility or one of “ able to tolerate each other” for a long time even though the US tried hard to move India towards its bloc with massive amounts of food aid. However in 1965 during India’s war with Pakistan, relationships soured greatly as US and other western nations failed to support India’s military whose equipment was mostly of western origin at that time. After Mrs. Gandhi became PM, India decided not to depend on the US for military supplies and started purchasing equipment from the Soviet Union. India’s objective was to never depend on a foreign power for military equipment and it started a domestic industry based on securing patents and assembly and finally outright manufacturing rights to modern weapons systems from the Soviet Union and that policy continues to this date. USSR stepped right into this and signed a defense pact with India in 1972 following the military humiliation of Pakistan in December of 1971, leading to the creation of Bangladesh. This infuriated the US even further; they failed to realize India and Indira Gandhi were only interesting protecting their interests and were not part of the Soviet Empire. US policies were duplicitous when it came to smaller nations which have no valuable natural resources but it now views India as a crucial ally in their efforts to stymie China’s influence and combat global terrorism.
Al Qaeda Islamic terrorist attacks in the American heartland made a huge difference in the group think of US foreign policy mandarins. After ignoring India for a long time, and favoring military dictatorships in Pakistan, after Al Qaeda became a military threat to the US and the US ended up invading Afghanistan(and also bungled the invasion of Iraq ). Later on, with mutual fears of militancy spreading from Pakistan, (and with the end of the cold war), India became a more respected nation in the eyes of the US foreign policy experts. I feel the MR regime failed to realize the importance of this new found love affair between India and the US. When MR’s regime overplayed the China card, it only brought the US and India closer to initiate regime change in Sri Lanka.
India is also the world’s tenth largest economy now. After the cold war, India opened its economy and became a liberalized open one; thus providing far greater opportunities for the US and India than before. The radical changes in attitudes towards India and realignment of relations came about only after the treat of Islamic terrorism became real. India and US had mutual security interests. India plays an active role in Afghanistan’s economy. It fends off Kashmiri rebels operating from Pakistan, and various Islamic terrorist groups which use Pakistan as a base; and there is also multi-billion dollar business opportunities at economies of scale smaller nations simply cannot offer.
Sri Lanka- India
Yet I feel the relationship with India should be on a slightly more even keel than previously where the Congress I regime arrogantly dictated and exercised hegemonistic behaviour towards Sri Lanka. There are some thorny issues that need to be resolved without bowing to the arrogant Foreign Office Brahmins in New Delhi whilst safeguarding Sri Lanka’s national interests and addressing Indian security concerns.
1983, 1984 & 2009
Indians, specially not their Hindus, cannot judge Sri Lanka on the basis of the horrendous violence in 1983 perpetrated by government goons of the UNP regime. However this was the singular horrendous event that swayed Indian public opinion and led to the rapid rise of the Tamil Tigers as a group seen to be as liberators.
I lived in Punjab when Cong-I sponsored thugs including some of their members of Congress, initiated Hindu mobs to rape (with cries of “we will breed the Khalistani out of you”), burn and murder tens of thousands of innocent Sikhs after Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated on October 31st 1984. That single act made millions of Sikhs want a separate state and led to the Khalistani movement in India. I have made repeated mention of this and want to state this again because I feel a lot of Sri Lankan politicians are clueless about this incident and they want to shame all Sri Lankans based on violent acts perpetrated by UNP goons. I state this because while we should be ashamed of 1983 and never allow a repeat, India really has no room to preach. And there is no need for Indians to attack Buddhism over the cruel acts of 1983 unless they also examine how many Muslims have been murdered in India by Right Wing Hindu gangs. Remember PM Modi was persona non grata in the US for a long time. Ask yourselves why.
Then there were people who said they were “ashamed to be Sri Lankan” when the war ended in 2009. That too is a very unfair attitude to have. Sri Lanka went through hell. That hell was first imposed on it by India. All wars are hell. The war had to end and everyone now knows that India finally said “finish it off” (and told the US to “back off”) and encouraged Sri Lanka to militarily defeat the Tamil Tiger fascists. They accepted the levels of casualties that are now cause for HR concerns because they too were tired of the Tigers.
The booming economy, free elections and all the positives in post war Sri Lanka would not have been possible if the war was not finished off. Both Ranil W and President emeritus CBK have no credentials to talk about the conduct of war during their regimes which engaged in appeasement. If there is anything that needs to be done, perhaps a commission of truth and reconciliation(a real one this time) may help the healing process.
To be continued..