SAARC is marred by clashes in region
According to Mr Rodrigo, SAARC started off with great hopes but due to bilateral contentious issues remain a dream unrealized. Referring to great cultural connectivity in the region he said, it provides great positive energy but is marred by clashes in the region that create suspicions stunting the growth of SAARC in the region. He felt expansion of SAARC and entry of several observers that include economically developed and political influential countries like China, Japan, South Korea and the US may have positive impact on SAARC. But it is not without problems as for investment in any project requires participation of three regional states which becomes difficult given divisions with the region.
Mr Rodrigo strongly felt that Pakistan and Sri Lanka have always enjoyed friendly and cooperative relations and appreciated the assistance provided by Pakistan in Colombo’s war against the LTTE. Referring to growing economic relations between the two countries, he said the ties are on the positive trajectory.
Referring to ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, Mr Rodrigo said that Delhi extended support to the LTTE against the backdrop of Cold War politics as it wanted to deny Colombo’s control over the North and East of the Island, an area where Trincomalee oil Farms are located which Sri Lanka wanted to lease out to a Western Consortium involving USA. However, he maintained India did play a positive role in the final war against the LTTE. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka continues to be apprehensive about the role of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state which is planning to hold an international conference of Tamils that may stoke fires of Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka.
Mr Rodrigo observed that the internal dimension of the conflict is well taken care of after the decimation of the LTTE and rehabilitation and reconstruction work is going well in the war torn North- the Jaffna peninsula that was once hub of the Tamil insurgency. But he was critical of international community which has been very selective in highlighting the human rights violations at the final stages of war, but conveniently forgets the massacres by the LTTE. The LTTE diaspora, he stated is involved in incidents of piracy in the Indian Ocean. He also criticized India for supporting a US-sponsored resolution in the UN Human Rights Council censuring Si Lanka for war crimes in conflict with LTTE.
Rodrigo maintained that the US new strategy of rebalancing in Asia would have a negative impact on the Asia-Pacific region. In this context, he observed that the US ‘string of pearls’ assumption is based on fear as China is just building infrastructure for commercial purposes only. But US is securitizing it which will create difficulties for the smaller states like Sri Lanka.
Brig. (Retd.) Bashir Ahmed, Senior Fellow, maintained that growing Indo-US strategic partnership will have adverse impact on the region and if India wants to become an international player it needs to re-envision its neighbourhood policy. Dr Shaheen Akhtar, Senior Research Fellow, felt that a political solution of the Tamil issue would help Colombo bring a sustainable peace in the island.