Review: India-Sri Lanka Track-II Initiative

27 Feb, 2013    ·   3827

Prof. V. Suryanarayan discusses the importance of the recent dialogue for the countries' bilateral relations

Recently, the Manipal Global Education of India and the Pathfinder Foundation of Sri Lanka took the initiative to form a joint study group and organize an informal dialogue to explore the ways and means of strengthening bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka. The report of the joint study group was recently submitted to the National Security Advisor and the Foreign Secretary of the Government of India and Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka.

The members of the joint study group comprised of Amb. Bernard Goonetilleke, Amb. Nihal Rodrigo, Amb H.M.G.S.Palihakkara, Amb. Dr. Vethody Kumaran Valsan, Dr. Rohan Perera and Dr. Inderjit Coomaraswamy from Sri Lanka, and Amb. A. Gopinathan, Sri Vijay Singh (former Union Defence Secretary), General Deepak Kapoor (former Chief of the Army), Shri Hormis Tharakan and Prof. V. Suryanarayan from India.

The Indian team was appreciative of the fact that due to asymmetry in size, population, economic resources and military strength, it is natural for small neighbours like Sri Lanka to entertain misgivings about New Delhi’s intentions and capabilities. The report of the study group has recommended “a structured, systematic and continuous dialogue based on mutual respect and sovereign equality between the two governments, so as to deal with issues that arise from time to time and remove any potential irritants”.

The report has covered various facets of India-Sri Lanka relations – political and strategic issues, strengthening economic linkages, people-to-people contacts and the establishment of a joint mechanism for the management of marine resources in the Palk Bay. While it may not satisfy the extremist elements in either country, if the recommendations are implemented sincerely and expeditiously, it would go a long way towards laying the foundations of lasting friendship.

Recommending all political parties, including minority and opposition groups, “to re-position themselves in relation to the post-LTTE realities”, the report urges that, “they should commit themselves to effective devolution through provinces down to grassroots level. They should keep in mind past experiences, without necessarily being constrained by them…They should initiate a structured dialogue and arrive at a political consensus on the ethnic issue”. It goes on to state that the impact of ethnic issues in bilateral relations must be addressed sensitively and that it is important to give effect to bilateral understandings and commitments in this regard.

The Indian team was conscious that the ethnic issue, then, has domestic ramifications. The inordinate delay in holding the elections to the northern provincial council and reneging on the solemn commitments made to New Delhi on the implementation of the 13th amendment has resulted in ugly situations in Tamil Nadu. The demand that officers from the Sri Lankan armed forces should not be given training in defence establishments, attack on innocent pilgrims visiting places of religious worship and opposition to the participation of Sri Lankan delegates in the international conferences – all these are testaments as to how vested interests could exploit the situation for  their own ends.

On the issue of travails of fishermen in the Palk Bay region, the report has suggested the establishment of a two-tier joint mechanism for the conservation and sustainable management of fisheries and marine resources in the Palk Bay area. Annexure I of the report provides details of the joint mechanism. In order to minimize delays and expedite decision making, the first tier will consist of representatives of two governments. The second tier will be more broad-based. In addition to government representatives, fishermen’s associations and specialists in marine ecology and other stake holders will be represented. The Indian team argued that the ongoing dialogue among the fishermen of two countries should be encouraged, because a solution from below has greater chances of success than one imposed by Colombo and New Delhi.

The report has proposed a road map for enhancing economic co-operation between the two countries. The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in Colombo and the Research Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in New Delhi should update and expand the RIS-Wider study and “provide a comprehensive projection of bilateral economic relations in their multifarious dimension over the next two decades”. It has also made specific suggestions for enhancing people-to-people cooperation, including measures such as visas on arrival, enhancing and streamlining the award of scholarships, encouraging the two-way traffic of artists and creative personnel and the greater flow of media representatives.

The study group has called upon the two governments to pay immediate attention to implementing the recommendations contained in the report. The Indian team was of the firm view that the need of the hour is ethnic reconciliation and, as a first step, the positive recommendations of the LLRC should be implemented. Ethnic harmony would provide the backdrop for enhancing economic co-operation and people-to-people contacts. The traditionally close friendship between the peoples of the two countries can be strengthened only if a new political system, where multiple identities can co-exist harmoniously, can be built in Sri Lanka.