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India Should Send a Strong Message to Sri Lanka by voting for motion on Sri Lanka

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by Col.R.Hariharan

Clearly Indian government is trying to find its famous “middle path” to make up its mind. And ‘middle path’ as per its standard operative procedure is to buy time.

So we see the hapless minister, facing the flak from the media and other political parties, indulging in word play rather than answering question squarely.

Allegations of Sri Lanka’s war crimes which are now firmed up in public mind — both at home and abroad –cannot be wished away by anyone. Regardless of the veracity of Channel 4 videos or reports of holier-than-thou human rights activists or orchestrated propaganda by pro-Eelam separatists, the issue now stands on the magnitude of the allegations.

They require serious investigation by Sri Lanka and the country has failed to do this even after nearly three years of peace. If past experience is any guide, Sri Lanka may never do better than what it is doing now. It is going by the letter rather than spirit of national and international obligations to the people and the world.

What are Sri Lanka’s fears if it accepts to recognise the issues raised by the resolution and promises to act on a time bound schedule?

Is the United States resolution a threat to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty of nations? Absolute hog wash. The US resolution has nothing to do with sovereignty. Nor is it going to trigger international action as a follow up if Sri Lanka adroitly manoeuvres the semantics of the resolution (countries do it all the time in United Nations).

In fact, only if the issue hangs fire, Sri Lanka will continue to walk the lobbies of UN and Geneva. The simple truth is Sri Lanka does not appear to want the key concerns raised to be even discussed not only in international forums but also nationally. Its propaganda machines are working overtime to give it a strong, emotive colouring, as a threat to the nation’s dignity and self respect.

The US statement explaining how it worked carefully before drafting the resolution shows it came as no surprise as Sri Lanka was provided every opportunity to salvage the situation. One of the objectives of the US draft resolution appears to be to leave the issue to Sri Lanka to resolve with some face saving action.

Does India want Sri Lanka to carry on as before?

That is why the US resolution has been watered down (the US style of the “middle path”), to soften its impact on Sri Lanka. And the resolution is symbolic (rather than diabolic), and merely draws attention to Sri Lanka’s poor accountability.

So even if Sri Lanka accepts the essence of resolution, it is doubtful whether its action stations would work overtime to get at the truth. But Sri Lanka does not want even to do this, because it wants the issues to be buried.

And that would be sad not only for the Tamils but Sinhalas as well, who have been victims of gross human rights violations, before, during, and after the war. Justice needs to be done to them because for too long Sri Lanka had been wishing away its aberrations; a huge number of people have vanished at times unwept.

Of course, no one can deny the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had the dubious credit for many of these killings. But the state, which is not a terrorist body, but an elected government has not fared any better.

It carries a huge baggage of guilt accrued during not only counter insurgency operations against Tamils but during its anti-JVP operations, and for unaccounted disappearances and killings of those demurred. And this baggage has been collected not only during President Rajapaksa’s dispensation but during earlier regimes as well.

So time has come for Sri Lankans everywhere to call upon their government to be more accountable. And a resolution at the UNHRC may well be a wakeup call to them.

While this explains the context of the resolution, does India’s decision dependent upon it? I doubt. Nations handle issues at international forums on many other considerations; so a few other questions on a broader context may help clear the grey areas.

Does India want Sri Lanka to carry on as before, ignoring or disowning promises its head of state had made to India on the very same issues in the past with?

If not, India should vote for the resolution because not voting would indicate that Sri Lanka can take India for granted. It would only indicate India’s influence with Sri Lanka is all words with no substance. And it would reinforce the growing belief that Sri Lanka would go back on any promise it makes to India.

India’s help to Sri Lanka was not lost on China

Because India can be in Sri Lanka within 40 minutes of commercial flight or three hours journey by boat. And China will always be physically farther than India; China knows this. The strategic lessons from India’s almost real time response to provide succour to Sri Lanka when Tsunami caused havoc, would not be lost on China.

A second aspect is regardless of India’s stand on this issue, China will continue to make further forays into Sri Lanka. It is part of its ambitious global vision. And Sri Lanka is geo-strategically too important for China to ignore in the Indian Ocean Region.

It is for these reasons that India should send a strong message to Sri Lanka by voting for the resolution, lest ignoring Indian concerns becomes a habit.

Lastly, time has come for the Indian government to show it is guided by a value system, rather than Machiavellian backroom manoeuvres. I am one of those who believe human rights consciousness is coming of age in this country, despite a number of aberrations that continue to be committed.

People want the government to be more accountable than ever before for such aberrations. And despite a lot of cynicism, the state machinery has taken a number of measures to improve its performance.

