Cablegate: India Cautiously Welcomes New Sri Lankan President

Published: Wed 23 Nov 2005 12:12 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/23/2015
Classified By: PolCouns Geoff Pyatt, for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) Summary: The GOI called Mahinda Rajapakse's victory in the November 17 Sri Lankan Elections a ""wake-up call for India"" and plans to use the new President's upcoming visit to New Delhi to stress the importance of maintaining the Cease-Fire Agreement while continuing India's already close relationship with its southern neighbor. Outside the government, Sri Lanka watchers in New Delhi are seriously concerned that Rajapakse's hawkish views may squash the ""last glimmer of hope"" for the peace process. MEA Joint Secretary (Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma) Mohan Kumar commented that the LTTE boycott of the elections was evidence that Prabhakaran ""dumped"" the United National Party's (UNP) Ranil Wickremesinghe in favor of Rajapakse in order to avoid a return to the negotiating table. Despite the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP) candidate's hard-line campaign rhetoric, Kumar predicted that Rajapakse will moderate himself and the ""no peace, no war"" situation is likely to hold in the near term. He suggested that the only way forward is to bring Norway back into the process, look for a Sinhalese consensus and give the LTTE a ""take it or leave it"" offer. Kumar told us India is close to ""crossing the rubicon"" with a decision for greater involvement, but the GOI is still looking for a role which avoids making harsh statements against the LTTE without a credible ability to carry out these threats. In addition to maintaining the Cease-Fire Agreement, the GOI will use Rajapakse's visit to Delhi to finish negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and consider Indian support for large infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka. End Summary.
LTTE Boycott a Sign of Weakness
2. (C) In a meeting with PolCouns and Poloff on November 23, MEA Joint Secretary for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma Mohan Kumar emphasized that Rajapakse's victory in the Presidential election was a ""wake up call for India"" about the LTTE's motives and the future of the peace process. Kumar complained that Prabhakaran had used Ranil when he was making concessions to the LTTE and then ""dumped"" him in favor of a government that ""was easier for the LTTE to tackle."" Since the CFA, Kumar noted, the LTTE has lost the Karuna faction, its control over parts of Jaffna and the ability to conscript child soldiers. Calling the boycott a ""sign of weakness,"" Kumar speculated that Prabhakaran concluded the only way out was to bring the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to power, bide time and convince the international community that the Rajapakse government was unwilling to meet its demands to come back to the negotiating table, in hopes this would convince the world to soften its views of the LTTE.
But Rajapakse Victory Strengthens the LTTE
3. (C) Highlighting the benefits the LTTE gains from Rajapakse's victory, Sri Lanka watcher and Prabhakaran biographer M.R. Narayan Swamy concluded that the election has ""squashed the last glimmer of hope in the peace process."" Under the current cease-fire, he noted, the LTTE is able to continue weakening the state through its proxy administration, fundraising and targeted assassinations. Prabhakaran also knows that the GOSL will not be the one to restart the war, giving the LTTE greater control over events. Narayan Swamy grimly predicted that Rajapakse's tie up with the JVP will prevent him from giving in to LTTE demands to negotiate, which will allow the LTTE to eventually blame Colombo for the diplomatic stalemate. The LTTE will gain both sympathy within Sri Lanka and the international community, and time to prepare for an eventual return to war. Thus, he offered, Rajapakse's victory strengthened the LTTE and brought them closer to the goal of Tamil Eelam.
Rajapakse: Hawkish Campaigner but Moderate President?
--------------------------------------------- ---------
4. (C) MEA's Deputy Secretary for Sri Lanka Anupam Rae was hopeful that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse's hawkish campaign rhetoric was intended only to gain votes, and predicted that he will not destabilize the peace process. Although Rae admitted that Rajapakse is still an ""unknown commodity,"" he observed that the new President will initially bide time while he feels out the pressure from the JVP and the international community. Rajapakse can not afford to take the country back to war, he noted, but he also can not find a solution. Therefore, Sri Lanka will be stuck in the ""no peace, no war"" predicament for the next few years. Calling Rajapakse a ""pragmatic fellow,"" Kumar added that India will be pressuring him not to let the JVP ""cajole him"" out of the peace process.
5. (C) P. Sahadevan, a Professor of Sri Lankan studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, was less optimistic about the JVP's likely influence on Rajapakse. He observed that Rajapakse's first test will come when the Supreme Court hands down the final decision on the tsunami reconstruction PTOMs agreement. If the agreement is constitutional, the international community and the LTTE will pressure Rajapakse to implement it, while the JVP will force him to abandon it. The JVP will also demand that the GOSL create an inclusive, multilateral peace process with less foreign intervention to find a solution within a unitary structure. Since the LTTE will never agree to negotiations within these conditions, Sahadevan concluded that the JVP's presence in the coalition will prevent progress towards peace in Sri Lanka. He suggested that the LTTE will agree to the quasi cease-fire situation as long as Prabhakaran thinks it is in his interest to be left alone to build the LTTE or unless he feels compelled to respond to Rajapakse's chauvinistic statements.
