Rajapaksa’s Recipe For Better Indo-Sri Lanka Relations – OpEd
Posted on February 12th, 2019

By Courtesy eurasiareview.com

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Leader of the Opposition in the Sri Lankan parliament and a former Sri Lankan President, has spelt out a list of do’s and dont’s for improving relations between Sri Lanka and India.

While being basically well grounded, Indo-Lankan ties do tend to veer off the track due to a lack of communication, misconceptions and unequal expectations, Rajapaksa told The Huddle 2019” hosted by The Hindu in Bengaluru on Saturday.

He said that constant communication between the two countries is a must to clear misunderstandings, defuse tensions, and  build mutual trust based on transparency.

To ensure this, there should be a Standing Committee comprising politically influential top persons drawn from the two countries. In this context he pleaded for the revival the Troika” system set up during the final phase of Eelam War IV which enabled India and Sri Lanka to bring the war against terrorism to a successful conclusion. He further suggested that the new Troika system should have an all-encompassing mandate given the wide range of India-Sri Lanka relations.

Rajapaksa went on to say that both sides must recognize and accord equal weight to each other’s sensitivities, national interests, economic imperatives and security concerns, because India and Sri Lanka are both sovereign nations with their own individual requirements. He also hinted that regime changes brought about by machinations have been detrimental to both countries. In this context, he mentioned the need to recognize the importance of political stability and continuity based on a strong leadership.

The Two Troikas

The crux of Rajapaksa’s oration was the plea to revive the Troika” system established during the war and give it a wide mandate.

You would recollect that a novel mechanism was in place during our time in government and in particular when we, as a country, fought against the most cruel terrorist organization in the world. The Troika, as it was known, helped in no small measure to build a bridge between the leaderships and the associated thought processes of our two countries and thus prevented any misunderstandings when Sri Lanka was engaged in a crucial war against terrorism,” Rajapaksa said.

The relationship in the Troika was friendly and casual” and that produced the desired outcome, he added.

I say without any hesitation, that India’s deep understanding of our government’s motive was a key factor that helped us eradicate terrorism. The respective leaderships were consistently and continuously briefed by the relevant Troika thus promoting the high level of understanding that was required to keep the relationship dynamic,Rajapaksa said.

It was in 2008, when Eelam War IV was in its critical last stage, that the then Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka, Alok Prasad, prompted by Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, asked Lalith Weeratunga, Secretary to the then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, if Colombo would appoint three people close to the President to constantly be in touch with a similar group of people in India to manage India-Sri Lanka relations as the war was on.

As the idea came from his brother and Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, President Rajapaksa responded positively and promptly.  He named Basil Rajapaksa, at that time Senior Advisor to the President; Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and Lalith Weeratunga, the then Secretary to the President; as his Troika”.

High Commissioner Alok Prasad then informed President Rajapaksa that India had named M.K. Narayanan, National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, Foreign Secretary and Vijay Singh, Defence Secretary, as India’s Troika.”

The two Troikas met frequently and informally, and sorted out  many matters with ease, said Lalith Weeratunga in an article written later.

In my opinion, this initiative was more useful to Sri Lanka than to India because we were then in the thick of fighting the LTTE and it was crucial that India was fully aware of what the Sri Lankan government and its Armed Forces were doing. The personnel involved in the Troika could not only place facts with authenticity, but could also take decisions on behalf of their respective governments. Had there been any issue arising out of these discussions, any member in either of the teams could be on the phone to the leadership and obtain advice on further action,” Weeratunga wrote.

It is only through an active dialogue any misunderstandings could be averted,” Rajapaksa told his Indian audience in Bengaluru on Saturday.

Further justifying the revival of Troika, Rajapaksa said: The traditional government to government dealings alone cannot give shape to our future relations because the world is becoming more complex by the day.  However, political leaders would continue to play the most coveted role as they determine policies, be it foreign, economic, security, and a host of other policies that would impinge on our bilateral relations.”

Tangibles like these are easier to monitor and even control, but intangibles pose grave threats.  Political leaders and other societal leaders must always keep a tab on the intangibles; for instance, a wrong word from a leader would sour the relations as we have witnessed in the past.”

It would not be out of place for me to state upfront that a strong mechanism at the country-to-country level, fully endorsed and supported by each of our governments, should be in place to clear any misunderstandings that may crop up from time to time. The Troika system should have been a forum that we should have continued. Perhaps there is still opportunity to bring it back from 2020.”

