US policy on Lanka asymmetrical

The government says it is now becoming increasingly clear that U.S. (and European) policies towards Sri Lanka are asymmetrical.

Writing in the prestigious Forbes magazine, Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal says the U.S. is applying heavy pressure toward the Sri Lanka Government to accelerate the reconciliation process with the minority Tamil population while ignoring the major strides that have been made towards this goal by the Sri Lankan government and people.

At the same time, he says the U.S. seems to be paying little attention to the geo-strategic dimensions of U.S.-Sri Lanka relations as well as to the economic potential that Sri Lanka has to offer as the fastest growing economy in its region and as a gateway to a 1 billion people market in next door India.

“When the U.S. declared war on terror after 9/11, Sri Lanka had already been fighting such a war for decades. As with 9/11, Sri Lanka’s financial sector too was a target. On January 31 1996, a Tamil suicide bomber drove a truck laden with high explosives into the building of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, killing 91 and injuring 1,300,” he said.

Cabraal says while reconciliation after a conflict is important it is a psychological process that can take many years, decades in most cases, and which needs to follow its own course, driven by the parties involved.

“Perhaps U.S. policy makers would do well to reflect as to how long the U.S. took to reconcile after its own civil war. Sri Lankans need time and space to overcome the mistrust and the bitterness brought about by 30 years of war and terrorism. Outside support can be helpful, but outside pressure that appears to be inspired by a very vocal Tamil diaspora, without taking into account, achievements on the ground and the larger political and economic picture, is not well received or understood in Colombo,” he added.

Cabraal says Sri Lanka values its relations with America and at the same time increasingly depend on China and India for investments in infrastructure.

“Is the U.S. “losing” Sri Lanka? Not yet. In December 2009, Senators Kerry and Lugar circulated a report to their colleagues in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations that concluded that U.S. policymakers have tended to underestimate Sri Lanka’s geostrategic importance for American interests and that a more multifaceted U.S. strategy would capitalize on the economic, trade, and security aspects of the relationship. On its part, Sri Lanka would welcome a recalibration of US policy towards a more symmetrical US strategy that takes into consideration, the key strategic, economic and trade perspectives. Surely, such a strategy will serve both countries’ long term interests,” he said. (Colombo Gazette)