China is using the ongoing crisis in Sri Lanka to expand its sphere of influence and that has impacted India’s response to the situation, said Home Minister P Chidambaram. “China is fishing in troubled waters. That is a lone, discordant voice among all of the global community,” he told Hindustan Times on Friday.
<b1>China is encouraging the Sri Lankan offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) while the rest of the world, including India, has called for a cessation of hostilities to enable civilians to escape. Fighting for a separate state for Tamil-speaking people, the LTTE has been declared a terrorist outfit by United Nations.
"China is acting with a clear agenda,” said Chidambaram. “Our policies take account of the Chinese calculations.” He said Pakistan also might have wanted to seek a foothold on the southern (maritime) border of India, but internal issues were holding it back. “They are not in a position to do something adventurous now,” he said.
The comments are significant as Lanka’s importance for Beijing is in the sea-lanes of communication in the north Indian Ocean through which Chinese trade and energy supplies flow.
“They want to secure the lanes by building strategic and defense ties with Colombo,” said Sujit Dutta, head of the East Asia Programme of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis.
Senior Chinese naval officials have often stated that “the Indian Ocean isn’t India’s” despite no such claim by New Delhi. In the conversation that spanned a range of political and security issues Chidambaram expressed satisfaction over his 150 days in office. He replaced Shivraj Patil on December 1, 2008 in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. He was finance minister till then.
“Our intelligence gathering and sharing are far more effective now than six months ago. State governments are responding to the situation with utmost urgency and are better equipped to deal with it should another terrorist attack take place,” he said.
The Home Hinister said India is trying to put pressure on Colombo and the LTTE to cease hostilities. "It’s a humanitarian crisis. We want the killings to stop. Unfortunately, neither the Sri Lankan government nor the LTTE is willing to listen to the international community,” he said.
Chidambaram said the advances made by the Taliban in Pakistan were “extremely worrisome” for India. “Large sections of Pakistan are under the control of the Taliban,” he said. However, the Home Minister did not endorse former NSA Brajesh Mishra’s fears that the Taliban could “get their hands” on nuclear weapons. “My impression is that there are adequate systems in Pakistan to secure them,” he said.
Chidambaram detailed the measures the UPA has already taken to rubbish the BJP’s promise of bringing back Indian wealth stashed in foreign banks. “I challenge Mr Advani to name one step the NDA took between 1998 and 2004 when it was in power to bring back black money. They did not do anything,” he said. During his stewardship of the Finance Ministry, the UPA made “substantial progress” towards unearthing Indian wealth in secret foreign accounts, he claimed.
“Read my lips. We’ve made substantial progress…I am not at liberty to disclose details as some procedural formalities are still underway,” he said.