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26th April 1998

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'Friendly concern'?

Sri Lanka has been told that the BJP Gov- ernment in New Delhi has shifted its Sri Lanka policy from one of disinterest to that of "friendly concern." While this would appear to be an innocuous assertion of friendly relations between our two countries one needs to pay closer heed to the nuances of diplomatic language which may involve saying one thing but meaning quite another.

Nagendranath Jha, former High Commissioner to Colombo and now foreign policy adviser to the ruling BJP suggested in Colombo that New Delhi might take a middle path in contrast to the extremes of full involvement or total disinterest. On the surface it seems good, yet he suggests that the BJP will also re-fashion the 'Gujral doctrine.' Now what does that mean?

As far as Sri Lanka was concerned, the Gujral Doctrine of complete non-interference in the internal affairs of its neighbours, was a welcome one. There was no evidence whatsoever that the short-lived Gujral administration aided and abetted the secessionist movement in Sri Lanka. On the other hand military assistance to the Government of Sri Lanka, however little, was appreciated. That was a pacifist, almost Gandhian - of Mahatma Gandhi, (not Indira or Rajiv Gandhi)- approach to good neighbourliness.

To get back a little further, while it may be necessary to remember. Sri Lanka would like to forget the plunge Indo-Sri Lankan relations took in those dark days of the 1980s to the early 1990s - the modern Gandhian years. Sri Lanka and her people continue to suffer from the movement that was fed, financed and nurtured by the Government of India and the State Government of Tamil Nadu. Those were the years when India was at odds with all its neighbours - China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and even Nepal.

But the Gujral Doctrine and to an extent the Narasimha Rao Doctrine (which came into play when Gujral was External Affairs Minister) helped India to a considerable extent to repair the damage done earlier and mend fences with her neighbours, including Sri Lanka. Now though Jha's "Doctrine" if we may call it that - might well undo all that and propel India once again into a confrontational course with Sri Lanka.

We very well know that a pro-LTTE man sits as India's Defence Minister and that the LTTE believes it can worm its way back into the confidence of the Indian establishment. They are no doubt working hard in Tamil Nadu too. Then from all accounts as we understand it from the Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar's visit to New Delhi shortly after the BJP wobbled into office and the recent meeting between Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Premier Vajpayee appear from their outcome to give out a different signal from that of Jha. But India has all too often been known to give contrary signals. Students of recent history know how the Indian South Block (their External Affairs Ministry) and even its Army did not know the game plan of India's external intelligence agency RAW, which it is feared is trying to re-emerge and climb back on to the pedestal it has fallen from in influencing Indian politics.

Apart from common good neighbourliness India must surely know there is a strong global trend against terrorism and a recent UN convention on the suppression of terrorist bombings was signed by many countries including Sri Lanka. The world has realised that terrorism is no longer something confined within the borders of one's own country. India knows it only too well. The LTTE which it trained, killed not only its one-time Prime Minister but also gave a bloodied nose to its Army. And India should not forget that it has terrorism on its land too. India complains of Pakistan's interference in Kashmir, but makes references to "fires in the neighbour's house." All we say to Mr. Jha is don't add fuel to the fire.

Let's put the past behind us and forget what needs to be forgotten. Yet India has surely a moral obligation to remember that it has international obligations that need to be fulfilled. After all India is the land of Gautama the Buddha, the land of Mahatma Gandhi and it surely cannot abdicate the great moral role these savants have espoused. We indeed hope that the "Jha Doctrine" of the middle path does not even mean sitting on the fence. What it should mean is an honest resolve to eliminate the menace of terrorism not only within its own borders but also throughout the world.

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