US interest in Sri Lanka is largely a reflection of the greater goal of preserving regional stability in South Asia. The continued growth of strong democratic institutions in Sri Lanka is an integral part of this regional stability.
(February 11, 2017, Boston, Sri Lanka Guardian) In this handbook on Sri Lanka by CIA attempted to analyze the historical, political and economic impacts. Information available as of 13 August 1984 was used in this handbook.
Sri Lanka is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean near India. The country has been favored by geography, climate, and history:
- Its isolation has meant that it has been spared invasion in modern times.
- Its temperate climate guarantees two and sometimes three: rice crops each year.
- Its citizens enjoy one of the highest literacy rates in Asia and one of the highest standards of living in the region.
- It received its independence from Great Britain in 1948 without a struggle.
- It has been governed since independence by a series of leaders elected by universal franchise.
Although Sri Lanka was spared much of the suffering that accompanied the birth of India and Pakistan, the country in recent years has come to share some of the same social and political problems that characterize its larger neighbors. Ethnic group identification has grown to be a major divisive force in the society. Political parties have attracted support by playing the aspirations of one caste or religious group against another.
Competition for the benefits of modernization and the increased isolation of the major communal groups have led to a polarization of political views and the rise of communal extremists to leadership positions.
Communal tensions reached a critical point in July 1983 when Sinhalese mobs, infuriated by the government’s failure to respond to increasing acts of terrorism by Tamil separatists, rampaged through the streets of Colombo burning and looting Tamil properties. More than 400 Tamils died, and tens of thousands were displaced. The 18 months following this outburst were characterized by continuing acts of violence by the Tamil separatists in the north of the country, bombings and assassinations in most of the major cities, and repeated instances of brutal reprisals by the security forces against Tamil civilians.
The violence of the last several years has revealed serious tensions that will continue to plague economic and social development in Sri Lanka. Large scale development programs made possible by international financing, such as the Mahaweli Irrigation Project, raise problems in the equitable distribution of the benefits they will offer the country. The national economy, which had been so resilient during earlier ethnic frictions between the Tamils and Sinhalese, now appears more vulnerable. Sri Lanka’s experiment in economic liberalization has helped stimulate rapid economic growth, but a recent slowdown and continued political instability have weakened both foreign and domestic investor confidence in the country.
US interest in Sri Lanka is largely a reflection of the greater goal of preserving regional stability in South Asia. The continued growth of strong democratic institutions in Sri Lanka is an integral part of this regional stability. Although a member of the Nonaligned Movement, Sri Lanka under the guidance of President J. R. Jayewardene has drawn closer to the United States and looks to Washington for increased economic support in the coming years. Instability in Sri Lanka resulting from increasing friction between Tamils and Sinhalese threatens to draw India and its 40 million Tamils into the situation, which could lead to greater regional friction.
The Government of Sri Lanka is sensitive to the pressures of the continuing communal struggle. The Jayewardene administration is attempting to find a solution to the question of ethnic tensions that will satisfy the minority’s demands without offending the needs of the majority community. The government hopes to find this solution before the continued unsettled situation costs the country more in lives and social disruption.
Sri Lanka: Handbook is reproduced below;