By Austin Fernando
Parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa was a rights defender. Among political demands during ‘Pada Yathra’ he led, were two, i.e.: (1) Premadasa Regime should take responsibility for the disappearances taken place (2) implementing a peace solution instead of warring. Ironically and unfortunately, in Geneva President Rajapaksa’s representatives battled against similar international demands, under different environments.
At home political parties made different interpretations on Geneva Debacle. Colombo walls were pasted with anti-American posters; anti-Indian cartoons were in plenty. Baffled ministerial mindsets were worse than posters.
Minister GL Peiris was varied of implementing LLRC recommendations. Minister Lakshman Yapa interpreted it as ‘personal’ to Minister Peiris. Republican Congresswoman Ros Lehtinen’s statement on UNHRC –i.e. a “rogue’s gallery”- was used by Minister Peiris to project Democrat President Obama’s government’s stand. Arguably, sans ridicule, he may be suggesting that President Rajapaksa should implement LLRC recommendations in total, because UNP demands it!
Ministers Weerawansa and Ranawaka opposed the LLRC and recommendations.
Minister Devananda will challenge the LLRC in Courts. Ministers Gunasekara, Vitharana and Vasudeva demanded implementing LLRC recommendations. Minister Nimal Siripala was interested in “feasible recommendations” for implementation. Minister Mervyn Silva correctly confirmed the Geneva allegations of violating media freedom. Collective Cabinet Responsibility at its best!
Defense Secretary was reported saying in Japan : “Government and Sri Lanka is fully committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC” which I pray is the official position, over all the above stances.
India’s possible stance on the GR was notified ten days ahead of voting by Minister SM Krishna: ”The Centre will take into account the overall relationship between India and Sri Lanka” in deciding to back the resolution. Did this covertly mean that the ‘overall relationships’ have deteriorated and India expected Sri Lanka ’s positive corrective responses before the D-Day.
Contrarily, did Sri Lanka misconstrue that everything was fine with internationals- including India ? Indian PM’s statement before UNHRC voting— a “shock” to Minister Peiris- was more destabilizing. Most likely he had not seen the above quote and the letter to him from Minister Krishna on March 15th, which indicated important Indian concerns. Anyway, the Indian PM’s statement guided the ‘decided’ to glue their support; the ‘undecided’ to shift their stances; and, ‘some pro-Sri Lankan countries’ to abstain.
Had Sri Lanka won, we would have seen carnivals on streets; but, New Delhi to lose Colombo . And, the Indian GR supporters would have blood-sucked Indian PM for ‘bungling bilateral ties’ with Sri Lanka .
Meanwhile, knowing Russia supported Sri Lanka , behind its back India supported the GR, though they were even developing a civilian nuclear deal. This was the Indian commitment to the GR.
Why did Indian government boldly take this risk, which as Economic Times said would provoke Sri Lanka exercising options to provide more space to rivals like Pakistan and China ?
Ministers Dulles Alahapperuma and Lakshman Yapa reasoned internal political compulsions for Indian behavior. Was it the only reason? I believe there were others, in addition to Chief Minister Jeyalalitha’s cry to ‘punish Sri Lanka .’
During GR discussions some cautioned of similar future UN interventions on states. It was proved right within days when UN asked India to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, saying it has no role in a democracy. Such may affect India as direct fallout of the GR, denying shield under protest of “country specific” decisions.
The dispassionate attempt here is to analyze other probabilities, hoping to alleviate these deteriorations in the future, because the ball game cannot be over yet, and can surface in 2013, if not played according to rules.
For internationals words are deeds and deeds are words. Hence, let’s draw attention to President Rajapaksa’s Ceremonial Address to the Parliament on May 19th 2009.
To his credit President Rajapaksa humanitarianly and apolitically then said that we should live as children of one mother, without discriminations; the ‘war’ was against the LTTE, not against the Tamils. He claimed that it aimed at liberating Tamils from LTTE clutches, and it was his responsibility and duty to protect the Tamils. He wished the Sri Lankans should live in safety without fear and suspicion, enjoying equal rights and should be united to build the nation. These great sentiments provoked international expectations, qualifying President Rajapaksa to be a Nelson Mandela.
