MonitorsPublished on Sep 11, 2010
Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's tour of the war-ravaged areas in the North and East of Sri Lanka has come as a perceptible first step towards the Indian Government repairing relations with the Tamil community in the island-nation.
Sri Lanka: India reaches out to the Tamils
< class="heading1">Analysis

Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao's tour of the war-ravaged areas in the North and East of Sri Lanka has come as a perceptible first step towards the Indian Government repairing relations with the Tamil community in the island-nation. In doing so, the Indian Government ensured that it did not hurt the Sinhala-dominated sensitivities of the Sri Lankan State, reiterating that all Indian aid for the affected Tamils in Sri Lanka would continue to be channeled through the Sri Lankan Government even as it worked towards finding a lasting political solution to the long drawn-out ethnic issue in the southern neighbourhood.

The Foreign Secretary's message to the Tamil community was simple, straight and from the heart of India: "Do not harp on the past, but think about the future generations." In calling upon the Tamils to work towards rebuilding their lives and livelihood as much as their homes, hospitals and educational institutions, the Foreign Secretary promised them all help in the matter. Even on relatively minor issues such as India bringing in its own men to work on the reconstruction projects funded by India, the Foreign Secretary clarified that workers would be recruited, locally. It went without saying that many of them may have to be trained and equipped, where needed, compared to the trained labour force that India could draw upon from within the country, to complete reconstruction work without compromising on time-lines and quality. Incidentally, the Indian approach meant that the internally-displaced Tamil people in Sri Lanka would have an interim/intermittent job opportunity and consequent earning-capacity even as they contributed to the reconstruction of the infrastructure that would help rebuild their own lives, almost from the scratch.

Strategic Diversion

Incidentally, the Indian commitment on the labour front also contrasted with the continuing Chinese practice of bringing in thousands of its own men to work on the projects funded and executed by them in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere. In the India-Sri Lanka context, the 'Chinese angle' is an inevitable contributing factor to, and fallout of, bilateral relations. The Foreign Secretary's commitment -- denying local media reports ahead of her visit that 20,000 Indian workers would be sent to construction sites - thus did not go unnoticed. Incidentally, Sri Lankan critics of India on this score did not have any complaints about China 'importing' its labour to larger work-sites all across the country. Nor do they seem to remember that India has been housing over 75,000 Tamil refugees of the ethnic war, all of them Sri Lankan citizens, for three long decades, not to forget the Indian Government taking back hundreds of thousands of 'Stateless people of Indian origin' from the Upcountry areas, decades earlier. At the peak of the ethnic crisis, there were 250,000 refugees in the Indian camps in the Eighties.

There is however a need for the post-war Sri Lankan Tamil polity to study the nuances in international relations, and not continue with the old belief of seeking to exploit Indian sensitivities to non-regional players seeking a foothold in the island-nation. In the earlier years, it was the US. Now, it is China. For India, its concerns over the presence of non-regional players in the immediate neighbourhood will always remain a matter of strategic concern. Sri Lanka is no exception. New Delhi, however, does not confuse this with its legitimate interest in the welfare and well-being of the Tamil-speaking community in Sri Lanka. Nor does it collude with the Government in Colombo on the ethnic issue, owing to such pressures. These are stand-alone issues of immediate and long-term concerns for India. As a matured and responsible democracy, where internal political pressures and equations based on neighbourhood developments are inevitable, India has always handled these issues differently and distinctly. The Tamil polity and society should learn to view it that way, if they have to make a mark, as distinct from the attitude and approach of the LTTE and the pre-war leadership of the moderate Tamil polity in the country. It is also true of the Sri Lankan Government and the majority Sinhala polity, particularly the hard-line sections.

More than Symbolic

The Foreign Secretary went to Sri Lanka this time as the 'Special Envoy' of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to assess the ongoing rehabilitation and reconstruction work for the IDPs that have been funded by India. Ms. Nirupama Rao was also to discuss related issues with the local people and the Tamil polity, apart from discussing rehabilitation and reconciliation with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. At one stage, the visit, flowing from a publicised suggestion from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi to Prime Minister Singh, was expected to be symbolic at best, as if to silence the domestic critics of the Government of India, the ruling Congress leadership of Sonia Gandhi at the Centre and the DMK State Government and its leadership. The choice of the Foreign Secretary herself as the "senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs" as the Special Envoy promised by the Prime Minister, showed the seriousness with which the Government of India approached the entire issue - going beyond the purported electoral interests of the DMK-Congress alliance in Tamil Nadu.

