18 September, 2021

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US-Lanka Relations After Taliban Triumph

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Having led the country deeper and deeper into a quagmire of an aggressive virus pandemic and depressed economy, the GR-MR-BR trio is now scrambling to repair the damage it has caused to Sri Lanka’s foreign relations. Foreign policy seems to be receiving a degree of urgency and critical dimension, partly because of the approaching UNHCR Council meeting to be held in Geneva on 13th September, and partly because of the regional geo-political dynamics arising out of the return of a new generation of Taliban in Afghanistan. It appears that when UNHCR meets this time, the first item on the agenda would be to audit Sri Lanka’s record of progress in meeting the demands stipulated in last year’s resolution. Obviously, the country’s representatives would strive hard to avoid the repetition of their shoddy performance in 2020. It was their diplomatic amateurism that was largely responsible for that debacle. This disappointment must have been one of the reasons why President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR) was compelled to reshuffle the cabinet and shift Dinesh Gunawardena from foreign affairs to education and Professor G. L. Peiris from education to foreign affairs. How much the professor is going to achieve in Geneva this time is yet to be seen. The situation there demands diplomacy of the highest order and not simply an academic ability to argue legal points.          

Sri Lanka’s foreign policy has taken a dramatic shift from its commitment to non-alignment to one of pro-China. This shift, which actually started during the Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) presidency (2005-2015), although China-Lanka friendship preceded long before that time, was no doubt necessitated by the constraints of a civil war, which MR wanted to win at any coast. Yet, it failed to take into account the strategic position of the island in the Indian Ocean and the rising geo-political contest growing already at the time between an emerging regional power, China, and its imperial rival US with its Western allies including India and Japan. As US-China cold war gained momentum, Sri Lanka’s pro-China policy became a concern to US when the current Rajapaksa regime prevaricated for some time and then rejected outright the US Millennium Challenge Corporation. This was followed by the scandalous rejection of US ally India’s bid to build and operate the East Container Terminal. On top of all, is the Colombo Port City (CPC), built entirely with Chinese capital, technology and labour is virtually going to be under Chinese management and control even though the government claims otherwise. With the recent loan agreement worth 2 billion renminbi ($308 million) with China the country is slowly getting caught to a debt trap. GR’s stubborn resistance against Sri Lanka approaching IMF for any financial assistance or advice further advertises his anti-US and anti-Western attitude. His so-called alternate way to development appears for all intents and purposes a pro-China way. Earlier, it was to warn Sri Lanka of its blind tilt towards China that the former US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo paid a hurried visit to Colombo in October last year and held talks with GR. He dubbed China, a “predator friend”.

With domestic situation in the country deteriorating rapidly on the health and economic fronts, and provoking a groundswell of protests there seems to be a realization that some adjustments have to be made in government’s foreign policy. The recent visit of Basil Rajapaksa (BR) to US was not entirely a private affair, but propelled by foreign policy necessities. He is reported to have flown from Los Angelis to Washington to meet US officials and said to have promised to follow a more neutral foreign policy. Before flying to Los Angelis, BR had met the US Ambassador in Colombo and had preparatory talks. Even GR had invited US Embassy officials for talks over a lunch at the President’s House. Surprisingly, one other invitee for that lunch was a prominent member of TNA. It appears that GR may soon renew his invitation to TNA for talks on reconciliation and related matters, and BR is also expected to participate in the talks. US was insisting for some time that the regime must solve the problems of minorities to normalize relations with Washington. Some cynics may consider these moves as pure drama to pass the test in Geneva. But there seems to be some seriousness and the GR-MR-BR trio realizes that domestic policy has an impact on foreign policy and vice versa.

Above all this, the dramatic events in Afghanistan may act as a catalyst for a renewed and enlarged US focus on Sri Lanka. Having got routed from Iran already by the Shiite mullahs, the loss of Afghanistan to a new generation of Sunni Taliban is a double blow to US presence in Asia. With China set to emerge as a strong and “welcome friend” of the Taliban regime, US’ ally India is bound to feel threatened by an arc of China friendly regimes in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an essential component of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) strategy, and which virtually roped Sri Lanka with the CPC, may eventually include Afghanistan also. Of all these countries it is Sri Lanka that is strategically situated in the Indian Ocean, and India will be extremely worried of China’s economic and strategic foothold in the island which, if not checked, would pose a security threat from the southern cost of the subcontinent. India and the US would therefore work in tandem to bring pressure on Colombo to adopt a more neutral position as BR has promised in Washington.

Sri Lankan economy is in dire straits. It desperately needs foreign investment from multiple channels. China’s largesse alone is insufficient. It was a pathetic sight to see the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, almost pleading the other day with Saudi Ambassador to get his government provide more employment opportunities to Sri Lankans. It has become a cruel choice between exporting goods and services and exporting people to earn revenue. According one news report, there are nearly 600,000 citizens queuing to obtain visas from foreign embassies to emigrate.

