India needs to push Sri Lanka harder towards steps that will avert a return to violent conflict on the island.
India and Sri Lanka after the LTTE , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines New Delhi’s ability to influence Colombo to make progress on a sustainable and equitable post-war settlement and limit the chances of another entrenched authoritarian and military-dominated government on its borders. India’s strong ties with the island, and its support to the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the war against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) which ended in May 2009, should in principle give it more leeway to push for reforms. New Delhi’s aspirations to play a global role, and pressure from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on the issue, are further incentives to act.
“India has long been the country with the greatest influence over Sri Lanka, but its policies to encourage the government there towards a meaningful peace are not working”, says Michael Shaikh, Crisis Group Senior Analyst for Asia. “Despite New Delhi’s engagement and unprecedented financial assistance, the Sri Lankan government has failed to make progress on pressing post-war challenges.”
New Delhi hesitates to push the Rajapaksa administration on governance issues and has resisted endorsing an international investigation into the atrocities committed during the last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which as many as 40,000 civilians were killed. Its caution is due in part to its history of counter-productive interventions in Sri Lanka in the 1980s as well as current strategic considerations, in particular its desire to counter the growing influence of China.
However, India should take a stronger stand by pressing Colombo to demilitarise the north and rebuild meaningful democratic institutions and freedoms, all while maintaining its useful support for negotiations underway between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil National Alliance. India should also help empower local political institutions in Sri Lanka’s north and east by deepening its partnerships with them, and should monitor more closely how its generous development funds are spent. Parties in Tamil Nadu will need to use their leverage with New Delhi in consistent and principled ways, even at the risk of sacrificing potentially profitable political deals.
India needs to reinforce its coordination with other international actors such as the United States, the European Union and Japan, who together can use their political and financial leverage to influence the Rajapaksa administration. India should also publicly acknowledge the importance and credibility of the April 2011 report by the UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts on accountability. That report found credible allegations of widespread war crimes committed by both Sri Lankan government and LTTE forces at the end of the civil war, and it called for an independent international investigation. Finally, India should revive its idea of a donors conference to review post-war progress and push the Sri Lankan government to improve its transparency and accountability.
“India’s longstanding interest in a peaceful and politically stable Sri Lanka is best served by strong messages to Colombo to end impunity and reverse the democratic decay that undermines the rights of all Sri Lankans”, says Alan Keenan, Crisis Group Senior Analyst and Sri Lanka Project Director. “Without significant demilitarisation of the north, decentralisation and a return to Sri Lankan traditions of political pluralism and vigorous political debate, the risk of renewed violence will increase”.