Sri Lanka’s problems are starting only now!

| by Shenali Waduge

( 02 March 2012, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) For three decades Sri Lanka was battling a terrorist problem that camouflaged itself as “ethnic” primarily to buy time and made possible by inefficient political leaders & bureaucrats unable to give proper advice. We have succeeded to discard the “terrorist” element from the “ethnic” but we now return to square one – this “political solution” that we are being asked to draw up takes place amidst a feigned reconciliation maneuver that is all about a Tamil Eelaam. It appears that we have to finally pose this question to our Tamil brethren to answer. Do they really want a Tamil Eelaam? At the same time they need to accept that Sri Lanka will not allow a possible 9% of Tamils the area it is demanding as Tamil Eelaam EVER. Neither will Sri Lanka ever agree to devolution or changing its unitary status. It appears we have been and continue to be taken around the mulberry bush & it is time we finally decide where Sri Lanka is to head. Until the question of Eelaam is put to rest there can be no reconciliation whatsoever.
Supporters of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa attempt to push through barricades during a protest against the UN Human Rights Council’s annual session, in Colombo on February 27, 2012.- Getty Image
A factor that remains a challenge to any solution is India. It is coming in between the Sinhalese & Tamils. Which is why it is important that Tamils also decide whether they are to be Sri Lankan Tamils or whether they wish to continue to have one foot in India & another in Sri Lanka. That however is not a positive chemistry for either country and the people of the two countries. It is this factor that will always leave a thorn in any aims to forge cordial relations.
If India adapted a policy to destabilize Sri Lanka which they successfully achieved over 3 decades a supplementary policy has been to push current foreign policy towards economic engagement. Similar to the success to destabilize Sri Lanka, the economic engagement is also bearing fruit with Sri Lanka’s policy makers attention diverted towards appeasing international pressures spending little time to ascertain India’s plans vis a vis Sri Lanka. The economic engagement has enabled India to project a more “friendly” approach amongst Sri Lankans contrary to the aggressive line it took during the LTTE terror reign feigning interest of the Tamil people. We must ponder how far India will actually influence us and more importantly how far we will allow foreign investments attached with foreign labor and whether Sri Lanka will end up another Macau!
Certain quarters are trying to change historical facts. An India that trained, financed, armed and supported LTTE & over militant groups in Sri Lanka on Indian soil and continuing to allow LTTE to use India as its safe haven and even threatening to militarily land in Sri Lanka if a cornered Prabakaran was not released in 1987 can never be called a Friend of Sri Lanka. We are talking about over 30 years of backstabbing a friendly nation – has Sri Lanka done anything for India to treat our country as it did? While there are quarters to promote India’s role in LTTE defeat in 2009 all we need say is that even if India did decide to change allegiance it is not because of any love for Sri Lanka but purely on the selfish interests of India. By the end of 2008 it was clear to India that LTTE was a spent force and unlikely to rise from the ashes. To hide or rather to pretend to be a friend of the Tamil people, India used the “we are interested in the Tamil civilian welfare” card against the Sri Lankan Government. Had India been concerned about Tamil civilians then India should have stopped LTTE conscription of child soldiers at least! So lets get things clear – India was never interested in helping to solve a problem they created to continue for years. India was happy to use the conflict to advance its interest on the pretext that it was helping Sri Lanka.
The present economic engagement is creating undue advantage towards India for unqualified ministers, equally inefficient advisors & government officials have little interest to read and understand the deeper significance in the bilateral agreements India thrusts for signature. Most of these economic agreements serve to only engulf Sri Lanka and such strategies with Governmental approvals leave Sri Lanka in a far more precarious situation than LTTE fighting for a separate state. There is no such thing as equitable benefits for Sri Lanka where India is concerned….it would be benefits to India & Indians alone. Did Sri Lankan officials even wonder how it was to curtail Indian arrivals or at least monitor them when Indians were given the privilege to not require visas to Sri Lanka. Did Sri Lankan officials never wonder that sooner than later there would be more Indians than Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka? Did India even reciprocate this gesture?
