| by Izeth Hussain
( March 14, 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) In my article Successes at Geneva I postulated a special relationship, a nexus, between India and the US in regard to Sri Lanka, more specifically in regard to our ethnic problem. I won’t recapitulate the whole of my argument as the article was published very recently. Instead I will pose a simple straightforward question: why should the US bother about our ethnic problem to the extent of playing the leading role in Geneva against us? It is not of vital or serious importance to the US, and it does not impact on international relations in a harmful way. So why attract opprobrium against itself as it has done in Geneva?
In my article I advanced two explanations. One was that in helping solve our ethnic problem the US would be making a contribution – albeit a small one – towards the establishment of a New World Order, an enterprise in which the US and India are seen as partners, and it would also be helping India in a matter of primordial interest to it, for the reason that as long as the ethnic problem is unsolved it could even come to pose a threat to India’s unity. In recent years another factor has entered the scene: the unavoidable emergence of China as the next pre-eminent super-power, a factor that dictates an Indo-US nexus whether they want it or not. So, the US has good reason to go out of the way to be helpful towards India, even to the extent of attracting some measure of opprobrium against itself.
In this article I want to suggest that the nexus goes as far back as the 1980s, and even that it was the major factor behind the Indo-Sri Lankan Peace Accords of 1987. I doubt that those Accords would have come about at that time if not for the role played by the US. I believe that the motivating factor behind the US role was remorse, that is to say remorse over having misled the Jayewardene Government into believing that in exchange for a special position for the US in Trincomalee the US would ensure Sri Lanka’s security against any threat from India. It is known, of course, that it was the apparent building up of a special US-Sri Lanka relationship that led to the wreckage of Indo-Sri Lanka relations. In the background of course was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which was given explicit approval by India. It seemed reasonable to suppose at that time that the US would go to any extent in making counter-moves in South Asia, including the securing of a special US position in Trincomalee, in the form even of a naval base.
I have no hard evidence by way of documentation or anything else to support my argument. My evidence is of an anecdotal order based on what I observed at first hand as second-in-command in the Foreign Office from the beginning of 1986 till towards the end of 1988. In that position I had plenty of interaction with Jim Spain the US Ambassador and other officials in his Embassy, interaction in the course of which I noticed there was an emphatic reiteration of one point: “We don’t want Trinco”. I did not understand the point of that emphatic reiteration for some time because my supposition had always been that the US would not want – not really and seriously – a special position in Trinco because that would incur the eternal and unrelenting enmity of India. But the US could have pretended to want it for some years. However, there was no need for that pretence after it became obvious that Afghanistan was becoming the Soviet Union’s Vietnam. My supposition is that even so the JRJ Government went on assuming, ignorantly and stupidly, that getting US support against India in exchange for a special position in Trinco was still a viable option. It seemed to me retrospectively that the US could have experienced some degree of remorse over its having contributed to the wrecking of Indo-Sri Lanka relations, and hence a desire to help sort out our ethnic problem.
Some time before the Peace Accords were signed I found that some of the Ambassadors in Colombo were dropping hints about some sort of Indo-Sri Lanka agreement being in the offing. I found that such hints were being dropped also to Foreign Secretary W.T. Jayasinghe. When it became known that an agreement would be signed shortly, I told WTJ that so abrupt a volte-face from thoroughly unsatisfactory Indo-Sri Lankan relations to the entente implied by Peace Accords was very extraordinary and required explanation. My surmise was that a third force, a strong and determining third force, had come into play. WTJ attended the signing ceremony of the Peace Accords, and told me next morning that my surmise was correct. The first thing that happened after the signing ceremony was over was that the US Ambassador walked up to President JR and handed him an envelope. Almost certainly it contained a message of congratulations and goodwill from the US President. I believe that the rather ostentatious handing over of the envelope at that moment signified two things. One was that the US Government was already aware of the contents of the Peace Accords, and the other was that the Ambassadors present on the occasion were meant to infer that the Peace Accords had the full backing of the US Government. I must mention that the Foreign Report of the Economist (London) stated not long afterwards that the Peace Accords were not drafted in Colombo.
I must also mention something significant that happened on the morning of the air-drop. The US Ambassador sought a very urgent meeting with our Foreign Minister in order to convey a message of the highest importance from his Government. The message consisted of two parts. One was that in turning back the Indian flotilla bearing food the Government had missed an excellent opportunity of defusing a dangerous situation. The other was that the Indian Government was about to do something that could be very upsetting and the US strongly advised that we should not over-react in any way. It could be that the US Government was acting on information provided by the CIA. I believe that it is far more likely that it was acting at the request of the Indian Government.
The Indo-US nexus extends, therefore, over several decades. It probably dates from the mid-eighties, following on Rajiv Gandhi’s state visit to the US, and provides the rationale for the US going out of the way to present a Resolution at Geneva that can be construed as inimical to Sri Lanka, a Resolution which furthermore attracts to the US some measure of international opprobrium. Why does the US pick on Sri Lanka when its own record on war crimes is stupendously horrendous, and so are the human rights records of its Middle Eastern and other buddies? The obvious motivation is that it is going out of the way to help India in the efforts to solve Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem.