Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A post-war Indian perspective-Part I

‘The ground situation in Sri Lanka is more favorable today than it ever was for democratic decentralization’



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Prof. Ashwani K. Sharma strongly recommends democratic decentralization in post-war Sri Lanka. Sharma, now with the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies (CCIS), at the Colombo University, believes that the ground situation in Sri Lanka was more favorable today than it ever was. The Indian - funded CCIS came into being, in 2012, following an agreement between the University of Colombo and the High Commission of India in Colombo.

Prof Sharma said: "The long civil-war has ended and the process of reconciliation and reconstruction has begun. It is an appropriate time for the Sri Lankan government to devolve more financial and other powers to the provinces. It would make a positive contribution to the reconciliation and development process."

The visiting academician discussed a range of contentious issues in an interview with The Island recently. The following is the excerpts of the interview.

(Q) Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, recently declared that Sri Lanka couldn’t have eradicated the LTTE without India’s support. The Sri Lankan Army brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May, 2009. In an exclusive with Hahiharan, of Tamil Nadu’s Thanthi TV, Wickremesinghe emphasized that India threw its weight behind the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa government, during Eelam War IV, to ensure the LTTE’s defeat. When the interviewer pointed out that India had categorically denied helping the Rajapaksa government, to defeat the LTTE, a smiling Premier Wickremesinghe said: "amnesia is, you know, very common among politicians."

Both India and Sri Lanka cannot ignore very serious accusation made by former President Rajapaksa that India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) worked closely with the US and British intelligence services to engineer his defeat at the Jan. 8, 2015, presidential poll. Rajapaksa’s accusation should be examined in the backdrop of his extremely close relationship with Beijing. Would you believe New Delhi would find it much easier to communicate with Colombo in the wake of Rajapaksa’s defeat?

(A) It was for the first time that all the Presidents/Prime Ministers of all the SAARC countries were invited to the swearing-in ceremony of the Prime Minister of a new regime in India. President Rajapaksa also attended the ceremony. I do not think that there has been any issue of communication between India and Sri Lanka either in the previous regime or the new regime. This goodwill gesture by the new Indian regime is also reflective of its commitment to close cooperation with its neighbors.

(Q) Indian Premier, Narendra Modi, during his two -day official visit here, reiterated India’s call for implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, as prescribed by the Congress, nearly 30 years ago. Modi urged Sri Lanka to go beyond the 13th Amendment to ensure peaceful resolution of the conflict. Would it be to the advantage of Premier Modi/India to pursue the failed Congress strategy in Sri Lanka? Would you you believe in the possibility of negotiating a brand new agreement/formula to address Sri Lanka’s national issue?

(A) Liberal democracy in pluralist societies is undergoing changes and throwing up new challenges all across the world. Scotland in the UK and Quebec in Canada are examples from the western world. In South Asia, issue of identity politics is acquiring increasing salience, and regions of nation-state are demanding more autonomy and freedom in running their own affairs. In India, for example, states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh were bifurcated because of identity (regional identity) issue. The most recent example of bifurcation of the state of Andhra Pradesh is illustrative of the issues involved. One part of the state dominated the other part: socially, politically and economically. Separate statehood had been a long standing demand of Telengana region in Andhra Pradesh. It was rightly granted statehood and now it has an identity of its own, in the country and in national politics. It also hopes to bring in good governance and faster growth and development than before.

A very significant development in India this year has been that states are given more financial autonomy. This move of the central government has a strong rational basis. First, the states in India have over the years performed better than the central government in managing their finances: states have had less deficit in their budget than the central government. Second, states ought to be given more autonomy in pursuing their own development priorities rather than the Centre imposing it on them. This move towards democratic decentralization will strengthen democracy and would also take care of identity issue.

The crux of the 13th Amendment is devolution of power to the regions/provinces in Sri Lanka. It is part of democratic decentralization in a pluralist society with liberal democracy. Governance through democratic decentralization is more relevant in the contemporary world than it ever was. It would not only contribute to good governance but also enable the regions/provinces to prioritize their social, economic, and cultural development. Importantly, it would also address the issue of identity. In sum, acceptance of diversity, pluralism, multiculturalism, and political culture of democratic decentralization is the norm for contemporary liberal democracies.

(Q) India forced the 13A on the then JRJ government, in accordance with the Indo-Lanka accord of July, 1987. India intervened as the Sri Lankan Army was on the verge of finishing off the LTTE, in the Jaffna peninsula. It was New Delhi’s remedy to an unprecedented security/political crisis caused by the then government of India. No less a person than one-time Indian Foreign Secretary, J.N.Dixit, faulted the then Premier Indira Gandhi for Indian military intervention here (Dixit’s memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy’).Could Modi/India justify its push for 13 A/13A plus ignoring the total change in the ground situation?

