India’s decision to abstain from voting on the U.S.-backed resolution in Geneva has evoked mixed response in Sri Lanka.
It caused surprise and a measure of disappointment, leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) R. Sampanthan said. “Nevertheless India must have good reasons for its decisions and we look forward to discussing that with India in due course,” he told The Hindu on Thursday.
However the TNA, he said, was very satisfied and happy that the resolution was passed. If this resolution was properly implemented, it would pave way for genuine reconciliation and permanent peace in Sri Lanka, he added.
The resolution itself may not have made everyone in Colombo as happy, but in terms of India’s decision, some such as former diplomat Dayan Jeyatilleka are clearly happy. “This is excellent diplomacy,” observed the foreign policy commentator, who was Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. in Geneva from 2007-09.
India, he said, had gone way too far from its position of support to Sri Lanka in 2009 to its voting pattern in the last two Human Rights Council sessions, where it backed the U.S.-sponsored resolution.
Over the last couple of years, bilateral ties between the two countries have witnessed several ups and downs. New Delhi was pleased with the holding of the Northern Provincial Council elections but trade relations witnessed a setback, particularly with Sri Lanka virtually shelving the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
In an apparent reference to the New Delhi-Tamil Nadu equation, which in Sri Lanka is perceived as having been crucial to India’s engagement with its neighbour, Mr. Jeyatilleka said: “It took courage for India to not allow passions running high at the periphery dictate foreign policy.” India, he said, had pressed the “reset” button for a renewed role in pushing for political reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
India while defending its decision to abstain argued against the “intrusive” nature of the resolution, said it was concerned that the resolution had the potential to hinder the efforts of the country rather than contribute constructively to its efforts, and “inadvertently complicate the situation.”
However, Sri Lanka watchers seem to think that the international pressure and subsequent intervention is of significance.
Rajesh Venugopal, Assistant Professor, London School of Economics & Political Science said since the end of the war in 2009, the Sri Lankan government had ample opportunity to advance the process of reconciliation, accountability, and political resolution. “It just refused to do so, and is under no domestic political compulsion to do so because they have such a total command of that terrain. Consequently, domestic political opponents who find it impossible to challenge the Rajapaksas at home or pressure them to do anything are being drawn inexorably to seek external allies to tilt the balance,” he told The Hindu, in an e-mail interview.
While the balance of power was weighted heavily towards the Rajapaksas at home, he said the reality in Geneva was completely opposite, where Sri Lanka came under pressure from the U.S. and European states, as well as from international human rights organisations and Tamil diaspora activists.
All the same , he felt concerned about what he terms the “hollowing out of the middle ground.”
Observing that the gulf between both sides was widening, he said: “Those moderates that might be expected to compromise and bring the Tamil community to negotiate a permanent resolution, if one were ever on offer, are finding their position increasingly vulnerable and weak.”