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Sri Lanka’s election results and their implications

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Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini & Mahitha Lingala*

The Sri Lankan election result, was closely observed, not just for its likely impact on domestic politics in Sri Lanka, but it’s impact on geopolitical dynamics in South Asia. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Former Defence Secretary, and brother of former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa,  won by a massive margin, defeating his opponent Sajith Premadasa (son of a former President who was assassinated in 1993). He was sworn in on Monday, November 18, 2019 as President.

While Rajapaksa, the candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Party) polled over52% of the vote, the runner up Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP)polled 42% of the votes. It is pertinent to note, that the UNP did much better in North Eastern districts of the South Asian country, which are dominated by Muslims and Tamils.

Analysts believe, that the triumph of the former Defense Secretary, is likely to result in Sri Lankamoving closer to China – as was the case during Mahindra Rajapaksa’s term (which ended in 2015, Rajapaksa lost to Maithripali Sirisena, the latter had served in Rajapaksa’s government but in  2014 he decided to part ways and was the Presidential candidate of the opposition).There is a belief however, that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, may not veer as much towards China, as his brother given the changing ground realities.

Sri Lanka’s tilt towards China during Mahindra Rajapaksa’s tenure

During Mahindra Rajakapsa’s tenure, Sri Lanka took a turn towards China, much to the chagrin of India. While one of the reasons cited for the same, was China’s economic prowess, and ability to deliver fast on key infrastructure politics. It would be pertinent to point out, that there was an equally, if not more important reasons for the Former President warming upto China –Beijing turned a blind eye to the Human Rights violations (an estimated 40,000 Tamils – which included journalists and opponents) were killed in operations against Tamil separatists)

 New Delhi-Colombo ties also took a hit, during Rajapaksa’s tenure, due to the opposition of regional parties – AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) — from the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Political parties from Tamil Nadu  have been constantly alleging Sri Lankan govt failed to follow their 13th amendment (which sought to provide devolution to the Tamil Community and reduce the harmony with the community) and also allege, that many innocent civilians were killed during the war for which Mahinda Rajapaksa must be held accountable. The previous Congress led UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government voted against Sri Lanka in 2009, 2012 and 2013, supporting a US passed resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN. In 2014, India made a slight change to it’s approach and rather than voting directly against Sri Lanka, New Delhi abstained from voting against Sri Lanka. In 2013, Indian PM Dr. Manmohan Singh due to pressure from Tamil Nadu’s regional parties did not attend the Common Wealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) meeting in Colombo.

In 2015,  when Mahinda Rajapaksa lost elections, Tamilian parties including the BJP TN unit in India termed it as a victory of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Indian PM, Narendra Modi had invited Mahindra Rajapaksa for his swearing in as PM in 2014 and also congratulated Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Modi also invited the newly elected President to visit India. The new President is likely to visit India on November 29, 2019.

Economic tilt towards China under Mahindra Rajapaksa

Colombo’s economic tilt to Beijing, was strongly reiterated by the Hambantota Port project, which was handed over to China, and given on lease for 99 years. The port was built with 85% of the funds coming from Exim Bank in China. After money shortage in 2017 in regard to this loan, Sri Lankan government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of associated land to China Merchants Port Holdings for 99 years. This was cited, as one of the strong instances of China’s ‘Debt Trap’ Diplomacy. US drew attention to this, and so did a report by the Centre for Global Development (CGD)but Sri Lanka has rejected this fear while admitting that the debt pressure is huge.

China remains one of Sri Lanka’s largest creditors accounting for an estimated 10% of its total foreign debt. China is investing in large infrastructural projects through its flagship programme  the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI) in Sri Lanka, some of the major ones include; Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, and the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port in southern Sri Lanka. Another project which has proven to be controversial is the Lotus Tower. The 17 story structure – South Asia’s tallest self supporting structure – has been criticised not just for the fact that it represented a wrong utilisation of resources, but the company which had the contract for building the tower was accused of misappropriating funds (a whopping 11 Million USD) by former President Maithrapali Sirisena.

Mahindra Rajapaksa’s close ties to China were also evident in the strategic sphere (two Chinese submarines docked in the South Asian Island nation in 2014)

Balancing of relationships

Rajapaksa’s successor, Maithripali Sirisena did try to balance out relationships, and reduce the South Asian country’s dependence upon China, but was unable to do so. President Sirisena said that he would treat major Asian countries equally. India and Sri Lanka in February 2015 signed a nuclear pact to improve relationships and agreed to improve defence ties.