All this necessitates that the regime’s foreign policy needs urgent revision. To do that the government requires the advice of top-class professional diplomats, which unfortunately is in short supply. To overcome this shortage GR has decided to recruit 20 so-called diplomatic professionals from Blue-chips companies to serve in different fields. Is this a backdoor entry to join the country’s diplomatic service? If so, it will be a diabolic mistake not only because it opens the doors to privatization of foreign policy but also allowing corruption to enter that sector also. Anyway, the immediate hurdle to cross is the forthcoming UNHCR Council meeting in Geneva. It is going to be a testing ground for BR’s efforts to change GR-MR’s foreign policy directions.  

*Dr. Ameer Ali, School of Business & Governance, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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Latest comments

  • 11
    18

    Future is pro-China.

    • 3
      3

      S. C. Passqual

      “Future is pro-China.”

      Has the ministry of “Stargazing” started functioning along with other ministries?
      Don’t get disappointed if you are not being able to get a job there as the job of the secretary to “Stargazing” Ministry has already being allocated to Kamala Gunaratne, the single handed general.

      Our good old racist friend Soman deserves a job.

      • 1
        4

        Mr. Native Kudda,
        .
        Kamala Gunaratne??? Ha Ha Ha
        .
        When General G. D. H. Kamal Gunaratne, WWV, RWP, RSP, USP stands up you all used to run away with tail between legs.

        • 1
          0

          S. C. Passqual

          “When General G. D. H. Kamal Gunaratne, WWV, RWP, RSP, USP stands up you all used to run away with tail between legs.”

          Really?
          Well I agree with you when IPKF landed he would have practiced. I am not going to compete with Kamala.
          Did you know in 1990, Kamala ran away from his post in Mangulam when it came under intense attack from LTTE, your spin doctor would like us to believe it was successful strategic withdrawal back to Wanni Headquarters.

          I am not sure if he ran away from LTTE with his tail between legs or swept trees/ branches with both his hands and legs, or probably begged keeping both hands in the position of prayer .

          Go away.

    • 6
      8

      US Special Forces which staged the Easter Attacks in the hope of landing a US military base in Lanka to purportedly fight ISIS terror using the Muslims as the Cat’s paw and Scapegoat with Saudi funds, are now moving to the Indian Ocean region and targetting Sri Lanka for regime change as they are dis-engaging from Afghanistan.

      This is the new policy and strategy direction – target China in the IOR not Russia from Afghanistan. The new Cold War realignment.

      US Deepstate is also talking about and now conduction ‘Over the horizon” operations, all over the world with the Covid-19 hoax, endlessly mutating virus narratives and vaccines, using technology and cyber digital space drones etc. and the Covid-19 hoax to divide, distract, confuse, lockdown and destroy economies, put in place surveillance through digatalization and control political movements and governments – fronting WHO. Is this full on hybrid war on Sri Lanka for regime change? The oposition SJB and JVP and related Trade Unions seem to have embraced economically devastating Covid-19 lockdowns as pawns of the US regime change strategy in Lanka?!

    • 3
      2

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

      For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

      • 2
        0

        “On top of all, is the Colombo Port City (CPC), built entirely with Chinese capital, technology and labour is virtually going to be under Chinese management and control”
        I don’t think that’s a bad idea. Much better than Rajapaksa management. We can be sure it will be put to good use, unlike Hambantota or Mattala.. We have generally performed better as vassals.

        • 3
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          OC
          Sorry, I cannot share your optimism for even the most benevolent foreign force to control us.
          The author’s fears are so deep-seated that he once wrote in CT, not long ago, that China has since 1950 been conspiring to dominate the world.

        • 2
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          old codger

          “We have generally performed better as vassals.”

          Are you sure?
          Please consider True Patriots, Smart Patriots, Smart Ass Patriots, ….. then Eagle Blind Eye, Soman, Wimal, ………………….. Kamala Gunaratne and 15,000 generals, 6.9 Million professors, .. coming after you.

          • 1
            1

            old codger

            “We have generally performed better as vassals.”

            You can rely on SJ’s support for this island becoming China’s vassals. Any chance Pavithra supporting it?

            • 0
              0

              Native,
              Pavithra uses clay vessels,
              not vassals. But would she know the difference?
              😁😁

      • 0
        1

        Mr. eLM,
        .
        Please try again.

  • 8
    2

    Sri Lankan economy is in dire straits. It desperately needs foreign investment from multiple channel.

