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Protest againts Vedanta for its operations in India.

Protest againts Vedanta for its operations in India.

It was a quest for survive that pushed Vedanta to find another, lucrative business. In fact its plan for more than $5.8 billion to increase the Aluminium production has been rejected by the government, due to mounting international pressure to protect the Adivasis in Niyamgiri Hills[1]. The repercussion of that failure is big enough to be the mover for the challenge against Ambani’s Reliance.

 Cairn main assets in India are in Rajastan, a huge field estimated in billions of dollars. That was the jackpot for a small venture like Cairn; But to compete with Reliance, you need to be much bigger and much linked to political power. Requirements that Vedanta matches. On the other hand, to exploit Vedanta’s economy of scale, Agarwal needed to grab any possibility on the market.

The Mannar Basin oil fields were ideal. Unfortunately the Sri Lankan civil war was a major obstacle, with the fierce LTTE ready to go all way for the cause of independence. The Sri Lankan government lacked the political will to annihilate the rebels.

A march of the Balck Tigers, the LTTE special forces for suicidal attacks.

A march of the Balck Tigers, the LTTE special forces for suicidal attacks.

In fact 20 years ago, when the Indian Peace Keepers intervened in the fight, Colombo incredibly re-armed the rebels, just to kick out New Delhi from the island[2]. In 2005 the parties were close to a peace treaty. But while Sri Lanka was ready to devolution, the LTTE wanted a clear path to secession. Meaning: conflict could last for another generation.

So the new President Rajapaksa changed the strategy[3]: now it was complete destruction of the rebels. Why this stance wasn’t adopted earlier? Two reasons: civilian casualties involved in chasing the guerrilla forces. And India. New Delhi never really approved the elimination of the LTTE (though responsible of the killing of Rajiv Gandhi). But in 2006, the Indian position changed. Suddenly New Delhi offered complete support: maritime patrol, electronic surveillance, military and political backing (the Tamil nationalist sentiment in Tamil Nadu were controlled by the then Chief Minister, Mr Karunanidhi, a hard-core supporter of LTTE, but involved in a personal scandal during that period[4]).

In 2009 80000 Tamil civilians have been massacred on the shores of Nandikadal lagoon and in Mullivaikal.

In 2009 80000 Tamil civilians have been massacred on the shores of Nandikadal lagoon and in Mullivaikal.

The rest is history: from the bloody shores of the Nandikadal lagoon, 280 000 Tamil civilian come out, leaving behind possibly more than 80000 dead. The fate of the Tamil population in their land now is the one of an occupied country. The military presence is strangling any activity.

But the Mannar Basin fields are blooming. In 2013 Sri Lanka launched another bidding round, this time everybody in the sector was queuing: Exxon, Total, Gazprom, Eni[5].

Clearly the news of Cairn-Vedanta success reached the big players of oil and gas.

The question now is: who could provoke a radical change in the Indian policy towards Sri Lanka? Cairn is out of the question.

Vedanta entered the game only in 2011, when the war was over since 2 years. If you believe in conspiracy, you could suspect that Vedanta chased the deal much earlier, convinced the Indian government to intervene in its favour and Cairn to spearhead the negotiation to avoid attention.

Of course this is just an exercise of speculation.

The signing ceremony of the agreement of petroleum resources between the Government of Sri Lanka and Cairn India (Pvt. Ltd) . President Mahinda Rajapaksa,  Minister of Petroleum and Petroleum Resources A.H.M. Fowzie and Indrajith Benerjee, Chief Finance Officer and Ajay Gupta Head of Commercial and New Business of Cairn India . Photo Sudath Silva

The signing ceremony of the agreement of petroleum resources between the Government of Sri Lanka and Cairn India (Pvt. Ltd) . President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister of Petroleum and Petroleum Resources A.H.M. Fowzie and Indrajith Benerjee, Chief Finance Officer and Ajay Gupta Head of Commercial and New Business of Cairn India .
Photo Sudath Silva

mullivaikal

More than 80000 Tamil civilians were killed during the last attacks of the Sri Lankan civil war.

