It has been said before, but bears repeating. A permanent political solution within Rajavarothiam Sampanthan’s lifetime is Sri Lanka’s last best hope for achieving peace within this generation. The TNA after Sampanthan will be a fragmented and disintegrating alliance, whose conflicting interests will make a final solution to an ethnic conflict that has spanned six decades only ever more elusive.
The road to Jaffna from Colombo hugs the western coast of Sri Lanka. Palms stand sentinel, a lagoon shimmers for miles under a deep blue sky, the sea an invisible presence resonating in the dry, salty wind. The road runs smooth, oblivious to the wounds of a war that took thousands of lives, displaced lakhs of people, destroyed villages and communities and deeply split this country.
Far from the South China Sea’s unfolding turbulence, the calmer waters of the Indian Ocean are witnessing a more subtle geopolitical power play, in which China is losing its leverage over Sri Lanka to the United States. The shift comes amid a raging domestic debate in the strategically located island nation over the investigation of atrocities committed during the country’s civil war, which ended in 2009.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is poised to become the new Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, is seen by New Delhi as a more trustworthy partner in the neighbourhood than former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka is a strategically vital island nation lying off southern coast of India, and its recent shifts away from China under President Sirisena, who won a surprise victory on campaign promises to balance away from China, could be a big blow against China’s “string of pearls” strategy.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s sudden indisposition during the New Year holidays had politicians on both sides of the House considering a potentially serious constitutional bombshell. The possibility of the Rajapaksa family making a come back, not just as members of parliament, but even as political masters of the country till 2021 has emerged a real possibility. Mahinda Rajapaksa could return as president through an entirely legal process.
Post-conflict Sri Lanka’s engagement with China was pure pragmatism. It had little to do with turning away from India or the West. Had Sri Lanka not taken the risk to turn to China and other countries in the East such as Japan and Korea for the sake of good relations with India or the West, there would have been a serious setback to Sri Lanka’s economic advancement.