(A) As an academic, I would strongly support democratic decentralization. The ground situation in Sri Lanka is more favorable today than it ever was. The long civil-war has ended and the process of reconciliation and reconstruction has begun. It is an appropriate time for Sri Lankan government to devolve more financial and other powers to the provinces. It would make a positive contribution to the reconciliation and development process.

At the national level, the current government is moving towards democratic decentralization. Executive powers so far vested in the President are proposed to be shared between the President and the Prime Minister. A logical step forward in this process of democratic decentralization would be to devolve more powers to the provinces also. And it would be ideal to create an ‘Upper House’/’Senate’ through which provinces can participate in national political decision-making.

(Q) What would be PM Modi’s foreign policy focus? Would his foreign policy focus, too, be dominated by China and Pakistan?

(A) Let me begin with a theoretical perspective that I am currently in the process of developing for analyzing foreign policy focus of any country in an intensely globalizing world; including that of India and China. It will provide a context and make the focus of foreign policy of India more intelligible.

There is a paradigmatic shift in global politics from geopolitics to geo-economics. Geopolitics had been the dominant paradigm since the World War II and continued to be so until the beginning of the new millennium. With the intensification of the processes of globalization in the last decade of the twentieth century and in the new millennium, geo-economics is gaining ascendency over geopolitics. And this development of significance necessitates re-conceptualization of ‘Security’ in general and particularly in South Asia.

The context to the movement from geopolitics to geo-economics is provided by the contemporary phase of globalization, which according to many analysts, began in the early 1960s. The intensification of the processes of globalization in the 1990s and in the new millennium facilitated the paradigmatic shift towards geo-economics. The ending of the cold war provided space, time, focus and environment conducive to this shift in paradigm in global politics.

Geopolitics is both a theoretical approach to understanding international relations as well as method of analyzing foreign policy behavior based on geographical variable such as size of the nation-state, physical location, demography, climate, natural resources and technological advances. The fundamentals of this approach are conditioned by security concerns, relative strength, conflicts, and alliances in international relations. The crucial determinants of this approach are power and how the game of balance of power is played out in international relations. Although the approach does take into account economic variables but only to the extent that it adds to the relative military strength (traditional national defense) and that of self-sufficiency of the nation-state. Thus, economic variables are taken into account but as adjunct to political variables. In other words, economic issues are considered as ‘low politics’.

The concept ‘geoeconomics’, like geopolitics, is both a branch of cognition and the reality it studies. The fundamentals of this approach to the understanding of international relations are conditioned by economic variables such as economic growth, development, trade, investment, natural resources, human and technological resources, and economic dependence. It accords primacy to ‘economic security’ in relation to traditional conceptualization of security exclusively in terms of ‘military security’. Economic security has not displaced military security but has eclipsed it in strategic calculations of foreign policy responses in international relations. As a result, regions with growing economic strength are increasingly becoming salient in foreign policy matrix of nation-states. In sum, economic issues are considered as ‘high politics’.

‘Growth and Development’ and ‘Make in India’ are the twin objectives that India’s foreign policy is currently focusing on. PM Modi’s visits to the growing economic regions of the world substantiates the point I have made. Mutually beneficial economic cooperation, free flow of foreign direct investment into India, and Indian investment in other countries, is the main theme of India’s foreign policy. The response from countries across the world has been overwhelming. However, emphasis on geo-economics does not preclude the importance that India accords to geopolitical and geo-strategic issues in its foreign policy.

China and India are the two fastest growing economies in the world that has 212 countries. China is India’s competitor in world trade. India as well as China understand the paradigm shift in global politics and are therefore becoming healthy competitors in trade in goods, investment, and services. The border dispute between India and China has slid to the back burner. The focus is now on mutual trade and healthy competition in the global economy. Both the countries stand to gain from this approach.

(Q) Could you explain the status of the Indo-Lanka civil nuclear cooperation and whether Sri Lanka will receive some tangible benefits through it?

(A) India-Sri Lanka civil nuclear cooperation focuses on "exchange of knowledge and expertise, sharing of resources, capacity building and training of personnel in peaceful uses of nuclear energy". In addition, India would also provide Sri Lanka with small nuclear reactors. Sri Lanka has preferred India over China and Pakistan for civil nuclear cooperation.

There is a broader context to the issue. There are four pillars of ‘Human Security’: food security, water security, energy security, and environmental security. It is common knowledge that there is a global energy crisis. This crisis is all the more acute in South Asia. All the South Asian states suffer from energy insecurity.

