Varied views on Sri Lankan challenges | Daily News

Varied views on Sri Lankan challenges

Book Review:

Title: Sri Lanka at Crossroads: Geopolitical Challenges and National Interest
Author: Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

Sri Lanka at Crossroads by Asanga Abeyagoonasekera could not have come at better times. But more than being so timely given Sri Lanka's political developments of last two months, it holds enduring relevance in its own right and assures a longer shelf live for being such an ambitious project by an relatively young author. It shows his erudite width in painting such a large canvass ranging from island nation's strategic significance germinating from its ancient diplomatic interactions with Romans to being central and oversized island in Ptolemy's world map from where he moves with his characteristic ease to untying complex knots of charged political polemics of contemporary times. In this complication of his recent essays his examination of Sri Lanka's decade-long peace-building and reconciliation remains especially sharp and candid, even blunt!

These essays are equally forthright when it comes to examining challenges to Sri Lanka's democratic institutions and traditions as also in dissecting specific sectors of cybersecurity and forecasting futures. There is impressive intellectual groundwork that makes analysis constantly criss-crossing multiple locales and narratives; laden often with an emotional restlessness and deeper connect with the subject which often makes author prescriptive, sometimes even caricaturing to push his argument forcefully to his readers. There is this discomfort of complex situations of Sri Lanka being addressed in simplistic frames of reference. For instance, he recommends shifting towards a pure technocracy if Sri Lankans are not able to overcome repeated episodes of indiscipline that undermines their democratic credence. Asanga sees weak state institutions as most formidable cause for the current morass, especially corruption and inaction.

Myopic political decisions like allowing all hundred ministers new cars worth 36 million rupees each, lure and lustre of rapid investments, stereotyping of Tamils, underinvesting in their youth on the one hand and being unappreciative of complete absence of choices for those successive generations during the Elam war that ignites subconsciousness-driven slogans (Eluga Tamil) does not call for one-time engagements with Global Tamil Forum for public relations. While there is conviction in seriously engaging Tamil diaspora there is also urge to recognise Sri Lanka's war heroes: politicians for their political will; soldiers for their dedication and bravery; and, intelligence for their precision in cutting all supply lines of rebels to make this victory possible. Book is also unique the way it uses a whole treasure of quotations from various historical icons from world over. It is reflective of author constantly rubbing shoulders with global leaders attending forums from Davos World Economic Forum to Shangri La Dialogue and brainteasing of several experts from ivy institutions of great reputation.

The books indeed runs like a rollercoaster leaving reader with more questions than answers. But for a discerning eye it also alludes to several unwritten insinuations forcing the reader to read in between the published lines. In explaining Sri Lanka's strategic location -- as its greatest asset -- Asanga talks of MacInder's 'outer crescent' that makes him see two other nations, Britain and Japan, being similarly ordained. However, as world drifts from continents to Oceans following Mahanian axioms it leaves only Sri Lanka that sits in the midst of global east-west super expressway of sea lanes of communications connecting the two ends of the Indo-Pacific geopolitical paradigm. He calls it a 'super connector.' The unsaid part here explains why Chinese have not only invested about $2 billion in Hambantota port but take a 99 years lease to manage it as well. He reminds us of Robert Kaplan of Monsoon fame saying ''whoever controls Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on these waters."

Sri Lanka at Crossroads makes an admirable effort to provide an objective analysis of Sri Lanka's India connections, especially the Tamil factor in knitting his narrative on ups and downs of Delhi-Colombo equations. It highlights limitations of New Delhi's coalition politics and as he puts it, Indian leaders have often themselves confessed about it. Likewise, he also highlights how sometimes insurrections were triggered by "Sinhala Buddhists who set off anti-Tamil pogroms in south" as also sometimes the state agencies reacting rather slowly and then resorting to use of brute force to restore order. Similarly on China, he highlights how China's One Belt One Road was originally conceived by famous Beijing University profess, Wang Ji Si who proposed it (in Mackinder's model) of connecting China to Eurasia. Surely Wang has not been publicly credited for this and addition of the Twenty-First Century Maritime Silk Road to China's reformulated Belt and Road Initiative surely drifts far from the so-called Wang proposal. While Wang's authorship may be established over period of time, the other noticeable puzzle reader will come across is repeated prescriptions of what needs to be done. This is perhaps how policy research works quite often. But in the end readers will fine this book very lucid and therefore an easy read and also engaging while keeping reader on edge of moving faster to keep pace with author's inferences and imaginations.

Reviewed by 

Swaran Singh
Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and Senior Fellow, Institute for National Security Studies Sri Lanka (Colombo).


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