One may be tempted to say that it is not the first case of impunity, not even in recent history. True: in Syria for example there are concurrent narratives of propaganda blaming alternatively the government and the rebels. But the novelty in respect of Sri Lanka is the absence of competitive perspectives. It is well known that China protects Sri Lanka; a little less divulged is the Indian protection of Sri Lanka. But the real point is that the West is actually not interested in accusing Sri Lanka. The US made very bland recommendations to Colombo, in comparison what is at stake. The impression is that the Sri Lankan government shall be charged for mishandling the behaviour of its troops. The boys went too far in certain circumstances, but we don’t have the political will to scold our naughty soldiers.

500 000 Tamil civilians were chased out,through shelling and starvation.

500 000 Tamil civilians were chased out,through shelling and starvation.

The accusation is far from this insipid criticism: the government of Sri Lanka launched a heavy military offensive against hundreds of thousands of civilians. Again, it’s better to have clear in mind that we are not speaking of isolated episodes: the plan was to bring war in the middle of Tamil inhabited areas. The operation was designed to bring havoc in every Tamil house. At the peak of the Vanni operation, almost half a million of people has been chased, starved and bombed out. It is less about the casualties and more about the intentions. The carnage of 80000 civilians is still not the most horrible part of the truth. Soldiers massively brainwashed and put under extreme psychological stress, can eventually go crazy and out of control. This is still criminal and to blame. But the Sri Lankan case is worst: the government planned to massacre the civilians. We are not discussing episodes of crossfire: we are accusing the government of Sri Lanka of heavy shelling on harmless population. Repetitively. It was a decision, it was planned.

united nations

The silence of the United Nations is a crucial accomplice in the massacres.

And the United Nations, the government of USA, UK, India, France, Norway and Japan know what happened. The UN actually published a report where it estimates at 40000 the number of civilian casualties[1]. Moreover an internal inquiry from the UN provided even more critical observations about the accomplice negligence[2].

New Delhi provided military intelligence, electronic surveillance and field support on the ground: India was informed in real time. Actually, it was New Delhi that was informing Colombo about the development of action.

Now such carnage won’t be sanctioned.

Why? Several reasons for the convenience of geopolitical equilibrium. We have some suspicions that the oil discovery in the LTTE[3] controlled area could have been a game changer, especially for India (with Vedanta and Cairn) and European countries, like the UK (again with Cairn and Vedanta, both London-listed), France (with Total); but also Malaysia, with its powerful Tamil presence, was involved through Petronas[4].

The estimated reserves of the Mannar Basin oil field  are up to a billion barrels.

The estimated reserves of the Mannar Basin oil field are up to a billion barrels.

Aside this allegation, the undisputed outcome is that Sri Lanka will walk away from a planned massacre with total impunity, because it made the right diplomatic move. Namely, it sought agreement with every power involved. With the US, Colombo justified the operation with war on terror (it was actually a civil war). With China, it sold out a port facility (to be included in the String of Pearls). With the other Sri Lanka exchanged attractive economic deals (the exploration rights have been ceded at bargaining price). In fact during the final phase of the war, the duo Kouchner-Miliband improvised a timid protest[5], but already in 2011 France was pledging support to Sri Lanka[6] (in 2012 Paris collaborated with Sri Lankan secret service in the extra-judiciary killing of an Ex-LTTE member Parithi[7] and in 2013 Total is ready to join the Mannar Basin deal[8]), while UK was deeply compromised with Colombo for arm trade (see the scandal that led to the resignation of Defence minister Liam Fox[9]) and economic interest (Cameron lobbied in favour of Cairn and Vedanta with Indian government[10]).

This episode will establish an important precedent in international jurisprudence: heavy diplomacy with all the parties, with all the regional and global powers will give you clearance on everything you do. Everything.

