Indian don dismisses RAW involvement in regime change
By Manjula Fernando
Corruption, nepotism, lack of transparency and accountability in governance and authoritarian tendencies were the fundamental causes for the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 elections’, an Indian Professor in International Relations Ashwani Sharma said dismissing any RAW involvement in the regime change in Sri Lanka.
In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Short Term Chair of Colombo University’s Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies, Prof. Sharma said blaming RAW for political electoral engineering and bringing in a regime change was an ‘affront to the socio-political intelligence of Sri Lankan people’.
He was responding to a question if there was credibility to the theory that RAW engineered the ousting of former President Rajapaksa, an allegation whipped up by the defeated party.
He said, “These serious democratic deficits led to a silent and unspoken understanding between the vibrant middle-class, robust media, and civil society in Sri Lanka to change the regime for a more democratic, transparent, accountable, and corruption-free governance.”
Praising Sri Lanka for the establishment of strong democratic institutions, Prof. Sharma said it was more important that the spirit of democracy had been successfully inculcated among its people. ‘This indeed is not so common in South Asian countries,’ he said.
Prof Sharma also said that commercialised security ventures such as Avant Garde Maritime Security Service which maintained a floating armoury off the Galle coast, could be a potential threat to regional security.
Prof. Ashwani Sharma, Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Delhi and short-term Chair of Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies, (CCIS), University of Colombo, says that the new administration has corrected its course with regard to Indo-Lanka relations and are closer than ever before.
by Manjula Fernando
Q: Despite proximity, relations between Sri Lanka and India had never been smooth. How do you view Sri Lanka-India relations in the current political context with two new leaders in both the countries?
A: There have been three significant developments that would shape the Indo-Sri Lankan relations in the short as well as long term. First, the civil-war in Sri Lanka has come to an end. Second, the new governments are in place, in India and Sri Lanka. Third, there has been a paradigm shift in global politics.
Ending of the protracted war in Sri Lanka has created space and resources for sustainable peace, economic growth and development, and for engagement with India on economic as well as geostrategic issues.
The most important issues for addressing are reconciliation and development. There are three dimensions: political, economic, and socio-psychological.
The political dimension relates to devolution of power to the provinces, including Northern and Eastern Provinces. Economic dimensions relates to development of infrastructure and smooth transition to faster growth and development of the war-torn areas. Third is the socio-psychological – perhaps the most important and most difficult aspect in the reconciliation process.
Sri Lankan Government has to address the issue of ethnicity and identity and instill confidence in the minds of people to ensure their integration into the mainstream is easier and smooth. India has been playing an active role in helping Sri Lanka address all the three aspects.
The new administrations have a fresh outlook and new ideas about bilateral relations. India was the first foreign country that President Maithripala Sirisena visited after becoming the head of the State and government. It was a very significant gesture that he chose India as the destination for his first bilateral visit.
Arguably, the visit raised hopes of a new era of rigorous and dynamic bilateral relations between the two countries. It also raised hopes of a ‘course correction’ in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy towards a balance in its relationship between India and China.
In was in this context that new initiatives were taken by the two leaders to accord a new direction to the bilateral relations. Four agreements were signed during President Sirisena’s visit to India. The most salient one: civil nuclear cooperation between the countries.
It envisions ‘exchange of knowledge and expertise, sharing of resources, capacity building, and training of personnel in peaceful uses of nuclear energy’. The significance of this agreement emanates from the fact that Sri Lanka preferred India over China and Pakistan for nuclear cooperation.
Equally important is that the two countries also agreed to expand defense and security cooperation. The third agreement deals with cooperation in culture and would enable Sri Lanka to participate in the Nalanda University project. The fourth: cooperation in agriculture.
In addition, there were two other significant developments in bilateral relations. First, the two countries have decided to resolve the ‘fishermen issue.’ The process has already begun through the fishermen to fishermen dialogue with senior representatives of the two governments facilitating it.
The proposal presented by the Indian fishermen is being discussed by President Sirisena with the Chief Minister of Northern Province, MPs of Tamil National Alliance and Sri Lankan fishermen associations.
As the bilateral relations atmospherics are excellent, the two new administrations may succeed in resolving the long standing issue of fishermen. During the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister’s visit to New Delhi in January, 2015, the two foreign ministers agreed to re-engage on the important issue of the repatriation of Sri Lankan refugees, currently in India. The talks between the officials of the two countries have already begun, which is a very positive development.