Despite political machinations, a structural mechanism is in place to question human rights violators. If India does not vote for the U.S. resolution, it would put the clock back on the nation’s long quest for accountability and better human rights performance.

India is neither North Korea nor Myanmar

Allegations on human rights abuses are on many occasions brought to settle scores by nations (to this extent Sri Lanka is correct; but the issued has passed that stage in the case in point). So some argue India would not vote for the resolution in its own interest. It could set a precedent for others to put India on the dock for its human rights violations.

This is far from the reality; nations are brought before international forums on human rights issues as a last resort. And India is neither North Korea nor Myanmar to feel diffident about its record; it has been striving to improve its human rights. So if accusations are made it should face them squarely and confidently.

Moreover, India cannot prevent such allegations coming up in the future by shying away from the issues.

Even after all these arguments, I wish I can confidently say India would vote for the US resolution.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s coalition government is doing tight rope walking to survive another day thanks to the theatrics of its coalition partners. But the Tamil parliamentarians protest in parliament may not turn out an acid test for survival of his government.

The same Tamil members, who brought Parliament to a halt, never took a single step to save the peace process 2002 from collapsing nor made a concerted effort after war to dispassionately understand the problems of Tamils in Sri Lanka (not Diaspora Tamils) and help them.

Their actions are mostly for political reasons and not for improving the value systems. This is in keeping with the characteristic of our parliamentarians. They had little time in the past to deliberate upon human rights aberrations unless it had “vote-bank” considerations.

But people are different; they are watching what their politicians do. Indians everywhere feel that time has come for the country to stand up confidently and say it stands by a value system cherished by its founding fathers. And the US resolution before the UNHRC could well be the litmus test to show it.

That is why India should vote for the resolution. If it is working to modify the resolution, it must have the confidence to say what it would like to modify. Otherwise, India would be taking a step backward. And that would be a pity.

(Col. R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence officer, is associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. He served in Sri Lanka during the period in which the Indian Peace Keeping Force was deployed in the Island.

This article was written for Rediff.com before March 22nd voting at the UHRC in Geneva and was published on the rediff website on March 22nd.It is being reproduced here to provide readers an insight into the reasons for India voting in support of the motion on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC)

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  1. India’s message to srilanka is not strong enough to cross the Tamilnadu borders. The signal is weakened by the dilution of resolution.

  2. Isn’t it ironic that this author who was attached to the Indian forces who were in Sri Lanka is now going on and on about human rights violations by Sri Lankan forces? The Indian forces were the biggest violators of human rights in Jaffna during the period that they were there. It is almost impossible that Col Hariharan was not involved or at the least was not aware of what was going on.

    The hypocracy he displaces in this article is simply breathtaking. But then again, why am I surprised? He is Indian after all.

  3. It is a good thing that India voted in favor of the US Resolution. Everything is quiet now and India is not facing any problems because of it. On the other hand, if only it had voted against the Resolution there would have been hell to pay. India just had a narrow escape!

  4. Colonel good judgment of state of affairs, i had the same opinion of your china fact, thanks for writing it.

  5. As usual, Col. Hariharan’s insight are great! Indeed, his opinion on china’s influence and human rights issues in India are absolutely right. Great article.

  6. Thank you Sir! I cannot agree with you more. Though you come from a military back-round, your heart is more human than many so-called human-right defenders. My only disappointment with you initially was, you under-estimated the Sinhala hatred for the Island Tamils, in your earlier calculations and that is all.

  7. India has been dragged crying and protesting up until the last moment, to vote in support. Actually, come to think of it, is it not India who should have proposed a resolution in the first place (along with the West) to set the record straight in Asia? Then an India could “stand up confidently and say it stands by a value system cherished by its founding fathers”. But, now it appears India has become a subaltern entity of US in the Indian Ocean! What a shame.

    Col. Hari acknowledges that this resolution in no way is going to trigger international action and there is enough room for Sri Lanka to adroitly manoeuvre the semantics of the resolution. Is he proud of India for sugar-coating the resolution and giving such leeway to Sri Lanka? And where does he as an stand on the call for international independent investigation of the cold blooded murder of over 40,000 civilians constituting genocide?

    The good colonel hints that Sri Lanka was provided every opportunity by the US to salvage the situation prior to drafting the resolution; making one wonder whether India was in the loop from the very start and if so what part it played in building in the “face saving” measures.

    The colonel asks twice without answering: Does India want Sri Lanka to carry on as before? To me the watered down resolution plainly suggests – yes.

    So, is the wish of Col. Hari that the Indian government should show it is guided by a value system, rather than Machiavellian backroom manoeuvres (of the Mallus?) a misplaced one?

