Days after his country joined other neighbours in India’s boycott of the SAARC summit in Islamabad, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, while endorsing New Delhi’s concerns on cross-border terror, Wednesday said it is a “core issue” on the SAARC table and will not end even if the regional club falls apart.
He said India has to see how to move forward in dealing with cross-border terror and make “this region relevant” since nothing has moved in SAARC in the last few years due to friction between India and Pakistan. After his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, Wickremesinghe said, “I must compliment Prime Minister Modi for the approach that he has taken… my take is, which we agreed with Prime Minister Modi, let us end cross-border terrorism. Let us make this region relevant.”
Asked whether Sri Lanka supported India’s surgical strikes against terror launch pads along the Line of Control with Pakistan, he said, “I can’t tell you what I spoke with Prime Minister Modi.” “Cross-border terrorism is on the table. SAARC has to look at it and discuss what has happened (postponement of the summit in Islamabad). How are we going to handle it? SAARC has to decide on two issues — cross-border terrorism and areas in which we can work together. If we don’t do it, there is no future for SAARC,” he said.
He expressed hope that the current predicament will be an “eye-opener” to rethink and reconsider issues of peace and security in the region.
On the slide in ties between India and Pakistan after the Uri attack, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister said, “I don’t think war is an option for anyone. I have seen war. I have seen terrorism. I have seen what terrorism has done in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan.”
Asked about the delay in Sri Lanka’s decision to pull out of the SAARC summit, he said that his country’s Foreign Minister was travelling and they couldn’t have taken a decision without consulting him, since they have to answer to parliament.’
“(Sri Lankan) President spoke to Prime Minister Modi when the (Uri) attack took place and expressed his support,” he said. On the issue of fishermen, Wickremesinghe said, “Please come to Jaffna and see the suffering of our fishermen. Our Tamil fishermen raised the same concerns. The fishermen associations of both sides will meet in November.”
On his country’s relations with China, he said it is “economic, not a military one”. “By the time we took over, China had already given loans for the Hambantota harbour and the airport, nothing more. With India, we are doing a lot more — infrastructure projects, road projects, military cooperation. We have relations militarily, just like India does with China, but China had no military presence in projects such as Hambantota,” he said.