Mullivaikkal Massacre May 2009

Mullivaikkal Massacre May 2009


chavezIt is nice to have legions of commentators, punters, analysts to discuss and to deconstruct the international relations of states. All this convoluted deployment of intellect is a way to entertain the public opinion, which is growing more and more educated and can be fooled easily.

Take the Bolivarian revolution of Chavez in Venezuela: roaring speeches on one side, “world public enemy number one” on the other. 70% of Venezuelan oil goes to the US; Chavez has been Swissly through and precise in the repayment of Venezuelan bonds: Goldman Sachs and the other made a fortune with the socialist revolution[1].

In Sri Lanka, the government of Rajapaksa is strenuously resisting the siege of Western powers; Sri Lanka stands the assault of foreign interference in national sovereignty. But the substance of the critics is: where are the 80 000 civilians missing. Of course nobody mentions this; the confrontation in the diplomatic sphere is about government-sponsored recommendations that the government doesn’t implement. President Rajapaksa is using the international stage to re-affirm the right to develop: de-colonized nations to choose their own destiny. Standing ovation.

Cairn India Chairman Sundeep Bhandari and Executive Director/CFO Indrajit Banerjee presents the documents to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and Petroleum and Petroleum Resource Minister A. H. M. Fowzie are also in the picture.

Cairn India Chairman Sundeep Bhandari and Executive Director/CFO Indrajit Banerjee presents the documents to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and Petroleum Resource Minister A. H. M. Fowzie are also in the picture.

In private he sold at bargain prices concession for oil exploration. Cairn-Vedanta will pocket 90% of the sales from the Sri Lankan oil[2]. Now, if you are a colonial power, will you prefer to have a hard confrontation on the matters that count, like oil or empty speeches about principles and human rights?

Rajapaksa is working hard for colonial powers and the colonial powers are benefitting with sound, material profits. In public they accuse each other, reinforcing the perception of a clash: European citizens are satisfied of fighting (diplomatically) the right cause and unknowingly (?) pocketing the money; Sri Lankan citizens are happy of maintaining their independence and unknowingly (!) to be stolen once again by the Europeans. When the two parties are extremely happy of the contract, either the deal is very good or it is a scam.

no war franceFrance became the global defender of peace and international justice when it antagonized the USA for the war in Iraq. Legions of citizens looked at Paris as the guardian of civilization: again the nation of liberte egalite fraternite stood against the brutal, warmongering forces which regularly try to strangle the universal values of citizenship and human rights. Very well, nice, lovely. Only, France didn’t oppose USA for those reasons; it is true that they considered the war in Iraq as unlawful: but the big problem was that they were excluded from the loot, not the war itself!

In fact France is not against colonial imperialism: it was one of the major colonial forces in the past; what France object is to be left behind in the race. In Iraq Paris could clearly see that the Iraqi oil was going all in American pipes. Mon Dieu! Never again!

france warSo when the Arab spring shook the region, France was more than ready to invade another country and to plug French pipe in the Libyan oil wells. The war in Mali signifies a new commitment of France in Africa. Mali’s undersoil is supposed to contain uranium, oil, gas and gold[1]; it is also a neighbour of Nigeria, which has an increasing agitated scenario by its own Islam groups[2]. Whatever the reason, France is on the move to re-assert its sphere of influence[3].

kouchner milibad

France and UK foreign ministers Kouchner and Miliband meet Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa.

So I have a rule of thumb: if you see a French diplomat on the move, ask yourself what business is in sight. During the last days of the Eelam War, we saw Kouchner and Miliband (respectively France and UK foreign ministers) running to make pressure on Colombo’s government. What kind of pressure? Well some photographic posing, speeches in favour of human rights and the rule of law. In brief, absolutely nothing. Now, Great Britain has very clear economic interests: they sell weapons to Sri Lanka and they are actively involved in the oil exploration in the Mannar Basin. Cairn and Vedanta are listed in London, though they are Indian companies. But France will remain seated while others are making money in the usual colonial way? Mon Dieu, impossible!

