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If you follow the news on Sri Lanka lately, you will know the march madness is in full swing.
There is a lot of optimism among the Tamils for a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) against Sri Lanka at the March UNHCR session. This is so because of the increased activity from the US and the involvement of the UK. In contrast, only pedantic statements for reconciliation and political solution are released out of India.
The theatrics behind the March session would just be that. The end result may yet again disappoint the Tamils. Sri Lanka’s confidence in its willingness to face the resolution isn’t just bluster. It also sees this, in a strange way, as a net positive in domestic matters.
Internationally, Sri Lanka’s first line of defense has been India (Delhi and south block). The second line of defense is the security council with the help of China and Russia. Dayan Jeyatileka has been bloating about the UN victory and has detailed how the early initiatives against Sri Lanka were checked both by India and the Security Council in 2009. India campaigned for and then voted with Sri Lanka in 2009, and in the consequent resolutions India significantly watered down the resolution language and made it nothing but a tool for the NPC election. Using TNA leadership and the NPC, India is eager to tie the political solution to the 13 Amendment ( 13A) only. And continue to push the 13A both as a leverage against Sri lanka and also as a hedge against further internationalisation of the conflict.
India made the decision to support 13A as the only solution as far back as 2007 as Dr.Destradi’s work shows. And India worked hard to get UN out of Nepal and succeeded. Sri Lanka continues to resist 13A knowing full well that it will have to eventually capitulate. But Sri Lanka hopes that the longer it can maintain the current status-quo, the more it becomes the entrenched reality in the International mind. And it also hopes that “accept the reality” mind set can be further reinforced by components of a Genocidal agenda on the ground.
Additional time and space given by the international players to Sri Lanka has increased its strategic maneuverability. This, in turn, has limited America’s strategic options.
At the UNHRC, the US is worried about two things.
a) A split vote that does not have the overwhelming support of the council and the resolution being seen as a western interference limiting America’s future initiatives in the region. Sri Lanka has been successfully framing this as the return of the colonialism.
b) Losing its leverage on Sri lanka if it gets a resolution, mandating a UN COI, to pass in March. After that, US will have to seek direct and unilateral alternatives.
The question then is, would the US expend its political capital to push through a resolution against Sri lanka at this time?
The US finds itself at this juncture because of the 4 year delay in getting to such a resolution. A COI few years ago would have given the US more options. A COI now is too late to affect the kind of outcomes that the US desires in Sri Lanka: generating an accommodative ( to the West) attitude in the sri lankan regime or effecting an “organic” regime change all together. The US will have to resort to sanctions as a next step fairly quickly. This is where the America finds itself in a predicament.
A UN COI would help the Rajapakses win an early 2015 election ensuring the regime’s longevity. In fact, indications are that the government sees the uncompromising behaviour being an election benefit with the Sinhalese. Sinhala people are now presented with a new enemy. And an “organic” uprising is not in the horizon and from the US perspective a UN COI alone ,without a strong follow up, will stop the possibility of a uprising.
But a unilateral sanction by the US will feed the narrative as regional hegemonism. Though this precedent was set in Burma. And more importantly, there is no strong opposition in Sri Lanka to make a stable transition. A combination of UNP, Chandrika, and TNA alliance and economic pressure are the obvious venues. What adds to the American worries is the closeness of the TNA leadership to Delhi.
Where will India be on regional issues as well as on its “partnership” with America post 2014 elections is still unknown.
With a strong China and Russia support at the security council and with a vague Indian position, US could indeed suffer a shut out from Sri lanka. Any stronger actions by America would only help India move closer to Sri Lanka and vice versa at the expense of American objectives. In the case of Burma,India and America’s good cop, bad cop routine worked to ultimately undo the military junta.
But will India and America reenact the same play in Sri Lanka or are their objectives diverging?
India suspects that US is trying to create multiple power centers with in India and in India’s backyard. US won’t do anything overtly that brings instability to the region since that will do more harm. But the American gaze has been towards Tamil Nadu as one such potential power center.
With in the Indian union, the call for meaningful political devolution ( NOT a call for separation ) will first come from Tamil Nadu. This, often, is driven by the socio economic growth not by the linguistic or ethnic ideology . (Readers would be wise to see Clinton’s visit, the growth of American direct investment into TN, the American consulate support , etc in this larger context)
American persistence over resolutions against Sri Lanka, exposes India as a reluctant partner to a stronger UN initiative against Sri lanka. Sets the narrative that India is brought to the table only because of the Tamil Nadu factor and not because of genuine Indian leadership over Human Rights. Delhi also plays along with the same narrative to Sri Lanka to placate it.
But would the US push through the resolution if India choose to sit on the fence?
During the peace talks, Erik Solheim and others thought that as long as India was kept informed, everything will be okay. This proved to be wrong. Sri Lanka’s belligerent stand at the end of the war was reinforced by the direct Indian support. By the end of 2007, India had hijacked the turn of events at that opportune time.
This could possible be played out again at the UN this year where India hijacks the Sri lankan agenda in the context of post resolution. Sri Lanka bringing up IPKF atrocities in a possible UN probe is a desperate attempt to prevent India announcing its support for a UN COI early. A belated Indian support to the resolution, as it was before, is still a win for Sri Lanka.
Tamil Nadu activists have chosen to protest against the American resolution because it does not include charges of Genocide. While that is reasonable request, protesting it misses the tree for the wood. Tamil Nadu’s immediate focus should be in getting Delhi to take a public position within the next few weeks. Letting Delhi wait until the voting time, is a strategic mistake by the Tamil Nadu brethren. Tamil Nadu activists should first mobilize towards getting Delhi to openly support an International Investigation mechanism. Without that, protesting the resolution for what it does not include is premature and above all not prudent. It only helps Delhi’s agenda of deflection.