A democratic Sri Lanka based on the principle of equality of all communities is in the best interests of India as hostile neighbors harboring fundamentalist outfits surround us. Communist China too is not a very palatable country as a neighbor. It is in this context that India needs to intervene in the affairs of Sri Lanka as we wield considerable influence built over the years of our strong friendship with Sri Lanka as we share the same cultural roots.
As the whole world watched in shock and disarray the scantiest of respect for human lives in Northern Sri Lanka, the armed forces encircled the entire population of the Wanni region in Northern Sri Lanka and huddled them into Welfare Centers, which many International Human Rights Groups and observers call as Detention Centers. Though insurgency has been a deep-rooted problem in India, we have successfully brought Political solutions in Punjab and many parts of North East. Even in counter insurgency operations India has used only small arms where as Sri Lanka remains the only South Asian country to use heavy artillery and aerial bombings against its own citizens.
More than 100,000 people have been killed according to the latest estimates of the government. A massive majority of them are non-combatants especially women and children. As a member of the International and South Asian community Sri Lanka is bound to respect International laws and protect its own people.
Need to restrict the new armament plans of Sri Lanka
Demilitarisation of the North-East, including the disarmament of all armed groups. The Army to be confined to barracks except in areas where there is a credible security threat. As the war continued, the military assumed an increasingly prominent role in political life. Between 1982 and 1986, the three armed forces grew from 15,000 to 36,000. Since the Rajapakse government resumed the war in 2006, the combined size of the three forces has increased to more than 300,000. In 1978, defence expenditure was 1.5 percent of GDP or $US40 million. By 1985, the GDP share increased to 3.5 percent or $215 million. In 2008, it rose to 4.5 percent or nearly $1.7 billion. New army and air force recruitment campaigns have already commenced to increase the forces by 100,000. For a small nation of 19 million people the militarisation is bound to spell new dangers to the region and would lead to an arms race making the region unsafe ultimately leading to intervention of bigger powers like China and USA given the strategic location of the Trincomallee harbor.
Impact of Sri Lankan refugees in India
The 72,000 Srilankan refugees settled in the 118 camps and another 20,000 outside in the state of Tamilnadu, have been there trickling into india since 1990. A whole generation has lost the memory of its motherland. India is morally obliged to see that these people are repatriated to their country of origin at the earliest. This can be done only when conditions for their return are safe. This would also help the Indian government in saving money spent on the refugees. Their dignified repatriation would technically help in rebuilding the community as there are a number of technically qualified young people in the refugee community.
Monitoring Indian and International aid
As India has promised Rs.500 Crores it has every right to monitor how this money is being spent in Sri Lanka, as this is the accountable money of the taxpayers’ in India. To accomplish this task the Indian government would do well to send this money for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the war ravaged areas under the supervision of Indian NGOs. The bad experience of donors post tsunami is a good lesson to be careful in dealing with the Sri Lankan authorities as there were allegations of mass appropriations of donor money.
A good beginning towards reconciliation inspired by India
To begin with redrafting the constitution of Sri Lanka the 13th ammendment would be a good starting point as it was inspired by the Indian constitution and was part of the Indo-Sri Lankan accord of 1987. The 13th ammendment makes Tamil as one of the official languages of Sri Lanka as well as making provisions for provincial Councils. This could lead to further devolution of power and more autonomy to the regions predominantly inhabited by the Tamils and the Muslims. When thousands of communities can co-exist with differences in India and agreeing to negotiate, Sri Lanka would do better with only four communities if they agree to approach problems with sanity of mind, words and deeds.
If India keeps away from engaging Sri Lanka, Pakistan and China are ready to fill the void. India needs to exert its pressure as the largest trading partner and also as the county that sends the highest numbers of visitors who boost the sagging tourist economy.
Dr. Paul Newman