When these did not reach expected performance levels, internationals queried; cajoled; threatened with the Darusman Report. Sri Lanka responded: “Wait until our LLRC produces its recommendations.” The report was released in mid-December 2011. Now, if government disowns the LLRC, it disowns its tongue and conscience
In March 2012, the internationals tabled their deep frustrations. We remember among others like Assistant Secretary Robert Blake and American experts, very senior Indian dignitaries (i.e. Messers Krishna, Menon, Madam Nirupama Rao) visiting us, purportedly to monitor Indian projects like housing, railways and assistance to the displaced, as if Ambassador Ashok Kantha, an amiable / senior diplomat was incompetent to coordinate, which is a wrong assumption! He proved his metal by 22nd March 2012.
Did India vote against Sri Lanka having observed the slow fruition of these expressed sentiments? Or, did it adjudge future performance based on the expressed negative responses in implementing the LLRC’s ‘interim recommendations’?
India pursued post-war presidential aspirations (May 2009) for three years. Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) orchestrated them as: (1) urge Sri Lankan Government to conduct a broader dialogue, (2) exhibit concrete movement towards devolution, (i.e. implementation of the 13th Amendment+), (3) carry forward accountability measures and promote human rights, as committed for genuine reconciliation between all communities- minority Tamils included.
Indian PM repeating MEA concerns stated in Parliament the need to (1) implement LLRC recommendations which Indians considered as constructive measures to heal the wounds of the conflict and fostering lasting peace and reconciliation. (2) stand by its commitment towards pursuing a political process through a broader dialogue with all, including the TNA (3) the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to achieve meaningful devolution and genuine national reconciliation.
The responses from Sri Lanka were not so encouraging- before / after the GR. Some ministers openly criticized the LLRC recommendations. The TNA negotiations were dragging on. All-party involvement through a broader dialogue was negated by forgotten APRC proposals; and, finally sealed-off by Minister Nimal Siripala dropping Opposition participation for GR implementation. Ministerial statements on devolution were and are mostly negative. Probably due to these the President was at variance on devolution and sometimes acted in a way, which the proud South Block bureaucracy would consider ‘snobbish’. Would these responses create understanding?
Some say it was due to lacking performance. There is dissension of opinion on performances. Internationals opined that performance fell short, though the Indian PM inked satisfaction in his latest communication. Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa listed many positives. Or, may be as President pointed out at a media event, government performances would not have been adequately disseminated. In fairness to the government, it withdrew some provisions in the Emergency Regulations, undertook resettlement, developed infrastructure, and rehabilitated large number of LTTE cadres in custody. These were also Tamilnadu political concerns. Still it went wrong. Why?
Was it a reaction to the political demands of Chief Minister Jeyalalitha and other Tamilnadu leaders? Was it due to State Secretary Hilary Clinton personally meeting CM Jeyalalitha- months before? Or Madam Sonia Gandhi’s sympathy to the way Prabhakaran’s son had been killed? PM Manmohan Singh, though did not state in his latest communication to President Rajapaksa, told the Parliament that India was `inclined’ to back the UNHRC resolution due to domestic political pressures.
This ‘backing’ came at a point when Rahul Gandhi suffered defeat in Uttar Pradesh elections. Fertilizing similar negative situation in the South, dashing on ground future hopes of Rahul Gandhi and Congress, could be mitigated by supporting Tamilnadu demands. Was this the long term strategy articulated by Sonia Gandhi?
For the first time in decades, New Delhi was in concord with Tamilnadu popular sentiments, but I do not see its Geneva “Aye” only as a domestic pressure byproduct.
After the GR, Indian PM said “We don’t want to infringe on Sri Lanka ‘s sovereignty but our concerns should be expressed so that Tamils get justice and dignity”, which tallied with President Rajapaksa’s expressed aspirations in his Ceremonial Address. The Indian MEA towed the same line. Whether it was excusing, restating or real could be seen if UNHRC pressure is on Sri Lanka again.