According to a press release issued by the Sri Lankan President's office, the Indian Foreign Secretary expressed satisfaction over the ongoing works. Indications are that the Foreign Secretary also impressed upon the Sri Lankan President the Indian position on a negotiated settlement to the ethnic issue, also involving various sections of the Tamil-speaking polity in Sri Lanka. This time, such observations were based on the personal knowledge of the Foreign Secretary, the first senior official from India other than successive High Commissioners in Colombo, to visit the Tamil areas in the North and the East after the three long decades of war. Rao's earlier and relatively recent stint as the High Commissioner, and her consequent familiarity with the place, people and problems, and also access to leaderships at the governmental and non-governmental levels, gave it a personal touch. When she spoke, she spoke with the authority of someone who knew contemporary Sri Lanka well - and as also the Foreign Secretary, whose sane advice the Governments in New Delhi and Chennai respected, and that in Colombo listened with care.

All this does not mean that New Delhi has been able to re-build the old bridges with the Tamil-speaking community in Sri Lanka, which drank on anti-India sentiments during the closing months of 'Eelam War IV', when the losing LTTE sought to paint the leaderships in New Delhi and Chennai as the villain of the piece. Residual feelings of the kind got reflected during Rao's visit when a senior politician in Jaffna listed out what many among the local Tamils still considered as uncharitable acts on India's side. "India's actions did not come from purity of heart," a local Tamil political leader told Rao at her open exchanges with the local people after visiting some of the IDP camps and reconstruction sites. Unfazed, the Foreign Secretary urged the local people to overcome the past and think about the future. India, she said, would be with them in all their efforts to rebuild their lives. She also listened with attention what was being said in all her interactions with various Tamil groups and leaders, including federal Ministers Douglas Devananda and Arumugan Thondaman, leading political delegations of their own, and Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillaiyan, apart from a delegation of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which has 14 members in the 225-seat Sri Lankan Parliament.

Last year's visit of 10 Indian Members of Parliament from Tamil Nadu to the IDP camps began a process of India's reconciliation with the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. The wounds from the war and continuing attacks on the Indian political leadership at Delhi and Chennai were still raw. Yet, the visiting team could make an impression on the local population that India and Tamil Nadu still cared. A year down the line, the Foreign Secretary's visit has come at a time when things have relatively settled down in post-war Sri Lanka and old emotions have begun giving place to the unacknowledged acceptance of new realities. As President Rajapaksa reportedly told the Indian Foreign Secretary, more and more Indian industries are looking at investment options in his country. India should encourage them to invest in the Tamil areas, not for any other reason than encouraging reconstruction of the war-ravaged areas and ensuring employment for the locals, whose ethno-political claims and demands had once depended on the relatively high educational standards and consequent employability of the Tamil community. Stymied by stake-holders

For India to help post-war Sri Lanka, particularly the Tamil community, they both should help themselves. Experience has shown how India was stymied by the various stake-holders in Sri Lanka, from working out a realistic political package. Given a fair chance, it could have ended the ethnic war early on but would have also ensured the kind of growth and development that President Rajapaksa has now promised and the destroyed Tamil community is yearning for. Yet, be it on rehabilitation or reconstruction, political solution or overall development, all stake-holders in Sri Lanka need to remember the maxim that 'Rome was not build in a day.' The friendly neighbour that it is to Sri Lanka as a whole and concerned mother to the Tamils in the country as they themselves continue to portray, India will always be there to give them all a helping hand at every turn and with every thing that they require. It would still be for the stake-holders in Sri Lanka to decide how and how well they want to reconstruct their nation, polity, and their own lives and livelihood.

This message of care and concern, coupled with non-interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, seems to stand conveyed with this visit of Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao. It will continue to be reiterated from the Indian side in particular with every exchange on the bilateral front, starting with the scheduled October visit of External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to that country, preceded by one by his counterpart, G L Peiris to New Delhi, also during the same month. The exchanges also include upcoming visits to Sri Lanka by the Indian Army and Air Force chiefs, and also the Defence Secretary. Shared strategic interests and revisiting some of the mutual concerns that the ethnic war pushed under the carpet during the past decades, are areas needing special attention. They are also areas where certain irritants need to be removed, apart from the ethnic issue and economic ties, where too solutions to existing problems cannot be allowed to drag on for long. But to confuse India's strategic concerns and priorities with its legitimate care for the Tamil-speaking people in that country, with the latter also claiming at times that New Delhi would 'sell us out' in favour of a better defence deal (?) with Colombo, is only a travesty of the truth. It is also unworkable beyond a point, given the complexity of the current global composition and compulsions. India understands it better than anyone else.