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’.
Appreciation of the shift in paradigm has changed the foreign policy orientation of all the major countries in the world, including India and China. India is encouraging Sri Lanka to widen its sphere of economic cooperation with India. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) of 2000 in goods has increased trade between India and Sri Lanka manifold. It is logical and appropriate to graduate to Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) as it will facilitate trade in investment and services. Both the countries stand to gain if trade in investment flourishes.
Q: Sri Lanka had always been cautious of India’s style and level of influence. Do you think Prime Minister Modi’s soft-power diplomacy will be a good strategy to regain Sri Lanka’s dented trust?
A: The concept of ‘soft-power’ was introduced by Joseph Nye, a US academic, years following the end of the cold-war. ‘Hard-Power’ had run its course to the detriment of nation-states. As the US and other western countries were yet not willing to give up the use of hard power in international relations, various permutations and combinations of hard power and soft power were conceptualized to maintain US hegemony in the world.
Soft-power can be defined as the ability of a nation-state to achieve the policy outcomes by persuasion, rather than by force and coercion. Compared to hard-power, soft-power may take much longer to have the desired effect.
Soft-power has a unique place in Indo-Sri Lankan relations for a variety of historical and cultural reasons. First, almost all the Sri Lankans consider India as their second home. Buddhists perceive India as the birth place of Lord Buddha and source of Buddhist philosophy and influence. Almost all the Sri Lankan Buddhists cherish the desire to visit Bodh Gaya at least once in their lifetime. Tamils also look upon India as their second home and trace their origins to Tamil Nadu.
Second, the ‘Bollywood’ and to an extent Tamil cinema – are the second most important source of soft-power relationship between the two countries. A substantial population of Sri Lanka can understand and speak some/many words of Hindi language because of Bollywood’s unique soft-power.
The recent musical concert by Shreya Ghoshal, a famous Bollywood movie singer, in Colombo was held not in an auditorium but in an open air arena to cope up with the overwhelming response from the people in Colombo. Jacqueline Fernandez is the Sri Lankan ambassador to the Bollywood. Because of their mass appeal, Bollywood stars are be used also for electoral politics in Sri Lanka.
Third, there is a substantial section of the Sri Lankan educated middle class which has had some exposure to institutions of higher education in India. Over the years, many institutions in India have acquired a reputation of excellence. Many Sri Lankans have either studied in these institutions or visited them. They often come back with additional knowledge as well as good memories, contributing to soft-power relations.
Fourth, the Indian civil society has grown as an important influence in the democratic set-up of India. The civil society has raised the profile of Indian liberal democracy.
The Right to Information (RTI) Bill was passed in India in 2005 due to civil society activism. It has its impact on Sri Lanka in terms of influencing change. The National Movement for Social Justice in Sri Lanka led by led Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera resonates of Anna Hazare Movement in India.
Fifth, some of the business enterprises in India (Such as Infosys, Tata Consultancy Service (TCS), and Tata Motors (of Nano fame) have become iconic business enterprise across the world for their ethics, values, innovation and commercial viability.
These companies have an impact on business leaders and business environment in Sri Lanka.
Sixth, development assistance and deeper economic cooperation also constitute soft-power. Indian development assistance across sectors of the Sri Lankan economy has been steadily increasing over the years. FTA provided a big boost to trade between India and Sri Lanka.
Now, there is a gradual move towards Comprehensive Economic Program Agreement (CEPA) which has the potential of boosting trade in investment. Comprehensive growth in economic relations is indeed a very effective instrument of soft-power.
Bilateral relations based more on soft-power are more enduring than those based on the dominance of hard-power. With the paradigm shift in global politics from geo-politics to geo-economics, the focus of foreign policy orientation of nation-states is shifting in favour of soft power. More of foreign policy objectives can be achieved through soft-power or a combination of soft and hard power, in an intensely globalizing world.
Good Indo-Sri Lankan relations primarily based on soft-power also augur well for regional security. Because of the paradigm shift in global politics, the concept of security is also undergoing radical change. The old conceptualization of security as ‘military security’ is being re-conceptualized into ‘military and human security.’ In this re-conceptualization, human security is accorded higher salience as many times more people die in this world due to lack of human security (hunger, diseases, natural disasters and so on) than in wars.
