Article on Sri Lanka by Parag Khanna Contains Some Inaccuracies, Miscalculations and Subtle Indian Bias
Posted on April 14th, 2014

Dilrook Kannangara

Parag Khanna’s article in CNN titled “How Strategic is Sri Lanka” is both refreshing and deceiving. While it contains a number of factual observations, it also contained a number of inaccuracies and miscalculations of geopolitical issues.
Inaccuracy 1: ‘Ceylon was known under Portuguese rule; the Dutch deepened and expanded their colonial rule of the island and Sri Lanka became a British colony’
The Portuguese, the Dutch and the British only ruled the maritime zones of the island nation from the start of the 16th century to 1815. The vast interior of the island nation and some ports were firmly under the Kandy Kingdom until 1815 when the ‘English-Sinhala Pact’ was signed between Kandy chieftains and the British. Only afterwards did the island nation as a whole fell to the British rule (1815 to 1948). What is significant of this fact is powerful Portuguese, Dutch, French and British forces failed to militarily defeat Sri Lanka and were unsuccessful in capturing most of the landmass.
Battle of Mulleriyawa (1957-62) was one of the worst defeats the Portuguese suffered in Asia when native Sinhalese defeated the Portuguese forces in Mulleriyawa, Colombo. Though the Portuguese regained some of what was lost, it proved the locals had the clout to disrupt at will the European maritime and trade activity. It brought a compromised rule of the island’s maritime zones between the Europeans and the natives.
It was the height of Spanish-Portuguese Inquisition. A large number of Muslims were killed in nations under their rule. Most Sri Lankan Muslims at that time were from South Western India who settled in the South Western coast of Sri Lanka which fell to Portuguese rule. Sinhala king ruling from Kandy relocated them to the eastern coastal area which was under the Kandyan rule, saving them.
British explorer Robert Knox was captured (1659) by the forces of the Sinhala king Rajasingha when he landed shipwrecked. It is evidence of natives’ rule of certain maritime zones despite the Dutch rule of most maritime areas.
Therefore the contention that Europeans controlled or ruled the maritime activity around Sri Lanka for centuries is false. Only from 1815 to 1948 did the British manage to control the entirety of Sri Lanka and determine maritime security, shipping policies and leverage tools of geopolitical clout.
However, the Dutch rule of most maritime zones and British rule of the entire island triggered a vast migration of South Indians (Tamils and other South Indians) into the island. Dutch tobacco plantations in the 17th century in the north of the island to rival flourishing tobacco industry of Kerala attracted a large number of Malabar slaves from South India. British tea plantations also attracted close to a million South Indian workers into the island. These changed the harmonious demographic balance of the island resulting in war (1983-2009).
Inaccuracy 2: ‘China’s so-called “string of pearls” strategy’
Over-reliance on US defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton’s “string of pearls” assertion (2005) is unwise which is deceiving. There is no “string of pearls” which is a pro-US and pro-Indian terminology aimed at disrupting China’s peaceful westward maritime thrust. It should only be used to describe the Indian bias of highly beneficial Chinese investments in South Asia on a superficial level, not at any geopolitical or economic level.
China reiterated its “Silk Road” strategy when the Chinese foreign minister met his Sri Lankan counterpart. What must be appreciated is China is reaching to Europe and the Middle East in multiple ways over sea, land and air. If Sri Lanka refuses to participate in the Silk Road over sea it will be economically detrimental to the island nation. Sri Lanka is the only country in the region where China is not its largest trading partner. Sri Lanka’s largest trading partners are USA and India which indicates a grave economic misalignment problem.
The illegal and void ab initio Indo-Lanka Peace Accord (1987) is a huge hindrance to the Silk Road as India’s petty anti-China policy has not only excluded itself from strengthening ties with its largest trading partner (China) but also tries to disrupt the emergence of the new Silk Road. It will do heaps good for Sri Lanka to nullify the Accord.
Inaccuracy 3: ‘Rajapaksa’s regime is the new Kingdom of Kandy, inviting foreigners but attempting to control their influence’
This is a shockingly na¯ve comparison. Chinese involvement in Sri Lankan maritime matters is purely economic. Any defence implication of the proposed Silk Road agreement is only incidental. Though China is Sri Lanka’s largest defence supplier, there has been very little in the naval front. Only land and air battle equipment were sourced from China. Sri Lanka navy equipment came from Israel, USA, Russia and India. Destruction of LTTE floating weapons warehouses was done with the assistance of USA. On the human rights issue, getting Chinese help on the sound principle of non-interference is totally different to what the writer claims. Every country has common ground in interests with plenty more. Chinese, Pakistani and Sri Lankan interests in the human rights issue, maritime policy and peaceful rise of China converge. Too bad India finds it intolerable.
