Sri Lanka in Limbo - Despite Finally Defeating the Tamil Tiger
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Despite finally defeating the Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009 after a bloody decades-long civil war, Sri Lanka is under pressure by its ‘Western partners’ to do more to integrate and assimilate the northern reaches of the recently reunified country. Although not yet suggested as a serious solution, this could obviously take on the form of federalist demands by the Tamils and their international patrons, especially India, which might see an advantage to having a perpetually pro-New Delhi proxy state let inside the country. The southern Tamils of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu already have extensive cross-border contacts with their insular kin in Sri Lanka, so the devolution of this part of the island into a Tamil-run entity would inevitably work out to India’s favour in deepening its influence over its neighbour, with the driving desire being of course to prevent China from ever fully controlling the country (a thought which always manages to spook Indian strategists).
Political divisions between supporters of former President Rajapaksa and current leader Sirisena (seen as more Western- and Indian-friendly than his pro-Chinese predecessor) could create an opening for this to happen if it’s adroitly exploited in the ‘right’ direction. As Sri Lanka backtracks from the powerful centralized state that it was under Rajapaksa (who it must be said, only narrowly lost out to his rival in the 2015 elections) into one that could prospectively be more loosely decentralized and perhaps even federalized, identity divisions even deeper than the Tamil-Sinhalese one might spring back to the surface and cause an even wider rift within the country, undermining its stability and transforming it into a proxy battleground between India and China. A flare-up in violence here could negatively impact on southern India and create an unnecessarily distractive front of attention for New Delhi to focus on at a time when it’s more concerned about dismantling Pakistan by proxy and “Acting East” to counter China.