A number of important projects were taken over by Japan, and there have also been some strong instances of India-Japan working together in Sri Lanka. India, Japan and Sri Lanka have signed an agreement to develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) of Colombo Port. While India and Japan will retain 49% stake in this project, while Sri Lanka will have 51% (work on the project will begin in March 2020). 

This investment has been seen as a joint effort by India- Japan to counterbalance China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. Apart from this project, both India and Japan have also been working on an LNG project terminal near Colombo.  India’s Petronet LNG (one of the country’s energy giants) will have a 47.5% stake in the project, while Japan’s Mitsubishi and Sojitzcorp will have a 37.5% stake)

US has also been trying to make Sri Lanka part of the Indo-Pacific narrative.

The US has also begun to pay more attention to Sri Lanka, especially in the context of being an important stakeholder in the US vision for a ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific’.

US Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, and Sri Lankan Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana held the third US-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue in Washington DC in May 2019. Both sides, according to a joint statement issued after the dialogue, resolved to work together for a“a safe maritime domain in the Indian and Pacific oceans through a rules-based order that ensures respect for international laws and norms” . Furthermore, after the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka also became a Logistics hub for the US Navy in the Indian Ocean

Domestic Politics

It is not just geo-politics, even in the context of Sri Lankan politics, it remains to be seen what approach he takes towards Muslims and Tamils. The electoral verdict is polarized. On his part, the newly elected President, did state that

“I am conscious that I am also the president of those who used the vote against me…. “It is my duty to serve all Sri Lankans without race or religious discrimination. I promise to discharge my duties in a fair manner’

Conclusion

In conclusion, it remains to be seen whether there will be a drastic change in both domestic policies, as well as Sri Lanka’s foreign policy orientation. While, Sri Lanka is dependent upon China, in the economic sphere, it is important to acknowledge the fact, that there have been a number of economic and geo-political changes in recent years. First, China’s economy has witnessed a slowdown, and Beijing will be unable to assist Sri Lanka to the degree it did earlier – though it’s overall economic influence could grow. Second, US has been paying attention to Sri Lanka, due to it’s strategic importance especially in the context of Indo-Pacific, as was mentioned earlier. In this context, it is likely that US, Japan and India could work jointly in Sri Lanka  (Japan and India have already initiated some projects) .The new Sri Lankan President would do well to pay attention to the fact, that South Asian countries like Bangladesh have been able to balance ties and not remained solely dependent upon China.

 Finally, the US reaction to the election, and the warning with regard to Human Rights is significant. The outside world, is likely to keep a close watch on Sri Lanka, and it is likely, that the new President while upgrading economic ties with China will do a balancing act, so that Colombo is not totally dependent upon China.

*Mahitha Lingala is a student at the OP Jindal Global University

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

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South Asia

Pakistan Facing New Type of Hybrid War

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Since the Pak-US relations faced tough time almost a decade ago, not only the US has written off Pakistan, but also launched a Hybrid War. Media campaign launched to defame Pakistan, International Financial Institutions like World Bank, IMF, ADB, FATF, etc., were used as a tool to coerce Pakistan. On every platform, Pakistan was countered or pressurized. Fake News, misinformation spread about Pakistan. Not only influenced its Western Allies against Pakistan but also influence close allies of Pakistan in the Muslim World to create and keep distances.  India was supported out of the way, “Major Defense Partner” agreement was signed with India, Civil Nuclear deal was signed, Transfer of technology, especially high-tech and sensitive technologies were transferred to India. Illogical Political support was extended to India, like membership efforts in UNSC as a permanent member, NSG, etc. Modern, advanced, and lethal weapons were supplied to India. Military cooperation deepened with India. All of this huge generosity was extended to counter Pakistan and China.

It is worth mentioning that Pakistan was a close ally with the US for 7 decades and ensured that the US achieve its strategic goals in this part of the world. Pakistan is a comparatively small and rather economically poor state. But its strategic location makes its role as pivotal in the geopolitics. Pakistan connects Middle-East, Eurasia, China, Central Asia, Africa, and Europe.  Pakistan’s potential is well understood and acknowledged among the power circles in the US.