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter

< class="heading1">Country Reports

Sri Lanka
< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Parliament passes 18th Amendment

The Sri Lankan Parliament passed the controversial Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, with 161 members voting in favour and 17 against in a House of 225 members. Most members of the official Opposition UNP staged a walkout from the House even as it began a day-long debate, protesting against what the party dubbed as the 'undemocratic act' of the Government. Six of the 14 members from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the third largest party in Parliament, were not in the country while the party's lone Sinhala member, Piyasena, voted with the Government.

The new amendment seeks to remove the two-term bar on the Executive President. It also seeks to remove some of the so-called anomalies introduced by the Seventeenth Amendment, and seeks to replace the non-functional 10-member Constitution Council with a five-member Parliamentary Advisory Committee, including the Speaker, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, for appointments to independent commissions under the Constitution. It also confers all administrative powers pertaining to high-level police appointments on the President.

The Opposition claims that 18-A seeks to facilitate further concentration of powers in the office of the Executive President and aims at perpetuating dynastic rule under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, 18-A has already passed judicial scrutiny after the President sought the 'advisory opinion' of the Supreme Court, which has cleared the draft Bill as legal and constitutional.
Source: Daily Mirror, Colombo, September 9, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Opposition split again

By obtaining 161 votes for 18-A when the ruling combine had only 144 members in Parliament, the ruling SLFP-UPFA combine has proved that the political Opposition alliance was divided and was capable of being split as parties and individuals. Among the 17 additional votes that the Bill obtained, 16 were those who had contested the parliamentary polls on the 'Elephant' symbol of the main Opposition UNP. A lone member belonged to the TNA.

The 'UNP deserters' included all eight members of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and two lone members who crossed over earlier, representing two separate parties of 'Indian Origin Tamils' (IOT). With this, all Muslim and Upcountry Tamil parties are now on the side of the Government, accounting for a total of 33 of the 46 Tamil-speaking members, including the 'TNA deserter' with a Sinhala background.

With six more desertions from the UNP proper, there is now a further revolt in the party with 25 of the 43 remaining MPs seeking an urgent meeting of the parliamentary group to discuss the future course. With party Leader cum Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe, former Prime Minister, putting off the requisitioned meeting to another day, the 25-member batch in which there are known 'Ranil loyalists' has threatened to sit as an independent group in Parliament, if quick action is not initiated on intra-party chances to make it vibrant.
Source: The Island, Colombo, September 10, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt. to strengthen money-laundering laws

In line with the international community's call for enacting stricter laws to counter terrorist-funding, Bangladesh is preparing to amend its existing laws on money- laundering. The Government is hopeful that it will be able to amend all related laws by June next year.

According to Finance Minister A M A Muhith, redesigning the exiting laws was necessary to upgrade it to the international standards, and to inform the global community, accordingly. In this regard, Bangladesh is planning to take the help of the Asian Group, working on issues of money-laundering at the international-level.

The current initiative comes in the wake of the Minister's August announcement in which he said that the Government would be amending the Anti-Money Laundering Act and the Anti-Terrorism Financing Act, to conform to international standards.
Source:, September 8, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">$ 800-m credit from China

To strengthen its relationship with Bangladesh, China will be providing US $ 800 m credit to the country. The funds will be utilised to implement two projects -- the establishment of a new fertiliser plant and the introduction of 3-G telephony. Chinese companies will be involved in the two projects.

China is extending this credit at two per cent interest and 20-year repayment schedule, a five-year grace period and 0.2 per cent each in the form of commitment and management charges.

Bangladesh had sought Chinese assistance for the projects during the Beijing visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier this year.
Source: The Bangladesh Today, September 9, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Maoists' China fiasco

A leaked audio-tape believed to be a conversation between Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and a high-ranking Chinese official has embarrassed both sides and questioned the integrity of the former and the intentions of the latter. In the tape, the Maoist leader was seeking Nepalese Rs. 500 million from China for buying up votes of parliamentarians belonging to other parties in the ongoing election of the Prime Minister.

The tape was first telecast by a private TV news channel based in New Delhi. The tape has two rounds of conversation. In the first part, Mahara says that he needed money to buy law-makers. In the second round, he says that about Rs. 500 million was required to 'buy' 50 law-makers. The two also talk about the possible places to meet. The veracity of the tape has not been established. Nothing is also known about who the Chinese official in the tape was or when the conversation took place. In another incident involving Maoists, reports said that some members of their militia, People's Liberation Army, were involved in a robbery committed in three houses in Nawalparasi district. Deteriorating finances of the PLA cadres was said to be among the reasons for committing the robbery. Police have also recovered arms from them.
Source:, September 8, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">No prime minister, yet

The seventh round of prime ministerial elections held on September 8 too has failed to find a winner. The two candidates, one belonging to the Maoists and other belonging to the Nepali Congress, failed to secure the required two-thirds majority in the Constituent Assembly. The neutrality of the Communist Party of Nepal-UML and the indecisiveness of the Madhesi parties are among the reasons for the inability of the Constituent Assembly to elect a prime minister.