    Warning: If Saddam’s WMDs can attack UK in 45 minutes, India can do better in Sri Lanka within 40 minutes! (Of course China & SL know)

  8. Even moderate Sinhalese under estimated Sinhala hatered, then again we were plagued with Tiger terrorism (grown way beyond the cause), the mistake was to vote Mahinda and refuse the good deal with Ranil

  9. Moserate Sinhalese also under estimated Sinhala hatered, then again we had the plague of Tiger terrorism (out grown the cause), mistake was to back Mahinda instead of the good deal offered by Ranil.

  10. There is nothing new in what India did in Geneva.
    India will always follow pretty much Dixit ‘Diktat’ as per the book.
    That is what the Indian Civil service recommended before for all Indian leaders Manmohan Singh, as per Indian policy towards Sri Lanka,
    Policy of ‘Not against yet Not friendly’ So its simply ‘Fishy’ policy towards Sri Lanka.
    Now moving forward on this line will have serious pitfalls for Indian Central Government.
    TamilNadu is already pumped up and Karunanidhi has woken up from his long slumber of ‘Tamil EELaam’ yet again.
    So in a sense now the LTTE problem is going to be India’s problem from now on.
    What we need in Sri Lanka is a serious regime change, thus paving way to clear the black mark left by Rajapaksha regime even at the cost of sending the culprits to Hague.
    Otherwise the stakes are so high against Sri Lanka for the immediate future.
    We have to put a stop to this and safeguard the sovereignty of Sri Lanka by sacrificing the Rajapksha lamb if that is the call as they operated willy-Nilly forgetting the Tamils as a community.
    The rush for feathering their nests completely forgotten the tamils after the WAR and majorly shortchanged the Voting public to pay for the stupendously, moronic, extortionist, stupid,arrogant ‘so called government’ of Rajapkshas, for the Rajapakshas, by the Rajapakshas.

    Anyways the colossal mismanagement of Political, economic, social spheres have boomeranged on Rajapksha’s.
    The world have seen Rajapksha’s in a Nutt-Shell by the way they treated war winning , Professional General Sarath Fonseka and they per-supposed the position Rajapksha’s would have taken on Minority tamils based on that single act!!!

    So the game over!!!!

    The Anonymous.

  11. At the end of the day, I think both Sri Lanka & India would be happy with the final outcome.

    The Sri Lankan govt. is ‘unofficially happy’ because the resolution had to be ‘revised’ a couple of times prior to final vote.Had it not been revised, India ( along with some other countries) would not have voted for it, and the resolution would definitely not have passed. As a result, the resolution subsequently had to be ‘watered down’ to such an extent that it lost ‘all teeth’. India needs to take a lot of credit for revising the resolution which has ensured that there is no threat of setting a bad precedent to the sovereignty of a country by such future resolutions.There is no ‘bite’ in the final resolution, and the hard/ compelling language in the original draft was replaced with ‘soft’ language. This means that the status quo remains largely intact.

    The Sri Lankan govt. will ‘officially’ play the victim of ‘geo-political’ manipulations between ‘great powers’ ( rightly or wrongly) and continue to mobilise the Sri Lankan masses towards the govt. Electorally, this result will turn out to be a significant ‘win’ for the govt.

    The Indian Govt. has also won, because their coalition govt. has been preserved and strengthened by her actions at Geneva. The Congress govt. has succeeded in ‘neutralising’ the Tamil Nadu Govt., as well as keeping her coalition partner ,the DMK ‘basking in the sun’ for taking much of the credit for ‘influencing’ the central govt.The Indian govt. has also sent a ‘very direct’ message to the Sri lankan govt. to be concious and sensisitve to India’s concerns especially with regards to China.

    And so, all is well that ends well…..

  12. Thanks Col.R.Hariharan, I do accept your point ‘India Should Send a Strong Message to Sri Lanka’
    But does it strong enough to so called “Government” of Srilanka?

    See this,

    Please tell me, now which one is a terrorist body? We have to re-classified.

    As a Colonel,Do you accept this ‘kind’ of killing of surrendering Colonel? This is the “National Law of Srilanka” in many cases,perpetrators even don’t know what is ‘International Law’

  13. Yup, the resolution is fantastic for MR coz the public love their President even more despite the warts. Thats what these diaspora Tamils want-another eelam war. There is no where in this world where there’s been instant post-war conflict resolution. They can cite South Africa or any other place but ground realities are far from what it is. Even Singapore and Malaysia has issues with/ from minorities. Only place on earth which has no issues are in mono-ethnic states. Many people just dont want to live in peace. They are uncultured barbarians.

  14. “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.” Martin Luther King Jr

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