Many in Sri Lanka were disappointed that the Indian Prime Minister could not make it to the CHOGM. But political leaders understand political compulsions in their fellow democracies, Sri Lanka's High Commissioner in India, Prasad Kariyawasam said.
"We work with each country based on national requirements like our own economic compulsions, political independence and security. We have no intention to harm the interests of any of our friends including India. We are very keen on regional stability in the Indian Ocean Region. But we are pained to learn about recent Resolutions in the Tamil Nadu Assembly", the High Commissioner said in an interview with Economic Times, India.
The High Commissioner said these resolutions do not fit into the spirit of the common goal of regional cooperation and stability. "We want our region to be peaceful without terrorism, separatism and secessionism. Now that democracy has fully returned to the Northern Province of Sri Lanka following the recent provincial council elections, we want the support of all our friends in India, including in Tamil Nadu", he said.
Full text of the interview:
Q : Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh skipped the CHOGM in Colombo last week owing to domestic political pressure. Is it a setback for India – Lankan ties? What will be the impact of the PM's decision? Was Colombo happy with the level of India's participation at this Summit held in Asia after 24 years?
India – Sri Lanka ties are ancient and robust. The two countries share deep and traditional relations as neighbours. The Commonwealth Summit was held in Asia after 24 years. Therefore highest-level participation from India was expected. Many in Sri Lanka were disappointed that the Prime Minister could not make it to the CHOGM. But political leaders understand the political compulsions in their fellow democracies.
To my mind our region would have benefited from the Indian PM's presence in Colombo as top leaders from leading Commonwealth nations – UK, Australia, Malaysia and South Africa were present. All other South Asian countries were represented at the highest level.
Moreover, India is considered to be one of the most important members of the Commonwealth. Even HRH the Prince of Wales mentioned Prime Minister Nehru's contribution to the Commonwealth in his opening address at the CHOGM in Colombo.
Q: During the past few years China and Pakistan have developed strong ties with Sri Lanka. There is a feeling that India is losing the strategic space in the island nation amid growing footprints of Beijing and Islamabad. Do you think that Colombo's ties with both China and Pakistan would deepen in the backdrop of PM's decision to skip CHOGM?
Our relationship with India and our relations with China and Pakistan cannot be viewed as a 'zero-sum game'. Indo-Lanka ties go back to the days of Emperor Ashoka till the present day. The people of our two nations have interacted with each other and have been influenced by each other for millennia. Sri Lanka has had ties with China as well since the time immemorial and in modern history as well. So our relations with China is not a new thing.
Our foreign policy has been and continues to be based on the concept of friendship towards all and enmity towards none. Maritime security is an important element in the Indo-Lanka strategic partnership which neither Delhi nor Colombo can wish away. With regard to China and Pakistan, they are assisting us in many ways. China in particular assists on the economic front.
We work with each country based on national requirements like our own economic compulsions, political independence and security. We have no intention to harm the interests of any of our friends including India. We are very keen on regional stability in the Indian Ocean Region. But we are pained to learn about recent Resolutions in the Tamil Nadu.
They do not fit into the spirit of our common goal of regional cooperation and stability. We want our region to be peaceful without terrorism, separatism and secessionism. Now that democracy has fully retuned to the Northern Province of Sri Lanka following the recent provincial council elections, we want the support of all our friends in India, including in Tamil Nadu.
Q: There are strong demands in India particularly in Tamil Nadu that Tamils in Sri Lanka are not yet given their due rights. The Indian government has also called for full implementation of the 13th Amendment and more. What is Colombo doing in this regard to empower Tamils and implement the 13th Amendment?
The 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution was a result of the Indo-Lanka Accord in 1987, amidst the conflict. There is an effort in Sri Lanka to improve on it to suit the current compulsions including peace time development efforts.
The government has assigned the task to Parliament. For the first time in three decades we have a Chief Minister for the Northern Province who represents the Tamil National Alliance. One must understand that the Indian model of regional governance may not be the best for Sri Lanka. We are a mush smaller country with a population that matches the National Capital of India.
Our mixed demographic patterns do not lend for linguistic or ethnic based divisions as such. We need to have a model that can share power at the periphery and at the Centre both. Having said that, I must draw your attention to a series of articles that were published recently in the Tuglak magazine in Tamil Nadu by a team of journalists who travelled to Sri Lanka and interviewed the Tamil people in North and Eastern Provinces.
All of them drew attention to the fact that they are against secession and they urged the people in Tamil Nadu to first understand the real concerns of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, like say Tamil Nadu fishermen poaching in Northern Sri Lankan waters. Even the new Chief Minister of the Northern Province has spoken against Tamil Nadu exploiting the Sri Lankan Tamil issue.
Q : British Prime Minister David Cameron has set a deadline for international inquiry for the war crimes in Sri Lanka. There are similar calls from other members of the international community. How does Colombo view this? What measures are the Mahinda Rajapaksa government taking to address human rights issues?
We do not feel that there is a need for an international inquiry into the situation in Sri Lanka. We had established a reconciliation commission and its recommendations are being implemented step by step. All our post conflict efforts must be sustainable and stabilizing for all our communities at large who suffered immensely and equally during the thirty year conflict.
We think our justice is fully capable of addressing all allegations. We feel that the demand for retributive justice in the garb of accountability cab only delay the process of sustainable reconciliation. We need time and space for healing of the wounds of all who suffered the conflict. Forcing time lines for international intervention cab lacerate of our society rather than healing them.
Q : India has been involved in post war reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka. What are the next steps and initiatives in India-Lanka relations?
We thank India for being deeply involved in rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka. While India's efforts have largely focused on reconstruction efforts in Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka, India can expand its presence in the other parts of the country as well as with landmark mega projects.
We want India to consider Sri Lanka as a hub for international trade. We have two deep-water harbours, excellent climate and good opportunities for the industry to expand its foot prints across Indian Ocean littoral, very close effectively, using our already available infrastructure and excellent business friendly governance.
Colombo and indeed Hambantota can become next most a cost-effective trading and manufacturing hubs of Asia. Other nations in Asia and beyond are very interested in these prospects. Our Indian friends must not miss on this opportunity. We are eager to grow together with India and not achieve progress in isolation.