Q: Following Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Jaffna, an official Chinese think tank claimed Modi’s visit amounted to interference. What is your take on it?
A: The ‘Official Chinese think tank’ you refer to appears to be a very ‘unthinking think tank’. Going by the same convoluted logic, President Srisena’s visit to South India in February, and that of Sri Lankan Prime Minister to South Indian state of Kerala recently, would be construed by the same think tank as gross interference in India’s internal affairs.
Premier Modi visited the Northern Province with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan Government for an inauguration ceremony of the Northern Railway line and to oversee development projects funded by India. It ought to be construed as a positive step towards reconciliation and reconstruction rather than interference.
Q: Although it was decimated, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is still a matter of great concern for both the countries. LTTE has a significant support base in Tamil Nadu. Do you think India will be more successful in managing this issue under Premier Modi?
A: The focus of the Sri Lankan Government should be to bring about speedy reconciliation and reconstruction in the war-ravaged areas. Revival of livelihood of the people, generation of employment through reconstruction of infrastructure and industrial development, devolution of more powers to the regions, and most importantly – providing psychological support to civil war- affected populations through education – would go a long way in making the process of reconciliation very effective.
It would instill a sense of security in the minds of those people and help them integrate into the mainstream of the Sri Lankan social system.
It would motivate people against any revival of LTTE. In sum, the remnants of LTTE base in India and Sri Lanka would erode even more with speedy reconciliation and reconstruction process. This would also enable both the governments to constrict the support base of LTTE or even wipe it out.
Q: Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has alleged that a RAW agent masterminded his electoral defeat and had brokered a deal between UNP and President Maithripala Sirisena, ahead of the January election. How credible is this claim?
A: In my view, corruption, nepotism, lack of transparency and accountability in governance and authoritarian tendencies were the fundamental causes for the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa this January.
These serious democratic deficits led to a silent and unspoken understanding between the vibrant middle-class, robust media, and civil society in Sri Lanka to change the regime for a more democratic, transparent, accountable, and corruption-free governance. Social media also played an important role in the change in regime.
Blaming RAW for electoral politics engineering and bringing about regime change would be an affront to the socio-political intelligence of Sri Lankan people.
Sri Lankan has had a vibrant democracy for decades and has successfully created strong democratic institutions, traditions, and values. Importantly, Sri Lanka has also been successful in inculcating the spirit of democracy amongst its people. This indeed is not so common in South Asian countries.
Q: The debate on a floating armoury owned by a private party, allegedly under the auspices of Sri Lankan Navy, ruffling feathers in New Delhi?
A: The ‘Galle floating armoury’ is owned by a private company known as Avant Garde Maritime Security Service (AGMS). The country of origin of AGMS is not known. It appears that the floating armoury was established by AGMS with the approval of the Sri Lankan Navy in October, 2012, to provide safety to foreign long liner fishing vessels in the Western Indian Ocean against sea pirates.
It is owned by AGMS but managed jointly by AGMS and Rakna Arakshakha Lanka Limited (RALL) – the government- owned security company – and the Sri Lankan Navy supervises the operations of the armoury.
Such floating armouries can create considerable disquiet in the region as they can be a source of potential threat to regional security. Therefore it is important that such commercialized security ventures by Sri Lanka should be undertaken with the concurrence of the regional countries.
Q: China is a vital development partner and a historical bi-lateral ally for Sri Lanka. Isn’t it asking for too much, when India seeks Sri Lanka to distance itself from China?
A: Yes, asking Sri Lanka to distance itself from China will be ‘asking for too much.’
On the contrary, what is perhaps ‘not asking for too much’ is the balance in relationship of Sri Lanka with India and China. India has had historical and cultural ties with Sri Lanka which can be traced back to about 3000 years.
India and Sri Lanka also have deep soft-power relations which are not entirely subject to the control of the two governments. It is the people of the two countries that have a major say on soft-power relations.
India is the third largest economy in the world and also the second fastest growing economy. The economic growth in India is increasing and while that of China is decreasing.
The international economic organizations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, forecast that the Indian economy will overtake the Chinese economy by the next year or so.
