With the end of ethnic conflict, India and Sri Lanka will revert to a more normal defence relationship. Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar will visit Colombo soon to get an idea of the issues to be taken up at the first annual defence dialogue between the two countries.
The institutional mechanism of a yearly defence dialogue was decided by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa during their summit meeting here in June. “It is time to look at greater comprehensive cooperation. In this context, we broadly discussed the areas which would be important to focus on in the annual defence dialogue. An earlier visit by the Defence Secretary would help to understand the issues. In the aftermath of the conflict, there is a need for a different defence relationship,” sources said after the high-level India-Sri Lanka talks on Thursday.
The sources denied that Sri Lanka had approached India for assistance in building the second phase of the Hamabantota port. China had undertaken the expansion and modernisation work in the first phase and is understood to have tied up with Sri Lanka for the second phase as well. And the third phase is not in sight, the sources said.
At the talks on Thursday, India was represented by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, while the Sri Lankan side included Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga, and Senior Advisor to the President Basil Rajapaksa, who is also in charge of rehabilitation efforts in the war-affected parts of Sri Lanka.
India was cautious in its defence ties with Sri Lanka while the conflict was on and had restricted military assistance to non-lethal aspects such as enhancing the Armed forces' maritime and aerial domain awareness. When Sri Lanka sought arms from other countries including Pakistan, New Delhi enabled Colombo to seal a $300 million armaments deal with its old ally, Moscow.
The sources pointed out that defence was one of the several issues at the table, most of which were a follow-up of decisions taken during Mr. Rajapaksa's recent visit. Both sides also discussed the problems facing fishermen, with the India pointing out that killings were unacceptable and that a way had to be found to eliminate this altogether. It was agreed to open channels of communication between fishermen from both countries to understand issues that have sparked violence on the high seas.
Having embarked on building railway infrastructure in Sri Lanka, India has signed most of the contracts and an Export and Import Bank team will shortly complete the arrangements for the $800 million credit for the purpose.
India has completed the hydrological survey of the Kankesanthurai port and will be sending a team to finalise the detailed project report. It is also finalising the tender documents for the modernisation of the Palaly airport.
Sri Lanka appreciated the ground covered by India in three months to construct 50,000 houses for the internally displaced people, with the pilot project for 1,000 houses set to take off.