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Ban Ki-moon Should Reject the Report of the Panel on Sri Lanka and Restore Confidence in the UN

An analysis of notices published by the UN Panel of Experts (POE) calling for submissions and email correspondence this writer has had wit...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

India shoots itself in the foot with vote against Sri Lanka in Geneva

The recent vote on Sri Lanka at the nineteenth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) saw India isolate itself and make a hurried statement that appeared to be an apology for its foreign policy.
The US sponsored resolution was passed with 24 countries voting for, 15 voting against and 8 abstentions. India voted with the US in support of the resolution.

India a pioneer of of non-alignment
India's Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru with other world leaders who pioneered the non-aligned movement (Photo courtsey: www.sukarnoyears.com)
It was in the 1950s that India’s then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru promoted the policy of non-alignment. The policy was the outcome of the increasing polarisation of the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In fact, the term non-alignment was coined by Nehru in a speech in Colombo in 1954.
Since its inception and the first meeting of the Heads of State of the non-aligned countries in 1961 India has strongly argued for a policy of non-alignment even in the post-cold-war era.
Therefore, many not just in Sri Lanka but around the world were surprised, when Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh recently told the Indian Parliament that India was likely to vote against Sri Lanka and in favour of the US sponsored resolution which sought to force Sri Lanka to act according to the dictates of the United States and other powerful western countries that dominate the United Nations system to force Sri Lanka to act on the recommendations of the indigenously implemented mechanism of the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’.
India’s stand in Geneva is all the more intriguing since it was only on February 28 that India launched a report written under the auspices of both the National Defence College and the Centre for Policy Research outlining a strategy for non-alignment in the 21st century.
India had ball-by-ball description of progress of operation against LTTE
Sri Lanka's Minister Basil Rajapaksa and India's Pranab Mukerjee at a meeting on bilateral matters (Photo courtesy: www.amila-kumanayake.blogspot.com)

The vote naturally angered Sri Lanka. India despite its history of having trained and armed the LTTE on its soil had been an ally over the past several years. Sri Lanka and India had stood together over the final years of the conflict with consultations at the highest levels as frequently as weekly at certain stages. It was not uncommon for senior ministers of the Sri Lanka government to fly to New Delhi with only a day’s notice to brief the Indian government on the progress on the ground. Similarly Indian Ministers and senior officials would fly over to Colombo and meet even President Mahinda Rajapaksa even if he was away in Kandy. The leaders would also converse regularly on the telephone.