What happened in Geneva has happened leaving other worries due to competition among Tamilnadu politicians, on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils! For example, CM Jeyalalitha wishes to over-echo former CM Karunanidhi’s and vice versa, for political supremacy. To gain larger Tamil support they should cry out louder, beat their chests- non-stop! If Sri Lanka falls short of implementing the GR, louder noises will echo, and Tamilnadu politicians will continue pressurizing New Delhi .
For parliamentary political survival New Delhi may oblige and pressure the UNHRC. On Indian pressure internationals may try to strangle Sri Lanka by offering technical support through UNHRC; of course, after ‘consultation’ and obtaining ‘concurrence’. If Sri Lanka agrees to accommodate UNHRC expertise, there will be larger noises here. If refused, internationals drafting the next resolution will commence immediately! This is a vicious circle. It could be the potential adverse game-plan upon failure and hence Sri Lanka should act cautiously.
The GR could produce far-reaching implications on India-Sri Lanka ties, especially with China increasing its clout on Colombo. As Advisor G. Parthasarathy said “ India was left with best of the bad bargain”; because she was the isolated supporter of the GR from the Asian neighborhood. According to Parthasarathy , India has diluted the earlier intrusive character of the US resolution, by incorporating Sri Lanka ’s “concurrence” before intervening. Will this satisfy President Rajapaksa? No.
Fun was made in Colombo of this “help”; one even quoting “Et tu Brutus?” (Thou too Brutus?), leaving readers to replace “Brutus” with “Singh!” Cartoonists caricatured Indian PM- a “deceiver”, “stabber in the back” “American lackey”!
India’s action may diplomatically benefit China . To what extent? Groundviews quipping China ’s shadowy diplomacy said “….However, what is clear is that China has a direct interest in the perpetuation of the Rajapaksa family’s hold on power, for no other reason perhaps than the sense that a Ranil Wickremesinghe led regime will be more disposed to friendly relations with the West.” If true, this is not only Indian / US politics, as stated by Russians. Chinese politics too. No wonder Regime Perpetuation Vs: Regime Change scenario was created by politicians themselves!
It continued “that with India now appearing to take a position critical of Sri Lanka, China will remain conscious of the reputational costs of propping up” an isolated country and that China has a direct interest in preventing a pitched battle between the West and Sri Lanka , not least in the Security Council where China possesses a veto power. Thus, China may well quietly nudge the Sri Lankan government towards greater engagement with the West, it said. Will it? If it happens, loss of India will be compensated by China- ‘the middleman’, if the west prefers Chinese middleman status over India . This is intricate politics.
There is no permanency of stances as observed form how Russians changed over within ten days, as seen from the stance she took on GR in Geneva, a few days later by the Russian Ambassador in New Delhi, which later differed by the Russian Ambassador in Colombo showing how political wordings change. Can this occur with China too?
Another analysis could be that Indian stand proved that it has outgrown its misplaced fear of the growing regional presence of China . Supporting the GR could be an Indian signal to us: “You have your own way with China . We are not bothered!” I wish it is not the intention because that could jeopardize the regional political scenario. Will Chinese dragon paws demonize the Indian threat and become our imminent savior? Contrarily, will this consequently push Sri Lanka more towards China , or encourage acting cautiously with India , because the latter could make things uneasy for Sri Lanka , as already done in Geneva .
However, Gen A.S. Kalkat, who led the IPKF in Sri Lanka , has cautioned that India needs to proactively engage Sri Lanka to ensure that the Chinese don’t gain an upper hand. “There are strategic security concerns. We can’t afford to let the Chinese have an overwhelming presence in Sri Lanka . Sri Lanka is critically important to our maritime security,” Gen Kalkat told IANS. Kalkat felt much will depend on how India mends fences with Sri Lanka after the vote and concurrently encourage it to deliver on key devolution proposals of the 13th Amendment. This is sane thinking, which should be sustained with caution, also by Sri Lanka , considering the strategic advantages.