Parithi killing in Paris

LTTE member Parithi Killed in Paris, 2011

Last year a former LTTE leader (the secessionist Tamil movement, defeated in 2009 with the massacre of 80 000 civilians),  Nadaraja Matheetharan alias Parithi was killed in Paris by agents of the Sri Lankan secret services[4]. My big question was: how France can allow such a move on its soil? Especially after Sri Lanka should maintain quite a low profile with the international community and the West… What happened?

Well Cairn and Vedanta don’t hold an exclusive of exploration: they have concession for ONE zone. In the 2013 Sri Lanka will organize another round of auctions. Which are the front-runners? Exxon and Total[5]. I think we’ll hear a lot of noise in Geneva about committee and votes, and alignment, and new resolution and all this sort of empty talking. I suspect that the murder of Parithi was a “gesture of good will” from France in the perspective of the oil exploration rights bidding. totalHuman rights declaration is not worth the paper is written on if you don’t have the political will to enforce it. Mon Dieu, colonial times are over, can can’t interfere in internal matters, we only give wise, impotent advices. Of course the farcical clash of interest is merely superficial: the government of Sri Lanka can show its citizens and supporters that they stand against the old colonial power, the European countries can show their own citizens, they stand for the right cause, but diplomatic route will take time. And we have plenty of time, don’t we? History is not written in a day, oil contracts are. Anything else left to discuss in Geneva?

Advance: A line of British soldiers in camouflage during the Falklands WarPhoto mirror.co.uk

Advance: A line of British soldiers in camouflage during the Falklands War
Photo mirror.co.uk

The Falklands war was not oil-driven. In the first place, it was started by a military dictatoriship in Argentina to distract public attention. Second, the UK response was equally motivated to captivate the electorate and to twist public sympathy towards the Tory. It was risky? Probably yes, but it paid wonderfully well for Margareth Tatcher.

These were the driving forces in 1982 to catalyse an armed conflict. And yet everybody at the time knew that around the Falklands it was plenty of oil. How much? Well, these are always estimates, but it seems that the reserve could amount to 60 billions (almost a quarter of Saudi Arabia reserves. Not bad) but probably only 3.5 are commercially recoverable1. Since the 1994 Argentina and UK have been in negotiations to settle the matter after the conflict. But Buenos Aires walked away and from 1998 British companies have started to try their luck2.

Falkland Oil & Gas shares halved after an update on operations around the Falkland Islands. Photograph: Gary Clement/Reuters

Falkland Oil & Gas shares halved after an update on operations around the Falkland Islands. Photograph: Gary Clement/Reuters

Nowadays oil exploration is at an advanced stage in some platform and production in at least on well (Rockhoppen Sea Lion, almost 1,3 billion barrels, expects to start its first shipment by 20173).

The question is: did the Brits have a good idea about oil presence in the Falklands? The answer is a sound and round yes. The first time the British government knew about oil in the Falklands was in the remote 1969. At the time Richard Crossman, member of the cabinet, wrote in his diaries that the Foreign Office wanted to conceal the thing and prevent any further testing4. The Foreing Office feared of a possible aggravation of the territorial dispute with Argentina. Why? In public the British government was confident and bold about legitimacy of its claim. In private not so much. In 1936 John Troutbeck, head of Foreign Office American Department summarized difficulty of Britain’s position:

“Our seizure of the Falkland Islands in 1833 was so arbitrary a procedure as judged by the ideology of the present day. It is therefore not easy to explain our possession without showing ourselves up as international bandits.”5falkland capture

By 1975 almost 50 companies had applied to Britain for exploration rights. So when in 1982 Gen. Gualtieri invaded the islands, London proclaimed to intervene to safeguard the independence of the Falkland inhabitants and give them freedom of choice. Beside the fact that after the seizure in 1833 they evicted all the Argentinian citizens, so in the Falklands were living only British descendants, few years earlier, they had no problem in forcing the evacuation (against their will) of the inhabitants of the Diego Garcia, an island in Indian Ocean. Moreover all the inhabitants of the Falkland are working for a private company, which is basically the sole employer and land owner of the island: the Falklands are basically private property6.