Vote against Sri Lanka has angered Indians
India’s volte-face also drew much flak from within the country. Many including well-known journalists took to twitter condemning the Indian government for its stance and warning of the dangers ahead. Kanchan Gupta, Writer, Journalist and Associate Editor of The Pioneer was one such who used twitter to drive home a strong message. On March 19, he tweeted, “A vote against Sri Lanka at UNHRC is, ultimately, a vote against India's national interest. Tragic to see Indians pushing for it.”
He was even more forceful in a column titled, ‘Helping ‘realise’ Tamil Eelam’, where he said,
“It’s akin to the Government of India endorsing separatism in Jammu & Kashmir and standing by those individuals and organisations in Pakistan who fuel and promote this separatism. If that is unacceptable to us, then there is no reason why we should not find Karunanidhi’s ‘unrealised dream’ and Manmohan Singh abusing his executive authority to help realise that dream odious and objectionable.”
Another of @KanchanGupta’s tweets gave a hint of what has been india’s long-standing policy in dealing with Sri Lanka. @dhume01 I think it was Bandung. Nehru summoned Bandaranaike, asked him to show his speech, set it aside and told him he would redraft it.”
It was India’s Big Brother policy; India would do as it wanted with small Sri Lanka.
Having nurtured the LTTE’s armed terrorism India was sadly jolted from its complacency when the monster struck with ferocious intensity killing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with a human bomb. India began to change its policy towards Sri Lanka but not before helping nurture the seed of separatism in Tamilnadu, no doubt to the delight of western nations who replaced colonial authoritarianism with democracy. Democracy as we have seen is a more pliable mechanism that western nations have used to change regimes at will and exploit the resources that rightfully belong to the citizens of that country.
 Sri Lanka not amused by India’s alignment with US
Sri Lanka was not amused with India’s stand at the UNHRC. President Mahinda Rajapakse has said human rights are a part of Sri Lankan history and that Sri Lankans have been protecting human rights since the introduction of Buddhism to the country. External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris in a statement following the vote said,
“It is a matter of great satisfaction to us that 15 countries voted with Sri Lanka, despite the intensity of pressure, in a variety of forms, exerted on them all.  We convey to them our warm thanks and deep appreciation.
We also thank sincerely the 8 countries which, by abstaining, declined to support the Resolution.
With 15 countries voting with Sri Lanka, and 8 countries abstaining, the final result was that 23 countries, out of a total of 47 members of the Human Rights Council, did not support the Resolution, while 24 supported it. The margin was as narrow as this.”
The statement added,
“This is a highly selective and arbitrary process not governed by objective norms or criteria of any kind.  The implications of this were not lost on many countries.
As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, our policy in respect of all matters will continue to be guided by the vital interests and wellbeing of the people of our country.  It hardly requires emphasis that this cannot yield place to any other consideration.”
That was obviously why Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to placate Sri Lanka and wrote a letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The resolution united Sri Lankans not only within the country but outside as well in their outrage against the foreign interference. Singh’s placatory letter is unlikely to impress the island’s 20 million inhabitants who have begun to enjoy the benefits of peace. Three decades of bitter conflict cannot easily be erased from memory and any attempt to drive a wedge in the country’s social fabric under the pretext of safeguarding human rights is unlikely to succeed. Many would however admit to the necessity for improvements in law and order; an endeavour already underway that needs acceleration.
 Vote scares small countries
India stood out as the only country in Asia to have voted against Sri Lanka. The implications are enormous. It has effectively abrogated its role as the superpower in South Asia. By aligning itself with the west India has alienated itself and departed from the long-held policy of non-alignment. In the future, neighbors and small countries will both step warily around India unless and until it is seen to demonstrate a firm foreign policy that balances national interests with regional and global realities. Smaller countries in the Indian Ocean region which looked up to India would in particular need to be reassured that India respects the principles of sovereignty and security of countries. These assurances would have to be demonstrated practically at the bilateral and multi-lateral levels and not be limited only to pious pronouncements.
Has India again encouraged separatism in Sri Lanka?
The dangers are even greater. Sri Lanka has warned India that the vote in Geneva could be used as a precedent to bring a similar resolution on Kashmir. It was more than conjecture that entities in western countries if not the countries themselves aided the LTTE and the call for a separate state in Sri Lanka. The efforts of western nations to save LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran appear to reinforce the view that western countries wished to encourage a separate state in Sri Lanka.
Democracy as a tool for ‘regime change’
Recent events in India tend to give more perspective on the rationale for such a policy. However, to understand the implications for India and the region, it is necessary to briefly view the reasons for the end of the ‘cold war’ and events in its aftermath. The cold war ended only with the dismantling of the Soviet Union and its allies such as Yugoslavia. Gradually western capitalism has eroded the social fabric in these countries replacing the authoritarian communist governments with ones where power resides with a wealthy elite and corruption is rampant.
More recently, Iraq was invaded under the protection of UN resolutions on the basis the country possessed weapons of mass destruction, a claim that has since been disproved. The ‘Arab Spring’ began in Tunisia where despite the optimism many are still frustrated well over a year after the revolution. Egypt which was stable despite the lack of democracy is now in continuous turmoil with religious intolerance a major issue. Libya is still an unknown melting pot. More recently a coup was staged in Mali. Interestingly, one of the coup leaders has said that he received training from the US Marines and Intelligence. Some of these events have had direct intervention by western countries led by the US or NATO or both under the protective umbrella of UN resolutions. In many of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolts speculation has been rife that western countries have been catalysing democracy by encouraging, training and even arming ‘dissidents’. Critics including Russia have accused the west of meddling in Syria.