GOI's Private Message for Rajapakse
6. (C) Joint Secretary Kumar suggested that the GOI's first post-election priority is ensuring that the cease-fire does not break down in light of Rajapakse's intentions to ""review"" the Cease-Fire Agreement, and welcomed the fact that this converged with US objectives. ""Everyone knows the CFA is flawed,"" he observed, ""but its presence is crucial to preventing a return to violence."" He hoped to have a clearer understanding of the situation after the upcoming visits of Rajapakse (expected within the next month) and Eric Solheim. Kumar conveyed that the GOI message will stress the need for the new President to moderate his statements, keep the cease-fire going, bring Norway back into the process, and work towards a majority Sinhalese consensus solution to the conflict. Kumar emphasized that Norway's continued presence is key to maintaining the cease-fire, but he suggested that they would be more effective speaking directly to Prabhakaran, rather than working through unreliable intermediaries. Kumar underlined that the GOI needs to convince Rajapakse to keep talking to the LTTE, and added that if the Sinhalese majority can come to a consensus on the solution, then Rajapakse's hard-line image actually makes him ideally placed to put forward a devolution package.
India Crossing the Rubicon on its Role in Sri Lanka
--------------------------------------------- ---------
7. (C) In light of the stalled peace process and the potential for further decline, Kumar commented that the GOI ""prefers to be hands off,"" but ""can't keep quiet"" anymore. ""India is crossing the rubicon,"" he indicated, but still looking for the best way to protect its interests in the Sri Lankan peace process. He attributed this decision directly to Prime Minister Singh and Foreign Secretary Saran, but went on to describe the complications they face in looking for an appropriate response. India probably will not join the Co-Chairs, he explained, because that will put them in the unwelcome situation of ""making statements about the LTTE without any threat to back them up."" The US has the luxury of distance and the LTTE knows that American Marines are not coming to Sri Lanka, he observed. On the other hand, India benefits from the LTTE's concerns that the GOI could bring in troops at any time. He worried that New Delhi could lose all credibility if it issued statements without any recourse to action. He noted that Foreign Minister Natwar Singh's removal meant that the Sri Lanka file was now squarely on the Prime Minister's agenda.
8. (C) Although the Norwegian government told Kumar that the LTTE would like India to play a facilitation role, Kumar insisted that the GOI will never accept. If India facilitated, Prabhakaran would demand meetings and access in Chennai, forcing the GOI to lift the terrorist group's proscription. This would have the negative effect of giving the LTTE a foothold into Tamil Nadu to meet with mainstream parties and gather support in the south. He concluded the GOI was still deliberating on its role in the Co-Chairs process.
Rajapakse Comes to Delhi
9. (C) Indian Sri Lankan watchers are predicting that the GOI will have a tough message for Rajapakse when he visits Delhi on his first Presidential visit. Major General (Retired) Ashok Mehta, who served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka predicted that India will give a ""message of disapproval"" about Rajapakse's potential to ""diminish the character of devolution."" Mehta and Sahadevan suggested that the GOI will hold back on signing the Defense Cooperation Agreement as a pressure point on Rajapakse to moderate his views on the peace process. Sahadevan worried that if Rajapakse maintains his image as a hard-liner on the peace process, then the GOI will have to distance itself, which will indirectly lend support to the LTTE. Although Rajapakse campaigned on closer relations with India, Sahadevan characterized him as a man who will not be seen as ""hob-knobbing with the Indian leadership"" like others in the Bandaranaike family.
10. (C) Desk Officer Rae noted that Rajapakse is likely to press for concluding the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and enlisting India's financial support in several large infrastructure projects. The GOI will try to influence Rajapakse's role in the peace process, but Kumar predicted that this will not disturb the close, economic-based relationship between the two countries. Rae noted that the GOI has almost finished an updated free trade agreement, which took most of its substance from India's recently concluded Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with Singapore. Rajapakse may also be looking to India to help fulfill his campaign promises to create a Special Economic Zone at Trincomalee and upgrade Sri Lanka's railways.
Comment: GOI and USG Must Support Continued CFA
--------------------------------------------- ---
11. (C) Compared to New Delhi's Sri Lanka watchers, the GOI was less gloomy about the implications of Rajapakse's victory. Indian analysts see the election as a sign that Sri Lanka is farther away then ever from coming to a consensus on a solution, while MEA was hopeful that they could persuade Rajapakse to moderate his statements, maintain the cease-fire, and keep engaging the LTTE. Given its negative past experience, New Delhi's top leadership is thinking long and hard about the future of its policy in Sri Lanka. The GOI opposes Rajapakse's campaign rhetoric, but will maintain public agreement in order to avoid lending any indirect support to the LTTE. While the Co-Chairs may not be the right forum for Indian involvement, we are encouraged that New Delhi will use its good graces with the new President to maintain its close relationship and support the Cease Fire Agreement.
12. (U) Visit New Delhi's Classified Website: (
View as: DESKTOP | MOBILE © Scoop Media