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?

Southasia - - Front page - Dr. S. I. Keethapon­calan

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.

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