Indo - Sri Lankan Relations : Post Pokhran-II An Indian Perspective

06 Apr, 1999    ·   182

Zarein Ahmed points out that "national interests and economic interests are the two main factors behind India's continuing and unchanged relations with Sri Lanka"

Twenty four hours after India conducted a series of nuclear tests, Sri Lanka expressed concern over missile and nuclear testing in the region. A Foreign Ministry release on May 14, stated that " Sri Lanka notes with deep concern the missile and nuclear tests which have occurred recently in the South Asian region. Sri Lanka continues to reiterate the position it has maintained on such testings. Sri Lanka believes that the entire international community should continue its efforts to achieve global nuclear disarmament leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons without which peace and international security will continue to be in constant jeopardy." Later the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, and his Deputy, Lakshman Kriella, defended India 's right to conduct the tests.



Sri Lanka is the first country which came out openly in favour of India. It maintains that India has not violated any international law as it was not signatory to either the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. According to Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka was not opposed to India going nuclear, and the nuclear bloc need not be confined to the Big Five. And that economic sanctions need not be imposed on countries conducting tests. The Deputy Foreign Minister stressed that the tests would not affect Sri Lanka-India relations . This was despite growing critcism by the superpowers and sanctions issued by the United States . He further stated :" As far as we are concerned, we have other priorities with India . I concede that tensions in the region have increased because of India 's actions but I still feel India has a right to do what it wants with regards to its own security." Why did Sri Lanka took such a position when all along it has been demanding a  nuclear free South Asia ? What were the motivations behind Sri Lanka ’s open support?



Reasons for Sri Lanka 's support to Indian Nuclear Tests: The Sri Lankan government adopted a nonchalant view due to the following reasons. First, it was apprehensive about the reactions of the Bharatiya Janata Party government in India . Open critcism of the tests, it feared could drive the BJP to help the LTTE to intensify its movement.  The present Foreign Minister Mr.George Fernandes' assocaiation with the LTTE and his support to them has been a cause of concern to Colombo even before the BJP assumed office. However it was a little reassuring for Sri Lanka when the the Information and Broadcasting Minister Ms. Sushma Swaraj stated that the ' BJP would not support the LTTE on any account. But some vestigial doubts remain in Sri Lankan minds because Mr. Fernandes is the Defence Minister of India The Sri Lankan Government therefore chose not to antagonise the BJP government.



The second reason behind the Sri Lankan stand is based upon its economic and trade interests at global level. India was backing Sri Lanka in its bid to become a member of the G-15 at the Cairo summit convened on May 10 last year. In fact, the members of the G-15 agreed to admit Sri Lanka partly due to India 's efforts, because Columbia 's request for membership has been refered to the next summit.



Thirdly, Sri Lanka ’s economic interests in the South Asian region and the huge Indian market. Sri Lanka has been arguing for the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreeement (SAPTA) and the South Asian Free Trade Area, as it would boost its exports to other South Asian Countries and increase foreign investment in Sri Lanka . When the Indo-Lanka Free Trade Agreement was signed later on December 28,1998, it was hailed as a landmark agreement which would cement bilateral relations between the two countries, and also serve as a trend setter for regional cooperation in South Asia .



Thus  national interests and economic interests are the two main factors behind Sri Lanka ’s continuing and unchanged relations with India .