Troika For National Security

Turning to the importance of having a Troika mechanism for ensuring national security, Rajapaksa said:  Interestingly, in recent times, maritime security in the Indian Ocean has become an important issue in regard to respective national security of our two countries. In future bilateral relations, Indian Ocean maritime security too would be an important aspect in forging a well-founded strategy. In all these, I strongly believe that a vibrant, on-going dialogue between the two countries would ensure each other’s national security. This dialogue, as I have emphasized earlier, should transcend the normal diplomatic boundaries and there are experiences such as the Troika that we could draw from.”

Problems Created by Regime Change

Rajapaksa obliquely alluded to the alleged Indian role in bringing about the regime change in Sri Lanka in 2015 in which he lost power. He said this was due to the lack of communication. Such a situation would not have come about if the Troika system was functioning, he argued.

Since the 1980’s the relationship between our two countries, remained very fragile. But in 2005, when I was elected President,  I made it a point to establish a good working relationship with India. However, the second major breakdown of bilateral relationships took place in 2014. The government that had ruled India for a decade was voted out in 2014. Unfortunately, the working relationship that existed between my government and the outgoing government of India did not roll over to the new government of India formed in 2014. Lack of communication between both parties seems to have led to this situation.”

Communication is such a vital factor that can be the make or break in strengthening our countries’ relations. Therefore, an open line of healthy and constant communication, should always be the focus even in the coming years,” he said.

In hindsight, the misunderstandings of the 1980’s as well as that of 2014, were aberrations that could easily have been avoided. It’s key that India and Sri Lanka evolve a mechanism to prevent these misunderstandings from taking place,” Rajapaksa said.

Need To Ensure Political Instability

Rajapaksa said that one of the cornerstones of good and stable bilateral relations is political stability based on a strong leadership. He was hinting that the strong government led by him had been replaced by a weak one from which neither India nor Sri Lanka have gained.

A strong government and political stability would always facilitate the blossoming of bilateral relations. In future bilateral relations between our two countries, strong political leadership would be a key factor towards a vibrant bilateral relationship,” Rajapaksa said.

Need  For Bilateral Policy Continuity

Rajapaksa pleaded for policy continuity even after regime change so that   bilateral relations remain on an even keel.

Despite the snag of 2014, the opposition coalition that I lead now, has a good understanding with the ruling party in India. In their dealings with Sri Lanka, my suggestion to India, is that the rule of thumb with regard to India-Sri Lanka relations should be that if the outgoing party had an adequate working relationship with Sri Lanka, the incoming party should give due recognition to that fact and continue the relationship on that basis.”

Past experience has shown that the danger of disruption in our bilateral relationship arises in the immediate aftermath of changes of government. Such easily avoidable disruptions have had serious consequences for both countries,Rajapaksa said.

Give and Take In Security Issues

Referring to national security issues between Sri Lanka and India he alluded to the feeling in Sri Lanka that while India makes  demands on Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s concerns are not being taken into account by India.

Since we are geographically in very close proximity, we have mutual obligations to ensure the security of each other. Often, we have heard the Indian leaders emphasizing the need for Sri Lanka to ensure that the Sri Lankan soil is not used by any third party that would pose a threat to India. Similarly, we too would want India to ensure that any threat from any groups operating within Indian soil does not pose a threat to Sri Lanka,” he said.

Maritime Security

On the current world wide concern about maritime security in the light of concerns in India and the West over China’s rise as a maritime power, Rajapaksa said: ” In future bilateral relations, Indian Ocean maritime security too would be an important aspect in forging a well-founded strategy. In all these, I strongly believe that a vibrant, on-going dialogue between the two countries would ensure each other’s national security. This dialogue, as I have emphasized earlier, should transcend the normal diplomatic boundaries, and there are experiences such as the Troika that we could draw from.”

Wider Application of Troika System 

Rajapaksa said that the Troika system should go beyond security matters to other areas of bilateral relations.

Through the Troika, we can go further to create forums and collaborations that take into consideration the pressing social, economic and cultural issues that affect our peoples, and elaborate on best practices and advances that we could learn from one another. The formulation of such an entity is foremost in my party’s plans for the future,” he said.