Another expert, Brahma Chellaney argued: “It allows us (Indians) to pursue a policy based on self-interest and principle. It allows us to unfreeze our Sri Lanka policy because President Mahinda Rajapaksa was playing India against China to keep the former in line. As a result, the Indian policy on Sri Lanka became frozen. Now, he finds himself in the company of China which, in a way, exposes him.”
Well knowing that China would stand with Sri Lanka , Chellaney arrogantly hailed this development as positive, as “it will allow India to pursue a more assertive and clear-headed policy driven by our (Indian) national interest.” He did not feel any adverse impact befalling on India’s ties with Colombo, as China has built relationships with Sri Lanka despite India bending over backwards to accommodate and protect President Rajapaksa.
The Hindu straightforwardly said that the adoption of GR is proof that the international community disapproves the manner in which Sri Lanka addressed the post war fallout. While confirming Parthasarathy on tweaking words by introducing Sri Lanka ‘s “concurrence” to intervene, Hindu advised against misreading this concession. It cautioned that GR “is the first real sign that the world will no more let itself be guided solely by Sri Lankan claims that it has the will to carry out its own probe.” This vehemently contradicts current thinking in Colombo that the internationals shouldn’t intervene.
Hindu harped on Sri Lanka taking time to acknowledge the allegations of extra-judicial killings, disappearances and delayed moves towards a political settlement. It lamented, “Ultimately, its own LLRC came out with some constructive recommendations” which were not pursued and stated: “….the false assurances on devolution and implementation of the 13th amendment and beyond” received from Colombo have frustrated the South Block and forced reconsidering its diplomatic options. Hindu appeared snubbing Sri Lanka for making Minister Krishna a “liar”! While Sri Lanka harped on Northern Spring, infrastructure development, LTTE cadre rehabilitation, Hindu focused on rights and political solutions. The horoscopes were not tallying, and divorce was imminent!
Nevertheless, Hindu also advised India : “Having voted for the resolution, the onus is now on India to remain engaged with the Lankan authorities, as its interests lie in promoting reconciliation and supporting the quest of Tamil Sri Lankans for justice, equality and dignity. The solution has to be Lankan-led. Persistent emphasis on accountability from outside may jeopardize the larger goal of reconciliation by giving a fresh thrust to Sinhala nationalism.” This fits with some pro–government statements heard recently. Accordingly, India needs caution and readjustment in addition to exhibited courage to act against Sri Lanka .
With these international reasoning, there seems to exist thinking gaps between the President, who rightly believes that Sri Lankans still enjoy wiping out Prabhakaran and President Obama, Prime Ministers Cameron, Manmohan Singh and UN’s Ban-ki-Moon who expect more constructiveness. Concurrently, President Rajapaksa’s reluctance to implement some promises (e.g. devolution) would have eased internationals to justify their stances.
The President saying in the Ceremonial Address “At this victorious moment, it is necessary for us to state with great responsibility, that we do not accept a military solution as the final solution” was reassured four days later in the communiqué with Ban ki Moon. He further said “As much as we defeated deadly terrorism and freed the innocent people held by terror, we are committed to carry out accelerated development in the areas that were under terrorism, within the next three years.” India may be sometimes querying the achievements during the stipulated time frame.
He added: “While bringing the lives of the people within a democratic political structure, the government will also provide education and health facilities, and launch the Northern Spring by providing the infrastructure.” The latter happened, but unfortunately the political arrangements remained unachieved.
The presidential statement “It is necessary that we give to these people the freedoms that are the right of people in all others parts of our country. Similarly, it is necessary that the political solutions they need should be brought closer to them faster than any country or government in the world would bring” is challenged by India and the TNA due to delay.
When he said that he did not “have the time to be experimenting with the solutions suggested by other countries” one would have expected implementation of the 13th Amendment or the APRC or LLRC recommendations, which were already in hand. Though he boasted of finding a “native” solution, India turned its back after a long wait- most probably considering he was dragging.
