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Presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Indo-Sri Lankan Dialogue. Indian International Centre, New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.

In writing many years ago about the Indo-Lankan Accord of 1987, the single most crucial element in bilateral relations since the independence of both countries, I made the following assessment –

The full text of the Accord, revealed only after it had been signed, indicated that in order to win peace Jayawardene had gone far down the road he had tried to avoid. It had already been let slip the previous week that the President would have discretion to postpone the referendum whereby the east could break free from the north if the union proved unsatisfactory. Apart from this and an agreement to appoint an interim administration for the area (which would allow immediate power to the terrorist groups), there was also an appendix to the Accord that, in dealing with Indo-Lankan relations as apart from the internal conflict, made clear that Sri Lanka had formally accepted Indian suzerainty over the region. 

In this appendix, which took the form of an exchange of letters of intent, Jayawardene agreed to ‘reach an early understanding about the relevance and employment of foreign military and intelligence personnel’, that ‘Trincomalee or any other ports in Sri Lanka will not be available for military use by any country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interests’, that ‘the work of restoring and operating the Trincomalee oil tank farm will be undertaken as a joint venture between India and Sri Lanka’ and that ‘Sri Lanka’s agreements with foreign broadcasting organizations will be reviewed to ensure that any facilities set up by them in Sri Lanka are used solely as public broadcasting facilities and not for any military or intelligence purposes’.

Perhaps there had been little gain to the country from Jayawardene’s manoeuvres over the past few years and the letters of intent did no more than enunciate what should have from the start been accepted as a cornerstone of any realistic foreign policy for a small country situated so helplessly at the tip of India.  Yet that this should have been set down in writing was indeed a triumph for Gandhi.[i]

In an earlier version of this analysis, I had noted the type of manoeuvre Jayewardene had engaged in, viz ‘with regard to the Voice of America, Israeli agents, Pakistani military training, and the shadowy companies that had been chosen for the tank farm concession’[ii]. I had argued before that Jayawardene’s efforts to present himself as a knight on the side of the West in what turned out to be the dying years of the Cold War were potentially disastrous for Sri Lanka. So it proved, and in getting this reversed India engaged in a programme that sadly provided terrorist groups with support that facilitated their development into dangerous entities.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2010
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