Cablegate: Mea Formulating "More Active Role" in Sri Lankan

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/14/2015


Classified By: PolCouns Geoffrey Pyatt for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)

1. (C) Summary: The MEA's Deputy Secretary for Sri Lanka Anupam Ray told us that New Delhi is concerned about the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka, and has decided the ""time has come"" for India to start ""taking a higher profile in Sri Lanka."" The GOI does not, however, wish for a facilitation or mediation role in the conflict, nor does it want to join the Sri Lankan Co-Chairs Group, but it feels pressure from Sri Lankan political parties to look for other ways to make its presence felt. In contrast, non-GOI Sri Lanka analysts in Delhi were doubtful that India would or should become more involved. The MEA is reacting to a perceived need to step up its engagement in response to political challenges in Sri Lanka, but has not yet clearly formulated what kind of role it will take. We will follow up as Indian thinking evolves. End Summary.

India Looking for a Higher Profile in Peace Process
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2. (C) In a recent meeting to further explore Lakhdar Brahimi's statement (reftel) that India was seeking ""a more active role"" in Sri Lanka, MEA Deputy Secretary Anupam Ray was open about the Foreign Secretary's vision to take a higher profile in the peace process. Noting that his country shares a two thousand year history with Sri Lanka, Ray lamented that India's Tamil population and close proximity to the conflict means that it can never disengage. ""Ever since India withdrew its peacekeeping force from Sri Lanka in 1990,"" he reflected, ""political parties there have been demanding for India to provide a guarantee its commitment to the peace process"" Ray opined that the peace process has deteriorated, LTTE leader Prabhakaran is more unpredictable than ever, and Norway has outlived its utility; thus the ""time has come"" for India to reengage. India would prefer to wait until there is a ""Sinhalese consensus about the outline of a solution,"" but the GOI ""can't wait forever because Prabhakaran wants Tamil Eelam in his lifetime.""

3. (C) Regarding India' future role, Ray was most clear that New Delhi ""does not want to mediate or facilitate, just make it presence known."" India does not want to officially join the Co-chairs, but will take a more active role in the Donor's group. When asked how the GOI planned to make its presence felt, given its already close defense cooperation with Sri Lanka, Ray predicted that India would begin by making clearer statements against LTTE violence and the need for a consensus on the peace process in the south. Revealing what may be the true inspiration behind the change in policy, Ray worried that ""if the GOI doesn't get its act together now, it will eventually be dragged into the process when things get worse.""

Sri Lanka Watchers Don't See Room for Greater GOI Role
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4. (U) New Delhi's non-GOI analysts of Sri Lanka uniformly believe that the GOI should not get more involved in the peace process. P. Sahadevan, an Associate Professor covering Sri Lanka at Jawaharlal Nehru University commented that India's current approach, which he generally described as supporting Sri Lankan sovereignty and minority rights while allowing military cooperation with the GSL, has paid off with enhanced relations with Colombo. In his opinion, the ""increasingly pragmatic"" GOI won't want to risk these relations by taking any sort of lead in this ""mess."" Acknowledging that Sinhalese groups such as the SLFP, JVP and UNP view the GOI as anti-LTTE and call for a greater Indian role, Sahadevan does not see any Indian leader who has the political will or capability to involve the government in this conflict. He also warned against increasing military cooperation with the GSL, which he feared could lead to greater ""chauvinism within the GSL"" and further scuttle the peace process.

5. (U) Prabhakaran biographer and Indo-Asian News Service journalist M.R. Narayan Swamy also questioned an Indian role in the peace process. He explained that political parties in Sri Lanka claim that India has a ""moral duty"" to be part of a solution in light of its past military involvement in the 1980s, and that obligation has grown stronger ""in the last two years, as people in both countries realize the Cease Fire Agreement is not the end of the problem."" He speculated that FM Kadirgamar's assassination has ""woken up the sleeping elephant,"" and India is unsure how to respond. He commented that India's clear stand against the LTTE since Rajiv Gandhi's assassination precludes it from ever taking a mediator's role. ""If India assumes that its involvement will necessarily facilitate a solution, then it is wrong,"" Narayan Swamy concluded emphatically.

6. (U) Mohan Tikku, a Senior Fellow studying Sri Lanka at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, also does not foresee a greater role for India in the peace process. As a result of India's negative experience with the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) and the LTTE's assassination of PM Rajiv Gandhi, the GOI is not an unbiased actor in Sri Lanka. Therefore, Tikku noted, India has no leverage with the LTTE and should not strive for any type of diplomatic role. The SLFP, UNP and JVP may want India to become more involved, but Tamil parties are ""deeply suspect"" of New Delhi's intentions. Tamil politics in South India, which have thus far prevented the signing of the Defense Cooperation Agreement with Sri Lanka, would make it even more difficult for the GOI to go in on the GSL's side in the conflict. Tikku worried that any Indian role would be overtly biased against the LTTE, and would give the GSL greater confidence to return to hostilities.

Norwegians in Delhi Weigh in on India's Involvement
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7. (C) Norwegian Charge Lasse Bjorn Johannessen emphasized that India's recent actions have indicated that it does not look to play a more active role in Sri Lanka. Lasse indicated that there was no formal response to a Norwegian demarche earlier this summer requesting the GOI to ""take on more constructive involvement"" in the conflict. After being invited to the Co-Chairs meeting along the sidelines of UNGA, India never showed up. As further proof, he described the difficulties the Norwegian government faced trying to get the GOI on the phone after the Kadirgamar assassination. He wearily commented that Norway welcomes a greater Indian role, but thus far have seen no indications to this effect.

Comment: The Will, But Not The Way

8. (C) Sri Lanka has reappeared on the GOI list of regional priorities, but the MEA is still in the initial stages of formulating a policy to deal with a strained peace process. India's Free Trade Agreement, defense cooperation and its tsunami assistance to Sri Lanka have yielded its best SIPDIS regional relationship with Colombo. While some of India's neighbors prefer that New Delhi mind its own business in South Asia, the GOI perceives a genuine need and desire from Sri Lanka for it to become more involved. As India contemplates its role in Sri Lanka, it must take into consideration the difficulties presented by New Delhi analysts and decide how it can be most helpful to its southern neighbor. We will closely follow Indian thinking as it evolves.

9. (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website: (


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