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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame & the Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom > India stands outside the internationally networked stand on Sri Lanka - Col R Hariharan (retd.), South Asia Analysis Group, 26 February 2008 > Cancelled Expatriates Consultation with Col. R. Hariharan VSM (Retd), January 2008
INTERNATIONAL FRAME & THE TAMIL STRUGGLE
India stands outside the internationally networked stand on Sri Lanka
The European Union's decision to renew the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) plus scheme provided for Sri Lanka's exports for another three years from January 2009, despite its adverse reaction to the ending of the ceasefire agreement (CFA) by Sri Lanka government. (The GSP plus concession enables Sri Lanka to export its goods and products to the EU at reduced or exempted tax and duty levies.) This decision comes in the face of strong stand taken by Germany on this issue. In an interview published on February 9 Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, had said that if Sri Lanka continued with the military option without seeking credible political solution to the conflict in Sri Lanka she would demand the EU to withdraw the GSP offered to Sri Lanka.
This clearly illustrated the ambivalence between thought and action that underlines the response of international community in responding to contentious issues. This applies not only to the Sri Lanka issue, but many other similar global issues.
There has been widespread international concern at the growing human rights violations and disregard for humanitarian concerns in Sri Lanka ever since the security forces went on the offensive against in December 2005. Sri Lanka's reluctance to allow international involvement in either monitoring or improving the Human Rights situation has not endeared it to other nations even while the CFA was in force. This concern has been compounded by major escalation in the Eelam war-4 resulting in heavy loss of life since then. Moreover, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) response to the security forces offensive with series of blasts and killings targeting civilians in the south has further compounded international concerns over the Sri Lanka war.
Undoubtedly these developments have disappointed friendly nations who had put their time and resources in giving form and content to the now defunct peace process 2002. With the security forces on the threshold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) heartland in the north, the battle would only intensify further, choking the hopes of reviving international mediation process for bringing peace, perhaps irrevocably.
Apart from the four co-chairs of Tokyo Donors Conference – the EU, Japan, Norway and the U.S., India, Canada and the UK have consistently shown great interest in helping Sri Lanka resolve the Tamil issue peacefully. Though their reaction to the Sri Lankan walkout from the CFA varied, their response had two common elements: regret at the government decision to withdraw from the CFA and a reminder that Sri Lanka could resolve the issue not merely by military means but with a political package on devolution. Despite such clarity on basic issues, international community's future course of action in respect of Sri Lanka's active pursuit of war will be conditioned by their national self interest.
India as a major regional power has its own equation with other members of the Tokyo Donors Conference and other western powers. India - Sri Lanka relation is unique due to closeness geographical, cultural and trade interests. It has its own coordinates, conditioned by many geo-strategic issues. Among these India's interest in ensuring smooth resolution of the problem of Sri Lanka Tamils so that it does not affect the peace and tranquillity in both countries is an important one. So study of India's response to Sri Lanka war comes under a category different from other countries.
The LTTE's dependence upon its global support network of Sri Lanka Tamil expatriates to progress the war in Sri Lanka has inevitably drawn it within the ambit of the U.S-led global war on terror. At the same time, it also served as incentive for the international community led by power centres from three continents – the U.S., the EU, Japan (and Norway representing the peace lobbies) – take a lead in gilding a Sri Lanka peace package with developmental finance as incentive. As a result the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE agreed upon the CFA and the Norwegian mediated peace process in 2002. India dogged by the ghosts of its bitter experience at peace making in Sri Lanka in the past tacitly agreed to the mediation "intrusion" by external players, in what it had considered as its own domain of power. However, the large scale violation of the ceasefire by the LTTE till December 2005 and by the Sri Lanka government as well thereafter has probably led to the disillusionment of the four co-chairs with both the Sri Lanka government and the LTTE.
The demise of the peace process has also resulted in the dismantling of the international structural assets painfully built to moderate and monitor the peace process. Along with that, much of the Lanka-friendly attitudes of nations actively involved in the peace process are also eroded.
If international understanding of the Sri Lanka government's stand on ending the ceasefire is interpolated on a scale of 1 to 9, India and Japan with a score of 6 show a close understanding. At the same time, they have made clear that military solution alone was unworkable. Both have tended to play down Sri Lanka's performance on human rights issues and do not air their views freely in public. They are unlikely to go along with international of collective action, if any, to coerce Sri Lanka government to improve human rights. However, they are likely to support any persuasive measures for producing the same results. The same applies to resumption of peace negotiations also.
On the other hand, the U.S. (with a score of 5) has shown a keen understanding of the Sri Lankan stand than the rest. The U.S. has stressed the need for the government to come out with a devolution package for Tamils without further delay. The U.S. has also put some riders on future aid and military assistance till Sri Lanka mends its dismal human rights record. At the same time these actions were balanced with other acts or statements to soften the impact. For instance the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) issued a statement terming the LTTE as the most dreaded role model of Al Qaeda almost at the same time as the U.S. issued a statement critical of the Sri Lanka government for abandoning the CFA. We can expect the U.S. to continue this carefully tailored approach in Sri Lanka. While the U.S. has a fairly good understanding of the Tamil quest for equal rights, it neither condones nor supports the LTTE, which has been representing the Tamil interests in the peace process. So it will continue to cooperate with the government in Sri Lanka while supporting the resumption of peace parleys. At best, the U.S. would pitch more forcefully to sponsor the presence of a UN Human Rights watchdog at Colombo.
