Foreign Minister Jaishankar Arrives in Lanka to Hold Bilateral Talks and Attend BIMSTEC Summit | world news

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar arrived here on Sunday to hold bilateral talks with Sri Lanka’s top leaders and attend the BIMSTEC seven-nation summit.

It is his first visit to the island nation since India extended an economic aid package to pull Sri Lanka out of the current economic crisis.

“Arrived in Colombo for bilateral visit and BIMSTEC meeting. Expect my discussions over the next two days,” he tweeted.

Jaishankar arrived here after concluding his visit to the Maldives during which he held discussions with the country’s top leaders on high-profile issues related to bilateral cooperation.

The Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka and the Maldives is part of his five-day, two-country tour of India’s two major maritime neighbors to explore possibilities for further expanding bilateral engagements.

Although Jaishankar’s visit to Colombo is mainly for BIMSTEC engagements, officials here have said he will participate in all major bilateral talks with Sri Lankan leaders.

Besides India and Sri Lanka, BIMSTEC includes Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan.

The summit is hosted by Sri Lanka in its capacity as chairman of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the BIMSTEC virtual summit on March 30, which is expected to focus on expanding economic engagement among its member countries.

The summit comes at a time when Sri Lanka is facing its worst currency crisis ever after the pandemic hit the island nation’s income from tourism and remittances.

India, since mid-January, has provided economic relief in the form of currency swaps, deferred repayments and dedicated lines of credit for the purchase of fuel and essential imports.

Jaishankar’s visit comes at a time when public outrage over the ineffectiveness of the Lankan government in handling the crisis has come to light. People are holding protests and vigils to demand immediate solutions to rid them of fuel and gas queues and enduring long hours of power cuts.

Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa has seen Jaishankar as a useful ally in his bid to tackle the issue at a time when serious public anger has turned against the government – these come in the form of protests peaceful urging not only President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to step down, but the entire Rajapaksa ruling family to step down for incompetence.

Although government and opposition leaders as well as economic analysts have generally appreciated India’s assistance, some concerns about India’s preconditions, if any, for such assistance have been raised.

In recent days, the opposition as well as some of the government’s allies have raised concerns about some of the recently approved Indian projects in the island nation.

In addition, some of the proposed post-economic relief package commitments with India are causing growing concern.

The agreement to award a $6 million grant for the establishment of a maritime rescue coordination center in Sri Lanka and the agreement to implement Sri Lanka’s unified digital identity framework are two excellent examples of alleged packs with India shrouded in secrecy.

The main opposition raised the plans in parliament, questioning their alleged lack of transparency and urging the government to get answers.

India’s aid or its economic bailout included $400m currency swaps, $500m for fuel, $1bn for food and basic necessities and deferral of payments in Asian currency units of more than 500 million dollars.

The best explanation for India’s aid came from former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

“The Indian aid was due to the fact that they feared there was instability in Sri Lanka with civil unrest. India had never helped a country to such an extent before,” he said in a discussion with an independent think tank, adding that Sri Lanka should be grateful to India for the aid, even if that aid would only be enough for another two months.

There is a school of thought that India got involved with its neighbor not just to provide economic aid.

“What we have is an economic crisis and a political crisis,” said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, the head of an independent think tank. Interestingly, a politically influential Buddhist monk, Reverend Elle Gunawansha, urged in a letter to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to provide full details of the India deal.”

Sri Lanka is facing an acute economic and energy crisis triggered by the shortage of foreign exchange. A sudden rise in commodity prices and a fuel shortage forced tens of thousands of people to queue for hours outside gas stations. People also face long hours of power outages daily.

All basic necessities are in short supply due to import restrictions imposed by the forex crisis.

India recently announced a $1 billion line of credit to Sri Lanka as part of its financial assistance to the country to deal with the economic crisis.

New Delhi extended a $500 million line of credit to Colombo in February to help it purchase petroleum products.

Shirlene J. Manley