 The war is still remember as a tremendous success for the British army and it represented a turning point for the electoral success of a Tory party that was depressing an entire generation of workers. 30 years later those military operations proved to be also a good investment. And it didn’t happen accidentally.

Cairn Lanka is commencing seismic acquisition in Mannar Basin with an investment of over US $ 100 million. President Mahinda Rajapaksa flagged off the first ever 3D Seismic activities in the Mannar Block from the Colombo Port recently. Photo dailynews.lk

Cairn Lanka is commencing seismic acquisition in Mannar Basin with an investment of over US $ 100 million. President Mahinda Rajapaksa flagged off the first ever 3D Seismic activities in the Mannar Block from the Colombo Port recently.
Photo dailynews.lk

Now, 1 billion of barrels are lying in the Mannar Basin, with commercial production expected by 20147).

Exploration rights were sold before the end of the war and when the block was still in an area under the control of the LTTE. The company, Indian Cairn, listed in the UK, has been sold to another Indian corporation, the giant Vedanta, listed in the UK as well.On its side of the Strait India has oil operations (it was even speculated that it could stolen from the Sri Lankan reserve).

Are we still asking why India helped Sri Lanka in slaughtering 70 000 Tamils? Or why the UK remained silent and recently invited president Rajapaksa for the Diamond Jubilee?

Nothing new under the sun, nothing.

Sri Lankan Tamil regugees (IDP) from the Mannar region.Photo AP

Sri Lankan Tamil regugees (IDP) from the Mannar region.
Photo AP

IV eelam warIn this year, the IV Eelam War broke out. After the attempt of the Peace Talks from 2001 to 2005, both parties strove to resume hostilities. Many reasons have been added for the failure of the peace process. For the LTTE and especially its leader, Prabhakaran, the agreement was to far away from full independence. Of course that target was impossible to reach through negotiations, therefore only the military way was open for that purpose. On the other side the Sri Lankan government had promised even too much in the eyes of its more nationalistic constituency. Therefore in 2006 everybody was keen to start again the war.

Erik Solheim and Velupillai PrabhakaranPhoto nation.lk

Erik Solheim and Velupillai Prabhakaran
Photo nation.lk

The biggest loser was Norway. The Nordic country in fact dedicated a lot of efforts to find a deal. If you consider that from 2001 TGS-Nopec, a company specialized in seismic survey for oil exploration, was showing enthusiastic reports about the possibility to find petroleum reserves, you may guess that the government in Oslo had some undisclosed interests. If you add that the special envoy, Mr Erik Solheim, just on the brink of the Peace Talks ending was nominated Minister for International Development1, with specific interest in the oil sector, for the Norwegian initiative “Oil for development”,Norad2, (see Solheim’s activity in Ghana3, Sudan4, Angola5).

 But Norway is not the only country in the world searching for opportunities in the oil sector. China and India in the same period were involved in a tough race to secure contracts for natural resources

Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar with the President of China National Petroleum Corporation, Chen Geng in Beijing on January 13.

Union Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar with the President of China National Petroleum Corporation, Chen Geng in Beijing on January 13.

around the world. The competition was so strong, that their bidding war was driving prices up everywhere. Thus the two Asian giants decided to form an alliance. “The agreement aimed at preventing the two nations competition for oil assets pushing up prices, symbolises their increasingly assertive role in global energy politics” (source: Financial Time).6

 One of the first country to test this alliance, was precisely Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa, soon after he received information about the possible presence of oil in the Mannar Basin, decided to get rid of Norway and offered India and China one block each 78.

We are far from saying that the Peace Talks were interrupted for the oil discovery; we are also not affirming that the IV Eelam War was oil-driven and that the India and China support of Sri Lanka was motivated purely by the natural resource deal.

