Sri Lanka- India relations

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


1987: India-Sri Lanka Accord (ISLA)

From the archives of The Times of India


The India-Sri Lanka Accord (ISLA) was signed in 1987 by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Junius Jayawardene to end the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka peacefully.

India willy-nilly became the guarantor for the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) disarming the LTTE in lieu of Sri Lanka devolving power to the minority Tamils.

Invited by Sri Lanka,IPKF became the instrument for implementing ISLA.Two and a half years after the accord,with 1200 soldiers lost and nearly 2500 wounded,the IPKF was unceremoniously withdrawn with ISLA in tatters.Then Tamil Nadu CM M Karunanidhi renamed the IPKF as ITKF Indian Tamil Killing Force.That is the residual public perception of Indias first out-of-area military intervention and coercive diplomacy. Three years ago,with Indias passive and active help,Sri Lanka finally disarmed the LTTE through a comprehensive military defeat but the ethnic question,the rationale for ISLA and IPKF,remains unresolved.In a letter written to the author after the military victory,a serving Sri Lanka army commander wrote: The work started by you has been finished by us. Lt Gen Hamilton Wanasinghe,the Sri Lanka artillery (SLA) chief during the IPKF days,had earlier written in a letter that were India to leave us alone,Sri Lanka would sort out the LTTE. Not without its inherent shortcomings,especially with one hand tied at the back,the IPKF was made the scapegoat for the failure of Indias coercive diplomacy.

New Delhi's decision to intervene in Sri Lanka was triggered by overarching strategic reasons: the presence of foreign military and intelligence agencies inimical to India;domestic politics in Tamil Nadu;the dangerous internal security situation likely to arise in south India from the Sri Lankan army operations against the LTTE;and generally not mentioned deflecting attention from the Bofors scam. The ISLA ceremony in Colombo was marked by the assault on Gandhi by a Sri Lankan sailor of the Honour Guard.Dissent within the United National Party government over ISLA was suppressed.Both Jayewardene and LTTE supremo Prabhakaran were inveigled into accepting the accord,though some claim it was the other way round.India was drawn into a trap to do Colombos dirty work. The ISLA was signed in great haste with India becoming not only the signatory but also its guarantor.President Jayewardene was strangely nominated CinC of IPKF which was dispatched with equal haste,lack of preparedness and abysmal intelligence.The flawed assessment claimed that the LTTE would surrender their arms whereas it waged a wellplanned insurgency which completely surprised the IPKF. Lacking forethought,a clear mandate,proper contingency planning,a decisive chain of command and an exit policy,the IPKF arrived with much fanfare in Jaffna.

Absence of a political consensus and popular support at home were to compound its problems.For example,no one had factored in that friend LTTE would turn foe and that elections in both countries in 1989 would result in change of governments.Conscientous objector,Ranasinghe Premadasa became president and soon did a deal with Prabhakaran to evict the IPKF.As CinC,he ordered it to withdraw or face the SLA. Despite these enormous hurdles,IPKF did a commendable job: prevented Eelam and the breakup of Sri Lanka,with India underwriting its sovereignty and territorial integrity;restored the democratic process and institutions in the Tamil north and east,illustrated by holding of three elections;maintained the merger of the north and east through ISLA enabled the 13th amendment and formation of the northeast provincial council which gave Tamils the first taste of self governance.And,most of all,while IPKF weakened the LTTE,it allowed the SLA to defeat the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna urban insurgency in the south.

The month-long conventional battle of Jaffna and the 20-month short counter-insurgency campaign produced tactical lessons for the Indian Army,especially from LTTEs brilliant use of IEDs which were responsible for 70% of IPKF casualties.The Indian government blundered over its political calculations on time and resources required to alter the behaviour of the LTTE.Lack of a cohesive policy at the apex level and inadequate coordination at the operational level robbed the IPKF of greater success in its mission.Unfortunately,the lessons of the expeditionary campaign,like previous military encounters,lie buried in government closets.

