Indian visit and importance of keeping commitments

| by Jehan Perera

( January 17, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to Sri Lanka this week comes at an important time. Several noteworthy events are billed to take place during his visit. In June 2010, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised that India would donate 50,000 houses to meet the needs of the war affected people in Sri Lanka’s North where the last battles of the war were fought, and which turned much of it into a wasteland. But so far this promise has been confined to the pilot phase, and only a thousand of these houses are in the process of being built.
Jehan
Now there are bigger tasks that have to be taken on. Amongst these are the launching of the second (main) phase of the housing project for the internally displaced persons of the North and the reconstruction of the northern railway to Jaffna. These projects have been slow to get off the ground and are in contrast to the major infrastructure projects that have been done with Chinese assistance.
In the meantime the war affected people continue to live in temporary housing, either in their own land or in the homes of relatives. Similar slow progress has been a feature of other Indian projects that could provide a boost to the country’s economic development. However, demonstrating the ability to resolve problems ahead of the ministerial visit the two governments agreed to repatriate fishermen held in each other’s territory and to also speed up a pact to jointly develop fisheries.
The timing of the Indian visit is also significant to Sri Lanka for another reason. This is the forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that starts on February 27 and continues for most of March. The Sri Lankan government has a strong interest in ensuring that the issue of alleged war crimes in the last phase of the war is not taken up at this session or at any future session for that matter. Indian support will be crucial to see that the Sri Lankan government is not taken to the dock.
INDIAN ROLE
Although the present government showed itself capable of eliminating the LTTE through military means, it has so far not been able to quell Tamil nationalism through political means. At the present time the most visible location of this struggle is outside of Sri Lanka where the Tamil Diaspora groups are most active. The issue of war crimes is their main weapon. Strengthening this claim is the inability of the Sri Lankan government to make an internationally credible response to the accusation that it is not coming up with a political solution to Tamil grievances.
The ability of the Tamil Diaspora to obtain invitations to attend the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress in South Africa has been viewed as a serious affront by the Sri Lankan government that boycotted the event. The willingness of the ruling party in South Africa to give legitimacy to the Tamil Diaspora and its demands is a sign that other countries in the third world might begin thinking on similar lines. The moral influence of South Africa on the world’s conscience due to the enlightened post-apartheid leadership of former President Nelson Mandela cannot be underestimated.
The Tamil Diaspora’s success can also be seen in the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reiteration that he will boycott the next Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka unless there is progress in Sri Lanka. A spokesman for the Prime Minister has said that actual change must occur before Canada opens its mind to attending the 2013 summit in Colombo. While Canada has the largest Tamil Diaspora in the world, its approach can influence other countries with large Tamil Diaspora populations.
The danger for Sri Lanka is that the South African and Canadian stances might be an example to other countries from both the developing and developed countries when it comes to a vote at the Human Rights Council, if not in March this year then sometime in the future. The end of the war against the LTTE on the military battlefield has not ended the Tamil nationalist struggle. The visiting Indian External Affairs Minister has expressed the hope for a lasting political solution to the outstanding issues between the Tamils and the government. This condition might have to be satisfied if Sri Lanka is to continue to count on India’s support.
PROMISING RESPONSE
So far the most promising response that the government has been able to come up with has been the release of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The LLRC exceeded expectations in providing answers to the issues of governance and political reform. Even the TNA which has made a severe critique of the LLRC report and called for an international investigation into war crimes has stated that some of its recommendations (on issues other than accountability) have positive elements that the TNA itself would support if implemented.
The Indian government in its own response to the LLRC report said that it had “been assured by the Government of Sri Lanka on several occasions in the past, of its commitment towards pursuit of a political process, through a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil National Alliance, leading to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and to go beyond, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers and genuine national reconciliation.” More recently the UK government endorsed the recommendations of the LLRC on good governance and a political solution, while expressing disappointment on its findings with respect to accountability for war crimes.
As an astute politician President Rajapaksa will be aware of the importance of keeping commitments. During the height of the war, the President boldly promised that his government would go beyond the current limits of the 13th Amendment to “13th Amendment Plus” and he would deliver a political solution within six months of winning the last Presidential Election in November 2009. Inexperienced politicians may believe that they can promise one thing and deliver another. But a politician with over 40 years of experience, as the President has, will know that the breakdown of trust with the electorate will almost surely guarantee defeat at the next elections.
In dealing with international governments it is equally if not more important to keep commitments. The international community of governments is not as gullible as the voting public often is. It does not require much reading between the lines of statements issued by the international community, especially India, to understand that the assistance given to win the war came with an understanding. The understanding was that Sri Lanka would deal justly with the Tamil people and address the roots of the ethnic conflict, which is what the LLRC itself is asking the government to do. Having won the military battle over Tamil nationalism the government must deal with it politically and soon, through a just and negotiated political solution.
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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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