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Why Sri Lanka has sidelined India
November 27, 2006
Even while describing India as Sri Lanka's "best friend", Rajapakse continues with his policy of targeted killings of innocent Tamil civilians through punitive air strikes and the use of heavy artillery, and has even been trying to bring them to their knees by starving them.
His indifference to India's anxieties over this became evident after the meeting of the representatives of the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors' Conference of 2003 -- Japan, Norway, the European Union and the US -- held in Washington on November 21.
While articulating the usual criticism of the acts of violence and indiscriminate killing of civilians by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, the participants came out strongly in support of the Sri Lankan government and showed a calculated indifference to the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils.
The US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, R Nicholas Burns, was particularly forthcoming in support of the Sri Lankan government during the joint press briefing by the participants at the meeting.
His remarks and that of others have been interpreted by hardliners in Sri Lanka as an indirect endorsement of the methods followed by the security forces in their operations against the LTTE.
There has been a revival of the pre-1983 interest of the US Navy in acquiring a presence at Trincomalee Port, and hopes of achieving this the Rajapakse government's support should at least partly account for the growing US support for Rajapakse.
Trincomalee has acquired a new importance in the eyes of the US and the NATO forces fighting against the Taliban as an alternative naval base for logistical support to the NATO operations in Afghanistan, should instability in Pakistan after next year's general elections there make the continued use of Karachi Port untenable.
Burns showered encomiums on what he described as India's responsible attitude on Sri Lanka -- which is nothing but an euphemism for its inactivity. While issuing routine statements hoping for a more active role by India, the US and Sri Lanka seem happy with the present inactivity by New Delhi.
When Rajapakse talks of the need for Indian activism, what he has in mind is military activism in support of the operations of his security forces against the Sri Lankan Tamils and the LTTE -- in the form of more training for the Sri Lankan police and security forces, supply of military equipment, intelligence-sharing and joint patrolling by the Indian and Sri Lankan navies to prevent arms smuggling by the LTTE.
He does not want Indian activism in political and humanitarian fields. While India has never sought an activist role in the political field, the initiatives recently taken by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, for humanitarian activism under pressure from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and other leaders were given a short shrift by Rajapakse.
While welcoming the Indian offer of humanitarian supplies, Rajapakse is reported to have turned down suggestions that these should be routed to the Tamils through the International Red Cross, and insisted that these should be sent to the Sri Lankan government, which would decide how they would be distributed.
The Indian predicament in the face of the strong line taken by Rajapakse after the Washington meeting was obvious during the press briefing held at Chennai on November 24 by Dr Singh's National Security adviser M K Narayanan and foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, after a meeting with Karunanidhi.
Menon was on his way back to New Delhi after meeting Rajapakse in Colombo, and Narayanan had specially flown in from New Delhi for the meeting.
"We will decide if there is a necessity for it (sending humanitarian aid) at all. And, if so, we will decide what will be the modalities," Narayanan said.
According to the Deccan Chronicle, November 25 when Menon raised the possibility of humanitarian assistance being sent through the Red Cross, Rajapakse "said a big no'' arguing that such an action would mean damning his government as untrustworthy, apart from interfering with the island's sovereignty. But at the same time, he issued an appeal to all local and international non-governmental organisations to get involved in the distribution of food.
How can we address the humanitarian catastrophe facing the Tamils without seeming to support the present leadership of the LTTE, which was involved in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi? That is question of immediate relevance to India.
India should seriously consider organising a meeting of Sri Lanka, the US, EU, Norway, Japan, the UN High Commission for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross to discuss only the humanitarian aspects of the present situation in Sri Lanka and find out ways of assisting the Tamils.
India should also take over the leadership role in mobilising the international community on the humanitarian issue.
The strong support for the Sri Lankan government at the Washington meeting has had two reactions in the Sri Lankan Tamil community -- desperation and total disillusionment with the international community on the one side and a trend towards a greater radicalisation of Tamil opinion and a greater determination to keep up their armed struggle against the government on the other.
What impact it will have on the ground situation remains to be seen.