Good Cop, Bad Cop?
As the U.S blatantly calls for an international human rights investigation in Sri Lanka, India surprisingly remains mute on the subject. What is motivating this unusual stance?
In May 2009, Sri Lanka made international headlines when its armed forces violently crushed the LTTE. Two and a half years later, the tiny South Asian nation continues to attract considerable media coverage, especially in the West. The spotlight, however, shines brightly on the conduct of the war during the final phase of the battle. Major international NGOS and media outlets have vociferously accused the Sri Lankan state of serious human rights violations, with particular reference to the Tamil population that was trapped in what was supposedly the “no-fire-zone.” According to the UN sources, close to 40,000 people were killed in the massacre. Hence, the demand for an international investigation against the Sri Lankan armed forces is a pressing international issue.
Leading this campaign is the United States of America. India, having supported and defended Sri Lanka in various international arenas, has yet to demonstrate any sympathy with the arguments of the groups concerned with human rights violations. Most recently, India resisted a Commonwealth human rights mechanism to investigate violations in Sri Lanka. Therefore, on the question of an international human rights investigation in the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka, the U.S and India have taken diametrically opposing positions. This is surprising and raises the question whether the U.S and India indeed have differing views on the issue or are merely playing the good cop-bad cop game?
During the Cold War, India adopted a pro-soviet foreign policy and in order to keep the balance of power in South Asia, the U.S formed cordial relations with Pakistan. India has been suspicious of U.S intentions in Sri Lanka in the past. From the perspective of Indian foreign and defense policy makers, the small state on its southern borders is a matter of critical national security. Through the 1987 Indo-lanka Accord, India insured that the Trincomalee harbor would not be used by hostile powers, including the US, against India’s interests. However, this was to transform substantially in the postSoviet era, partly due to the emergence of China as a challenge to both the U.S and India.
A strategic partnership between the U.S and India began to evolve during the Clinton administration and continued through the Bush administration. President Obama duly followed suit. A strategic partnership between the U.S and India includes military and security cooperation, which had led China to believe that India is acceding to U.S sponsored anti-china projects in South Asia. Nevertheless, the new found relationship between the two countries led to a close collaboration in view of the Sri Lankan peace process in 2001. Jeffrey Lunstead, the U.S ambassador to Sri Lanka during the peace confabulations, in his analysis of the peace process titled, ‘The United States’ Role in Sri Lanka’s Peace Process 2002 – 2006,’ maintained that “This new atmosphere was bolstered by actions by both sides to share information and, to a lesser extent, to
coordinate their policies. Information sharing took place at different levels and different locations. The U.S Ambassador in Colombo and the Indian High Commissioner met frequently to exchange views and share information on their activities in the country. The two countries’ defense attaches also met periodically…it was in many ways a non-confliction exercise to ensure the two sides did not work at cross purposes” (p.25).
It is therefore evident that the two states worked closely to ensure a “non-confliction” approach due to a strategic interest in the affairs of the small state. The question of human rights violation has however pitted both states against each other. There may be two explanations for this unusual stance. First, the bilateral consultation, communication and col- laboration adopted during the peace process still continues and India and the U.S are playing the good cop – bad cop game in Sri Lanka in the hopes of balancing regional geo-political interests and implementing a moralistic human rights standard; a win-win scenario for the U.S and India. The second explanation is that India is going solo on this issue regardless of the American concerns about lack of rule of law and human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka in the recent past has been leaning radically towards China causing India severe concern. In the post-ltte era, India has no leverage over Sri Lanka and in order to prevent it from playing into Chinese hands, India is either supporting Sri Lanka’s position or keeping a low profile on the issue.
Interestingly, Indian worries have placed it in a strange coalition of countries that include China and Pakistan. India finds itself on the same page with Pakistan and China on the issue of an international investigation on human rights violations in Sri Lanka as it tries to defend Sri Lanka internationally. Currently, it appears that India no longer works with the U.S on the Sri Lankan issue. However, one cannot completely rule out the possibility that there is indeed a covert yet mutual understanding between India and the U.S on the question of an international investigation against Sri Lanka. The writer is the Chair of the Department of Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution, Fulton School of Liberal Arts, Salisbury University, Maryland, USA.
Pressurized in the public eye.