    Rice from pakistan ( 600 metric tons )
    Borrowing from bangladesh ( $ 200 Million )
    Bring oxygen from india ( 100 metric tonnes of oxygen )
    Vaccine from china ( Two Charted Air plae )

    Implementing a hybris-based Rapid Deployment Solution

  • 10
    2

    Taliban is a danger to China as well. The persecution of the Uighars will receive their attention. It is a problem for Pakistan as the theocratic factions will be energised. It is a problem for Sri Lanka for the same reason. The main lesson is that interference in Afghanistan, Vietnam etc. always misfires. a lesson for the Sinhala government keeping the army in the North and East. The Tamils are losing the fear of the army. Repression with the international community watching is not a possibility. China is also committing itself to too many areas even before becoming a big power. Its overreach will begin to tell. The Chinese are not admired people, not in Sri Lanka any way. Of the 60,000 who want to migrate how many want to migrate to China. The Rajapakses themselves worked in 7’leven in the US rather than go to China. We are all tuned to the West not to China and it would be difficult to tune us to China.

    • 5
      3

      C
      What people who want to migrate think is least relevant to the country’s well being. What matters is what people who want to stay on think.

  • 4
    3

    Good lesson for any one dabbling with various forms of Islamic extremism and their local Sri Lankansupporters, as to how their life under extreme Wahaabism, Salafism and Arabisation will be. See how most Afghans,at least the educated ones, the women and non Sunni ,especially the Hazara minority are desperate to get out. So sad clinging on the the undercarriage of air planes and falling and dying to their death. The world is moving forward and these people are going back to stone age.

    • 4
      1

      Pakistan that supported the Taliban is now stating Taliban is good for Afghanistan but not good for Pakistan. Why the Afghans can be brutalized and revert to stone age, thanks to Pakistan but the same thing is not good for Pakistan.

  • 2
    1

    The author talked about policy change by Rajapaksas but the fact is they have not changed. Opportunism is their way of politics. They are happy to join with any evils if that benefits to them. They are experts in diplomacy, experts in political coup and experts in creating and destroying Terrorism. Why still Basil Rajapaksa hold USA citizenship? Why still Gotabaya Rajapaksa family hold USA citizenship(Nobody knows whether truth about Gota’s US Citizenship). Yes. Basil went back to USA. But no one talks about what Rajapaksas agreed with USA. Is Trincomalee harbour going to be the military base for USA? Will it acceptable to sell Sri Lanka to China and USA? Will the Federal solution acceptable?

  • 1
    2

    The title is not appropriate. US- Lanka relations (agreement) happened before Taliban.
    What about China? This agreement must have happened with the approval of China. China already established its foot firmly. Is it China or USA wins? Rajapaksas will win? Sri Lanka win??????

  • 3
    3

    but also allowing corruption to enter that sector also
    ———–
    As if it wasnt corrupt already

  • 2
    4

    It desperately needs foreign investment from multiple channels. China’s largesse alone is insufficient
    ———
    Interesting how the rhetoric is changing.
    Earlier it was pure venom being spewed at the west and china being hailed as the saviour.
    Now the realisation comes that is not going to happen, so ‘lets go back to buttering the west again’

  • 3
    4

    India will be extremely worried of China’s economic and strategic foothold in the island which, if not checked, would pose a security threat from the southern cost
    ————-
    Another change in the rhetoric i see. Earlier it was a great thing to spite india, but now its ‘concern’ for their ‘national security’

    • 2
      1

      Serves India right. It was India that provided most of the overt and covert aid to the Rajapakse regime to defeat the LTTE and commit all those war crimes on the Thamizh. Later and even now protecting the Rajapalse regime and the Chingkalla establishment from the UN and war crimes investigations. Playing only lip service to Sec 13a and devolution for the island’s Thamizh. Keeps quiet and mum when ancient Hindu temples are destroyed in the north and east by both Chingkalla racists and Islamic extremists. All this pacify and quench Chonia’s revenge on the island’s Thamizh, for what happened to Rajiv. These anti Thamizh running the Hindian foreign service and Central government will still dance to Chingkalla Baila and help them, as they are fellow anti Thamizh, despite the fact China is now knocking on their southern doorstep. Their hatred for the Thamizh is more than their fear of China and this will be their downfall.

  • 1
    3

    Taliban does not come into this equation at all since Afghanistan is the playground of big power rivalry-USA, Russia India and China and Sri Lanka is outside this circle.

    The Rajapakses will soon realize if they have not already done so,that non- alignment is the prudent policy for Sri Lanka with a slight tilt to India.

    India is the natural ally of Sinhalese out of all world powers due to geographical and cultural grounds.

    It is a long held axiom that Tamils in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu in South India are supposed to be the traditional enemies of Sinhalese since time immemorial.

