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Delhi, Colombo to talk things over again

The invocation of the India-Sri Lanka committee that was set up during the last phase of the war against LTTE two years ago is a good thing. Colombo’s comfort level will increase. SL is represented by 3 key functionaries — President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Their surnames reveal it all. From the Indian side NSA, Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary would be holding talks in Colombo June 16-17.

NSA has been associated with the process right from its inception in his capacity as the Foreign Secretary. Fortunately, he has also had a hugely successful stint as High Commissioner in Colombo, building bridges of friendship in a most transformative period — one of the few Indian diplomats that Colombo hasn’t complained against. Truly, a delicate situation has arisen today — rather, precipitated — which is largely due to a needlessly ‘tough’ joint statement that was issued after the SL FM’s visit to Delhi recently. Matters need not have been reduced to paper at this stage, especially something like ’13th Amendment’ which harks back to some obscure areas of the India-SL discourse, where memory tends to be partial on both sides, which is perhaps inevitable as it is directly linked to the disastrous accord between Rajiv Gandhi and J R Jayewardene.

There is a time and a place for everything. Having said that, India’s advice to SL is intrinsically sound, namely, to seize the initiative on the UN report by addressing the issues involved in its own way and within its own sovereign rights and prerogatives as a proud nation and in terms of its own native genius — with Delhi’s full understanding (much more than empathy) . How Delhi persuades the SLG to move forward is the big question. Obviously, there are limits to which President Mahinda Rajapaksa can go, being a democratically elected leader. We as a democratic polity should understand that.

Besides, there is a moral dimension. The abominable fact is that we have been associated with SL’s war and we share the responsibility for its horrors as well while deriving vicarious satisfaction that LTTE has been demolished. In short, we should appreciate that looking back isn’t going to do anyone any good. What is needed, therefore, is reconciliation, which of course will have to be in the Sri Lankan way. We would have asked for such a privilege ourselves with regard to the numerous insurgencies going on within our country. What will be our response if tomorrow someone were to point out that using leased helicopter gunships (flown by hired foreign pilots) against the Maoists (who are our own people), as we seem to consider doing, is a barbarous and shameful thing to do?

Colombo can’t do without India’s goodwill. Delhi also needs to be conscious of SL’s sensitivities with regard to the UN report. These are extraordinary times when America is seeking regime changes in preparation of a new cold war. US is keeping Rajapaksa in the crosshairs for strategic reasons. America has a horrendous record of war crimes. It killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans. The helicopter gunships of its closest allies are scouring the Libyan deserts at this very moment looking for human targets. The US is being downright hypocritical to moralise to Rajapaksa.

That is to say, it is all too bitter a pill to swallow for Colombo if Delhi is even remotely seen as singing the American tune over the UN report. Unfortunately, we may have — unwittingly, though — conveyed such an impression to Colombo. There is no scope for ego problems, either, no matter the troubled history of India-SL relations in the mid-1980s — and given our own appalling follies at that point in our policies.

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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