India-Sri Lanka Relations

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  • Ganesh Pol asked: Why do Indian fisherman often run into problems with the Sri Lankan authorities in the Indian Ocean? What are the causal factors?

    Gulbin Sultana replies: Both Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen have been fishing into Palk Bay area for centuries. Problem emerged only after a maritime agreement was signed by India and Sri Lanka in 1974. In fact, initially the 1974 border agreement did not affect fishing on either sides of the border. In 1976, through an exchange of letter, both India and Sri Lanka agreed to stop fishing in each other’s waters. However, the agreement could not stop the fishermen from fishing in these waters, as fishermen know no boundary. They go wherever they can get maximum number of catch. They, knowingly or unknowingly, often violate the International Maritime Boundary Lines in search of a good catch, at times at great personal risk.

    Both India and Sri Lankan fishermen have been known for entering into each other’s waters. However, cases of arrest of Sri Lankan fishermen by Indian authorities are comparatively less since they mostly fish in the high seas by using multi-day crafts. On the other hand, due to the dearth of multi-day fishing capability, Indian fishermen cannot shift their fishing effort from the Palk Bay area to the offshore areas of the Indian waters or way beyond the continental shelf. Therefore, Indian fishermen have no other option but to fish into the Sri Lankan waters. While for the Sri Lankan authorities protecting their maritime boundary is important, for the Indian fishermen the priority is of securing their livelihood.

    It is noteworthy that despite the signing of maritime boundary agreements, fishermen communities of both the countries continued their fishing in the Palk Bay area peacefully until the Eelam war broke out in 1983. Nonetheless, after the end of War in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishermen have been raising their objection to Indian fishermen fishing in their waters. According to an estimate, more than 500 trawlers from Tamil Nadu cross the International Maritime Boundary Line and fish in the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay, threatening the livelihoods of the fishermen in the north of Sri Lanka, who have just commenced fishing after the end of war in 2009.
    Thus, the main problem with Indian fishermen is that a large number of them are dependent on fishing in Sri Lankan waters, which is prohibited by the 1976 Maritime Boundary Agreement. Also, a large number of Indian fishermen are dependent on trawling which is banned in Sri Lanka.

    Major Lessons from Operation Pawan for Future Regional Stability Operations

    The Indian intervention in Sri Lanka throws up five major lessons for future regional stability operations. Firstly, it is imperative to define the mission unambiguously and establish a clear mandate. Secondly, there is need for a robust military contingency planning process as well as discussions at various levels within the system to refine plans and provide an adequate force to meet possible eventualities. Thirdly, clear command and control needs to be established at the outset and the appropriate field formation must be designated as the headquarters.

    July 2012

    Abhinav Shukla asked – What has been Sri Lanka’s position on the Kashmir issue? Has Sri Lanka been supportive of India in various international fora on the Kashmir issue or against Pakistani aggression?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: Immediately after India voted in support of the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 22 March 2012, Sri Lanka cautioned India that this particular resolution could provide precedence for similar resolutions against India on Kashmir. This might have led the questioner to raise this issue.

    However, Sri Lanka has not so far taken any adverse position on Kashmir, and has rather maintained neutrality over the issue. As a smaller country, it had in the 1950s and 60s sought to project its soft power and had offered to mediate between India and China.

    Even in the late 1990s, there were moves by Pakistan to encourage Sri Lanka as a mediator and the then president had even indirectly offered to help the process, if there was a need for the same.

    However, Sri Lanka has largely respected India's reservations about any third party mediating between India and Pakistan. It has also taken a neutral posture on the issue in international fora. In view of the growing contacts between Sri Lanka, and India's traditional rivals-- Pakistan and China, it is being speculated that Sri Lanka may change its position on Kashmir in future. However, Sri Lanka is well aware that any such step would damage India-Sri Lanka relations and any Indian counter measure would be disastrous for the Island country.

    Against this backdrop, whether it would take any position against Indian interests on the Kashmir issue in international fora remains to be seen.

    Visit of the Indian Parliamentary Delegation to Sri Lanka

    The delegation seems to have got its message across, that effective engagement with the TNA cannot be avoided by the Rajapakse government.

    April 26, 2012

    A Wake up Call for Sri Lanka at the UNHRC

    India’s vote at the UNHRC may is the first step to send a clear message to the Rajapakse government that it cannot continue to postpone a political resolution of the Tamil issue.

    April 09, 2012

    Shubhda Chaudhary asked : What is India’s position on the Syrian crisis and how has the uprising in Syria affected the relationship between the two countries?

    Prasanta Kumar Pradhan replies: India has expressed its concern about the deteriorating situation in Syria. India acknowledges Syria as an important country in the region and believes that any protracted internal conflict will have its impact not only on the internal peace but on the regional stability as well. India wants the Syrian crisis to end in a peaceful manner ensuring the human rights of the people. India has called for “a peaceful and inclusive political process to address the grievances of all sections of Syrian society.” Also, India opposes any kind of external intervention in Syria to end the conflict as societies cannot be reordered from outside. Thus, India supports a non-military solution to the conflict and is of the view that the threat of use of force would be detrimental to the territorial integrity and political independence of the country.

    Despite the ongoing tension in the region, India is trying to maintain good relationship with Syria. It is too early to gauge the negative impact of the conflict on the India-Syria relationship as the situation is still unfolding; and India remains hopeful of a peaceful resolution of the conflict. India has had good ties with the current regime. President Pratibha Patil had visited the country in November 2010, just before the protests began in the Arab world. Both the countries can focus on further developing bilateral relationship after the present turmoil is over.

    UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka: India’s Options

    India must use the opportunity to extract a commitment from Sri Lanka to initiate a serious process of dialogue aimed at evolving a political solution to the Tamil issue.

    March 19, 2012

    The Continuing ‘State of Emergency’ in Sri Lanka

    Removing emergency regulations while continuing with militarisation and a massive project of policing in socio-cultural arenas do not indicate a journey towards normalcy.

    September 05, 2011

    A New Phase in India-Sri Lanka Relations

    The recent increase in top level Indian delegation visits to Colombo indicates that India has entered a new and more comprehensive phase of bilateral relations with Sri Lanka.

    January 03, 2011

    China’s Foray into Sri Lanka and India’s Response

    China’s foray into Sri Lanka in recent years has somewhat heightened India’s engagement in the island nation, separated by the small stretch of the Palk-Strait

    August 05, 2010