The Executive summary of the latest effusion from the International Crisis Group makes interesting reading. It is supposed to be about ‘India and Sri Lanka after the LTTE’, but is rather a clarion call to India to become a tool of the international maneuvering in which the ICG engages.

The essential Western bias of the ICG is apparent in its failure to understand the basic principles which govern India’s relationships with its neighbours. First and foremost India does not want its neighbours to be used by other countries as a tool against India. Second, India has now established itself as the leading country in South Asia and, while it obviously will work together with all countries that do not try to weaken it, it will not become a catspaw of those countries and those interests that succeeded for so long in depriving it of its legitimate place on the world stage. Thirdly – and this is I think the most important legacy of the long, principled struggle it engaged in to gain independence – it values democracy and diversity.

The first recommendation of the ICG is that ‘India needs to work more closely with the United States, the European Union and Japan’. I make no criticism of Japan, given that in the salient period it did not really have an independent foreign policy, and I understand too that the European Union did not have a monolithic foreign foreign policy at that stage, and the attitude of individual countries was not always unfavourable. But India is not likely to forget the concerted efforts of the West to keep it under control in the past, beginning with the cynical determination to ensure partition.

It is ironic that this was due, according to British papers at the time, to distrust of Hindu Socialists, whereas Muslims could be depended on to support Western interests loyally. The demonization of Pakistan now is yet another example of chickens coming home to roost, when cynical use of religion to achieve political ends – as with the Taleban in Afghanistan – leads to disastrous consequences, since obviously for many people religion will be an end in itself rather than the handmaiden of international politicking.

But it is precisely because India has suffered from this type of power play that it will never put all its eggs into one basket. While obviously it wants a stable – and unified – Sri Lanka, and while it will not want Sri Lanka to tilt in any other direction, and while it will necessarily have to ensure that internal difficulties do not spill over to its own shores, it will not blindly follow other dictates.

It saw what happened to both Pakistan and Sri Lanka when they took that path during the Cold War. The ICG blithely refers to India’s ‘history of counter-productive interventions in Sri Lanka’ without recording that its ‘misguided policy of arming Tamil militants in 1980s’ was largely because of worries about President Jayewardene’s efforts not just to ally himself, but indeed to sell the country, to interests implacably opposed in those days to India. The annexures to the Indo-Lankan Accord, which provide safeguards to India against foreign broadcasts and the giving out of Trincomalee to other countries makes clear its primary concerns.

It is true that India suffered as a result, in that as the ICG baldly puts it, ‘the LTTE fought them to a standstill and later took revenge by assassinating former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.’ But this was because, once it had got Sri Lanka to acknowledge that it should not be a tool of the West in international power politics, India stood firmly by the obligations it had incurred. It did so for two difficult decades, and even someone excessively critical of Indian action in the eighties, Prof Rohan Guneratne, declares emphatically that ‘Sri Lanka must remain grateful to India’ for what he terms its ‘non role in the final phase’.

I would go much further, and say that Indian support, based on a principled approach to terrorism as well as its own interests, ensured that our struggle was successful. That is why we too must have a similar sense of obligation and ensure, also because it is in our own interests, that we work towards a just settlement, which includes not just ‘economic opportunities as well as social rights’ to use the odious David Miliband’s phrase, but also political equity, security and dignity.

We must also make it clear that we will never engage in the adventurism of the eighties and attempt to play India off against other countries. China has made it clear that, while it welcomes good relations with Sri Lanka, it will not be a party to that sort of game. We must be grateful to China for making that position clear, unlike the West in the eighties, which seemed to lead President Jayewardene on, as happened with regard to Pakistan earlier on, and then let him down with a bang when India intervened. Of course it is possible that Jayewardene was led astray by his own delusions of grandeur, as Pakistan had been in thinking that the West would intervene with regard to Bangladesh, but we have no excuse for such delusions. Instead of trying to play games and falling into the trap some Western commentators are setting by suggesting that we are a bone of contention between India and China, we should use our good offices to promote understanding between them too, and see the present century as an opportunity for Asia as a whole, if it recognizes that this is a win-win situation, not a zero sum game.

That after all is what our traditional foreign policy was, in the days when we were taken seriously, when Mrs Bandaranaike led the Non-Aligned Movement. The world has obviously moved on since then, but we should see the disappearance of a bipolar world as an opportunity to develop a more creative vision of the world, free of the oppositions and othering endemic in Western philosophy. Rather, a world of concentric circles, in which obviously our interests our most important to ourselves, but where we address these in the light of the interests of our neighbours, moving outward but excluding no one, is the perspective we should encourage in the coming generations.

ICG on the contrary goes on with outdated perspectives and old shibboleths. Its patronizing approach to India, references to ‘its desire to counter the growing influence of China’ and its ‘traditional reluctance to work through multilateral bodies or in close coordination with other governments – due in part to its fear of international scrutiny of its own conflicts, particularly in Kashmir’ are capped by the claim that ‘it seeks recognition as a rising global power with hopes of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council’. If the ICG does not recognize that the one country which should unquestionably be included as a permanent member of the Security Council is India, and that this should have been realized in 1948, and perhaps would have been had it not been with Western adventurism with regard to Pakistan, it can hardly expect India to take it seriously.

Indeed, it seems to invite contempt by suggesting, as part of its efforts to place Sri Lanka in the dock and request Indian support for this, that India ‘should also work towards the establishment of a truth commission that would examine the injustices and crimes suffered by all communities, including those committed by all parties during the Indian army’s presence in northern Sri Lanka in the late 1980s.’

So the Indian army too needs to beat its breast, since ‘Acknowledging the suffering of all communities will be necessary for lasting peace’. This is not necessary it would seem in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan or anywhere where the funders of the ICG function. But India must take its place amongst the victims of Western righteousness on behalf of those they can claim they did not harm.

In short, in sitting in judgment on Sri Lanka, and inviting India to join them, the panjandrums of the ICG cannot help going back to the rhetoric of an earlier age, when the world had to be kept safe from Socialists Hindus.

Daily News 1 July 2011

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