The worrisome is that the US wanted to use Pakistan to counter Russia and contain China. Which is not possible. This was very much visible during the recent visit of Alice Wells to Pakistan on 19-22 January 2020. She was on her South Asian trip and visited Sri Lanka and India before reaching Pakistan. Shed repeated her old criticism on CPEC and lobbied for her views. She has served in Pakistan as head of Political Section the US Embassy Islamabad. She has many good friends and deep penetration into Pakistani society. She utilized her old contacts in Pakistan and tried to promote her anti-China, Anti-CPEC sentiments.

Another dangerous aspect of Anti-China efforts in Pakistan is in the form of a pro-US Diplomatic community in Islamabad. Many pro-American countries have posted Chinese speaking diplomats to Pakistan – strange! If they depute Urdu (National Language of Pakistan), speaking diplomats, it might make sense but an increasing number of Chinese speaking diplomats in Pakistan smell some fishy fishy.

Another strange phenomenon is also point of concern that Chinese Origin, America or European Scholars are visiting Pakistani Universities, Think Tanks, Intellectuals and youths and interacting with masses. They are promoting Western points of view and ideology in Pakistan. China-Pakistan’s friendship is ideal and the Chinese enjoy a lot of respect in Pakistani Society. That is why the US and Europe are sending Chinese origin scholars and experts to Pakistan to make their job more easy and effective.

The friendship bond between China and Pakistan is deep-rooted and we understand each other very well. We are time-tested, All-weather and all dimension friends. Our friendship is higher than the Himalayas, Deeper than Ocean, Sweeter than Honey and stronger than Steel. I am sure no one will succeed in creating any misunderstanding or confusion between the two “Iron Brothers” – A unique term used only for Pakistan-China friendship.

CPEC was signed under the circumstance when the Western world has totally ignored Pakistan -no investment, no transfer of technology, no military assistance, no favorite trade opportunities, even irrational sanctions imposed on Pakistan – almost West has written-off Pakistan totally.  CPEC is our mutual initiative based on mutual consultation and understanding. It is the need of our nation and as important as our nuclear program. It is oxygen to our ailing economy. It guarantees the economic take-off of Pakistan. It is the decision of 220 Million people of Pakistan, whichever political party comes to power, irrespective of their leadership, CPEC will remain unchanged and will execute smoothly. CPEC is backed by Pakistan’s brave Army and all security and enabling environments are provided by Pakistan Army.

Prime Minister of Pakistan has expressed his vision that Pakistan loves peace and wanted to be a partner in Peace only. Pakistan has suffered a lot during the Afghan War, we cannot afford any other like-wise situation. Pakistan is willing to play any role to diffuse tension and avert conflict.

Pakistan warmly welcomes the US and wanted to collaborate on our common agenda of Peace in Afghanistan, and region. President Trump has repeatedly offered to mediate on the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan, it is time for actions, and verbal statements may not resolve the issues in the actual life. Pakistan helped the US in the peace process in Afghanistan unconditionally. Pakistan expects reciprocity too. Alice Walls’s visit was awaited anxiously for good news, she might have brought from New Delhi, but she focused on Anti-China and Anti-CPEC. Disappointed! Her sentiments have hurt many patriot Pakistanis.

We wanted to restore our traditional friendship with the US bilaterally, while keeping out national inters at prime and strategic interests with Russia and China. CPEC is the lifeline for Pakistan.

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South Asia

Bangladesh’s Fantasy of a Developing Country Status in Perplexity

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Shaikh Hasina, the premier of Bangladesh, has long been accused of sacrificing her country’s interests and selling out to India by her political critics. This narrative intensified when the videos of Abrar Farhad, a student at the elite Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, went viral which showed how Farhad was tortured and finally killed by student wing of the ruling party after he wrote a Facebook post questioning the deals with India in October 2019.

Though most Bangladeshis love the Bollywood and like to travel to India for different purposes but somehow an anti-India sentiments run deep within a sizeable portion of the country’s population. And Farhad’s death, which triggered countrywide protests by students, academics and ordinary people alike, has intensified these sentiments and fuelled questions about Hasina’s alliance with India.