This time round, one of the main constituent of the Madhes-based alliance, namely, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal (MJF-N), had indicated its decision to support Marxist prime ministerial candidate, Prachanda. It was forced to change its mind after an alliance partner, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik (MJF-L), failed to show up in the Constituent Assembly, leading to a paucity of numbers. Reports said that the MJF-L members were locked up on the premises of the Constituent Assembly.

The eighth round of the elections will be held on September 26 which, analysts think, will be decisive. The CPN-UML is currently reviewing its neutrality, and any decision by the second largest party in the Constituent Assembly could lead to the election of a prime minister, and consequent stability at the political level.
Source:, September 8, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Govt-Opposition talks

Government representatives and delegates from the main Opposition, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), have revived talks, this time to determine constituencies for local governance ahead of the upcoming island and atoll council elections.

Home Minister Mohamed Shihab, Housing Minister Mohamed Aslam, State Minister for Home Affairs, Ahmed Shafeeq, State Minister for Fisheries Dr Hussein Rasheed Hassan and Director-General at the Home Ministry Ahmed Shareef Nafees represented the government in the talks.

The Opposition delegation included DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef, Hanimaadhoo MP Mohamed Mujthaz, Galolhu-South MP Ahmed Mahloof and Thulusdhoo MP Rozaina Adam.
Source: Dhivehi Observer, Male, 8 September 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">India asked to lead development of regional countries

President Mohamed Nasheed has urged the regional super-power India to "drag" neighbouring countries in its development efforts. Otherwise, it would give rise to "resentment" in the region, he said in an interview.

"With newly-found wealth in India with its development, I think it is very important for India to drag other countries in the region in its development efforts," President Nasheed said.

"Otherwise it will give rise to resentment and lot of regional issue, if India becomes suddenly rich and others in the region find themselves not eating," he warned.
Source: Asian Tribune, 8 September 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">SC concern over Amendment on judges appointments

The Supreme Court has expressed concern over Article 175-A to the Pakistan Constitution, on the new procedure for appointment of superior court judges under the Eighteenth Amendment. The two-tier system provides for nominations by a seven-judge Judicial Commission, headed by the Chief Justice and approval by an eight-member parliamentary committee, before submission to the President for effecting the appointments. The legal community claims that the judicial panel was being made a subordinate to a parliamentary committee comprising politicians.

Under the old system, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would make the appointments in consultation with the Prime Minister. A series of Supreme Court judgments in the Nineties diluted the role of the Prime Minister in the selection process.

Should the Supreme Court order the disbandment of the parliamentary committee, it could lead to a confrontation between the two pillars of the Constitution, with the Executive getting caught in-between.
Source: Dawn, September 5, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Blasts targeting police forces

At least 20 people were killed and 90 injured when a remote-controlled bomb went off at a police colony in Kohat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa .In another incident, an improvised explosive device (IED) went off, killing a policeman and injuring two others in the same province. Intelligence failures have been indicated as the reason for the inability to prevent such strikes.

The Interior Ministry has said that the Government would step up the offensive against banned Balochistan-based militant outfits and freeze their accounts and assets. The outfits include Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The Government statement came after a bomb attack on a Shia procession, killing more than 100 persons in Quetta, Balochistan, last week.
Source: Dawn September 8, 2010

< class="heading12boldGeorgia">Economy unstable; IMF conditions for aid release

The Special Pakistan Delegation's meeting with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded in the US, with the IMF attaching four pre-conditions for releasing the last tranche of $ 2.6-billion in a total standby commitment of $ 11.3 billion.

Despite this, Finance Minister Hafeez Shaikh's warning of economic instability has gained ground as estimated flood-inflicted economic damage outweighed the international aid and assistance by a considerable margin.

Government-spending continues to be almost double the revenue generated, with rising inflation and long-term fears of debt-servicing, leading to drying up of investments in infrastructure and development. The armed forces have not reduced spending, citing anti-terror operations as the reason.

The proposed restructuring of public enterprises is yet to take place, and the Government has been unable to meet the pre-floods pre-conditions set by the IMF. These include inability to reign in the fiscal deficit, lack of progress on energy reforms and introduction of general sales tax.
Source: Dawn, September 7, 2010

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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