Colombo is in no mood for lectures

India’s (and the world’s) priority should be to avert a humanitarian disaster

If the fate of the hapless Tamil civilians is the world’s principal consideration with regard to the war in Sri Lanka, then it stands to reason that that war itself must come to an end as soon as possible. It is unrealistic to expect Mahinda Rajapakse’s government to heed calls for pausing the military offensive—at a time when the Sri Lankan army believes it is close to a complete victory against the LTTE, and after the LTTE leadership rejected a call to surrender and decided to fight to the finish. Colombo, as James Traub writes in the New York Times, is in no mood for lectures.

Also, regardless of whether ethnic relations between the Sri Lankan Tamil minority and the Sinhala minority improve or worsen after the current phase of the war, the elimination of the uncompromising LTTE leadership cannot be a bad thing.

There are conflicting reports on how bad a situation the civilians find themselves in: absent independent reports, one has to choose between claims made by the two combatants. Even so, it is clear that Sri Lanka faces a massive humanitarian crisis in the coming days and months. Given the state of ethnic relations, it is reasonable to expect that the displaced Tamils will have misgivings about how they will be treated by the victorious Sri Lankan government in general, and by the Sri Lankan security forces in particular. These misgivings will be shared, perhaps amplified, among the Tamil population in India as indeed among the Tamil diaspora around the world.

The LTTE bears a moral responsibility for bringing the Sri Lankan Tamils into this humanitarian crisis. But only till the point that they come under the custody and protection of the Sri Lankan government. From that point on, the moral responsibility for their security, well-being and human rights rests with the Sri Lankan government. And it is incumbent on the Indian government to hold the Rajapakse government to account on this. One the one hand, India should demand greater transparency and access to the displaced civilian population and a fixed timetable for their return to their original homes. At the same time, India should offer financial, technical, logistical and military assistance to the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the humanitarian crisis does not turn into a humanitarian disaster. The immediate task for Indian foreign policy is to ensure that the Rajapakse government delivers on this.

Related Link: Colonel Hariharan’s answers to inconvenient questions.

12 thoughts on “Colombo is in no mood for lectures”

  1. nitin – “One the one hand, India should demand greater transparency and access to the displaced civilian population and a fixed timetable for their return to their original homes.”

    would india acquiesce to a similar demand from pakistan on kashmir?

  2. Trilok,

    Err you mean Pakistan will be concerned about the displaced Kashmiris? If Pakistan demands a fixed timetable for the return of Pandits to their homes I think it will be a good idea for India to acquiesce.

    But seriously, demands and acquiescence are functions of relative power and relationships…

  3. I don’t think the Sri Lankan government cares about Indian governments concerns. Immaturity is a 3rd world specialty.

  4. SL is showing why it — and not india — is the real superpower in the sub continent.

    India is right up there with the other basket cases of pakistan and bangladesh as a 3rd world banana republic.

  5. AG,

    You are wrong.

    The real superpower is Bhutan. SL is right down there with Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

  6. Er, sorry for quibbling. Yes, James Traub typically writes for the NYT, but this piece is from the Washington Post. You may want to edit that reference in the blogpost.

  7. nitin – no, i mean the pakistanis could feign concern for the thousands of kashmiri muslims living on the other side of the loc who, they claim, are refugees, fleeing indian security forces.

    and, while india may very well be more powerful on paper, it’s pakistan which has been attacking india with impunity, for the last twenty years now, without facing an iota of retaliation.

  8. @ Sid and AG
    SL is showing why it — and not india — is the real superpower in the sub continent.

    Not sure if you are serious. If a foreign government continued to support LTTE to this day, things would’ve been very different – not that I support LTTE. That there are not many Tamils in SL’s south and west also helped SL.

    I don’t know enough to comment on what India has been doing about Islamist terrorism. At least public domain sources don’t give me too much confidence…

    @trilok
    would india acquiesce to a similar demand from pakistan on kashmir?

    For the sake of argument, let me accept your implicit linking of the Tamil issue and Kashmiri separatism. If you believe in realism, a consistent stand on these issues is a matter of convenience rather than a necessity. As Nitin says, our demanding SL is very different from Pak demanding us…

  9. photonman – allow me a different point: if we are going to stand up for sri lankan tamils today, won’t we be obliged to stand up for indo-fijians or indo-caribbeans, tomorrow?

    p.s. when mahendra chaudhry, fiji’s prime minister, of haryanavi extraction, was overthrown in a 2000 coup, several haryana politicians lobbied, unsuccessfully, the indian prime minister to dispatch the navy to show the fijians who is boss.

  10. @trilok
    won’t we be obliged to stand up for indo-fijians or indo-caribbeans, tomorrow?

    Good point. As I said, it makes sense to support them if the nation’s interests would be served. IMO it’s not so. No offense, but as of today, these communities are too small/too weak – compared to SL Tamils – to be of interest to the government. The Mahendra Chaudhry example you cite corroborates this point.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the public display of Indian interest in SL Tamils has been to some extent spurred by elections in Tamil Nadu.

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