Whatever cordialities India projects diplomatically its policy vis a vis Sri Lanka has nothing to do with maintaining friendly ties, drawing win-win situations and formulating joint efforts economically, socially or culturally. India’s motives are centered around India’s interests alone. There is no “mutual” interest wherever India is involved. India should not feel upset that most Sri Lankans view India along these angles.
It has suited India to watch international pressure building up against Sri Lanka coming forward to project itself as savior. In many ways we can but wonder whether much of these pressures are instigated by India for India is often quick to come to Sri Lanka’s “rescue” and in turn Sri Lanka has to feel obliged for the back up. This then implies India’s ties with the West at a greater level of significance, naturally in the light of the Italian influence in Indian politics which has contributed to making most South Asian countries feel India is tilting towards the West than being amongst its Asian counterparts. This signals a greater influence by the West in India’s decision making though India is too shrewd not to shrug ties with Asia completely. India is well aware that Russia & China are powers that the West cannot match this side of the century.
What we must not forget is that despite the LTTE being militarily defeated the problem is not over. We need to reiterate that Sri Lanka was facing 2 problems happening simultaneously artfully coupled by the LTTE to protect itself, strengthen its right to exist and to ensure international involvement. We cannot hide from the fact that a significant number of Tamils desire a Tamil Homeland. Where that Eelaam Homeland is to be is what India dodges to answer passing the answering to Sri Lanka while India is happy to chip in with the “concern for Tamils” statements.
So the pretense “hands off Sri Lanka” policy that is being highlighted presently is nothing but a sham. There have been suggestions that while India will not allow an eelaam in Tamil Nadu it is reconsidering a compromise in North Sri Lanka. It is perhaps in view of this possibility that India is engaging Sri Lanka economically and forging agreements that would secure links – ferry, electricity, etc… do our signatories know what they are Sri Lanka committing to? Again we reiterate that the desire or aspiration for a Tamil Eelaam has not stopped with the elimination of the LTTE. LTTE was in reality a Trojan horse that served the interests of many a players throughout its existence. LTTE’s presence left some suffering but provided advantages to others! So to cater to whose interest was to decide the fate of the LTTE. Ultimately, the Government had to take the interest of the larger population that had been demanding action for over 30 years.
In a Sri Lanka with “peace” India’s concerns were primarily who Sri Lanka was going to align with and which countries would influence Sri Lanka.
The port of Colombo was a key entry/exit point for goods coming in/out from West & East with the Indian Ocean handling half the world’s containerized freight, one-third its bulk cargo and two-thirds its oil. Sri Lanka’s positioning for military purposes. Nearly 89% of oil imports to India arrive by sea & over 70% of these imports arrive via Port of Colombo. Indian investment in Sri Lanka was $4m in late 1990s by 2006 trade totaled $2.6billion. While India wishes to dominate its status quo the West in particular the US wishes to secure its interests as well. It has been for mutual benefit that Indo-US relations coordinate their policies on Sri Lanka. Security aspects are of utmost concern to all parties.
Some of the key Indian investments include Lanka Indian Oil Corp, Aditya Birla Group, TATAs (Taj Hotels, VSNL, Watawala tea), LIC, Ceat, Nicholas Piramal, Indian Airlines, Rediffusion, Ambujas, Jet Airways, Sahara and Ashok Leyland. Most trade agreements are tilted towards India’s favor and denotes the inefficiency of Sri Lanka’s representatives to counter these proposals with those that are favorable to Sri Lanka instead of merely signing documents given by India. The need for Sri Lanka’s representatives comes in the wake of India insisting on fully implementing the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Unless political leaders can envisage the situation from a larger kaleidoscope it is the Sinhalese that are likely to suffer in the long term. Numerically speaking it is the Sinhalese that are in the minority when Tamil Nadu houses 60m of the worlds’ 75m Tamils and there is hardly 1.6m Tamils in Sri Lanka.
There are some key questions that need to be answered if we are to head anywhere and that journey should start by asking the Tamils to answer whether they are actually interested in pursuing a Tamil Eelaam or whether they would like to live in Sri Lanka as Sri Lankans.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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