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Will Indo-America game plan that succeeded in Myanmar fail in Sri Lanka?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( February 19, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) All indications are that the Rajapaksa Government is not overly worried about the next resolution to be presented at the UNHRC sessions scheduled to be held in March in Geneva. Having faced two such resolutions in 2012 and 2013, and coming off with practically no serious damage, the government seems to take it in its stride without showing too much concern.

In 2012, when the first resolution was brought against Sri Lanka, the Rajapaksa Government was stung to the quick and was on tenterhooks, as never before, anticipating the worst consequences. However, when the resolution was passed and none of the anticipated, worst-possible scenarios came about, the government gradually got over its fears of a crunch situation arising in the wake of the resolution. It happened because of India's intervention during last stage of the resolution with its instigator, the United States of America (USA), insisting that its contents should be toned down. The US and its sponsors obliged, to the relief of the government. By the time the 2013 resolution came up in Geneva, the Rajapaksa Government was in a complacent mood as it had come through the previous one unscathed, so to speak. India again performed its role as expected, ensuring that nothing untoward would happen, to the relief of the Sri Lankan Government.

Indian stance taken for granted

With this favourable past experience in so far as the Geneva UNHRC sessions are concerned, the Rajapaksa Government has presumably taken the Indian stance on this matter for granted. That is to say that in 2014 as well, India will bail out Sri Lanka without letting it face an international war crimes investigation.

On taking a closer look at the US-India strategy in respect of the UNHRC resolutions against Sri Lanka, it becomes apparent that they had used it successfully in Myanmar. In other words, they were adopting a carrot and stick strategy; the US using the stick, and India, the carrot. It was extremely successful in that country.

On the US' prodding, India had got close to Myanmar under the junta rule. When that country was put under pressure by economic sanctions imposed by the US, India came to its help, wielding the carrot and stick approach which had been pre-planned by both countries. They were careful not to antagonize China which had a considerable stake in Myanmar's economy. Ultimately, their game plan succeeded with the result that the military junta in Myanmar withdrew from the government power structure, and held democratic elections to establish a civil administration. Aung San Suki was released from house arrest and was allowed to contest elections. All the while China had remained silent as the foregoing activities did not interfere with its interests in that country.

Plan going awry

Though the US and India are applying the same strategy in relation to Sri Lanka, for all intents and purposes, it is not working according to their plan. The Rajapaksa Government appears not to be entrapped in this net, and there is a good reason for this. India is not agreeable to an outsider like the US interfering in a country in its sphere of influence in South Asia. A good example is the US' intervention to promote attempts by the international community to enforce a ceasefire during the last stages of the war, ostensibly to ensure the safety of the civilians. Another incident which clearly highlights India's reluctance to let the US get a foothold in its sphere of influence is the Maldives cancelling a proposed military pact with the US. The Maldives Government rejected the military pact openly declaring that it would affect their good relations with India. The media reported it as follows.

Maldives rejects military pact with US
By Staff Writers

The Maldives had decided not to take part in a proposed military cooperation pact with the United States over fears that it could upset the regional power, India, senior officials said Wednesday.

Speaking on a visit to Sri Lanka, the atoll nation's new President, Abdulla Yameen, said he did not want to proceed with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have given the US a foothold in his archipelago located across the main east-west sea route.

"There have been discussions before... we are not going to pursue it," he told reporters in Colombo during his second overseas visit since winning elections two months ago.

The US had confirmed discussions on the accord early last year, but had said it had no intention of setting up any bases in the Maldives.

Although the President gave no reason for the decision, Mohamed Shareef, a Minister in Yameen's office, said it had been made over fears that the pact would upset its neighbours, including India.

"We have told them that we can't do it because both India and Sri Lanka are also not happy with it," Shareef said, without giving further details.

Shareef said the proposed SOFA would have given the US Military access to two atolls in the nation of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered some 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator.

He noted that the US military already had a considerable presence in Diego Garcia, a British territory, about 700 kilometres (437 miles) south of the Maldivian archipelago.

India is the regional super power and is highly sensitive to outside presence in the Indian Ocean area. It has also been recently involved in a diplomatic bust-up with the US over the treatment of one of its diplomats in New York.

Yameen's first foreign visit after his election was to New Delhi.

On his visit to Colombo, the President also said he was keen to resolve an ongoing commercial dispute with an Indian infrastructure company, GMR, which was kicked out of managing the Male Airport in December 2012.

"We want to discuss with GMR and settle the issue outside arbitration," Yameen said, referring to an ongoing case in Singapore where GMR is demanding millions of dollars in compensation after being evicted from the US$ 500 million investment.

India getting cold feet

President Rajapaksa is well aware of the Indian mindset. He has already started to make a play for getting the intended US resolution diluted through Indian influence. It is for this reason that the President's Secretary, Lalith Weeratunga, recently said that when it comes to investigation of war crimes, it should start with an investigation of war crimes committed by the IPKF during its military engagement in Sri Lanka.

There is another reason for India to get cold feet regarding war crime investigations. Its own record in the Kashmir war cannot stand public scrutiny.

Therefore, the Rajapaksas' know the 2014 UNHRC resolution will go the same way as it did in 2012 and 2013. President Rajapaksa, by winning next Presidential Election, has a good opportunity of getting India to neutralize US demands of war crime investigations.

However, if BJP wins the next parliamentary election in India, and Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu becomes key player in the power structure of the Central Government, the US will be sure to use her to give the stick to Sri Lanka, and no carrots any more. That would be a really trying time for the Rajapaksa Government.

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