In this context it is interesting to note US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks at the opening of the Anna Centenary Library in Chennai in July 2011. She said, “President Obama made a state visit to India last year. I have been here twice in the last two years. And why, one might ask? Why are we coming to India so often and welcoming Indian officials to Washington as well? It’s because we understand that much of the history of the 21st century will be written in Asia, and that much of the future of Asia will be shaped by decisions not only of the Indian Government in New Delhi, but of governments across India, and perhaps, most importantly, by the 1.3 billion people who live in this country.”
India part of US Global Strategy
President Barack Obama of the United States and Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in a warm embrace. (Photo courtesy: www.rediff.com)
 India as the world’s largest democracy is already a global superpower. Unlike China, its Asian neighbour which compares easily and even exceeds on population and land mass, India has 28 democratically elected state governments with defined state borders. India’s more than one billion population is a ready market for goods whether from the west or the east. During a time of economic recession the west is undoubtedly keen to harness this great resource.
Addressing the US – India Strategic Dialogue Secretary Clinton said, “Each of our countries can do more to reduce barriers, open our markets, and find new opportunities for economic partnership.  Taking these steps is in our mutual interest.  We can improve millions of lives and increase both of our nations’ economic competitiveness.”
Speaking at the opening of the Anna Centenary Library in Chennai, she went on to stress the global superpower’s reliance on India as a market. “Well, speaking for the United States, I can tell you that we are, in fact, betting on India’s future. We are betting that the opening of India’s markets to the world will produce a more prosperous India and a more prosperous South Asia. It will also spill over into Central Asia and beyond into the Asia Pacific region.”
“There is no better place to discuss India’s leadership in the region to its east than here in Chennai. In this port city, looking out at the Bay of Bengal and beyond to the nations of East and Southeast Asia, we are easily reminded of India’s historic role in the wider region.” Clinton used the opportunity to strike a chord with Tamilnadu’s population sympathetic to their brethren in Sri Lanka, “Here in Chennai, we can see how much a society can achieve when all citizens fully are participating in the political and economic life of their country. Every citizen of Sri Lanka deserves the same hope and opportunity for a better future,” she said to applause from the audience in Chennai.
Scope of Tamil Separatism
Map showing Tamilnadu in South India and proposed state of Tamil Eelam in the north and east of Sri Lanka (Courtesy: www.en.wikipedia.org)
A separate state in Sri Lanka as envisaged by the LTTE and its supporters would have afforded the western countries unfettered access to the coveted Trincomalee port – the world’s largest natural harbour as well as two-thirds of the country’s coastline together with some of the most valuable natural resources. More importantly it would have hastened the break-up of India with each of the states becoming an independent country. It is quite likely that this ‘Indian Spring’ would have begun in Tamilnadu where even now leading politicians are promoting a separate state in Sri Lanka. Tamil nationalism in India has been discussed elsewhere in greater detail by Dr. Dayan Jayatillleka. The idea is well illustrated in the map on the Facebook page titled, Tamil nadu separatism.
A separate Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka and another in Tamilnadu would have opened a contiguous area of sea that would have been open for the west to exploit. Today the sea-routes between east and west pass very close to the coast across Sri Lanka’s territorial waters. Western countries could also be eyeing Sri Lanka as a potential spacecraft launch pad being very close to the equator and having sufficient sea area in the event of an aborted flight or for the jettisoning of used stages of rockets. 
Pain of Partition a reason for India to remain united
India's partition was a traumatic experience for both Indians and Pakistanis (Photo courtesy: www.johnbatchelorshow.com)
A united India has so far not shown itself as a military threat to any other country. Any break will be more painful than the partition of India when even desks and chairs were reported to have been broken into a third and shipped to Pakistan. (This was reported in a detailed report in the Readers’ Digest many years ago.) It would prove to be a lucrative market for a short period till conflicts between states begin to create huge complications as landlocked states depend on access through others. India needs to remain united both for its own and for global stability.
By isolating itself from other countries that wished away any assault on their sovereignty, India has shot itself in the foot. On an occasion when even strong allies of the United States saw the dangers and decided to vote against the resolution, India has not only hurt Sri Lanka, its closest neighbour with whom it shares even the Ramayana, but left itself wide open and vulnerable. END.
(Follow the writer on twitter: @Panhinda)

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In Words

Loved and mentored by parents with values and discipline and a passion for good English; guided by teachers who wouldn't spare the rod to ensure excellence; copywriter; on-line journalist; editor-in-chief; and at long last, giving into the passion; Freelance Writer.

Nurtured in advertising and PR from freelance copywriter to account director and agency head; engaged throughout to humanitarian work in NGOs including the Red Cross and the UNDP; and experienced in both public and private sectors.

Looking forward to a future of writing on diverse subjects; sharing knowledge and experience; enriching the lives of others; but most of all, acquiring more knowledge and using it to make the world a better place for all.

More of my writing:
* Fuelling the Peace Process * Concepts for decentralisation of government * PEACE: Is it still an elusive dream? * Interview with the late Major General Trond Furuhovde first Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission * How polar bears are affected by global warming * Red Cross takes lead in clean water for Sri Lanka flood victims * The poorest hardest hit by Sri Lanka floods *