Therefore, deeper comprehensive economic cooperation with India can be immensely beneficial for Sri Lanka in the short as well long term.
India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour. Stronger geopolitical and geostrategic ties between the two countries can be of immense mutual benefit for regional security. India is also capable of fulfilling the defense requirements of Sri Lanka.
Q: Due to its geographical placement, Sri Lanka finds itself sandwiched between two regional superpowers, China and India. Do you agree this cause tension for Sri Lanka?
A: I wish I could change geography and make all nation-states in the world of equal size, and also endow them with equal natural resources! I can’t.
Under the circumstances, it would be best for Sri Lanka to maintain a balance in relationship between India and China. It is also equally important for Sri Lanka to strike a balance between geo-politics and geo-economics in its foreign policy focus
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.
To be continued on May 6
War crimes, accountability and manipulation of int’l organizations
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Prof. Ashwani K. Sharma says powerful countries routinely influence international organizations to secure desired results. In an exclusive with The Island, Prof. Sharma said that powerful governments influence the decision-making process to achieve their objectives. Obviously, the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is no exception,
Sharma is currently with the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies (CCIS), at the Colombo University.
The Indian funded CCIS came into being, during Mahinda Rajapaksa’s presidency following an agreement between the University of Colombo and the Indian High Commission.
Part I of Prof. Sharma’s interview appeared in the Midweek Review last Wednesday.
Prof. Sharma said: “As an academic, I am sensitive to the debate on possible adverse impacts of accidents at nuclear plants on human lives and environment. In this debate, Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima Daiichi (2011) accidents are commonly cited as examples against nuclear energy. It is indeed important to point out that these nuclear energy plants were based on nuclear technology of the 1960s. In the last fifty years, nuclear technology has undergone revolutionary changes. Nuclear installations have become much safer. Safety mechanisms developed for nuclear plants have reduced the chances of accidents to minimal level. The nuclear waste disposal has also been made much safer. Nonetheless, there still remains a possibility of an accident, no matter how miniscule it is.
The western world, except Germany and Italy, still produces nuclear energy as part of the energy mix, and are going ahead with newer nuclear energy plants (Generation III reactors). Germany has decided to close all its reactors by 2022, and Italy has banned nuclear power. In China, India, and Pakistan, nuclear energy is an important part of the energy mix. Newer nuclear power plants are being established in these countries to cope up with the increasing demand for energy.”
(Q) Since the conclusion of the conflict in May, 2009, various ‘experts’ tend to compare the Indian presence here with that of China. Many forget that Sri Lanka had no option but to depend on Chinese weapons, as well as Pakistani military training, though successive Sri Lankan governments also obtained armaments/equipments from Israel, China, US, Czech Republic et al. The then JRJ administration sought Chinese help consequent to New Delhi blocking Colombo from obtaining weapons from Western powers in the 80s. The bottom line is that India’s intervention resulted in the militarization of Sri Lanka. Strangely, India provided training to the Sri Lankan military while sponsoring terrorist groups during the 80s. During Eelam War IV, Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) provided by India joined some of the missions conducted on the high seas to destroy floating LTTE armories. Would you accept a particular country’s right to secure military support from any country, or an alliance, to face terrorism/war? Could China-Sri Lanka relations posed a threat to India/undermine India’s security?
(A) We live in a world of sovereign nation-states. Every country has the right to decide about its internal and external security concerns. Therefore, every country has the right to secure military support from any country or an alliance to eliminate terrorism.
I do not think China-Sri Lanka relations pose a threat to India or undermine its security concerns. In my view, India is capable of addressing its security concerns.
On the contrary, Sri Lanka has to take care of its security concerns in its relationship with China. As a student of international relations, I had read that Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was leased to the United States of America in 1966 for establishing naval and military bases during the height of cold-war. This was indeed the first instance in the post-World War II era when sovereignty of a nation-state over part of its territory was transferred to another country.
Sri Lanka is also in the process of negotiating its sovereignty. Sri Lanka has agreed to give 20 acres of land with ownership rights to China in the ‘Port City Complex’ in Colombo. In addition, 88 acres of land have been given to China on 99 years lease. The 20 acres in Colombo will be part of China. China will have all the right to hoist its national flag, and even issue visa for visits to that part. The 99 acres could well be converted into a ‘Mini Hong Kong’.
