India will not see any need to take the issue of alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka to an international forum if Sri Lanka properly addresses the core issues relating to the North and East, according to BJP ideologue Seshadri Chari.
Commenting on a range of issues relating to Indo-Lanka relations Dr. Chari in an email interview with the ‘Sunday Times’ said India and Sri Lanka could find a solution to the ‘vexed issue’ of war crimes allegations through bilateral efforts. Dr Chari who heads the Foreign Affairs Policy Cell of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in Colombo as part of a five member BJP delegation that has been invited by the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies (BCIS) to hold a discussion on “India under Modi – Relevance for the Region and the World.” The event takes place tomorrow at the BMICH. Other panelists are Dr Subramanian Swamy, Dr Suresh Prabhu, Dr Swapan Dasgupta and Prof. Madhav Nalapat. The interview appears below.
What are Modi government’s foreign policy priorities vis-à-vis Sri Lanka?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed his foreign policy priorities even as he took oath of office, by inviting the SAARC heads of States. In his meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Modi clearly laid out his policy of fruitful engagement with Sri Lanka on all aspects, trade, commerce, economic development and cultural exchanges. India considers Sri Lanka as an important ally in all facets relating to peace, progress and security in the region, especially in the Indian Ocean region.
How does the BJP view China’s role in the region, particularly China’s relationship with Sri Lanka?
China has been playing an important role in the region and at the same time strengthening the internal economic parameters. India and China can be partners in progress and also concurrently work in the region for their respective strategic space. Sri Lanka, like any other country in the region, is free to make use of the competitive edge and capabilities of China in building its infrastructure. New Delhi has reasons to believe that Colombo is mature enough to understand and respect India’s legitimate concerns about Sri Lanka-China relationship. Needless to say, the strength of India-Sri Lanka understanding and camaraderie is strong enough to withstand the challenges of time.
India abstained during the 2014 March vote in the UNHRC on the US-led resolution against Sri Lanka, and voted against Operative Para 10 that called for an international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka. During the recent meeting between External Affairs Ministers Sushma Swaraj and G.L. Pieris, Ms. Swaraj reportedly reiterated that India would uphold its objections to the UN probe. How will India project this position to the rest of the world, especially to western powers that led the resolution?
India’s position on the UNHRC resolution is in keeping with the assurances and affirmative actions by Colombo. If the political dispensation in Colombo is able to conduct in an impartial and sensible manner and address the core issues concerning the Northern and Eastern provinces, there may not arise an occasion to take this issue to any international forum. India and Sri Lanka can find an amicable solution to the vexed issue through bilateral efforts and by adopting a conciliatory and accommodative approach.
Some Tamil Nadu political parties have said they will protest to the central government regarding the position of opposing the UN probe. Will this affect the Government’s stance?
Democratic institution in India has commendable resilience to accommodate divergent views on national and international matters and happenings. Political parties in Tamil Nadu have strong opinion on the Tamil issue but they do realise and respect the jurisdiction of the Union Government on these subjects. The present government’s decisive mandate provides necessary ease in the conduct of Modi government’s foreign policy.
The Sri Lanka Government has just appointed a panel of foreign war crimes experts to advise the ‘Paranagama Commission’ that is currently carrying out investigations into disappearances and missing persons. With the appointment of the foreign experts, the commission’s mandate has been extended to inquire into deaths of civilians in the last stages of the war. From India’s point of view would this move by the Sri Lankan Government satisfy the call, supported by India, for Sri Lanka to conduct a domestic inquiry into human rights violations and alleged war crimes?
The appointment of the war crimes experts is a good decision which reveals the transparency and intentions of Colombo. Civilian deaths and missing persons are part of the collateral damage of the last stages of war against terrorism but needs to be explained and accounted for. There has always been a need to fix responsibility and accountability for crimes against humanity anywhere in the world. In the case of Sri Lanka, the moral responsibility of establishing the truth is even more pronounced.
What is the BJP’s assessment of Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process?
The BJP has always held that the LLRC has a greater role to play in the post war reconstruction of the country especially the Eastern and Northern provinces. The work done so far appears to be satisfactory. Though the direction seems to be correct, the pace of work needs to be faster and time bound. This will give credibility to the process and help in building confidence and reap peace dividend.
On the question of fisheries, both Indian and Sri Lankan governments have made recent goodwill gestures of releasing fishermen held in each other’s jails. In the negotiations on fisheries does India accept that both parties must respect the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)?
The ongoing negotiations on the contentious fishermen issue have shown marked improvement in the situation. The issue itself is the result of the residual effects of the pre-2009 events that needs to be resolved through talks rather than punitive measures. IMBL and UNCLOS are no doubt guiding principles but both countries may have to evolve a mutually acceptable strong and dynamic mechanism in keeping with ground realities.
Are Indo-Lanka relations on a more positive path with the election of the Narendra Modi?
During the election campaign Narendra Modi had emphasised on the need to evolve an independent foreign policy for India and add trade wings to India’s engagement with neighbours and other Asian countries. As Prime Minister he is shaping India’s foreign policy on the twin templates of principles and pragmatism. India-Sri Lanka relations have historical, cultural and economic components in more or less equal measure.
The Modi government is committed to improve on the existing relationship and give it a positive twist for long term mutual benefit.
(Seshadri Chari is the National Convener of the Foreign Affairs Policy Cell of the BJP. He was Editor of the English weekly ‘Organiser’ for 12 years and was Governance Consultant to the UN in South Sudan).