India’s role in Sri Lanka

K. Godage
e have no over expectations of India. It would neither be impertinent nor condescending to state that we only hope that India has a policy that determines her relations with her neighbours which takes full account of her security. The foreign policy of a country should be designed to promote its national interest and to safeguard its security, territorial integrity and independence.

An astute student of the Sri Lanka situation stated recently that the unity of India and Sri Lanka are the same; the security, unity and territorial integrity of the two countries is indivisible. Any separate mono ethnic state carved out of Sri Lanka could also lead to Balkanization in India. India is the only country which has a permanent interest in Sri Lanka. There is today a total acceptance that our destinies are as bound together as would be the destinies of Siamese twins. If harm comes to one the other would suffer too; India has to be India and Sri Lanka has to be Sri Lanka.

What could be India’s concerns, I would list them as follows:

1) Geopolitical/ India’s security

2) The LTTE would inspire separatist groups in India

3) The LTTE would spur Tamil nationalism in Tamil Nadu

4) Liaison between the LTTE and Indian separatist groups would pose a threat to India’s security

5) The establishment of a dictatorial entity in Lanka would result in new refugee inflows to India.

6) Indian territory could once again become a battlefield for rival militant groups from Sri Lanka.

7) The criminalization of Indian society

The LTTE is presently posing a serious threat to India’s security. The LTTE demands that its Sea Tigers be recognized as being on par with the Sri Lanka Navy, for which there is no legal basis. The LTTE also demands that Sri Lanka also recognize its area of control in the sea and not interfere with its ships. They also demand that certain areas of the ocean be reserved as no-go areas for the Sri Lanka Navy and that such areas be designated as areas for Naval exercises and training where live firing exercises would take place. This demand has been described by diplomats in Colombo as being absolutely ludicrous. "If you give into such demands you might as well agree to their separate state" said a Colombo based diplomat. Another stated that nowhere in the world would a federated unit be allowed have its own navy, leave alone have its own territorial waters. This they said presents a challenge not only to Sri Lanka but to India as well.

For India to be silent in the face of this challenge is to be irresponsible. This is indeed disturbing for it appears that India, a mighty nation, is reluctant to act; it seems she is almost paralysed or impotent at a time when her security is under threat. The question that is being posed in many circles in Sri Lanka is this, "Who in India decides on foreign and security policy? Is it the ‘South Block’, which after their last foray into Sri Lanka now suffers from a deep aversion to get involved or is it the Prime Minister’s Office or is it the Cabinet of Ministers? Or would it be their National Security Council? It does appear that the ‘South Block’ has had its way. But who ever it be, they must realize that the wolf is at the door.

Mighty India surely cannot allow herself to be humiliated by an organization that they themselves have proscribed? The LTTE assassinated the grandson of the revered Pandit. Rajiv was himself Prime Minister of India and what have successive Indian governments done to bring the killers to justice? Yes beyond sending a demand for the extradition of the killers they well know we cannot enforce they have done nothing. Yes India seems helpless though the whereabouts of the convicted persons are known. There are many who ask the questions "where is India’s selfrespect and who is fooling whom?" There are many who ask the question "where is the revenge of the Mahabharatha?" Where is the retribution and where is the punishment? Reconciliation without justice is unreal and unknown to Hindu India and should be even to secular India. The Indians may ridicule Bush but he has taken revenge for the crime perpetrated on his country.

The Indians would make the excuse that they cannot violate the sovereignty of another country but they did not give it a second thought when they intimidated Sri Lanka in 1987 and did an air drop. Incidentally India’s most wanted men are in territory which the LTTE claims is within their jurisdiction and outside the writ of the government in Colombo.

To revert to the current situation, the Americans have issued a comprehensive statement subsequent to the suspension of talks by the LTTE, but what of the country that has the biggest stake in the peace process in Sri Lanka? The silence, for whatever reason, is being considered by many in Sri Lanka to be deafening. Would it be that they fear that the LTTE would place an unhelpful and unwelcome construction on any expression of concern by them at the suspension of talks? Or is it that they do not wish to be drawn into a war of words with the LTTE? Or is it that they fear that we would accuse them of interfering in our affairs again? If that is so they are being ultra-sensitive and mistaken. Their intervention in the eighties is in the past —`A0they paid a price as much as we have done ourselves for our stupid handling of our relationship with them and the Tamil issue and subsequently the war itself. Or could it be that the actual reason for India not wanting to come in is that she does not wish to become the ham in the sandwich in the rivalry and competition between the two main Sinhala parties? For years the Indians have been seeking to bring the two main political parties together to forge a common position at least on this issue but without much success.

India’s reluctance to safeguard its own interest is quite unbelievable. Relations between our two countries significantly improved after Mrs. Kumaratunga assumed office as President. In her own words "India is our immediate neighbour, with whom we have been inextricably linked by ties the origins of which have long been lost in the mist of time. We have with India the broadest and deepest interaction that we as a nation could have with another state. India therefore possesses the capacity, given her vastly disparate strength and influence, to help or hinder to a great extent. In a word the India factor is crucial to the existence of our nation. Forging and sustaining a mutually trusting and supportive friendship with India must therefore be for us, not just a conscious and soundly judged policy, it is a natural and vital ingredient for our national well being."

