- Pakistan Army released armaments from its own stocks to kill Tamils in Sri Lanka.
- Colombo was becoming the South Asian hub for drug trafficking, Mahinda Government chose to ignore the fact – for reasons best known to it
President Maithripala Sirisena embarks on his fourth official overseas voyage since assuming office in January, and that he has identified Pakistan to visit after India, Britain and China is a deserved recognition of a country that stood by Sri Lanka in its darkest hour in recent times.
The scheduled trip to Islamabad was earlier put off due to logistical reasons, but it is a healthy decision not to have overlooked a country that, through the entire duration of Sri Lanka’s northern insurgency, irrespective of who was in office in either of the two countries, was steadfast in its support for the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of this country.
There were times when the Pakistan Army was even asked to release armaments from its own stocks due to exigencies that had arisen in the armed conflict in this country.
Mid-level officers were trained in Pakistan’s Defence Academies from the nascent stages of the separatist insurgency till its extinction.
Pakistan would have had its strategic interests in offering that help, which country doesn’t, but one could affirm without fear of contradiction that the saying ‘a friend in need – is a friend indeed’ goes for it.
After the end of the northern insurgency, two issues have arisen — one is the influx of refugees fleeing Pakistan alleging religious persecution thereby using Sri Lanka as a stepping stone to secure asylum in other countries. The other is the nexus between the two countries in the heroin trade.
While the refugee issue is a manageable one, drug trafficking between the two countries is growing to massive proportions. It reached the then Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s Office. The previous Government chose to ignore the fact – for reasons best known to it, that Colombo was becoming the South Asian hub for drug trafficking.
Now, with the arrest in Pakistan of the Sri Lankan godfather of this multi-million dollar cartel, and his deportation to Colombo, the country awaits with bated breath, the outcome of the investigations thereto and the naming of the culprits involved.
Pakistan has had its ups and downs ever since her tumultuous creation as a sovereign state in 1947. The Kashmir issue has plagued its relations with India and its very existence. Democracy has fought running battles with military juntas; its Media and Judiciary have stood at the barricades of dictatorial rule on behalf of their citizenry.
The country is battling religious extremism, terrorism, and aerial bombardments by a third party fighting a proxy war on its soil. Yet though bedevilled with internal strife, through it all, Pakistan has stood by Sri Lanka. As the Bard said; Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried. Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.
Nuclear issue: Safety first
This week, the Ministry of Power and Energy launched a 10-year national generation plan with the ambitious aim of making Sri Lanka self-sufficient in electricity by 2030. One of the means by which this would be achieved is through increased focus on research and development.
Not surprisingly, then, a recent bilateral agreement signed between India and Sri Lanka on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy placed great emphasis on “the transfer and exchange of knowledge and expertise, the sharing of resources, capacity building, sharing of experience, and the training of personnel” in a range of areas.
The agreement will be implemented through a joint committee that will identify projects. There is no particular reference to power generation or nuclear reactors but Sri Lanka has indicated its interest in such sectors in the past. The Government previously entered into a bilateral agreement with ROSATOM, the same company that is supplying reactors to the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in South India. It is likely that a third agreement will be signed on President Maithripala Sirisena’s upcoming State visit to Pakistan.
Sri Lanka’s renewed focus on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy is a matter of great importance. Equally so, the need for public discussion on the subject and its failure to address serious trans-boundary safety issues arising, particularly, for the rapid increase in the nuclear reactor population in neighbouring India. These are not being pursued by either country because one-India-does not wish it.
But Sri Lanka must address the elephant in the room. No dialogue with India on nuclear energy can skirt around the possibility, however rare, of a serious accident occurring at a nuclear power plant across the Palk Strait. As our story on page 16 demonstrates, Sri Lanka would be well within its rights to insist on a dialogue on civil nuclear liabilities.
India maintains that international conventions provide sufficient cover in the event of a nuclear accident. This is disingenuous, to say the least. As pointed out by nuclear experts, the conventions named in the preamble of the Indo-Lanka agreement do not provide for compensation matters. And the conventions that deal with compensation are those that India is not a party to.
It has been argued that the possibility of a nuclear disaster across the Palk Strait is remote; and that, even if it does occur, the wind must blow southwards for radioactive matter to reach Sri Lanka. Officials say they have installed instruments to detect radiation. But no major contingency measures are in place.
Nobody had anticipated any of the world’s worst nuclear disasters. They happened at the most unexpected of times, due to factors scientists should have been able to forecast and guard against. They left even the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAAE) scratching its head.
The reality is that no nuclear power plant is foolproof. Accidents have happened and can happen again. Sri Lanka, currently engrossed with constitutional amendments and rapprochement with India, must look beyond diplomatic rhetoric and negotiate with India for the best possible outcome. India has no grounds to refuse.