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An Easy Way Out?

India recently sent a positive message to Sri Lanka, by abstaining from a vote on an anti-Sri Lanka resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). The tiny Island Nation, too, decided to abandon the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, and rely upon India for the same. In the midst of newly-created friendly environment, the two South Asian neighbours have planned to forge new security ties…

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has hinted that Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa may visit New Delhi in late April. However, the Ministry is yet to confirm the news, officially! According to sources close to the Indian Ministry, the upcoming visit is aimed at signing a new bilateral Security Agreement. A couple of weeks ago, Sri Lanka came to know that al-Qaeda and Abu Saif networks set up secret cells, there, in 2020. Both New Delhi and Colombo believe that the two terror outfits could pose a serious security threat not only to the Island Nation, but also to the entire Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Indian Ocean Region

Reports suggest that Sri Lanka has already discussed about the activities of the two militant networks with India. The Government of Sri Lanka has also sought Indian intelligence support in tracking the activities of the two networks in West Asia, and South and East Africa. The Indian intelligence officials have informed Sri Lanka that it has already become a haven for Islamic terrorists!

For the past few years, terrorists have been using Sri Lanka as a base to commit maritime crimes. The Rajapaksa Administration has become more sensitive since terror attacks on several churches and hotels on Easter Sunday in April 2019. The incident prompted the Sri Lankan Government to closely monitor the Muslim-populated areas. After being elected as President in November 2019, Rajapaksa promised to uproot Fundamentalism from Sri Lanka. However, the President has been accused of violating the Rights of Minority Community in the pretext of strengthening National Security!

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa (L) with Indian PM Narendra Modi

Seasoned diplomats are of the opinion that the Government of India is highly interested in forming an alliance with Sri Lanka and other neighbouring countries against the terrorists. According to experts, such a move is expected to reduce the region’s over-reliance on China and Pakistan, as far as security issues are concerned. Meanwhile, the experts have advised India to consider Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record, before making a final decision.

Colonel R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence Specialist on South Asia who had served as the Head of Intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka (1987-90), has backed India’s recent move to abstain from a vote on a UNHRC resolution, which called for an international probe into alleged War Crimes committed by the Sri Lankan Government during the decades-long Civil War with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant separatist group fighting for an independent homeland for Hindu Tamils in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

Colonel R Hariharan

In an article written exclusively for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations – a Mumbai-based Foreign Policy Think Tank – on April 9, 2021, Colonel Hariharan stated that India’s abstention from the recent UNHRC Resolution came as a surprise, as New Delhi had voted in its favour earlier. However, the scenario has completely in recent times. According to the senior Indian intelligence official, India justified its decision to abstain from the vote on UNHRC resolution this time by saying that an intrusive approach would undermine Sri Lanka’s Sovereignty and Institutions. It may be noted that Colombo’s argument that the UNHRC efforts are an intrusion into its National Sovereignty has already been supported not only by India, but also by China, Japan, Israel and Russia.

India further argued that any open-ended, country-specific mandate to monitor national processes for the protection of Human Rights was not reflective of the process of dialogue and co-operation envisaged by the UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251 that had created the Human Rights Council in 2006,” stressed Colonel Hariharan, who is also associated with the South Asia Analysis Group and the Chennai Centre for China Studies.

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