The demand for energy is increasing exponentially in Sri Lanka as well as India. This is because of requirements of economic growth and development. Economic growth leads to higher demand for energy in industrial establishments, commercial establishment, agriculture, health care industry, and households. India as well as Sri Lanka has more than 1/5 of the population below the poverty line. For poverty alleviation and raising the standard of living of the people, it is imperative for both the countries to grow in double digits. And this would require higher and higher levels of uninterrupted supply of energy.

There are three sources of energy supply in Sri Lanka: hydro power (58%), thermal power (40%), and wind, solar, bio-mass, etc. (2%). Hydro power is a clean and renewable source of energy but can vary with the amount of seasonal rain. Higher rain would lead to higher production and a lean season of rain would lead to lower production of power. Thermal power plants use coal, oils, and gas as fuel for generating power. All the fuels for thermal power generation are imported in Sri Lanka. Known reserves of all these fuels in the world are limited and exhaustible. Therefore, the prices of these fuels are expected to keep moving up in the medium and long term. This would create heavy pressure on the balance-of payments of Sri Lanka. As per the 2012-13 official figures, Sri Lanka exports were worth $10 billion and imports worth $19 billion. There is already a huge balance of payment deficit.

Huge amount of investment in Research & Development has taken place in the last forty years across the world in making energy production from solar, wind, and tidal waves commercially/economically viable. There has not been any success so far to register.

The only alternative left for future energy security in Sri Lanka is nuclear energy. India was in a similar situation. India opted for nuclear energy as part of its ‘energy mix’. Sri Lanka should also go in for nuclear energy as part of its energy mix. Here, it needs to be added that if the explorative gas find in wells off the Coast of Mannar Island becomes commercially successful, it will definitely contribute to Sri Lankan energy security.

Nuclear science is also of immense utility in medical science: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), radiotherapy, nuclear medicine for thyroid treatment are well known uses of nuclear science. Radiation and radioisotopes are used for diagnosis and therapy in medical science. If medical science has to progress in Sri Lanka, then, nuclear science has to be given a boost. And Indo-Sri Lankan civil nuclear cooperation would precisely provide that much needed boost.

In addition, there are innumerable uses of nuclear science in industry and agriculture. Industrial as well as agricultural development requires parallel development in nuclear science.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Lanka’s Geneva defence: Course correction needed urgently Assistant Secretary Malinowski reiterates Sept deadline



by Shamindra Ferdinando

Having commemorated those who had perished, on Mullaitivu beach, US Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, Tom Malinowski, told a media roundtable, in Colombo, early this month, that the new government had time till September, 2015, to conduct an independent domestic probe into war crimes allegations. Malinowski was reiterating a deadline set by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last March. The roundtable was held at the conclusion of his three-day visit.

Malinowski told the roundtable on April 4: "We expect genuine progress to be made by September so that the findings of an investigation conducted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), could be fed into Sri Lanka’s domestic inquiry".

The Sunday Leader journalist, Easwaran Rutnam, quoted Malinowski as having said that he walked along the beach in Mullaitivu, where thousands were believed to have been killed. The US official said that he was emotionally moved during his visit to Mullaitivu and had paid his last respects, on behalf of the US, to those killed, from both sides, during the final weeks of the war. Surprisingly, only The Sunday Leader reported Malinowski’s comment on his visit to Mullaitivu.

Malinowski’s action reminded the writer of Canadian MP Deepak Obhrai, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Human Rights, laying flowers at Elephant Pass on his way back from Jaffna, in Nov, 2013. Obhrai was in Sri Lanka for the three-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The MP represented Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Defending Obhrai’s action, the Canadian government said that the country’s representative to CHOGM, took the opportunity to honour all innocent Sri Lankan victims of violence by laying a wreath at Elephant Pass, in northern Sri Lanka. The statement added that Canada will continue to stand by Sri Lankans in efforts to ensure that all citizens can live in an environment of peace, stability and dignity. An environment of peace, stability and dignity wouldn’t have been possible as long as the LTTE retained a conventional fighting capability. However, Western powers had refused to accept ground realities here.

Unlike Canada, the US had backed the Sri Lankan offensive that brought the LTTE to its knees, in May, 2009, on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon. The US provided specific intelligence to help the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) hunt down four ‘floating arsenals’, belonging to the LTTE, on the high seas. The destruction of them, at an early stage of the Vanni offensive, shortened the war. The then army commander launched the Vanni campaign in early March, 2007, even before his troops completely liberated the Eastern Province.

