By the Indian Minister of External Affairs meeting a team of visiting Sri Lankan journalists in New Delhi this week, the public here had the benefit of a clearer picture of the Indian position on the anti-Sri Lanka resolution coming up before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva next month. When the Sri [...]



Geneva: Focus on damage control now


By the Indian Minister of External Affairs meeting a team of visiting Sri Lankan journalists in New Delhi this week, the public here had the benefit of a clearer picture of the Indian position on the anti-Sri Lanka resolution coming up before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva next month.
When the Sri Lankan Minister of External Affairs visited the Indian capital hardly a fortnight back, the customary media statement was not issued by his office. The local media that faithfully carry these statements from the Foreign Office were bereft of news of what had happened. All they got was a photograph of the two ministers meeting with a two paragraph caption that said “there were wide ranging discussions covering all aspects of the bi-lateral relationship”. Period.

Now, the cat is out of the bag. The Indian minister has given our scribes a homily on why Sri Lanka must not get isolated from the world; “must find a middle road that satisfies the world”; and that his country will get involved only when the Colombo Government decides it is ready to negotiate on the resolution against it in Geneva. To cap it all, the Indian minister advised Sri Lanka not to get “too sensitive”. No doubt it is easy to say that when looking south of the South Block rather than north towards Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indian Foreign Secretary was quick to clarify the next day that India has not decided what stance to take until it saw the final resolution but we heard that last year as well before India went ahead and voted against Sri Lanka. So now, we have a more realistic insight into India’s stand which the Sri Lankan minister hid from the Sri Lankan public.

The fact that Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry has been an utterly useless institution in so far as defending Sri Lanka overseas is concerned has been echoed by no less a person than the President’s Secretary (please see his comments on Page 8). But the President’s Office must also share much of the blame for this ineffectiveness. The packing of Sri Lankan missions overseas with diplomatic eunuchs selected purely on Presidential patronage and the dismantling of the professional Foreign Service have played their part. The minister’s fault is that he did not protect the Foreign Service and was afraid to give good advice whenever unpalatable, to the President.

All that is now water under the bridge. The British High Commissioner in his interview to this newspaper (page 8) has a given a broad hint about what kind of resolution (the third in two years) is in store in Geneva. The President’s Secretary is resigned to this fate. The Government will no doubt seek recourse, and solace in drumming up local support crying of imperialist forces destabilising Sri Lanka. What good that would be in Geneva depends on the contents of the resolution that will pop up eventually. With a fifth column here in the name of the Northern Provincial Council, the Government finds it difficult to even say that there is unanimity in the support it has of its people.

The fact that the United States, Britain and India have different agendas yet ganged up to crucify Sri Lanka speaks for Sri Lanka’s foreign relations. That their concern for accountability during the last days of the northern separatist insurgency is just a smoke-screen for their separate agendas is patently obvious. Sri Lanka’s belligerent, incoherent, knee-jerk foreign policy approach could have easily done with more diplomatic and political finesse in dealing with those hostile nations.

India, that conceived, funded and provided succour to this three decade-long northern separatist insurgency in Sri Lanka has got away with blue murder. There seems to be no culpability on its part for starting this entire ‘war’. Despite a mask of friendship, India has been undermining Sri Lanka for the past three decades.
The result; it has pushed Sri Lanka to a corner — the China corner. The Sri Lankan minister, snubbed in New Delhi, has sought comfort in Beijing this week. He had been pushing for this visit for some time and got himself the title of ‘special envoy of the President’ so that he could make up for the losses in New Delhi. He could only meet the Chinese Vice President, but his visit is of utmost significance in the context of the upcoming Geneva resolution and in the much larger scheme of geo-politics of the region pushing Sri Lanka headlong into China’s sphere of influence.

The Indian minister can clearly see this shift in Sri Lankan foreign policy. When he told Sri Lankan journalists that he has already informed his colleagues, meaning his cabinet colleagues no doubt, that to lose Sri Lanka will be more detrimental to India than for Sri Lanka to lose India, he was being candid, to say the least.
The Chinese have floated their proposal for a Maritime Silk Route (MSA) – the 21st Century Silk Road. With a definite eye on the Hambantota and Colombo ports, Chinese expansionism is full steam ahead. In well couched language, Beijing is seeking regional cooperation and prosperity just as the Silk Road did in centuries gone by. India must be wondering how to play, if one may use cricketing parlance, this ‘Chinaman’, the unorthodox spinning delivery of a bowler.

A Free Trade Agreement upgrading bilateral economic and trade ties between China and Sri Lanka in return for China’s backing for Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in Geneva next month is propelling Sri Lanka right into the whirlpool of geo-political intrigue in the Indian Ocean. A media statement from Sri Lanka’s EAM earlier in the week referred to “defence and security” among the “four main areas” discussed between the two Foreign Ministers in Beijing. Significantly, the words “defence and security” are missing both from the subsequent statements from Colombo — and the commentary by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua which makes no mention of the all-important words. They are sticking to the MSA, which is an euphemism for ‘defence and security.

The President’s Secretary has all but conceded that the US-sponsored resolution in Geneva is now a foregone conclusion. How much the Cabinet ministers jetting to various capitals of UNHRC voting states can make a difference is to be seen. The Government will need to brace itself for a major jolt. If the resolution — and its passage — is a foregone conclusion then the Government has no option but to begin mapping out its post-resolution strategies beginning now. And at what cost to its time tested Non-Aligned foreign policy, will be the question.

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