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The Sunday TimesPlus

16th March 1997



Book Review

Talking big neighbour, small neigbour

Reviewed by Prof. Bertram Bastiampillai

Research Monographs Nos.1/96 and 2/96 "The India Factor in Sri Lanka's foreign and securitypolicy" by Mohammad Humayun Kabir "Geo-Strategic Dynamics of Indo-Sri Lanka Relations" by Shaheen Akhtar Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) BMICH Colombo 1996, Price Rs. 200 /- each

These two publications reflect the views of two visiting research fellows of the BCIS. Both researchers have chosen themes for study which are closely interrelated, if not somewhat similar. Interestingly, one scholar however, is from Bangladesh and the other from Pakistan. .

As a result we get the differing perspectives of two scholars from two different countries of South Asia both of which are equally concerned about India's interstate relations in South Asia as much as Sri Lanka is. However, at the same time both scholars also appear to reach a broadly similar understanding of India's' role vis-a-vis her small neighbour after a careful search of so much information as their studies show.

Clearly as Kabir argues there are, between the big country India and its little neighbour Sri Lanka, divergences in their respective security and foreign relations concerns. Nevertheless their external policies are constantly being so fashioned with success and failure as to overcome the obstacles towards good neighbourly relations that could arise because of their differing perceptions. Kabir's analysis of some cardinal facts of Sri Lanka's foreign policy is topical. It focuses almost wholly on the island's ethnic conflict and the issues that arose out of it which involved India. Also, the researcher rivets much of his scrutiny on the varying strategies that were adopted by the administrations headed by the United National Party(UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) and their consequences particularly for the island nation. He does see degrees of notable differences and nature in a few respects in the attitude towards India demonstrated by the different governments of the UNP and SLFP.

Humayun Kabir in the course of his account, deals with important issues such as the ability and capacity of a small country like Sri Lanka to chart out an independent policy in external affairs regardless of a close-by country which too inevitably has to bear the implications of such a policy. Moreover, the author addresses another equally topical question when he discusses the possibility of an internally riven and therefore unstable small state to take for granted external support to balance the over-arching big neighbour's intrusive concerns in the island's affairs.The answers are clear to the writer. Basically India has loomed note-worthily and largely in Sri Lanka's foreign or security policy regardless of the ruling party's own predilections. The Indo-Sri Lanka agreement of 1987 quite altered the character and substance of the relationship between the two countries, notes the author. Sri Lanka compulsively had to pay heed to India in designing her own foreign policy, nay even her domestic policy, concludes researcher Kabir. A little state cannot be oblivious to the peculiar interests of a big neighbour. They tend to be over-riding when external relations or internal management are designed or executed. This according, to Kabir, is the price a small country has to pay because of its proximity to an overawing big country.

The other study by Shaheen Akhtar also fundamentally has so much in common in content and scope with the account of Humayun Kabir. Owing to geo-strategic dynamics and their significance, the proximity of Sri Lanka to India has mattered mostly in decisively influencing Sri Lanka's foreign policy and her relations with external powers. The nearness to the large Indian state and the sharp variations in extent, power and resources between these two states of South Asia have necessarily been uppermost and vital factors that inevitably have decided and shaped the relationship between Sri Lanka and India.

Once again, the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka remains central to the study of Shaheen Akhtar too. The researcher ventures to examine the geo-strategic dynamics of Indo-Sri Lanka connections placing them within the context of a changing domestic, regional and international atmosphere. The writer is mostly confining the research and findings to the 1980's, a time when the ethnic conflict peaked although the chosen range within which the research is to lie is wider.

Akhtar, naturally and rightly, devotes attention towards the transborder ethnic connections and affinities between the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Tamils across a twenty two mile narrow stretch of water in Tamil Nadu in South India. In discussing the points of view advanced in this study, the author fixes the regional dimension and its influences, within the context of differences in power, varying concerns of security and differing outlooks which unavoidably gain primacy in policy formulation in South Asia. This is true, be it between Sri Lanka and India or India and any other country in the region. There is an intertwining of the countries with India when it involves their external affairs.

Shaheen Akhtar too, like Humayun Kabir, closely scrutinises the international dimension within the context of the character and form of the international system. However, the significance of the international dimension is overshadowed when it relates to Sri Lanka by the imposing geo-strategic interests of India, and to a lesser extent of the extra-regional powers in South Asia.

This researcher differs from Kabir in devoting greater attention to the concerns of extra-regional powers in the South Asian region. Kabir has appropriately referred to them but Shaheen Akhtar pays greater and incisive attention.Both these attractively got up publications together provide a fascinating review of the most important elements that were there to be noticed in Sri Lanka's contemporary foreign relations. Kabir's study is a useful historical outline. It is a simpler and straight forward recitation although with some analysis and critical review of others findings. Shaheen Akhtar's study is, on the other hand, weightier, sophisticated, and of course, it is often profound both in research and analysis.

Although both writers have turned their scholarly attentions unavoidably to matters that were most vital in Sri Lanka's recent times, there are sharp and significant differences in nuances in their approaches and in their arguing out of conclusions. After all it is obvious that international relations depend on power equations.

The pleasures of music

PrasanthiSujeewaThe widely acclaimed musical duo Preshanthi Navaratnam, and Sujeeva Hapugalle presented selections from the work of the Romantics and Impressionists in their classical concert at the Wendt, recently.

It was a well-balanced programme that was a showcase for the virtuosity of these highly gifted performers and demanded audience involvement.There was sustained and sensitive dialogue between the singer and the accompanist, which intensified communication between them and the audience.The programme opened with Lied - Liszt's 'Die Lorelei'. Preshanthi's rich and resonant soprano voice gave colour to the song and its dark theme of enchantment and destruction.

The mood changed with Liszt's 'Es musse ein wunder hares sein' a love song, and again with the spirited 'Der Alpenjager'.

The surprise of the evening came in two Sinhalese songs - The first of them was the haunting 'Danno Buddhunge' - Ode to the Sacred City - the words of which are by John de Silva and the music by Vishvanath Laugee.This was rendered soulfully by Preshanthi and followed up with Norman Corea's dreamy Cradle Song.

Three French poems by Paul Bourget - 'Romance', 'Les Cloches' and 'Bean Soir' were sung to Debussy's limpid music. Preshanthi projected the emotions and pictures they evoked.

She concluded her singing with the powerful and captivating Michaela's Recitative from 'Carmen,' by Bizet.

Sujeeva, who gave superb support to Preshanthi as her accompanist played three piano solos - Schumann's 'Sonata No. 2 in G Minor opus 22', Ravel's 'Ondine' and Chopin's 'Sonata No. 3 in B Minor op 53.'

She brought energy and lyricism to the demands of her music - the structural intricacies, the ebb and flow, the variations of light and darkness, themes and textures and the touches of drama, with seemingly effortless grace.

It was obvious that both Preshanthi and Sujeeva enjoyed their music-making. They displayed a consistency of vocal polish and musical artistry that communicated itself to the audience.A de S.

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