    It is almost impossible for Sinhalese to develop warm relations with India/ North India over the head of Tamils. In this scenario it is best for Sri Lanka to restore friendship with India as during the time of Bandaranaaikes..

    • 0
      0

      With a new minister in place let us hope that the relevant authorities will realise that matters of foreign affairs have to be made respecting the policy of non alignment that we have pledged ourselves to. We are not a rich or powerful nation to display arrogance and scorn when offers of assistance are made to us. Let the government raise its awareness to the fact that adjustments have to be made in its foreign policy generally and towards India, in particular, being our closest neighbour geographically. Good relations with India will help build better relations within the country among the different communities too.

  • 1
    0

    “Some cynics may consider these moves as pure drama to pass the test in Geneva“
    The minorities are used to the TRICKS the GoSL play when ever the UNHCR meetings are around the corner. The GoSL has found it easy to DECEIVE the International Community. The Sinhalese Buddhists have been treating the Minorities badly ever since Independence. They are the cause of the very underdeveloped SL

  • 4
    1

    This article like many comments here neglects the global impact of the biggest single-handed humiliation of the US by any country, and seems based on a narrow view of events.
    Vietnam had, besides support by China & USSR, a powerful lobby of global support in the NAM and protests within the US and allied countries. Afghanistan achieved it against all odds.
    Afghanistan has in the immediate sense just four countries to count on and it will rely on them. Compromises will be necessary.
    The Russians have made moves to rope in Turkey and Kazakhstan.
    Iran by being supportive of Taliban will benefit through rupturing further its US-imposed isolation.
    Pakistan will not lose the opportunity to turn tables on India which sought to piggy back on the US into Afghanistan.
    There will soon be many more players than just China to counter Sinophobic fears.
    What is important immediately is to remind the US and its allies of their responsibility towards Afghanistan.
    There should be universal demand on the US to pay war damages to the country.
    It is up to the Americans to punish their war criminals and human rights violators if they want to salvage the credibility of the country.

    • 0
      0

      There should be universal demand on the US to pay war damages to the country.

      You are right, I agree. But now USSR should pay as its damages past 35 years. America can remit its cost by 2060, not for Taliban, but to any Afghan people elected government. Anyway, have remitted to for the Twin towers – two times bombings, or you still carrying in your large pocket the money Osama Bin Laden gave it to you & asked to pay for American people and save his life. I doubt if you would have done or said anything right.

  • 1
    0

    Afghanistan has always been subjected to undue attention and interference by world powers because of its strategically critical location. At least now, why not let these unfortunate people, who had to endure more than their share of human suffering, sort out their own problems. Taliban is only the latest chapter in their long history of suffering due to the vortex of an oppressive religion and hostile geography in which they find themselves. It too will peter out like past tyrannies have done unless propped up by external interests. Current narratives of the turmoil in the country can help the process of liberation by telling the story from Afghan people’s point of view for a change, rather than repeating the discourses that have kept them under oppression for so long.

    • 0
      0

      ASD
      “Afghanistan has always been subjected to undue attention and interference by world powers because of its strategically critical location.”
      I fear that this is an exaggeration.
      The British tried to expand but failed thanks to the revolutionary context in Russia and of course strong resistance. Otherwise nothing extraordinary.
      The USSR got involved because a friendly leftist government (not imposed by it) was in trouble. It was tricked into military invasion by the CIA. Otherwise there was no intention of Soviet occupation. It was a mistake along with others that cost the USSR its existence.
      It was US meddling since the 1980s that caused the Afghan agony.
      The last issue of Frontline (India) has some excellent essays.
      The following is most instructive:
      https://frontline.thehindu.com/cover-story/afghanistans-long-struggle-with-reforms-and-conservativism/article36036857.ece

      • 0
        0

        You think either others do not know the history or cannot recall.

        This is complete distortion and fabrication of communists’ violent capture of power in 1978.

        It was the violent capture of power by communists in 1978 that had drawn the attention of CIA, and not by whims and fancies of CIA nor US.

        So, why Soviet killed Amin? I know, for you, it was tricked by CIA.

        For all its power, the USSR did not trust itself in the first place. Why USSR opened a Eurodollar account with a bank in Italy in 1955?

  • 0
    0

    Author

    “GR’s stubborn resistance against Sri Lanka approaching IMF for any financial assistance or advice further advertises his anti-US and anti-Western attitude.”

    Very hard to agree. How can GR be “anti-US” given the dual citizenship of him and his family ? He is supposed to have given up his US citizenship to contest the Presidential poll but has anybody seen the documentation regarding the renunciation of the US citizenship?

    His becoming the President of SL is obviously to strengthen the position of himself and his Family in the US when he goes back to the US after he finishes his term as SL President. So, the last thing in his mind must be being “anti-US.

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