Alienation of National Assets

One of the major concerns in Sri Lanka is a tendency of governments to alienate national assets like ports and airports etc. to foreign powers. Sometimes this is done to balance relations with foreign powers. If China is given a project to build a port in Hambantota, India must be given the Mattala airport or the Trincomalee port or the Eastern Container Terminal in Colombo. If China is given projects in Sinhala-speaking South Sri Lanka, India must be compensated with projects in the Tamil North. The concern among Lankans is that this way, there would be nothing left for Sri Lankans to own.

Alluding to this issue, Rajapaksa said: An important facet of economic stability is how we look at our national assets. No country, in my understanding, can achieve economic stability by disposing of national assets. I would emphasize that a policy advocating sale of national assets inevitably generates tensions among our people, and this has a negative effect on our relations with the country acquiring these assets, whatever that country may be. This has been our stark experience in the recent past. This does not, however, mean we should not explore joint initiatives for mutual benefit,” he said.

3 Responses to “Rajapaksa’s Recipe For Better Indo-Sri Lanka Relations – OpEd”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    The Troika was a disaster for Sri Lanka. Here is evidence. I state this here only for readers to understand the extreme danger this can pose again. Not to oppose Mahinda per se. This is a serious national security risk.

    This was India’s troika – M.K. Narayanan, National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, Foreign Secretary and Vijay Singh, Defence Secretary. We all know the doings of the last name. But the others were no different.

    Is this what we want again?

    Quoted from The Hindu.

    “https://www.thehindu.com/news/the-india-cables/lsquo13th-Amendment-Plusrsquo-India-sceptical-of-Sri-Lankan-promise/article14962436.ece”

    New Delhi wanted Colombo to step up efforts for a political solution

    Sri Lanka told India it would implement a devolution plan for Tamil areas going beyond the 13th Amendment to its Constitution, but Indian officials were privately sceptical of the assurance.

    Several U.S. Embassy cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks reveal that India pushed Sri Lanka on its devolution plans for months before the conclusion of the military operation against the LTTE.

    The cables also reveal that the U.S. sought a bigger role in pushing a political solution for Tamils but was kept at bay by India.

    As the military operations were drawing to a close, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told the U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Peter Burleigh on May 15, 2009 that the Sri Lankan government had reassured India that “the government would focus on the implementation of the 13th Amendment Plus as soon as possible.” ( >207268: confidential, May 15, 2009)

    But, the cable notes, “Menon was sceptical.”

    National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan was a mite more optimistic. Returning from a visit to Sri Lanka on April 24, he had told the U.S. Charge that President Mahinda Rajapaksa “intends to pursue political devolution (‘the thirteenth amendment plus’) and will make a gesture soon to win over Sri Lanka’s Tamils.” ( >204118: confidential, April 25, 2009)

    Earlier, in January 2009, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo reported in a cable ( >189383: confidential, January 29, 2009) on External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s visit that President Rajapaksa had spoken of a 13th Amendment Plus plan.

    Briefing the U.S. Embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission and other diplomats, the Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Colombo, Vikram Misri, said Mr. Mukherjee’s visit was mainly to press Sri Lanka on ensuring the safety of civilians during the military operation against the LTTE.

    In discussions with the Indian Minister on the political front, the cable noted, “President Rajapaksa said he supports a 13th Amendment- plus approach, but did not specify what the ‘plus’ would entail.”

    It is no secret that even before 2009, India wanted Sri Lanka to hasten on a political settlement to the Tamil question that would go beyond the 13th Amendment that flowed from the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The cables only confirm this.

    In November 2008, senior presidential adviser Basil Rajapaksa returned from New Delhi. Briefing the Americans about the visit, he said India had pressed Sri Lanka to devolve more powers to the Eastern Province. ( >cable 176664: confidential, November 4, 2008)

    Mr. Rajapaksa told U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake that the Indians had expressed particular concern about civilian casualties from Sri Lankan military operations, as well as the need to do “a better job of winning Tamil hearts and minds.”

    According to Mr. Blake’s cable, Mr. Rajapaksa told him that “the Indians argued that progress on these issues would help keep the region “free of outside interference” and would enable India to better support Sri Lanka in its fight against the LTTE.

    Mr. Rajapaksa said both sides had agreed on the need to “move toward” towards a peaceful, negotiated political settlement. India wanted Sri Lanka to begin by devolving non-controversial powers such as agrarian services to the Eastern province.