Inaccuracy 4: ‘Sri Lanka continues a ruthless occupation and crackdown in the country’s Tamil populated north, with continued widespread human rights violations’
Nothing can be further from the truth. Comparing democratic Sri Lanka (Asia’s oldest democracy since 1931) with military ruled Myanmar is comparing apples with oranges. The north has always been part of Sri Lanka, and its armed forces have every right to maintain military bases in the north which saw bloody battles. There is absolutely no ruthless occupation and crackdown in the north. It is also wrong to associate the north with Tamils. A large number of Sinhalese and Muslims lived in the north until they were evicted forcibly and their properties stolen by Tamils in August 1977 and August 1990 respectively.
US military operates military installations throughout the territorial USA despite some states having a larger African American or Hispanic population. USA even has military bases in Hawaii. Similarly India maintains military bases throughout its territory outside the Hindi Belt. As such Sri Lanka has every right to deploy its military anywhere in the island to prevent the re-emergence of Tamil terrorism. It is worthwhile to note that despite the wipe out of Tamil terrorists from Sri Lanka in 2009, USA, EU and India still maintain the ban on Tamil Tiger Terrorists.
The assertion ‘continued widespread human rights violations’ is baseless. It is made by defeated Tamil groups around the world (most are banned terrorist groups under UN Security Council resolution 1373) and agencies and powers with vested interests. It is the equal of non-existent Iraqi WMDs.
Inaccuracy 5: ‘Minority Tamils still face difficulty getting jobs against the dominant Sinhalese’
This assertion is not true as Tamils are employed and operate businesses in each and every 25 districts of the island nation whereas Sinhalese are not allowed to buy property, start business and find jobs in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Batticaloa and Mulaitivu districts by Tamil ethno centric tribal politics. They also stop Muslims from buying property, starting business and finding jobs in Jaffna, Kilinochchi and Mulaitivu districts. Dutch imposed laws for Malabar slaves including the infamous ‘Thesawalamei Law’ restrict land purchase rights only to people of Malabar decent (northern Tamils) and prevent others from buying land in the north.
Over 250,000 Tamils live and work in Colombo district in the heart of Sinhala areas but Tamil majority areas are no go zones for Sinhala settlers. What happens in Sri Lanka is Tamil discrimination against Sinhalese and Muslims which must be rooted out.
Trumped up charges are made by sections with vested interests to disrupt the inevitable China-Sri Lanka tie up. Human rights concerns are only excuses to interfere in Lankan affairs by Indian and western groups to prevent China’s peaceful rise and push for purely commercial needs.
Inaccuracy 6: ‘Kotte kingdom ruler Alakeshvara (1411) shackled and sent off to bow before the Yongle of Ming dynasty emperor’
This is totally out of context. In 1411 Sri Lanka didn’t seek Chinese assistance in defence or commerce. Therefore comparing it to leveraging great power machinations involving China is completely irrelevant. Besides, Sri Lanka has no problem in paying tribute to China in every way it can which is what over 126 countries do as China is their largest trading partner. This trumped up fear of China is alien to Sri Lankans which can only be found in hegemonic sections in India ” a patchwork of nations like the Soviet Union.
Sri Lanka had very close and strong relations with China for over 2,000 years. It is not something that was imposed like the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord against the will of Sri Lankans. Strong China relations are driven by willing, much desired and much cherished love Sri Lankans have towards China in addition to commercial realities. Had India stood by Sri Lanka in the assemblies of UNHRC, not trained Tamil terrorists in 1970s and not committed horrendous crimes against Tamils (particularly Tamil women) during IPKF operations (1987-90) in Tamil dominated north, it would also command much respect in the island.

One Response to “Article on Sri Lanka by Parag Khanna Contains Some Inaccuracies, Miscalculations and Subtle Indian Bias”

  1. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    What is mentioned as inaccuracies are meant to be inaccuracies. That is the nature of a good propaganda. To take a little bit of truth, twist it to suit the purpose of disseminating lies and sell it as the “real” truth. This is the prime weapons of gunboat diplomacy. The Tamil Diaspora are involved in the process of using anything within their power to justify Eelam.
    If that is the case then attack them with equal propaganda, till the very existence of Hindu Tamils in Sri Lanka is seen as an existential threat to the security of Sri Lanka. Fight fire with fire.

    Going by the UNHRC truth and facts are more of a hindrance. Lies and deceit more of a weapon. In this situation why should Sri Lanka hang on to what is considered factual or truthful. Use any means to demonize the Tamil Diaspora, the Sri Lankan Hindu Tamils, the Tamil National Alliance, the political leaders of Tamil Nadu to New Delhi. This is war.

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