Before discussing what President Maithripala Sirisena-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, could achieve by September, it would be pertinent to mention that Malinowski had been the long standing Washington Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW). He received appointment as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, on April 3, 2014. Prior to joining the US government, Malinowski had been the Washington Director for HRW, since 2001. From 1998 to 2001, he had served as Senior Director on the National Security Council, at the White House, where he supervised the drafting of the then President Clinton’s foreign policy speeches and strategic communications. From 1994 to 1998, he had been a speechwriter for the then Secretaries of State, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright, and member of the Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State. Obviously, Malinowski’s long standing relationship with the US administration hadn’t been an obstacle to him joining the HRW. During the period Malinowski had served the HRW, the US caused massive devastation in Afghanistan and Iraq and ran clandestine transfer of prisoners, with the involvement of friendly countries, including the UK. Sri Lanka was involved in at least one such transfer, in 2003.

During Malinowski’s tenure as the Washington Director of the HRW, the organization, along with Amnesty International and International Crisis Group (ICG), turned down a request from Sri Lanka to appear before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). They boycotted the LLRC alleging that key members had represented the government at an earlier stage. The joint statement issued from New York, London, and Brussels said: "A fundamental requirement for any commission of this type is that its members are independent. The membership of the LLRC is far from that. To start with both the chairman, C. R. de Silva, and member, H. M. G. S. Palihakkara, were senior government representatives during the final year of the war. They publicly defended the conduct of the government and military against allegations of war crimes. Indeed during two widely reported incidents – the shelling of the first "no-fire zone", declared by the government, in late January, and the shelling of Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK) hospital in February – H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, then Sri Lanka’s representative to the UN, told CNN that government forces had confirmed that even though the LTTE was firing out from the "no-fire zone", the government was not returning fire; and that the military had confirmed they knew the coordinates of PTK hospital and they had not fired on it."

Malinowski made some interesting remarks, at a forum on women’s role in post-war reconciliation, at the BMICH, on April 2, at the onset of his programme here. The State Department official declared that for thirty years, Sri Lanka experienced "some of the evils that now bedevil other deeply troubled parts of the world – including terrorism, driven by a fanatical ideology, employing suicide bombing, hurting, most of all, the people it falsely claimed to defend." He said that Sri Lanka has a chance now to achieve reconciliation, justice and true peace.

Among the audience was Visaka Dharmadasa, of the Association of War Affected Women, whose soldier son was declared missing in action, on Sept. 1998, following a massive LTTE attack on Kilinochchi. Her son was among several hundred men who died in Operation Unceasing Waves which brought Kilinochchi under LTTE control, by Sept. 29, 1998. The Kilinochchi debacle had been one of the major defeats inflicted on the army by the LTTE during the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s tenure. Having seized Kilinochchi, the LTTE rolled back the army northwards. The LTTE evicted the army from the strategic Elephant Pass, in April 2000. The army faced a humiliating defeat in Jaffna. President Kumaratunga had no option but to request India to help evacuate the army from Jaffna. India declined. Had India evacuated the army from Jaffna, the LTTE would have achieved its cherished objective, namely Tamil Eelam. Vacating the Jaffna peninsula would caused an irrevocable situation. Had that happened, Malinowshi wouldn’t have been here, comparing the situation in post-war Sri Lanka, and some other parts of the world, plagued by terrorism. Had Jaffna fallen, Sri Lanka would have been divided on ethnic lines. Lt. Gen. Fonseka’s army paid an extremely heavy price to rid the country of terrorism, fathered by neighbouring India.

Our leaders lacked the courage to tell the truth to visiting foreign officials. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and the former army commander Lt. Gen Sarath Fonseka, were the exceptions. They never minced their words and weren’t reluctant to air their views.

In his address to the gathering, at the BMICH, Malinowski paid a glowing tribute to the well-funded NGO, National Peace Council (NPC) which declared the August, 2005, assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar as tragic, but inevitable.

Nobel peace laureates have expressed serious concern over HRW’s close ties to the US government, while questioning the organization’s independence. In fact, Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck, current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk, and over 100 scholars, questioned the HRW’s independence. They also questioned Malinowshi’s appointment. "For example, HRW’s Washington advocacy director, Tom Malinowski, previously served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton and as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. In 2013, he left HRW after being nominated as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights & Labour under John Kerry".

The concerned scholars cited several examples to highlight the relationship between the US government and the HRW, founded in 1978.

At the conclusion of Malinowski’s three-day visit, the State Department said: "US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, Tom Malinowski, who travelled to Sri Lanka recently, held talks with government officials, as well as human rights, and other representatives, on many issues, including strengthening democracy, transparency, and accountability. Malinowshi met senior government representatives to discuss human rights and strengthening democracy, transparency, and accountability. He also met representatives from human rights, religious, and civil society organizations."

