Monday, January 19, 2015

An agenda for Sirisena

As the euphoria in Sri Lanka over the surprise defeat of long-time President Mahina Rajapaksa dies down and his democratically elected successor, Maithripala Sirisena, takes over, he has a tough set of challenges ahead of him. On the foreign policy angle, the most important agenda will be to rebalance the island nation's tilt towards China. There are already rumors, probably false, going around that RAW had a hand to play in Rajapaksa's defeat in retaliation for the Chinese submarine affair. Whether that is true or not is beyond the point: while India does not like to interfere in internal affairs of SAARC countries, it is not going to allow its security to be jeopardized by China's entry into the Indian Ocean. If SAARC countries believe India is going to stand back while they play off India against China, they are wrong - although historically an inward looking country, India can and will hit back if its security is jeopardized. That does not mean SAARC nations cannot have a relationship with China, but it does mean that they must be mindful of India's concerns in that process.

Domestically, Sirisena has to push for reconciliation with the Tamil population who are still living under quasi-martial rule with a heavily militarized Northern Province. It is important for him to implement the 13th Amendment in those areas and finally bring to an end decades of violence against them that actually led to the creation of the LTTE in the first place. In this, he will find adequate support from India, which it will need even as the UN prepares to table a report on Sri Lankan war crimes in March this year. His government has made all the right noises so far, indicating that they would like the UN probe to supplement the domestic one. Many horrific crimes took place in the last Eelam War and by bringing them to light, Sri Lanka will be able to start over. Narendra Modi's government in New Delhi certainly stands in support of this, but the initiative must come from Sirisena.

Sri Lanka stands at a crossroads today. As it looks at the two great powers of the world in the north, it has a choice - join them, or forever stand aside. President Sirisena alone can decide. 

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