The UK, with the same score of 5 as the U.S., appears to be slightly better nuanced in its approach than other EU members. However, the large and influential Tamil expatriate lobby in the UK is already bringing considerable political pressures on the ruling party to make the government policy more sensitive and considerate to the Tamil struggle for equity. When the elections get closer this could generate more positive action than issuing palliative statements on Sri Lanka Tamils. This could result in bringing more pressure upon Sri Lanka government.
The EU with 4 points and Norway at 3 points have shown strong resentment of Sri Lanka's disdain for international concerns on ending the CFA and on its deteriorating human rights record. They have been strident in the UN in their demand for structural and qualitative improvement on the Human Rights front in Sri Lanka. They are likely to keep up pressure on this question, diplomatically and in public, both within and outside the UN. However, internally the EU members have their own differing perceptions on the overall situation in Sri Lanka. These will condition their behaviour and prescription on any proposal for collective action.
Canada appears to figure somewhere between the EU and Norway. It is driven both by local political considerations where Tamils have a strong say, and the opposing stands taken by the ruling party and the opposition on the LTTE's war. Unlike its predecessor, the present government in Canada is strongly opposed to terrorism of the LTTE kind and had been fully cooperating with the U.S. in its actions against the LTTE. Without loud statements such actions by Canada are likely to continue. At the same time, Canada has equally strong stand on human rights issues in conformity with that of the EU.
The attitudes of China and Pakistan to Sri Lanka have been largely conditioned by considerations of strategic security, trade and geo-politics. Their interest lies in creating their own special space in Sri Lanka's policy horizon. China would like to establish a strategic foothold in Sri Lanka beyond security orientation relating to India. Probably Chinese interests are focused on the larger canvass of Indian Ocean security. China would continue to maintain and enlarge upon the existing goodwill between the two countries through improved commercial relations and armament sales. While India with its geographical and cultural closeness would always have an advantage in its relations with Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka would like to use the competitive nature of the India-China relations to gain maximum advantage for its own benefit.
In the case of Pakistan, the interest is more oriented to South Asia focusing on India's increasing assertion in the region and Asia. Many Sri Lankans perceive Pakistan as a friend particularly on occasions when India had not been helpful in issues impinging upon the Tamil conflict. While this attitude may not be a great advantage in building better trade relations between Sri Lanka and Pakistan, it is handy for Sri Lanka in its current phase of war to source arms supply from Pakistan. Sri Lanka's increasingly close relationship with India makes it a unique listening post for Pakistan's India operations. And Pakistan will continue to take full advantage of its relations with Sri Lanka to exploit this unique status of Sri Lank.
Thus both China and Pakistan have identified themselves completely with the actions of the Sri Lanka government. By doing this without any "suspicious agenda" from Sri Lanka's point of view, Sri Lanka's relationship with both these countries is likely to flourish. Of course, political and geo-strategic constraints on Sri Lanka over such a growth will always be there.
Attitude towards the LTTE
The LTTE has been finding it hard to reconcile itself to the fall in international esteem ever since it walked out of the peace process. Its continued refusal to read the changing international mood and come to terms with reality was evident from its statement on the CFA even as early as February 22, 2007. It said
"It (the CFA) recognised Tamil Eelam's de facto existence, with its unique characteristics; a distinct population; a government comprising a defence force, a police force, a judiciary, a civil administration and other institutions for effective governance of a people, and capability of entering into agreements with other governments, with a line of control reflecting the ground reality of the existence of the Tamil homeland demarcated with recognised borders. The CFA recognised the balance of power between the GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) and the LTTE, and was premised on this balance of power…"
However, its intention to resume the war of secession made in the same statement has not helped nations like Norway and the EU which had tried to revive the peace process.
This attitudinal rigidity coupled with its renewed violent actions against civilian targets well outside its beat after the end of the CFA is probably an important consideration in shaping international lack of interest in the LTTE's style of fighting for Tamil rights.
The LTTE's political head B Nadesan's grandiose claim "we are a conventional force. We will launch attacks on military targets but we will not target civilians," even as its bomb squads started hitting civilian targets served only to increase the gap in LTTE's international credibility.
So when Nadesan addressed a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon indicating the readiness of the LTTE to adhere by the CFA scrupulously it made no impact.
The LTTE argument that the only "path open to regain the rights of the Tamil people" was through recognition of the sovereignty of the Tamil nation particularly after being a party to the demise of the CFA and peace process will find few takers internationally. With the continued identification of the LTTE as a part of the global terror regimes, the militant group is likely to find it has less and less freedom to operate outside Sri Lanka in the coming months.
In a nut shell
In concrete terms, the international community is not likely to take any major collective action against Sri Lanka unless they are involved in yet another peace process for which the chances are slim. At the same time, reasons of real politick are likely to discourage collective responsibility of the kind they had shown in 2002-03 that culminated in the peace process, unless both Sri Lanka and the LTTE agree to fully cooperate to ensure success of such an initiative.
Tamil expatriates, who appear to put too much faith in international action in Sri Lanka to force the government to give up the military option and revive the peace process, would do well to remember this. And probably they will have to persuade India to prevail upon Sri Lanka to effect any change because it stands outside the internationally networked stand on this issue. India is in no mood or under compulsion to do this at present for its own reasons. What India can do to make it a win-win situation for all in Sri Lanka requires a more detailed examination because it depends upon what the LTTE, the Tamil expatriates, the people, politicians and the Sri Lanka government should do to help themselves.
So the light at the end of the tunnel is still not visible because the tunnel has not ended. And that is a tragedy for the people of Sri Lanka and all other stakeholders including the international community.