President Maithripala Sirisena-Premier Wickremesinghe’s government should review the entire gamut issues pertaining to accountability. The government’s priority should be to review the number of civilians perished during the final assault. In fact, Premier Wickremesinghe recently called for reappraisal of civilian deaths. In an interview with Thanthi TV’s Hariharan, Premier Wickremesinghe asserted the accusation that 40,000 civilians, perished during the final assault, should be verified. Unfortunately, the government hadn’t taken any follow up action since Wickremesinghe’s declaration, on March 6. Surprisingly, the previous SLFP - led UPFA alliance, too, hadn’t taken up the matter, though it was accused of giving the political leadership to Sri Lanka’s triumph over the LTTE. Regardless of change of government, in January, consequent to defeat at the presidential election, the UPFA should have focused on the Geneva matter.

The Presidential Commission, investigating missing persons, as well as war crimes accusations, hadn’t taken up Premier Wickremesinghe disputing the number of civilian deaths. In fact, Premier Wickremesinghe reminded Hariharan of India’s accountability. Sadly, political parties as well as civil society organizations, hadn’t realized the urgent need for follow up action. Would it be possible to verify allegations pertaining to the number of civilian deaths due to UN thwarting verification by categorizing all evidence received by UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts’ on Accountability in Sri Lanka.

The government should also consider the possibility of the UN report on accountability issues here scheduled to be presented in September, too, would be covered by confidentiality clause to prevent verification of allegations contained therein. Sri Lanka wouldn’t have an opportunity to verify allegations in the report prepared in accordance with US-led resolution at Geneva sessions in March last year.

Sri Lanka’s defence in Geneva seemed to be inadequate at the moment with the government yet to officially raise the failure on the part of the accusers to verify the number of civilians perished during the Vanni offensive. The previous government, as well as those in office now, hadn’t so far requested for the release of the report on the Vanni offensive that dealt with the period, from August, 2008, to May 13, 2009. The report could help the UN and Sri Lanka to re-examine the ground situation during that period and perhaps compare the UN report with the one prepared and released by Amnesty International, in Sept 2011. The UN estimated the number of dead at less than 8,000, during August, 2008-May 13, 2009 period, whereas the Amnesty International placed the number of the final phase at 10,000. However, Amnesty International didn’t specify a particular period.

Nothing could be as important as a fresh review of accusations in the wake of Premier Wickremesinghe ‘s rebuttal of the serious most allegation that the military massacred as many as 40,000 civilians. The UN and Amnesty International assertions as regards the number of civilian deaths strengthens Premier Wickremesinghe’s argument that verification of accusations was necessary.

It would be the responsibility of the UNP-SLFP administration, now in power, to prepare for the next sessions, though its current focus is on the forthcoming parliamentary election. With President Maithripala Sirisena expected to dissolve parliament, shortly, setting the stage for the next parliamentary election ahead of the Geneva sessions, in September, the administration shouldn’t neglect its duty to ensure course - correction of the Geneva strategy. The electioneering shouldn’t be at Sri Lanka’s expense. The previous government placed Sri Lanka’s defence on the hands of an expensive US public relations firm. Those responsible for spearheading Sri Lanka’s defence pathetically failed to take up the disputable number of civilian deaths, as well as the confidentiality clause, which effectively prevented verification of accusations. Premier Wickremesinghe’s stand on allegations, pertaining to the massacre of 40,000 civilians, has given Sri Lanka hope and an opportunity to clear its name.

Wikileaks cables could also help Sri Lanka’s efforts as the writer had pointed out on numerous occasions.

In fact, tangible measures to verify allegations would help the reconciliation process. A proper domestic investigation would silence most of those making wild allegations, such as accusations regarding genocide levelled by Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran.

In his Thanthi TV interview, Premier Wickremesinghe explained the catastrophe caused by terrorism when he reminded that Wigneswaran had to be taken from Colombo and made the Northern Province Chief Minister because the terrorists wiped out the political leadership there. Wickremesinghe declaration should be examined with Northern Provincial Council member Dharmalingham Siddarthan claim that two Jaffna members of Parliament had been killed by TELO at the behest of Indian intelligence services.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Indo-Lanka relations and Mahinda Rajapaksa having a ‘soft spot’ for China



Chinese submarine docked at the Colombo port last November. The submarine on an escort mission to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast, had docked on its onward and return journey to Sri Lanka for replenishment. Amidst controversy over the submarine visit, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman said that the submarine together with a naval escort taskforce had visited the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast. He added: "On its way to and back from the mission area, the submarine made technical docking in Sri Lanka twice, and it is a quite common practice for submarines of world navies to dock at certain ports and conduct replenishment."