China plans to develop its land in the Port City Complex as a commercial hub. But it would have all the right to convert into a naval and military base in case its geopolitical and geostrategic concerns warrant that. International conventions do not seem to work well in hard times.
(Q) One-time Liberian President, Charles Taylor, had been sentenced to 50 years in prison for causing mayhem in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor was found guilty by a UN tribunal. Having paid a very heavy price to eradicate terrorist groups, once sponsored by India the Sri Lankan military today faces accusations of war crimes. Chief Minister of the Northern Province, retired Supreme Court judge, C.V. Wigneswaran, has accused Sri Lanka of genocide of Tamils since 1948. Geneva is demanding accountability on the part of both Sri Lankan political and military leaderships. Would you justify India’s terrorist war in Sri Lanka? (India lost nearly 1,500 officers and men fighting her own creation). Could you explain India’s culpability for causing so much death and destruction in a neighboring country?
(A) There is copious academic literature on the issue of civil war in Sri Lanka. Considerable serious research has been carried out on the issue. My well informed opinion is that India was neither the cause of the civil war in Sri Lanka nor did it engage in terrorist war in Sri Lanka. We should wait for the report of the internal commission of inquiry set up by the Sri Lankan government, and that of the UNHRC in September, 2015, before we crystallize an informed view on who was guilty of human rights violation.
(Q) Indian trained Sri Lankan terrorists (members of the PLOTE) stormed Male in early Nov 1988. Their operation was meant to assassinate the then Maldivian leader. The operation went awry due to Maldivians resisting the raiders, until Indian forces landed. The rest is history. Would you give an Indian perspective to the Maldivian affair? Could India ignore her responsibility for the Maldivian mayhem? (In fact, a section of the international media praised India’s swift military intervention without making any reference to Indian trained terrorists carrying out the raid.
Prof. Sharma politely declined to comment.
(Q) India voted twice against Sri Lanka at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Last year, India abstained at the Geneva vote on Sri Lanka. The interviewer is of the opinion that India’s role, too, should be inquired into as Sri Lanka wouldn’t have been in this predicament if not for New Delhi’s intervention. Would you accept accusations that Geneva adopted double standards when dealing with influential countries? Would you comment on the US forcing the UNHRC to drop the Goldstone war crimes report that dealt with atrocities committed by Israel during Dec 2008 -Jan 2009 Gaza assault?
(A) All international organizations have a political process and structure of influence within it. Decision-making process is the core of the political process. Powerful countries can influence the decision-making process by setting the agenda, directing the discussion, setting the tone and tenor of the negotiating and bargaining process, and rallying its allies along. The outcome of the political process, therefore, becomes predictable. Thus, it is not uncommon, for powerful countries to influence international organization to get the desired outcomes. It is also not uncommon for powerful countries to adopt double standards.
Israel is a classic example of where ‘Nation’ is thrice the size of ‘Nation-State’. There are five million Jews living in Israel, and ten million outside Israel. Out of these ten million, six million Jews live in the US. It is a common perception that Jews in the US jump higher than their weight. The reason is that Jews in the US are relatively better off than others, and also control media and the finance to a significant extent. This makes them an economically and politically influential community. In this scenario, it will be almost impossible for the US to support any action against Israel.
(Q) Would you identify areas India and Sri Lanka could work together?
(A) There are many areas where India and Sri Lanka can work together. I would like to highlight two areas in particular: economic sphere, and higher education. Trade between India and Sri Lanka in goods has increased manifold since the signing of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2000. Now, the logical step is to go in for Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) so that trade in investment can also flourish between the two countries. Currently, Sri Lankan exports (tea: 21%, rubber: 8%, garments: 50%, etc.) have low value added content, and therefore export earnings are not high. Value added content can be increased by engaging in intermediate processes of manufacturing of industrial products. For example, Mercedes Benz is manufactured in the town of Jamshedpur in India. The investment for the project was shared between India and Germany. The design and technology comes from Germany and parts are manufactured in many countries across the world, including India. These cars are then exported. India, thus, becomes a part of the manufacturing chain of a high quality/high value added product. Similarly, Sri Lanka can become part of manufacturing chain of high quality industrial products. The value added component of Sri Lankan exports would thus increase many fold. In this process, cooperation with India can be of immense utility. Indian investment in Sri Lanka can facilitate setting up of parts of manufacturing chain.
