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

The election of President Rajapakse in 2005 saw a regime that began with a perspective that its predecessors had wasted valuable time in acquiring. Though he continued with the Ceasefire Agreement and tried to negotiate with the LTTE, he also realized the importance of strengthening his defences, spurred as he also was by the blatant violations of the CFA by the Tigers in the first couple of months after he took office. Helped by having a Presidential Secretary and a Secretary of Defence who had no financial or family connections with arms dealers, an unusual state of affairs for Sri Lankan officials, he was able to build up a confident and disciplined military. So too, when the negotiations began, the Sri Lankan government had no illusions about the bad faith of the Tigers, and they could stick to principles without succumbing to Tiger threats or blandishments. Efforts by the Tigers to sweep the issue of child soldiers under the carpet for instance were resisted firmly.

This was the more difficult because the Tigers had used the follies of the Wickremesinghe years, and the slipshod approaches of the Kumaratunga period that followed, to enhance their standing with the so-called international community. The UN for example had poured money into Tigerland with no supervision of what was done with it, while a few Western nations hankered after the happy days of Wickremesinghe when they were allowed to call the shots. The United States, I should note, was an exception to this since, though under severe pressure from the Tiger led diaspora and international agencies that saw themselves as arbiters of the destiny of smaller nations – the smaller the better, for their proconsular purposes – they understood the need to stand firm against terrorism.

But even the United States had to speak with a characteristically Western forked tongue, and it was on its old friends in the Non-Aligned Movement, plus the former Socialist bloc, that Sri Lanka had to rely most heavily in this most momentous period in her recent history. India was foremost amongst these, and kept its position straight despite much more potentially significant pressures from politicians in Tamilnadu. The Indians made it clear that there should be no indulgence to the Tigers, but all efforts should be made to improve the position of the Tamils.

Since this was a perspective that Sri Lanka could understand – and which was indeed an obligation for Sri Lanka to adopt, given the treatment of the Tamils that had contributed to the intensity of Tamil emotions after 1983 – the Rajapakse government found it easy to work in coordination with India. The contribution India made then to the defeat of the Tigers was invaluable, and is not something Sri Lanka will forget. At the same time, given its problems about supplying arms, India did not stand in the way of acquisition of arms from elsewhere.

I would suggest indeed that the synergy that this process gave rise to would be a useful model for the future, as newly emerging economies strive to cooperate without falling into the trap of mutual hostility that would ultimately hold them all back. If I might be permitted a personal note, I have seen few sights as heartening as the polished understanding with which the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors worked together in Geneva to assist Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka in what was I think a turning point with regard to previous Western domination of moral discourse at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Our Ambassador had built up close ties with the groups I have mentioned above, with particular attention to the South Americans and the Africans, in addition to more traditional areas of support in Asia and amongst the Islamic nations. But his closest ties were with India and Pakistan, and he requested the ambassadors of those two countries to go with him into negotiations with the West. When he was inclined to compromise, he said, after a rapid exchange in a language no one else in the room understood – it was Urdu – his friends suggested he hold back.

It was that experience that convinced me that, with our own worst days I hope behind us, we should do more to strengthen SAARC and help to build confidence between India and Pakistan. Our commitment to both these countries is strong, as is our determination to defeat terrorism, which will be in the interests of stability for both countries. If there are elements in either which still believe rivalries between countries can justify working with forces that use terror, we with the bitter experiences we have gone through with the Tigers, as India has done too, should do all we can to change such mindsets – while also contributing to mechanisms that will strengthen economic and social cooperation so as to facilitate the South Asian region to take its deserved place as one of the more dynamic exponents of growth and development.

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  1. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – The International Context, Past and Present (Part 1) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  2. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Relations in the Past (Part 2) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  3. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Cooperation in the Current Context (Part 3) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  4. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Reconciliation and the Restoration of Confidence (Part 4) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
  5. Promoting Contacts, Preserving Confidence – Collaboration in Education and Training (Part 5) – New Delhi 21-22 October 2010.
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