(pic courtesy Sri Lanka Navy)

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Deputy Foreign Minister, Ajith P. Perera, recently declared that the President Maithripala Sirisena-Premier Wickremesinghe administration’s new relationship, with Western powers and India, wouldn’t be at China’s expense. DM Perera assured Sri Lanka’s commitment to further improving bilateral relations with China, Pakistan and Russia whose support made possible the annihilation of the LTTE.

The DM was addressing the media at the Foreign Ministry, in the absence of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who was in Beijing with President Maithripala Sirisena. The President undertook a state visit to Beijing, from March 25-27, 2015, on the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Although, the DM failed to make any reference to Israel, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, as well as the US, their backing for Sri Lanka’s triumph over LTTE terrorism is well known. Kalutara District MP’s statement should be examined in the backdrop of strong criticism of the growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, particularly during former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s 10-year rule.

With China-Sri Lanka relations strained in the wake of President Rajapaksa’s defeat, at the Jan. 8, 2015, presidential election, it would be pertinent to discuss China-Sri Lanka relations over the past several decades. But, naturally, the focus would be on Chinese backing for Sri Lanka’s war against half a dozen Indian - sponsored terrorist groups. All except the LTTE gave up terrorism during 1990. However, the Chinese involvement continued to grow, in response to the growing LTTE threat. The war took a new turn, in June, 1990 with the LTTE achieving a conventional military capability the following year - thanks to its experience in fighting the Sri Lankan Army (1983-July 1987) and the Indian Army (Oct 1987 to Nov 1989.). The Indian Army quit Sri Lanka, in March 1990.

In fact, the Chinese involvement here should be studied vis-a-vis Indian intervention in the 80s. The then President JRJ had no option but to secure Chinese military help in the wake of the US refusing assistance, though it facilitated the Jewish State’s entry here.

Chinese role at UNHRC

China remained a close friend, in spite of change of governments in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, some have conveniently forgotten the crucial Chinese support, given to the military, as well as at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), since the conclusion of the war in May 2009. China played a pivotal role in defending Sri Lanka at Geneva, whereas India threw its weight behind, US resolutions against Sri Lanka, twice in 2012 and 2013. Last year, India abstained when Geneva approved an external inquiry into accountability issues here. Could Sri Lanka afford to forget Chinese backing simply because China had profited from its transactions here, over the years?

Perhaps the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS) under its new management, should initiate a study on various aspects of Sri Lanka’s foreign relations, particularly in the post-Indian intervention era. Unfortunately, the previous government, in spite of crushing the LTTE, ignored the urgent need to examine the conflict. The previous LKIIRSS management had no sense of its priorities, and therefore, ended up in failure.

Let me reproduce what one-time Chinese President Yang Shangkun said in response to US criticism of the sale of Chinese missiles, as well as nuclear weapons, to countries considered a threat to the Western block, and Israel: "American opinion censures us for selling weapons. Yet the US also sells weapons. Why does not it censure itself?...So there is a question of fairness here...China has a saying, "Only magistrates are allowed to set fires. Ordinary people are not allowed to light lamps." You (the US) are strong, so you can sell without constraint. We are not strong, and so we sell very much less. Yet you denounce us every day. We feel uncomfortable."

Although, the declaration attributed to the then President Shangkun, who led China from 1988 to 1993, had absolutely no connection to Sri Lanka, its relevance is obvious. The JRJ administration experienced immense difficulties in securing the much needed arms to fight Indian - sponsored terrorist groups. China was one of the very few countries willing to help JRJ, regardless of Indian opposition. The then Indian Premier, Indira Gandhi, obviously believed that Indian - trained terrorist groups could have swiftly overwhelmed JRJ if the Sri Lankan military was deprived of arms, ammunition and equipment, as well as expertise. Premier Gandhi went to the extent of personally requesting Western powers not to back JRJ. A secret document, released by the UK National Achieves, in January, last year, revealed Gandhi requesting the then UK Premier Margaret Thatcher to stop helping JRJ fight terrorists. What she didn’t admit was that terrorists, fighting the JRJ government, were trained on Indian soil, armed and deployed across the Palk Straits. Gandhi was opposed to ex-members of the elite Special Air Services (SAS) taking a lucrative contract to train Sri Lankan troops in counter insurgency operations.

The declassified document quoted Gandhi as having told Thatcher: "We hope that you will use your influence to persuade (Sri Lanka’s) President (J R) Jayewardene to give a positive lead by making constructive suggestions at the All Parties’ Conference. Military aid and anti-insurgency assistance are not enough to overcome a political crisis which has to be faced and resolved."

