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Khurshid's saner counsel

2014 Feb 17

On Wednesday, Indian External Affairs Minister, Salman Khurshid, met with a delegation of Sri Lankan journalists, including this columnist at the South Bloc. After a customary brief speech on bilateral relations, conversation soon switched to Colombo's predicament at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. India's position as per the forthcoming resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC was the central question. Would New Delhi stand by Sri Lanka? Would it serve as a go-between to bring the two parties to agree with a consensus resolution? Does Khurshid believe that the latest resolution, the third in a series, would help the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka? Does he think it would hamper the on-going efforts?
Oxford educated lawyer, Khurshid, was not only diplomatic and noncommittal, but also offered a rationale for being so.
"We are careful; anything we say here in definitive nature on Indo-Sri Lanka relations may dilute our ability to help you."
But that did not veil his conciliatory approach towards Sri Lanka, and in fact, his remarks saw an empathy towards some of the regular complaints made by the Government in Colombo.
Khurshid agreed that some countries – he singled out Canada as one – may have been influenced by domestic constituency considerations, emanating from the vocal Tamil Diaspora.
He disagreed with some other countries, in terms of their approach towards Colombo.
He said there is no cut and dry solution for every problem, and that nobody can dictate terms to the Sri Lankan Government.
That is not the way I speak to your government. I speak in a manner, in which, I urge them to work towards peace," he said.
"None of our friends – nobody – can tell you that this is the only way. We can only say that these are the possible ways (the way forward)," he said.
In the eyes of the Government in Colombo, Khurshid's remarks would be relieving. They are also proof of increasing 'autonomy' and manoeuverability, Colombo has been accorded in the issues related to Tamil political aspirations, which are also a shared interest in the Centre and Tamil Nadu.
However, he also had some useful advice for the Sri Lankan Government as it prepares itself for Geneva showdown.
Some of those sane counsels deserve the attention of Sri Lanka's political leaders.
1. Don't isolate yourself
Describing the iron curtain and the bamboo curtain were things of the past. Khurshid said Sri Lanka should take the world with it, including the cynics, and find ways to communicate 'our compulsions and limitations' and find a greater understanding with the world. He stressed that accountability and justice are now more pervasive than it had been before in a world which is increasingly inter-connected and open.
2. Show commitment first
For India to help Sri Lanka in Geneva, Sri Lanka should address local concerns so that India would be able to lobby on behalf of Sri Lanka, he said.
"For us to help, you should be doing things that we would be able tell the world: "Look at what Sri Lanka has done."
3. Don't let your ego to get in your way
The Indian External Affairs Minister should be privy to the Sri Lankan political leadership, and their handlers have inflated egos which are sometimes too big for representatives from a small State in the developing world. He was advocating much saner approach, in contrast to the local proclivity to slander the visiting UN and US officials.
4. Colombo should not be too sensitive and the world should not be over-reactive
Khurshid was cautioning against the standard knee-jerk reaction of Colombo to the UNHRC resolution as it had been witnessed during the both previous resolutions, when the government orchestrated demonstrations against the US and the UN, took to the streets in Colombo. Rights activists and journalists were subjected to character assassination.
5. In politics certain things should not be changed, even if you have a mandate
Khurshid was referring to the recent calls made by certain groups of the Rajapaksa administration to annul or weaken the 13th Amendment. He remarked that he could not disown policy decisions made by the Vajpayee Government as he was from a different political party, and by extension, the same applies to the incumbent Government in Colombo.
He noted that the 13th Amendment is a product of the agreement between the two governments, agreed in the best interests of the two countries.
"Governments change and parties change. But you cannot say we are Sri Lankans and others are not Sri Lankans. I cannot disown what Mr. (Athal Behari) Vajpayee had done as he was not from my party. Whatever was done, was done with the best of interests, and if you really have a mandate to review what had been done, that is another matter. But in politics, sometimes, even if you have mandate you should not do certain things. The mandate at that moment may not be taken the right way by everybody."
What Khurshid said was definitely not rocket science. But they can still ease Sri Lanka's woes, both locally and internationally.

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