The matter has gotten worse for Hasina now after Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has been espoused by India. There is considerable discord across the country over whether Hasina got well along CAA. The political leadership is now concerned that India may push Muslim immigrants deemed illegal under CAA across the border inside Bangladesh. The Bangladesh government had been worried of such nuisance since the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise was carried out in Assam (India).

At that time also, the Bangladeshi government made a demand to its Indian counterpart to give surety that NRC will not in any away push Muslim migrants into Bangladesh. At that moment, India had given a verbal assurance. However, it had refused to give it in writing, stating that the exercise was carried out as per directions of the Supreme Court. The Indian side referred to NRC exercise in Assam as an ‘internal’ matter saying the government was not in a position to give a formal assurance of anything. Just a day after, the Border Security Force pushed back at least 32 ‘Bangladeshis’ into no man’s land in Jessore, which the Karnataka police had nabbed a month earlier.

It was just 4 years back when on 6 June 2015, Bangladesh and India agreed for the historic swapping of enclaves between the two nations. Prime Minister Modi ratified the agreement during his visit to the Bangladesh capital Dhaka. In the presence of Modi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister, the foreign secretaries of the two countries signed the instruments of the exchange of enclaves and land parcels in adverse possession thus resolving the decades old border issues. The enclaves were exchanged at midnight on 31 July 2015 and the boundary demarcation was completed by 30 June 2016 by Survey Departments of the respective countries.

At the end of the exercise it was concluded that around14,215 people (mostly Muslims) living in 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India will become Indians. Similarly, some 37,334 people living in 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh will become citizens of that nation. Now some really intriguing questions arise after the CAA. India has already given a good share of people (37,334 to be exact) to Bangladesh already in the swap. Now after CAA what will be the fate of Muslims who were handed over to India as new entrants among those 14,215 people?

In India people fear that CAA will be used in conjunction with the NRC to deem minorities as “illegal immigrants”. Especially after many top BJP leaders including Home Minister Amit Shah have proposed that the NRC should be implemented across India after a successful pilot test in Assam where over 1.9 million applicants failed to make it to the NRC list. The NRC very clearly states that people, to remain an Indian citizen, have to produce a documentary proof that their ancestors were residing in India before March 24, 1971 – like the 1951 NRC or electoral rolls up to March 24, 1971.The next step is to produce documents for oneself to establish relationship with those ancestors. That is a tough ask in a country with a poor documentation culture and millions of people with meagre financial resources. And finally the left outs from the final NRC list will approach the Foreigners’ Tribunals and deemed as illegal immigrants will be ultimately send to detention camps or beyond borders as a worst case.

These enclave dwellers who have been living there for decades had one recurrent problem: that of identity crisis, says Brendan R. Whyte in his detail research on the issue. This, in turn, resulted in illegal migration where the dearth of reliable data has added to the complexity of the problem. Since Census had never been conducted in these areas, many created fake voter ID cards to work and more to avoid becoming an illegal migrant. This is all a result of India’s inability to implement the 1958 treaty with Pakistan, and her continued delay in ratifying a subsequent 1974 treaty with Bangladesh to exchange the enclaves. That the delays have been rooted in Indian internal politics is demonstrated, he underscores.

Source: Report on the Indo–Bangladesh Enclaves (Chhitmahals), Office of the District Magistrate, Cooch Behar, N.D.

Bygone the past, now this non-seriousness on India’s part has become a matter of serious concern for Bangladesh. With a population of above 163 million (eighth most populous country in the world), Bangladesh has achieved 7-8 percent growth in recent times(partly thanks to the dire business conditions in Pakistan which led industrialist to shift their industries to Bangladesh). If remained as envisioned, the country will also be eligible to graduate to developing status from its Least Developed Country status by 2024.Amidst all going well, a wave of people being sent back from across the border after being branded ‘illegal migrants’ would be Bangladesh’s worst nightmare. That too at a time when Wajid has been compelled to accept nearly one million Rohingyas migrants from Myanmar.