President’s appreciation of the internationals was on assistance “given on behalf of world democracy” because ending terrorism here was a victory for world’s democracy. Is not this also the internationals’ demand?
He added the need to direct Sri Lanka to a new era of national revival. He promised a meaningful life to the people of the north and east who were denied the right to life, freedom and development – the new challenge- for which he accepted the responsibility and expected the fullest cooperation of parliamentarians, Ministers and people. To what extent has Sri Lanka achieved this promise? How far has he received the cooperation from the stakeholders? Has rhetoric overtaken sensible thinking in Government and Opposition politicians- especially the TNA? How far can the government consider international interventions as unsuspected genuine exercises? Unless all these stakeholders commit in the GR it could be a piece of paper only. If failed, it could be the foundation for the next international trap. It demands formation of a counter strategy.
Many isolate the GR to judge India viz. the USA . It is not fair because economic ties between them are robust and vibrant. To quote one: the latest investment conference was held in Washington DC on March 22nd 2012, i.e. “Investing in America : Contributions by the Indian IT Sector” to consider expanding all-round mutual business relationships. Studying how CEPA or Mutur coal power plant or Palk Bay fishermen issues were addressed or implementing 50,000 houses scheme proceeded may remind us the comparative cooperation extended to India . Do those experiences bring India closer to us than to the USA ?
Also with China , India has large economic ties. For example, on March 29th 2012 in New Delhi at the BRICS Summit China was represented by Chinese President Hu Jintao and India by PM Manohan Singh. They discussed multilateral banking to compete the World Bank and IMF, promoting trade and currency issues, criticizing Western world’s pressure tactics on other countries (e.g. Iran)- slapping the USA / EU, foreign policy and bilateral cooperation. In that backdrop do not the Sri Lankan issues become mundane? Will emerging mutual economic ties finally bring cooperation between China and India , rather than confrontations and lead to “nudging” Sri Lanka , as stated earlier?
Quoting another: I extract from International Crisis Group, which suggested that whatever President Rajapaksa tries for reconciliation will probably be judged inadequate by the US (Bad luck!)– until he is enticed into a process of reconciliation that places India’s good offices, and its ability to manage the Tamil brief more effectively than Sri Lanka. It said “Ironically, it may be China ’s contribution to the destruction of the Tamil Tigers that opens the door to New Delhi ’s return to a position of significant influence in Sri Lanka and a decline in Beijing ’s clout.” Will BRICS become the catalyst?
Latest had been the green light given by CM Jeyalalitha last week to commission the Koodankulam Nuclear Plant, though Sri Lanka has showed its concerns against nuclear emergencies. I wish there was no GR fallout for this decision.
Sri Lanka should be mindful of these strategic deviations too.
Take for example Gen. Kalkat or Hindu editorial or Economic Times ; all advise India to be cautious of the GR outfall and Indian PM must be seeing it through the same lenses. Similarly think of the calamities that could happen to us due to broken down relationships in the region. They can be adverse.
I only wish President Rajapaksa’s appreciative statement “Our neighbors are Indians. I always say, Indians are our relations” still linger in his mind, irrespective of the GR, and he will not say “Et tu Singh!” By conversion into adverse relationships, I wish Indian PM too will not be forced to say “Et tu Mahinda!” He should be saying “Our neighbors are Sri Lankans. I always say, Sri Lankans are our relations!”
After the vote Minister Peiris charged that Geneva voting was determined not by the merits of a particular issue, but by strategic alliances and domestic political issues. If admitted as true, the corrective response is in this statement itself. Sri Lanka has to upgrade merit of its issues, create strategic alliances, and be positive on domestic political issues, rather than being rhetoric and short-sighted.
Therefore, it may be appropriate for both India and Sri Lanka to rekindle logical strategizing of such relationships for mutual benefits.
May the above presidential appreciation remain intact.
The Writer is a former Defence secretary of Sri Lanka