The chambers of commerce and industry in Sri Lanka have raised concerns about CEPA as it might affect the industry and commerce adversely. Some of the concerns are legitimate and can be taken care of by listing some of the areas in the negative list of CEPA so that investment in those areas is prohibited. Similar concerns were raised in India when India initiated liberalization of trade in goods and services. Ultimately, India as well Sri Lanka has to become competitive in the global economy. Sooner it happens better it would be.
It is important to emphasize that the literacy rate in Sri Lanka is almost 100%. The country also has a sizable technically trained manpower. This can provide Sri Lanka with a comparative advantage in a range of intermediate processes in manufacturing. Business leaders, economists, and policy makers have to pool in their minds and identify such areas in Indo-Sri Lankan economic cooperation.
The other major area of cooperation between India and Sri Lanka is higher education. Some of the educational institutions in India have achieved high international standards and are listed amongst the best 300 institutions by the surveys conducted in the UK and the US. These institutions are: Indian Institutes of Sciences (IISs), Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and Delhi University. There are many private universities also doing very well. It might be a good idea for the universities in Sri Lanka (fifteen) and India to enter into a permanent collaboration. The collaboration should be well institutionalized and there should be regular exchange of students, research scholars, and faculty. It will help the institutions in both the countries to grow competitively in the world.
(Q) China provided the required wherewithal to Sri Lanka fight the LTTE. China also backed Sri Lanka at international forums, including the Geneva rights sessions. Without China’s support, the previous government couldn’t have managed the Geneva crisis. Would you expect Sri Lanka to give up its close relationship with China to facilitate a better Indo-Sri Lanka relationship?
(A) I would not at all suggest that. Indo-Sri Lankan relationship should grow independently of the close relationship that Sri Lanka has with China. The two relationships can develop in parallel.
(Q) Would you prefer a defence agreement between India and Sri Lanka to ensure Sri Lanka acquired her defence needs/training from India?
(A) India is Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour and is capable of fulfilling the defence requirements of Sri Lanka. I have limited knowledge of the defence agreements that India and Sri Lanka already have. But what I do know is that personnel of Sri Lankan armed forces have been undergoing training in India for a long time. Two Indian naval ships were at Colombo Port last month for a naval exercise.
(Q) Would you comment on the Islamic Terrorists organization?
Finally, I would like to discuss the failure on the part of the Commonwealth, as an organization, as regards the war in Sri Lanka. Could you explain the circumstances under which the Commonwealth turned a blind eye to a leading member of the Commonwealth destabilizing a smaller member in the 80s (interestingly, the Commonwealth declared support for military action against Afghanistan immediately, after the Al Qaeda attacks on the US)
Prof. Sharma declined to comment on the issue. (Concluded)
To be continued on May 13
'India, Lanka ties moving in positive direction'
The relationship between India and Sri Lanka are moving in a very positive direction, said Professor Ashwani K. Sharma who is attached to the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies at the Colombo University as a short-term Chair for three months.
Prof. Sharma who is an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Delhi and a Fellow and Member of Governing Council of the Developing Countries Research Centre of the University of Delhi, said this was seen with the regime changes in both countries. “I see the relationship between India and Sri Lanka moving in a very positive direction. The earlier regimes in India as well as in Sri Lanka had both positive and negative aspects,” he told the Daily News.
“During the first term, India achieved a more than a nine percent growth rate which was unprecedented. India also became the third largest economy in the world,” he said.
The recession started around 2007 and the growth rate declined. However, development continued and India remained the second fastest growing economy in the world. Development was taking place in the country and this development came to be associated with corruption in the minds of the people,” Prof. Sharma said.
“This was something which angered the people. We have a liberal democracy and one of the tenets of liberal democracy is transparency, accountability and fair play,” he said.
“If development is associated with corruption, the people will then react. Good governance is the basis of liberal democracy which brings transparency, accountability and development without corruption,” he said.
Prof. Sharma said President Mahinda Rajapaksa came into power at the same time the congress-led government came into power in India.
“He did a lot of development work and became a national hero because he ended the war. In the second term, the development was very visible with highways, but here also development was associated with corruption. Similarly, the general perception in the allotment of coal mines in India was that it was unfair and corrupt because a lot of money exchanged hands again. This was also the case with the Commonwealth Games. A lot of money was frittered away,” he said.