    But the presidential adviser — he is also his brother — told the Americans that India’s “No. 1 concern” was the Sri Lankan Navy firing at Indian fishermen.

    In the same cable, Mr. Blake reports a later conversation with Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Alok Prasad. Contrary to Mr. Rajapaksa’s impression of his New Delhi meetings, Mr. Prasad said the primary focus of the meetings was devolution, and not the issue of fishermen.

    While the talks primarily focussed on how to speed up devolution in the East, Mr. Prasad noted that India had told Sri Lanka it should be thinking of “the outlines of a settlement that goes beyond devolution of power under the 13th amendment.”

    But Mr. Prasad told the U.S. envoy that “India had very little hope that Sri Lanka would do more in this regard,” as the President did not have the required parliamentary majority to amend the Constitution, and some political parties were opposed even to the 13th Amendment.

    It appears from the cables that the U.S. wanted constant reassurances that India was pushing for a political solution. At one stage it even suggested that there should be a joint India-U.S. effort on this front.

    In August 2008, Joint Secretary T.S. Tirumurti “avowed” at a New Delhi meeting with Mr. Blake, the Indian government’s “continued advocacy for devolution of power in Sri Lanka, and said India was preparing to share specific ideas with Sri Lanka.” ( >cable 167817: confidential, August 29, 2008)

    The Indian official said New Delhi was pitching for a power-sharing formula that went beyond the 13th Amendment.

    At the same meeting, Ambassador Blake proposed that India and the U.S. together encourage Sri Lanka to articulate its power-sharing vision “now” and engage in “quiet talks” with the LTTE.

    He also suggested encouraging a “quiet dialogue” between the UN and the LTTE so that internally displaced people in the Vanni would be free to move south from LTTE-controlled areas “out of harm’s way.”

    India was clearly not interested in the U.S. suggestion. Mr. Tirumurti responded that “Rajapakse wants Prabhakaran dead.”

    Pushing the ball back to the U.S. envoy, he spoke of a “credibility problem” for the West as the LTTE continued to raise funds in Europe, which was a source of concern for Sri Lanka and India.

    But Mr. Blake pushed back, saying that while the U.S. would be glad to see Prabhakaran captured or killed, “the U.S. and India should not allow Rajapaksa to predicate progress on a power-sharing agreement on Prabhakaran’s demise.”

    A year later, the Indian Foreign Secretary seems to have briefly toyed with the idea of involving the U.S. and other powers to put pressure on Sri Lanka to resolve the political issues after the fighting ended.

    The Foreign Secretary suggested to Mr. Burleigh at his May 15, 2009 meeting that “it would be useful for India to convoke an international conference — noting that India, the Co-Chairs [of the peace process, Norway, Japan, the U.S. and U.K.] and China should attend — to look at the post-conflict landscape. Menon characterized this as an opportunity for India; prohibitions on contacts with the LTTE had prevented useful engagement in the past, but now there would be space.”

    Mr. Menon expressly wanted China in the grouping. According to the cable, he argued “that best results from Sri Lanka could be expected when the West, India and China all worked together. Otherwise, Sri Lanka would find ways to play its international interlocutors off against each other.”

    But it seems to have been just a passing thought, as no such meeting took place. ( This article is a part of the series “The India Cables” based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)

  2. Dilrook Says:

    Please read the content of those Wikileaks cables as well.

    It is very clear as stated by the top Indian official who was in the Troika that devolution (particularly in the East – as emphasised by him) will lead to a situation where “outsde actors” will not interfere in the Indian Ocean region.

    So devolution (13A and 13 Plus) was not about solving Tamil people’s problems. It was about creating a situation in the East, North and the rest of the island to advance Indian military doctrine to counter China, etc. by tresspassing Sri Lanka’s territorial integrity.

    It is a bad idea anyway because the two countries are not evenly matched. The 3 from the Lankan side has no bargaining power whatsoever against the 3 put forward by India. Lankan Troika has to say yes to everything. Worse part is, their dealings were not transparent.

    All foreign relations must be handled by the Ministry of Foreign affairs. Appoint competent persons into it and make it transparent.

  3. Christie Says:

    Thanks Dilrook.

    India and Indians cannot be trusted. They are the most cunning people on earth. It comes from their religion where a large section of the community are treated as non human. They are the Dalits.

    So for Indian Colonial Parasites we are Dalits and for Indians we are Dalits.

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