In recent years, more so over the past two years, China has been looming large on the India-Sri Lanka political and diplomatic discourse. This is surprising because by conventional wisdom the most important bilateral relationship for Sri Lanka is with India. China is not a late entrant into the island’s lexicon though. The Sino-Lanka ties can be traced to the days of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who, it may be recalled, had taken the initiative for mediation between India and China at the end of their 1962 war.
Tilt towards Beijing became much pronounced under Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has developed into fine art the use of China card and Iran card to keep the regional cop and the global cop at bay. Elaborating the equation, a Rajapaksa aide once told me “Old ladies need to be kept in good humour. Our experience tells that it is not a difficult task”. Pragmatism is a sustainable survival mantra.
So, have the India-Lanka-China relations undergone qualitative, if not radical, transformation under Mahinda Chintana? It is difficult to say a resounding yes or a blunt no. The visit of Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris to New Delhi and Beijing highlights the difficulty as never before. No surprise the visit remains part of the animated debate on the Marzuki Darusman Report. Frankly, the panel of three-members handpicked by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, is not the last word on the last leg of the Wanni War-IV. It largely depended on secondary sources, much like the U.S. State Department for its annual report on international religious freedom and its country reports on human rights practices.
The script went wrong once Colombo took Darusman Report as gospel truth and mounted a high decibel campaign to debunk its findings and started looking for certificates of good conduct. The appointment of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and Colombo’s historical legacy- credibility gap have only compounded matters. This episode will be a good case study for students of diplomacy and practitioners of diplomacy alike on ‘self-goals and penalty kicks’. Not for politicians, of course, who love not to see beyond their nose.
How did India and China react to the ‘facts found and reported’ on alleged human rights violations during the final stages of the war against a non-state actor, who had arrogated to himself the voice and rights of a minority, which was pushed to the fringes of a society they had dominated once? General expectation was that G.L.Peiris would discuss the issue with his hosts in Delhi and Beijing. The joint statement issued in Delhi made no mention of the UN report.
The China visit produced no joint statement despite the precedent set in Delhi and the tendency of commentators and analysts in Colombo to look at Delhi through the Chinese prism and pour over the fine print with a coomb for deeper insights. The absence of a bilateral statement was compensated to certain extent by his own statement released through his officials back home that said Minister Peiris briefed his counterpart Yang Jiechi in detail about Sri Lanka's position on a range of issues connected with the Darusman Report.
Did the Chinese support Colombo stand? The Minister did not go into these specifics. And his silence was as much diplomatic as enigmatic since at the end of Delhi leg, the Minister had categorically said ‘My visit to India was not to obtain an outright denunciation’ of the Darusman Report. He had gone on record to say ‘There was no such intention at all. That is not how international relations are conducted’.
So, on the Beijing leg, it was refreshing to hear him say that he had briefed his host on the UN report. Yet, strangely, Xinhua, the Chinese official news agency, in its despatch on Peiris- Jiechi talks made no direct or indirect reference to the Darusman Report.
What are the hacks, whose stock in trade is reading between the lines, are to make of the despatch that also gave no hint whatsoever of Beijing’s support to Colombo’s stand on the expert advice delivered by the high priests of good governance and good diplomacy for world peace. Also pertinent is the question: why Communist China deemed it fair and proper to spoil the mood of happiness in the Peiris camp, who, unlike in Delhi, got received ‘a warm and friendly welcome’ in Beijing. Some questions will always remain unanswered.
Without holding an unsolicited brief for the Minister, who is a seasoned warrior, it is essential to remind his critics that diplomacy is not a one-day cricket. Nor is it a countdown show on the MTV. Talks between foreign ministers or officials of foreign ministries are not discussions that degenerate into a campaign for immediate visible result. These are exercises at exploring and sensitising, and for collecting IOUs which are like undated cheques. Patience is the virtue, not an albatross when dealing with complex issues which are not open and shut cases. Needless to say, nations will not rush through proforma statements to please a neighbour just when it is clear that Ban Ki-moon will get second term as the first civil servant of the world.