Protesting Buddhist monks outside the Indian high commission in Colombo have demonstrated Lankas prescient India policy: after the deal with Prabhakaran in 1989,their placards read IPKF go back;following the catastrophic defeat of SLA at Elephant Pass in 2000 it was IPKF come back.And during the military rout of the LTTE in 2009,IPKF stay out.Still,Sri Lanka has constructed a memorial to the IPKF in the heart of Colombo.India not doing the same is the ultimate ignominy for the IPKF.

Fishermen issue

November 2016: Joint Working Group

The Hindu, November 6, 2016

India, Sri Lanka set up Joint Working Group to address fishermen issue

India and Sri Lanka have agreed to set up a Joint Working Group on Fisheries (JWG) and a hotline between their Coast Guards to address the long-standing issue of fishermen from Tamil Nadu being arrested, the External Affairs Ministry said.

The decision, taken during talks between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in New Delhi, came three days after fishermen of both countries failed to reach an agreement on ending fishing in Sri Lankan waters by Indian fishermen.

Regular meetings planned

“The [Foreign] Ministers exchanged views on possible mechanisms to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen issues,” a statement issued here said. It was also decided that the JWG would meet every three months while the Ministers of Fisheries on both sides would meet every six months beginning January 2017 along with Coast Guard and Naval representatives to discuss the protracted issue.

However, the issue of their seized boats is unresolved, and has been an emotive issue in Tamil Nadu, with the State government writing to the Centre on several occasions to negotiate for their release.. “The issue of the release of detained fishing vessels will be discussed at the first JWG meeting,” the statement said.

Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Radha Mohan Singh, Sri Lankan Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera, as well Minister of State for Road Transport, Highways & Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan and Sri Lankan MP M.A. Sumanthiran participated in the discussions.

China- India- Sri Lanka relations

Sri Lanka dropped Chinese co., in favour of Indian co./ 2018

Sri Lanka dumps Chinese co ahead of its PM’s India trip, October 19, 2018: The Times of India

₹3,580Cr Contract To Build Houses Will Now Go To Indian Firm

Sri Lanka has reversed a decision to award a $300million (approximately Rs 2,211 crore) housing deal to China in favour of a joint venture with an Indian company, the government said, ahead of a visit by the prime minister to its South Asian neighbour.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will meet his counterpart PM Narendra Modi on Saturday in New Delhi for talks. The two countries have long-standing ties, partly because of cultural and ethnic links with Tamils, many of whom live in the island’s north and east.

In April, state-run China Railway Beijing Engineering Group Co Ltd had won a tender worth over $300 million to build 40,000 houses in Jaffna, with China’s Exim bank to provide funding. But the project was halted after residents demanded brick houses, saying they preferred their traditional type of dwelling instead of the concrete structures the Chinese firm had planned.

On Wednesday, government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the cabinet had approved a new proposal for 28,000 houses worth Rs 3,580 crore ($210 million) to be built by Indian firm ND Enterprises and two Sri Lankan firms in the north and east. The planned homes are part of a total requirement of 65,000, he added.

“The rest of the houses will be given to firms which are ready to build them at lower prices,” Senaratne said, adding that China could also be considered in future for the remaining housing projects.

In Beijing on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a news briefing China’s cooperation with Sri Lanka was derived from consultations on an equal footing and he hoped that cooperation would be viewed objectively.

India has built 44,000 houses in the country in the first phase of reconstruction after a 26-year-war with Tamil Tiger rebels, and plans to rebuild Palaly airport and Kankesanthurai harbour, both damaged in the conflict.

Moreover, Sirisena’s election as Sri Lanka president had also been seen as a “gain” for India because of the overt tilt of his predecessor and rival, Mahinda Rajapaksa, towards China.


2019: Chennai flight to Jaffna

Ayyappan V, Chennai flight marks Jaffna historic day, October 18, 2019: The Times of India


After redeveloping Jaffna international airport, Sri Lanka is looking at further collaboration with India, especially South India, to develop the northern province.

Sri Lanka President M Sirisena inaugurated the airport, which was redeveloped at Rs 1,950 million (Sri Lankan rupee) of which India funded Rs 300 million (Sri Lankan rupee). An Alliance Air flight from Chennai touched down on Thursday to mark the commencing of commercial operations at the airport after a gap of 40years following the LTTE-led civil war in the island nation.