Our relations have changed since 1994. Credit should be given to President Chandrika Kumaratunga and former Minister Kadirgamar for having reached out and mended fences and restored the relationship to what it almost was during the tenure of Mrs. Bandaranaike as Prime Minister. Since then Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as Leader of the Opposition and Mr. Milinda Moragoda cultivated close personal relations with the present leaders when they were in the opposition. They also cultivated the previous Congress government assiduously. Subsequent to assuming office Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has introduced a whole new vision to the relationship. He and Minister Milinda Moragoda have been responsible for developing the relationship to unprecedented levels. "There has indeed been a quantum leap", was how an India watcher described the present state of Indo-Lanka relations. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has in fact done it quite brilliantly and even reached out to the leaders of South Indian states in a manner no previous leader of independent Sri Lanka has done.

The level of economic co-operation has reached unprecedented levels, we are moving towards a Free Trade agreement with the intention of moving further into a comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. Indian investment in this country has tripled and there is mention of an exclusive Export Processing Zone in Trincomalee for Indian investors. The Indian Oil Corporation a ‘Fortune Five Hundred’ company will invest millions of dollars to develop the Oil Tank farm in Trincomalee. The Corporation would also enter into the petroleum distribution business, taking over one hundred service stations around the country. India has offered this country a one hundred million US Dollar credit line. New aviation connections have been established with Sri Lanka Airlines flying to many new destinations in that country. Tourism from India has reached new levels with hundreds filling our hotels giving an immediate and much needed boost to the industry. Military cooperation is also said to be on the cards, India making available the services of General Nambiar and Admiral Jacob indicates tangible Indian support for the peace process.

There is yet another factor which was absent previously and that is the US-India axis. Today that relationship has become quite special to both parties. It extends to military and security cooperation. This augurs well for our country. For the American support that is so overt comes with the understanding and total agreement of India. The importance of India and her role in the region and the fact that she is the country most concerned and most affected by our long running conflict has been long conceded by the international community. Inderfurth the US Assistant Secretary under President Clinton stated that India was the only external power with a permanent role in the resolution of the Sri Lankan conflict. Inderfurth further stated "We believe that India is the key outside power and that anything to be done by the international community must be done very much with India." The United States was "well aware of the legitimate interest that India has in Sri Lanka" and respects that. The administration also recognizes that the Indian Government is moving cautiously to determine the most appropriate role for India to play and we certainly understand India’s desire not to become involved militarily". These same sentiments were echoed by the US Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Thomas Pickering, who visited both India and Sri Lanka a few years ago. But surely the option not to get involved militarily, would not and should not exist. India’s vital interests and her security are under threat and there is much she can do in one afternoon without putting troops on the ground to underscore her predominance. In the process she would bring the LTTE crawling to the negotiating table. Such action would help restore Democracy, safeguard Human Rights of the Tamil people ,establish the Rule of Law and last but not least help other Tamil political parties to become stake-holders and secure a durable peace.

It is being mentioned that any Indian ‘involvement’ in Sri Lanka would give rise to anti-Indian sentiment in Lanka. This is furthest from the truth. We all know of the ambitions and compulsions that dictated India’s involvement to further her interests. She also intervened to safeguard Tamil interests in this country, but we should not draw wrong conclusions from that unfortunate episode in our history. If a Referendum is held and the people of this country asked as to which country they would now wish to play a decisive role to settle this conflict the answer would be India. The expectations in Sri Lanka today are immense. Lanka has a special relationship with India, which, is referred to as the ‘Dhamadiva’; the people of the south know that and value the relationship. They would welcome the closest of relations with India and a greater involvement by her in Sri Lanka’s security and economy.

The LTTEs demands threaten India’s vital interests. India can no longer afford the luxury of merely watching the passing scene. India must come on board for it is always possible that the ‘Appeasers’ on the Sri Lanka side would deliver or confer rights to the LTTE which affect India’s vital interest merely "to safeguard the peace process". This is the attitude of the Lankan ‘peaceniks’. This is why I say that the India must climb on board to safeguard her vital interests before it is too late, India must enter into a Defence Cooperation Agreement with this country – and also enter into an agreement to use the Trincomalee Port with immediate effect.

Before I conclude let me take account of what I deem to be India’s ‘resentments’ and hence reasons for not getting ‘involved’

1) Indians resent the manner in which the IPKF was asked to leave,

2) Perceived ingratitude of Sri Lanka. (Indians often mention that India sacrificed over one thousand three hundred men for Sri Lanka’s unity and Lankans are not appreciative of this. I have myself called for a monument to be erected in memory of the Indian soldiers who laid down their lives for this country, but no politician here has shown interest)

3) Indian perception of Sri Lanka’s lack of concern for her security

4) Indian bureaucracy being extremely resentful and almost allergic to Sri Lanka.

We need to relate to these perceptions and resentments and carve out a new relationship based on our mutual interests, taking particular account of the security of both countries. I call for a new agreement because the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord is to all intents and purposes passe. Our relationship is described as a "special relationship" but is it not correct that this so-called ‘Special relationship’ is presently devoid of substance and does not actually exist in any meaningful form either? India has indeed done much in recent years but considering the nature of special relationships and more importantly that India’s security and integrity is under threat she needs to do much more.

If the two main political parties form even a limited alliance and forge a common position on this issue I have no doubt that India would dive in at the deep end. Even if that not be forthcoming, India should come on board. They owe it to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is making a valiant and courageous effort to bring about a just and lasting peace in Sri Lanka. There is no meaning to the friendship touted by the political leaders of India if they do not overtly help him and the country now.

The writer who had a long career in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Service, retiring an Additional Foreign Secretary, has served in New Delhi as Deputy High Commissioner.