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Why Krishna's visit to Lanka can't be termed 'successful'

January 24, 2012 21:59 IST

S M Krishna's praise for the Sri Lankan government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission will diminish our credibility as an honest broker in the eyes of the Sri Lankan Tamils who are becoming increasingly bitter towards India, feels Satish Chandra.

As is customary, official circles in India have hailed External Affairs S M Krishna's four-day visit to Sri Lanka from January 16th to 19th 2012 as 'successful.' Whether or not it was indeed 'successful' demands an examination of what transpired during the visit and the extent to which India's interests were promoted.

During the visit, besides detailed discussions with his Sri Lankan counterpart, Professor G L Peiris, Krishna called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and met with leaders of the Tamil National Alliance.

Apart from Colombo he visited Galle, Jaffna, and Kilinochi to hand over elements of a 19-kilometre Indian-financed rail link, housing for internally displaced persons and hospital equipment, respectively. In addition, five agreements/MOUs were concluded notably for construction of 5,0000 houses for internally displaced persons, a $382.34 million (about Rs 2,000 crore/Rs 20 billion) line of credit for projects connected with the northern railway link, a $60.69 million (about Rs 300 crore/Rs 3 billion) buyers credit for financing the Greater Dambulla water supply project, and a MOU each for cooperation in the agricultural and telecommunication sectors.

While the foregoing and, indeed, the very fact of so extended a visit of our foreign minister to Sri Lanka is a welcome initiative, regrettably the outcome has not been upto the mark on several issues.

First, there was no call for Krishna to have commended the report of the Sri Lankan government-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, particularly as the United Nations secretary-general's panel of experts has made known that the commission did not satisfy key international standards of independence and impartiality since it was compromised by its composition and conflict of interest of some of its members.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the report was heavily biased in favour of the government virtually exonerating the Sri Lankan authorities of the widely acknowledged atrocities committed by them against the Tamils which have also been established not only by several credible human rights bodies, but also by the UN secretary-general's panel of experts.

In these circumstances, the LLRC report, far from promoting any genuine reconciliation with the Tamils, which is what India wants, has led to further alienation. Moreover, its recommendations on devolution lack specificity.

It is natural therefore that the TNA has trashed the report.

Accordingly, Krishna's praise for the same was ill considered. It will diminish our credibility as an honest broker in the eyes of the Sri Lankan Tamils who are becoming increasingly bitter towards India.

At the same time, our praise for the LLRC will diminish our leverages with the Sri Lankan authorities in respect of their human rights violations and on the need to take effective steps to address Tamil grievances.

Second, much has been made of Krishna's assertion in his press conference on January 17 of having secured President Rajapaksa's assurance of standing by his commitment to the '13th amendment plus approach.'

In this context, it may be noted that while his commitment to the '13th amendment plus' is not new, having been made in the past, the addition of the word 'approach' is new and gives additional waffle room to the Sri Lankan government to further dilute its position on devolution.

It is, of course, clear that two critical Tamil demands would not be conceded notably on devolution of powers pertaining to the police and to land. What is worrisome is that more than two years after annihilating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, President Rajapaksa, with all the support that he enjoys in the country, has not found it fit to move on devolution and India has not been able to cajole him into doing so.

Redressal of human rights violations and devolution are critical to reconciliation and the prolonged failure on this account has grave implications for both Sri Lanka and India as it would sooner or later lead to the reemergence of the LTTE under another name.

Third, Krishna was unable to break the deadlock on the dialogue process between the Sri Lankan government and the TNA. The former departing from the present pattern of direct talks has now called for a broader dialogue process in a parliamentary select committee, while the latter wants agreement on substantive issues before agreeing to the proposed change.

The TNA is apprehensive, with some justification, that this is another delaying tactic on the part of the government. Krishna on this issue toed the Sri Lankan government's line at his press conference by blessing the idea of these talks being held under the 'rubric of the parliamentary select committee.'

Fourth, there was no closure to the issue of Indian fishermen being mistreated by Sri Lankans. At his press conference, Krishna merely made a laudatory reference to the meeting of the joint working group on fisheries which was able to 'look at various options.'

One would have hoped that he would have shown greater urgency on such an emotive issue, so that during his visit itself definitive steps to resolve it could have been agreed upon.

Finally, India has for several years had a very successful and mutually beneficial Free Trade Agreement with Sri Lanka. Efforts have been underway for some time to upgrade this relationship with a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Here again no progress seems to have been made in the matter during Krishna's visit.

In sum, the visit cannot be considered as a great success and has, perhaps, left the Sri Lankan Tamils more alienated from India and the Sri Lankan government congratulating themselves with having India wrapped around their finger.

Ambassador Satish Chandra has served as Deputy National Security Advisor. He is currently a Distinguished Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation

Satish Chandra