But the UK allowed the project to continue, much to the dismay of India. Sri Lanka should be always grateful for the UK’s tacit support for JRJ.

Lanka acquires Chinese gunboats in 70s

Sri Lanka acquired seven gunboats from China during Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s administration, in early 1970s. However, there hadn’t been any major acquisitions until JRJ ordered 18 artillery pieces, and three Fast Attack Craft (FACs), during the 1980-1990 period. JRJ had to gradually enhance the fire power in response to the growing enemy capability. Sri Lanka took delivery of many more artillery pieces (122 mm, 152 mm, 130 mm howitzers, 120 mm and 82 mm mortars) from China, after 1990, as the Artillery Regiment expanded rapidly. A decade later, Sri Lanka acquired mobile RM 70 multiple rocket launchers, from Czechoslovakia, when the army was on the verge of facing a crushing defeat in the Jaffna peninsula.

Had it not being for the destructive Indian intervention, the Sri Lankan army would have probably remained ceremonial. India had never admitted destabilizing Sri Lanka, nor those demanding accountability on Sri Lanka’s part ever censured India for causing massive destruction in a neighboring country. One-time Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit (1985-1989) in his memoirs ‘Makers of India’s Foreign Policy: Raja Ram Mohun Roy to Yashwant Sinha’, launched in 2004, explained New Delhi’s intervention. Dixit had been Foreign Secretary (1991-1994) at the time he launched his memoirs in 1994, before his death the following year. At the time of his death, Dixit held the post of National of Security Advisor.

Having declared that the then Premier Gandhi would have intervened in Sri Lanka, regardless of the status of the ethnic issue, the veteran diplomat, in no uncertain terms, faulted the Premier’s decision. Dixit declared: "India’s involvement in Sri Lanka, in my assessment, was unavoidable not only due to the possible ramifications of the Sri Lankan government’s oppressive and discriminating polices against its Tamil citizens, but also in terms of India’s national concerns due to the Sri Lankan government’s security connections with the US, Pakistan and Israel."

Dixit asserted that Indian intervention should be analyzed in, what he called, the larger perspective of the international and regional strategic environment, between 1980-1984. The Indian alleged that the US and Pakistan had created a ‘politico-strategic’ pressure point against India in Sri Lanka. JRJ was accused of establishing substantive defence and intelligence contacts with the US, Pakistan and Israel.

Dixit conveniently forgot that JRJ wouldn’t have any reason to seek foreign military assistance if not for New Delhi’s despicable intervention here. In fact, the extremely low intensity counter-insurgency campaign undertaken by JRJ had to be dramatically intensified in the wake of the LTTE receiving the expertise, courtesy India, to wipe out an army patrol on the night of July 23, 1983. The killing of 13 soldiers caused anarchy with the inexperienced army going on the rampage in the Jaffna peninsula. India never commissioned an inquiry into its intervention here, though the assassination of one-time Indian Premier Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE on March 21, 1991 at Sriperumbedur, near Chennai, while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections of 1991, was investigated by Justice Jain. The report was finalized in 1998.

It would be interesting to establish the exact time Indira Gandhi launched her Sri Lanka destabilization project. She had been premier for three consecutive terms (1966–77) and a fourth term from 1980 until she was assassinated in 1984. Did the destabilization project commence during S.J.S. Chhatwal’s tenure as the Indian High Commissioner here (1982-1985) or T. Abraham’s (1978-1982).

Chinese interceptors join battle

China remained committed to Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE during extremely difficult times. As the army was battling the LTTE, in the Eastern province, with Narakkanmulla-Thoppigala still under LTTE control, the LTTE bombed Katunayake air base, on March 26, 2007. The bombing, carried out by two LTTE aircraft targeted squadrons of Israeli Kfirs (No 10) and Ukrainian MiG 27s (No 12). However, the Chinese FT 7 (conversion trainer) and F-7BS interceptors (No 05) hadn’t been targeted though they, too, were based at Katunayake. Although, the LTTE failed to achieve its objectives, the unprecedented attack sent shock waves through the government.

The previous LTTE raid on Katunayake, on July 24, 2001 caused the destruction of 13 aircraft, including two Kfir jet fighters, one Mi-24 helicopter gunship and one MiG-27- jet fighter.

The military leadership came under tremendous pressure as the LTTE mounted a series of attacks both in the war zone and the South. Less than a week after the raid on Katunayake, Air Tigers bombed Palaly high security zone and the Kolonnawa oil refinery. The military top brass felt that the LTTE attacks could have a severe demoralizing impact on the Sinhalese, and therefore, immediate action was needed to acquire interceptors to neutralize the threat posed by so-called Air Tigers, particularly during the night. The military believed air attacks on major military and economic targets could even threaten the Vanni offensive, launched in March, 2007.