Though Bangladesh has played well so far by balancing Chinese interests to progress and India’s desire to protect its influence in the region, but the uncertainty about the consequence of NRC in Assam and fear of forced pushbacks of Muslim migrants can harm Indo-Bangla ties irreparably. In Bangladesh concerns have grown in recent times over Modi policies in India, many of which not only destabilized the internal situation at home but also give rise to multiple regional problems and crisis. Sheikh Hasina is all troubled by having to explain to her people what Bangladesh has gained for the long list of favours she has done to India. Adding salt to the injuries is the no Indian support on the Rohingya issue, persecution of Muslims in India and oppression of Kashmiri Muslims at the hands of Hindu Rulers.

Regardless of its phenomenal economic growth, Bangladesh is an overpopulated country. If India continues with its NRC-linked pushbacks, it would certainly affect New Delhi’s bilateral ties with Dhaka. Worse, it would weaken Wajid’s grip on the country while spurring anti-India sentiments among its residents. Also, China might take advantage of this situation. And this certainly does not augur well for India at a time when other neighbours are already turning towards China.

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Genocide: Terrible and scaring ground situation in India

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Washington D.C: Dr. Gregory Stanton, founder of Genocide Watch, addressed an audience of Congressional and Government officials at a briefing titled Ground Reports on Kashmir and NRC in Washington D.C on December 12 where he said, “Preparation for a genocide is definitely under way in India.” He said that persecution of Muslims in Assam and Kashmir “is the stage just before genocide, “adding, “The next stage is extermination — that’s what we call a genocide.””

The ground reports from India are terrible and it is heading toward genocide. The international community’s attention is withdrawn for immediate steps to be taken to avert any big disaster.

Dr. Stanton created the world-famous “Ten Stages of Genocide” as a presentation to the U.S. Department of State when he worked there in 1996. According to Dr. Stanton, the ten stages of genocide are as follows:

•The first stage was “classification” of “us versus them”.

RSS is an extremist organization, established in 1920, under the influence of Hitler with the same ideology of Nazism. But since they came into power and formed their Government in India in April 2019. They have created hate and classified “us” and “them”.

•The second stage, “symbolization”, named the victims as “foreigner”.

With the legislation under Citizenship Act 2019, India has proved that Muslim Minorities as “Foreigners”.

•The third stage, “discrimination”, “classified [the victims] out of the group accepted for citizenship” so that they had no “human rights or civil rights of citizens” and were “discriminated against legally”.

India has already established this stage under the amended law.

•The fourth stage, dehumanization, “is when the genocidal spiral begins to go downwards. You classify the others as somehow worse than you. You give them names like ‘terrorists’, or even names of animals, start referring to them as cancer in the body politic, you talk about them as a disease that must be somehow dealt with.”

According to RSS ideology, all non-Hindus are not Indian and they must go back to Europe if they are Christians and go back to Middle-East if they are Muslims. Muslims are labeled as “Terrorists”.

•The fifth stage was creating an “organization” to commit the genocide: the role played by the “Indian army in Kashmir and the census takers in Assam”.

RSS is a well-organized, well-equipped and well-trained, well-funded organization, with the full backing by state. RSS is empowered to execute the genocide of Muslims.

•The sixth stage was “polarization”, which is achieved by propaganda.

Unholy media, controlled by Government, is playing its dirty role to polarize the society.

•The seventh stage was “preparation”

India has established concentration camps and all imposed curfew in Kashmir. Kashmir is completely cut-off from the rest of the world. Mobile and Internet Services have been suspended. No journalist can travel to Kashmir without Government permission. Freedom of Speech or expression is halted. No foreigner is allowed to travel to Kashmir. 900,000 troops have been deployed already. Similarly, In Assam and another part of India is also isolated and cut-off internet and mobile services. The Media has been limited to report the ground realities and facts. India has almost completed all preparations for the execution stage.

•The eighth “persecution”, where Assam and Kashmir currently were.

India is almost ready for execution and can move forward at any moment.

•The ninth stage is “extermination” and;

Almost entered into this stage

•The tenth stage is “denial”.

As usual, India kept on denying all its acts in this direction and still denying as nothing happened.

Dr. Stanton also drafted UN Security Council resolutions that created the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda and the Burundi Commission of Inquiry, two places where genocides had occurred. A former President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, his research on genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, and of the Rohingyas, is recognized worldwide.

It is appealed to the International community to break silence and helplessness. Under the UN charter, peacekeeping force may be deployed in India to avert the expected disaster. UN Charter must be respected and implemented. This appeal is to everyone nation and individual who believes in “humanity”.

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