Prof. Sharma said similarly the highways, the ports city complex and other development projects in Sri Lanka were associated with corruption.
He said building the highway from the Bandaranaike International Airport to Colombo cost a huge sum.
“It is an excellent highway but at what cost?” Prof. Sharma asked. “In both countries, there was a regime change based on the same issue – corruption associated with development. The civil society played a major role in India – the anti-corruption movement. The civil society in Sri Lanka is not as strong as in India. But nonetheless, the middle class is so potent here and in India and they played a crucial role in social media. So it had an important impact,” he added.
Prof. Sharma said during the last regime, India’s relations with Sri Lanka were somewhat constrained due to several factors.
“There was domestic pressure such as the Tamil Nadu factor. We had a general election in 2014 and the UPA coalition was focusing more on winning seats in Tamil Nadu. So they had to carry the sentiments of Tamils and that had an impact on bilateral relations between the two governments,” he said.
Sri Lanka is experiencing a six to seven percent economic growth rate, Prof. Sharma said.
“It has the potential to develop to around 10 percent or more. However, 23 percent of the people are below the poverty line. If you want to alleviate poverty you have to develop at a higher rate,” Prof. Sharma said.
“For a higher rate of growth we need energy. The energy consumption during the process of industrialisation and agricultural development goes up. And even the per capita energy consumption goes up as people’s living standards go up. If the Port City Complex comes up, it will consume more than what Colombo requires now. So where do you get the energy from?” he asked.
Prof. Sharma said in Sri Lanka, 58 percent of the energy comes from hydropower which is a very clean renewable source of energy.
“When you have good monsoons you have a higher production of hydro-electricity. When you don’t have a very good monsoon, the production comes down because it is dependent on water. Forty percent of energy is from thermal power. There are two components to thermal power: coal and diesel plus other oils. The other two percent is solar power.” Speaking about bilateral trade between the two countries, he said: “There is a tremendous increase in bilateral trade between India and Sri Lanka particularly since the signing of the Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. However it is true that the balance of trade is heavily in favour of India.
Sri Lanka imports oil and coal and it is not a clean way of producing energy. It affects the environment. Western countries produce energy by tapping the solar, rain and tidal waves. Sri Lanka has all these three potential sources of energy but has not been able to make them commercially viable,” he said.
“Sri Lanka cannot stop its development work due to the shortage of energy. When you grow faster, or if you want to step up your growth you will require more energy. What is the alternative left for Sri Lanka? My understanding is that Sri Lanka should take up this option of nuclear energy. You have to take steps now because the gestation period is 15 years. You have to start a plan now for the next 15 years. India is doing it. You should also exercise this option,” Prof. Sharma said.
“There is an overall trade deficit in Sri Lanka’s foreign trade. In order to redress this imbalance, you have to have a structural change. I read in some documents that in 2013 the exports of Sri Lanka were 10 billion dollars and the imports were around 19 billion dollars. Imports were almost twice that of exports not only from India but also from other countries.
“At the moment Sri Lankan exports have a less value added component, for example, tea, rubber and garments. The value added component is not much. In India, value added component is very high. That has to be increased here too.”
Speaking on the fishing issue, he said a common team of coastguards is needed with Indians and Sri Lankans patrolling the territorial borders. “There should also be a dispute settlement mechanism which should verify the facts and declare the verdict in six months. If there is a joint team guarding the territorial waters, the matter ends there. You fish in your waters and we will fish in ours,” Prof. Sharma said.
“It is the big businesses who control and benefit from this. The mechanised trawlers are like ships. They cost millions. They are owned by big capitalist fishing companies. From the 100 million worth of catches of fish, 90 percent goes to them and 10 percent goes to the 90 percent of fishermen. The big businesses also have political connections. Politicians also have to please their own constituencies. Therefore, this has become a complex issue. However, having a common coastguard team will solve the problem to a great extent,” he added.
“The conflict in Sri Lanka is over. The most important is reconciliation and rebuilding. One is the physical structure – schools, roads and houses and the other is the psychological dimension, because you have to integrate them into the mainstream. It is a long term process,” Prof. Sharma said.