Viewed against this perspective, the much criticised GL Peiris – S M Krishna statement can be said to have packed much punch in one single sentence, which reads “Both sides agreed that the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka created a historic opportunity to address all outstanding issues in a spirit of understanding and mutual accommodation imbued with political vision to work towards genuine national reconciliation”. Because, as Indira Gandhi had said way back in 1983, Sri Lanka is not “just another country” but a country, where “India has vital stakes in its stability”.
The joint statement also referred to the much talked devolution package, and said ‘A devolution package, building upon the 13th Amendment, would contribute towards creating the necessary conditions’ for national reconciliation. This has generated the expectation that the devolution package would be back on the table of the meeting President Mahinda Rajapaksa had with chief ministers and governors at Temple Trees. The three-hour long meeting was the first such major interaction in recent months. It discussed on record anything but devolution package or who should have the police powers – the federation or the provinces. The chief ministers were worried about more mundane things like teachers’ selection and transfers and local taxes. None of them appeared to focus on politics of devolution. Interesting!
[13:23:50] prabha murti: Pakistan’s nuke programme: New threats
Pakistan’s expanding civilian and military nuclear programme has raised the threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of radical elements by several notches. This added dimension of the threat comes from the large number of employees these facilities will have to employ in the coming years.
A recent estimate puts the total number of employees in the nuclear establishment to be over 70,000 and most of them are not covered under the strictly enforced personnel reliability programme. This number is likely to increase manifold in the next few years as Chinese assisted nuclear power stations go on stream and Pakistan develops new sets of tactical nuclear weapons.
What complicates the situation further is the growing instability within Pakistan and the radicalisation of its intelligence and security forces. The state has increasingly become feeble and ineffective to control terrorist-extremist-criminal networks threatening the country. This crippling weakness is compounded by the noticeable radicalisation of the ranks and officer cadre of the military, police and intelligence agencies. The killing of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and the Mehran naval base attack clearly underline the deep inroads radical elements and ideology have made into the military. Since it is the military which controls and protects the nuclear establishment, the possibility of the nuclear materials or weapons falling into `wrong` hands remains high.
Even with the non-radicalised men and officers guarding the nuclear establishment, there are questions on how effective the personnel reliability programme has been to weed out the `undesirables` and `dangerous ones`. The senior Army officers given the charge of protecting the facilities are often not put through the rigours of the Personnel Reliability Programme. There is no evidence of any scrutiny being carried out by administrative, technical, transportation and other staff members who outnumber the military and scientific personnel. The Pakistani soldiers and scientists who are deputed to these facilities are approved after the security clearance. This clearance mostly verifies pro-India bias in the staffers.
What raises serious doubts about the efficacy of the personnel reliability programme is the increasing radicalisation within the intelligence agencies which are tasked to carry out these checks.
The nuclear weapons programme, sites and weapons are firmly under the control of the Pakistan Army via its Strategic Plans Division. This unit has nearly 10000 employees on its rolls and each of them are supposed to be scrutinised and cleared by intelligence agencies—ISI, Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence. The presence of radicalised officers and men in ISI has been known for quite some time. The recent events in Pakistan—the naval base attack, the GHQ attack and LeT-ISI link—have underlined this nexus substantially.
As for Intelligence Bureau, the story is no different. The senior ranks of the bureau is filled by serving or retired ISI or army officers. Most often, the IB Director is a retired ISI official with deep links to militants. For instance, the IB Director during the Musharraf regime was Brigadier Ijaz Shah who oversaw the creation of terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad in January 2000. He was also the handler of JeM leader Saeed Omar Sheikh, prime accused in the Daniel Pearl murder case. Though there is no reported case of radicalism in Military Intelligence, the possibility of its officers and men being influenced by radical ideology and leaders cannot be discounted simply for the reason that the agency is entirely staffed by officers and men from Pakistan Army where radicalisation is turning out to be a serious problem.
To make matters worse, the problem with programmes like the personnel reliability programmes and other safety checks is they are as good as the people who man them. And in Pakistan, that is where the problem is.