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Hussain Dilshi asked: Briefly explain how the situation in Sri Lanka changed after the end of the Cold War, and thereafter, since the end of the civil war?

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  • Gulbin Sultana replies: End of the Cold War signified the loss of Sri Lanka’s strategic importance in regional politics. During the Cold War period, while India was following ‘Indira Doctrine’, Sri Lanka was trying to use its strategic location to manoeuvre against India. Therefore, India followed an interventionist policy towards Sri Lanka. However, end of the Cold War effectively removed India’s apprehensions and security concerns over the status of Trincomalee harbour. The changing security perception of the Indian leadership in the post-Cold War period, made India pursue a “hands‐off” policy towards the civil war in Sri Lanka. It also led to tremendous improvement in economic relations as both the countries signed a Free Trade Agreement and a major oil terminal was also given on lease to the Indian Oil Corporation.

    However, armed ethnic conflict continued to pose a major challenge for Sri Lanka. To meet these challenges, Sri Lanka diversified its foreign policy in the post-Cold War period to which India did not raise any objection, be it the involvement of external actors in Sri Lanka or its growing reliance on China and Pakistan for supply of arms, initiating peace process with Norwegian mediation or the extensive presence of US naval warships to assist the tsunami victims in 2004. In the absence of the bloc politics and the changing world order, Sri Lanka managed to get support from the international community including USA, Russia, China, India and Pakistan in its war against the LTTE, which could not have been possible during the Cold War era.

    Later, the end of the civil war provided an opportunity to the Sri Lankan Government to bring lasting peace to the country. Unfortunately, even four years after the end of the Eelam war, no mechanism for political resolution of the conflict and addressing the legitimate grievances of the minority communities has come up. However, there has been a notable progress in infrastructure development all over Sri Lanka including the north and east. Carpet roads are being constructed with Chinese assistance, railway lines are being constructed with Indian assistance, and the Northern Province has been linked with the national power grid. Development of infrastructure has had a positive impact on the tourism industry. It also renewed hopes for increased foreign investment in the country. However, after two years of economic boom in 2010-11, Sri Lanka in 2012 experienced an economic decline.

    The developmental activities have not helped much in winning the hearts of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka, as their concerns and grievances remain unaddressed. While no step has been initiated to accommodate minority rights, attempts are being made to establish Buddhist and Sinhala supremacy over the minorities. Post civil war, Sri Lanka has also been experiencing communal clashes between the Buddhists and Muslims. At the political front, with the consolidation of power in the hands of the president, opposition continues to lose ground. While the main opposition party has been suffering from internal problems, Tamils too have not been able to raise a common voice.

    At the international level, Sri Lanka has come under severe criticism for alleged violation of human rights during the last phase of the war and thereafter. Except China, all the major trading partners of Sri Lanka like the US, EU, India and the UK have been critical of its human rights record. Sri Lanka is also disappointed about India voting twice against it in the UNHRC and also because of its insistence on political devolution, which the Sri Lankan leadership considers as unnecessary interference in its domestic affairs.