Sri Lanka had two options, Ukrainian MiG 29s or Chinese Chinese F7 GS and the air force opted for four Chinese aircraft which were on the production line at that time. Sri Lanka took delivery of Chinese interceptors, along with 10 short range infrared-guided PL-SE missiles, and two training missiles, in early January. The aircraft were acquired on a soft loan basis with the Chinese modifying the aircraft to suit Sri Lanka’s requirements. Shouldn’t we be grateful to China for providing much needed support as Sri Lanka was in dire straits?

India offered Mk II radar to thwart Sri Lanka acquiring Chinese built three dimensional radar. As the LTTE stepped up pressure, with a series of air attacks, the then President Rajapaksa authorized the air force to acquire Chinese radar to meet the LTTE threat. The Chinese installed JY 11 3 D radar at Mirigama during the second week of September, 2007.

China remained a major supplier of weapons until the conclusion of the conflict, in May 2009. Sri Lanka obtained a range of weapons including the standard infantry weapon of the Sri Lankan military T 56, T 56-1 light machine gun and 7.62 mm semi automatic pistol.

Sri Lanka boosted her advance training capacity, thanks to China, in 2001 with the acquisition of Karakorum-8 two-seat sub-sonic jet trainer, with limited ground air capability. The vast majority of jet pilots received advanced and fighter conversion training on K8. Jointly developed by China and Pakistan, K8 played a significant role, as an advanced trainer, and during the Eelam War IV the squadron was tasked to intercept Air Tigers, though the task couldn’t be achieved. The deployment of K8 squadron was a desperate measure before the acquisition of dedicated Chinese interceptors. It would be pertinent to mention that Sri Lanka acquired Chinese interceptors, in 1991, during the then President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s administration.

The navy and the army also acquired a range of equipment over the years. China made available a stupendous amount of ammunition. The quantity of artillery rounds, fired at fortified LTTE targets, particularly the LTTE’s northern front line, during the Eelam War IV is evidence of continuous Chinese supplies, though difficulties were experienced during 2008, at the height of the Vanni war.

A revealing US diplomatic missive

India obviously detested the growing Chinese relationship with the previous government. Chinese submarine visits to the Colombo port, last year, caused rapid deterioration of Indo-Lanka relations with Beijing in no uncertain terms reiterating its right to such visits. The Indian media caused a major furore alleging that Colombo was accommodating Chinese nuclear submarines, though China and the previous Sri Lankan government denied accusations.

A diplomatic missive, originating from the US embassy, in New Delhi, on April 27, 2007 revealed New Delhi’s assertion of the ground situation in Sri Lanka as the war entered the final phase in the Eastern Province. The military brought the entire province under its control, in June 2007. The world wouldn’t have known about India’s attitude if not for whistle-blowing website, Wikileaks.

The cable, quoted Joint Secretary of the External Affairs Ministry, Mohan Kumar as having said that "The situation in Sri Lanka is "bad, really bad - beyond bleak." Alleging that neither the government nor Tamil separatists had any regard for the international community, Kumar sought a briefing from the US regarding Sri Lanka’s growing relations with China.

The cable: "Kumar confirmed reports that the Indian Navy has stepped up patrols in the Palk Strait, and said that India and Sri Lanka are doing coordinated patrolling to prevent the smuggling of weapons from the Tamil Nadu coast. Kumar said it would be helpful to get the American assessment of the port being built in Hambantota, which, he estimated, China was willing to spend US $500 million to help develop." He noted that China has increased its influence with President Rajapaksa, opining that Rajapaksa had a ‘soft spot’ for China, following his visit to Beijing, in March, 2007.

President Rajapaksa commissioned the first stage of the Hambantota port project in 2007.

In spite of Kumar’s claim of coordinated patrols in the Palk Strait, the Sri Lankan Navy intercepted and destroyed many trawlers carrying weapons after they entered Sri Lankan waters.

According to the leaked cable, which dealt with Burma, the Maldives and Bangladesh, the Indian Joint Secretary of External Affairs has expressed concern over the Hambantota Port building project. A New Delhi - based British diplomat, Alex Hall-Hall, too, had been involved the discussion. The British had been always a part of the Indian strategy on Sri Lanka. This was evident when the British Defence Minister, Michael Fallon, during bilateral talks with President Maithripala Sirisena, in London last month, raised the contentious issue of the Chinese naval build-up in the region, as well as Sri Lanka’s military ties to China.