At the inauguration Sri Lanka PM Ranil Wickremesinghe said that India-Sri Lanka collaboration has potential for economic development of the Jaffna region. “India has shown willingness to develop Jaffna and funds were given. India has invested Sri Lankan Rs 300 million to develop Jaffna airport. Fastest growing region in Indian Ocean will be South Asia. We should settle all issues by internal discussions and should not go to war that will lead to disappearance of South Asian miracle.”

Northern province governor Suren Raghavan said the development of Jaffna airport was a step to improve an area that was in tatters once. Hinting about the significance of Alliance Air flight landing at the airport on its day of inauguration, he said, “This is not a mere opening of an airport but to rebuild relations with international destinations. Now, it is easy to go to Chennai than to go to Colombo and then fly to Chennai.”

However, he pointed out the need to hand over land to around 2,000 families staying near Jaffna airport. “They are still like refugees and are yet to get their land back.”

High commissioner of India to Sri Lanka Taranjit Singh Sandhu said that bilateral ties between India and Sri Lanka have now truly touched the sky! “The inaugural flight was yet another example of India’s commitment to continue with people-oriented development projects in Sri Lanka. It was also a reflection of the shared commitment to further strengthen people-topeople ties between India and Sri Lanka which lies at the heart of the bilateral ties.”

(This correspondent was in Jaffna at the invitation of Alliance Air)

2019: Rajapaksas’ pro-China legacy a cause for concern in India?

Sachin Parashar, November 18, 2019: The Times of India

With Nepal Tilting Towards Beijing And A Hostile Pak, SL Results May Add To Regional Challenges For Delhi

PM Narendra Modi was among the first to congratulate Sri Lanka’s controversial military strongman and leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa after he emerged victorious in the presidential polls defeating his nearest rival Sajith Premadasa, who was considered favourably inclined towards India, by over 13 lakh votes. Modi said on Twitter that he looked forward to working closely with Gotabaya, brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, for deepening the “close and fraternal ties between our two countries and citizens, and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region’’.

Gotabaya, who secured over 52% of votes, thanked Modi and the Indian people in response, as he said the two nations were bound by history and common beliefs and that he looked forward to working together on development and security. Gotabaya also accepted Modi’s invite to visit India.

This show of goodwill, however, masked serious concerns in India about Gotabaya, who is seen as a pro-China leader, not least because of his brother Mahinda’s China-centric economic and security policies when he was president.

Sri Lanka was among the countries where China’s so-called debt trap diplomacy played out first and many believe this was mostly because of Mahinda, whose election as president in 2005 coincided with China’s growing role in Sri Lanka’s infrastructure sector. Beijing’s “no-strings overseas aid and loans’’ to Mahinda saw China replacing Japan in no time as the largest donor to the nation. While the majority group, Sinhalese, voted overwhelmingly in favour of Gotabaya, he remains a despised figure among the minorities like Tamils and Muslims. The former defence secretary is credited with having ended the civil war in the country by brutalising and eliminating Tamil separatists.

As strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney said, with a pro-China communist government in Nepal, an implacably hostile Pakistan and the Rajapaksa family back in power in Sri Lanka, India faces daunting regional challenges.

“The pro-China Gotabaya’s ascendancy to power in Sri Lanka more than counterbalances the earlier ouster in the Maldives of a Beijing-backed autocrat, Yameen. Sri Lanka straddles vital sea lanes and is central to India’s maritime security,’’ he said. While there’s still the feeling that Sri Lanka, given its geography and economic dependence, cannot turn its back on India, it’s a fact that the Rajapaksas’ return to power is good news for Beijing. “This development could further erode India’s once-dominant influence in Sri Lanka,’’ Chellaney added.

To be sure, India wasn’t entirely unprepared for this. The government had been sending feelers to the Rajapaksas for over a year to dispel the notion that it was hostile to them. These efforts led to Modi hosting Mahinda here in September last year and again meeting him during his visit to Sri Lanka in June. Before that though, in an interview to an Indian publication in 2018, Gotabaya accused the Modi government of raising issues without having proper understanding. He had also said Sri Lankans felt there was “unnecessary influence’’ by India in his country’s internal affairs.

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