We can see a series of coincidences and we argue that oil played a role in Sri Lanka, maybe only a secondary one, but not completely marginal. Norway is our first indicator; the Nordic country didn’t though it could provide more transparency on its conduct, but had clearly a vested interest in the peace process in relation to the oil reserve. China and India had additional reasons to back

Anti-lankan protest led by politician and activist Vaiko in Tamil Nadu.Photo onlanka.com

Anti-lankan protest led by politician and activist Vaiko in Tamil Nadu.
Photo onlanka.com

Colombo, but it was a clever and opportune gift from Rajapaksa to offer natural resources in exchange of their help. In particular it could have represent the convincing point for New Delhi, to intervene without hesitation. India has oil operations on its side of the Strait, and the idea of leaving oil reserve in the hands of the LTTE or China alone could have been the decisive argument to make move. The energy sector is more vital and strategic for India that any other alliance of convenience between China and Sri Lanka.

If you think that oil doesn’t play any role in conflicts around the globe, then you can ignore our thesis. On the other hand, if you assume that natural resources are too important in contemporary geopolitical scenarios, and so are always involved, maybe to different extent, you may be tempted to spend more time on this hypothesis.

 

China's President Hu Jintao and Governor of Malacca Khalil Yakub

China’s President Hu Jintao and Governor of Malacca Khalil Yakub
Photo Reuters

President Hu Jintao back in 2003 started to mention the so called “Malacca Dilemma”, the fact that 80% of China energy needs will pass thorugh the waters of Malacca, without having any strategic influence over it1.

The Chinese leadership is quite aware that whoever will control the Strait will be able to choke the supply line of the People’s Republic. It is interesting to note that the notion of the Malacca Dilemma and the String of Pearls were born almost at the same time. The String of Pearls is much more famous, but is also more misleading. It aims to address the containment policy of China against India. If you reflect, China will never be able to evict India from the Indian Ocean. Moreover China is already a global superpower, while India is struggling to become a regional one. The only field in which they are competing directly is natural resources. But the String of Pearls won’t deny that to India. The truth is that the String of Pearls is a menace perceived by the US. Washington really could be excluded from the South East. So the Americans are pushing the Indians to think they are threatened by the Chinese.

In this puzzle, the role of a piece is growing in importance: Myanmar. Back in 2007, president Bush put its eyes on the humanitarian condition of Burmese people2. It is praiseworthy, especially from an administration that launched wars to appropriate natural resources of sovereign state, practised unlawful detentions, torture, extrajudiciary killings and so on. Myanmar is itself rich in natural resources and lies in a strategic position: just before the Malacca Strait. Much of the attention Myanmar received in recent years should be probably ascribed to this aspect, rather than the restless endeavour of the US for human rights.

Sri Lanka's President Rajapaksa and India's Prime Minister Singh

Sri Lanka’s President Rajapaksa and India’s Prime Minister Singh

The Tamil diaspora in Malaysia

Finally, with regards to Sri Lanka, it should be clear that there is no such a thing as India strangled by China. Beijing is securing its supply lane; Sri Lanka is part of this architecture. Nobody in New Delhi has been forced to do anything. What happened to the Tamils and the LTTE has nothing to do with the clash of global super powers. Sri Lankan deeds are a domestic affair for India and they have been treated as such. It is easier to blame the Chinese and because they consider this kind of debate as farcical, they don’t even defend themselves. But an accurate analysis of the geopolitical interests will show that Sri Lanka is under the patronage of India, with occasional and contingent flirtations with China, dictated by convenience rather than long term alliances.

The Malacca Strait is the place where the future rearrangement of the global balance of power will take place. India should start to look at its interest, rather than following the clue thrown by the Americans (though sometimes they could overlap in any case). And if the Tamil diaspora in Malaysia has any intention to influence the international scenario, should start to appreciate its strategic role in this context, rather than chasing the infinite intrigues of New Delhi politics.

1Chen Shaofeng, “China’s Self-Extrication from the “Malacca Dilemma” and Implications” International Journal of China Studies China’s Vol. 1, No. 1, January 2010, pp. 1-24