Foreign Minister Ali Sabry has needlessly poked his finger into the Canada-India row. Sri Lanka has nothing to do with the Khalistan issue. The Canada-India row is purely a bilateral issue, where Sri Lanka has no status to get involved in a dispute outside her political spectrum.

Minister Sabry was going on at a tangent, attacking Trudeau, even though he may not know why this verbal diatribe by a foreign minister of another country is totally out of context.

The objective appears to be to retaliate against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his remarks on Sri Lanka during the Tamil genocide week held in Canada.

If Sabry wishes to take on Canada on account of Trudeau’s remarks on Sri Lanka, he has to do so separately without making a foray into bickering between two other countries. These are the diplomatic etiquettes expected of a high-profile minister, but notwithstanding all that, he acted like a novice.

Sabry should realise that an organisation acting against the interests of one country does not fall into the same category as a terrorist group in another unless they commit offences under their law on their soil. In other words, they are precluded from being a terrorist outfit in a third country.

Different countries have different definitions of what constitutes a terrorist group, and some countries may not consider a good few organisations as terrorists. For instance, the US may consider a group to be a terrorist group, while another country may not.

However, our concern is whether Sabry has put his foot in his mouth by making such an inappropriate statement which will not augur well for the country in the long run and for Sri Lankan expatriates there. Sabry has already become a laughing stock among foreign affairs analysts here and elsewhere.

In these circumstances, Sabry’s statement is seen as an attempt to gain political mileage by appealing to certain elements of society. His comments are seen as irresponsible and intendedto cause a diplomatic rumpus. His actions have been widely seen as inappropriate and unwanted.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, the slogan holds—a credo that rings a broad truth yet falls short of qualifying how race and racism dictate how these labels are politically imagined, then practically and legally assigned.

This is a maxim used in the Harvard Law Review that examines the Algiers Battle, a film that created worldwide awareness of western imperialism and hypocrisy and the battle of Algerian women in the face of atrocities committed by oppressive French colonists.

Sabry may be right according to his own thinking that he would attack with all his might anybody who belittles his country, but there should be some rationale to attack another country on behalf of a third country.

We have no reason to believe that Sabry was trying to score brownie points for his remarks. Though India is pleased with Sabry’s statement condemning Canada, that in any case may not help to soften India’s stand towards Sri Lanka when it comes to policy issues where tough diplomatic bargains are on the table.

The Indian media has given wide coverage and highlighted Sabry’s remarks. They said the following:

Weighing in on the recent diplomatic row between India and Canada regarding the killing of Canadian Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Ali Sabry accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of making “outrageous allegations”, and remarked that some “terrorists have found a safe haven in Canada”.

Mr. Sabry sought to liken Mr. Trudeau’s accusation linking Indian government agencies to the killing of the chief of the “Khalistan Tiger Force”, to the Canadian leader’s remarks on Sri Lanka earlier this year.

“The Canadian PM has a way of coming out with these outrageous allegations without any supporting proof. I am not surprised. The same thing they did with Sri Lanka, with a terrible, total lie, saying Sri Lanka had a genocide,” Foreign Ministry Sabry told ANI news agency in an interview in New York, on the sidelines of the ongoing session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Sections within Sri Lanka’s Tamil community maintain that the violence unleashed by the Sri Lankan state against minority Tamils amounts to genocide, but successive governments have denied the allegation, even as Tamils on the island’s north and east flag enduringdiscrimination.

In May this year, Sri Lanka “condemned and rejected outright” the remarks made by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau on May 18 that the stories of the Tamil-Canadians affected by the conflict “serve as an enduring reminder that human rights, peace, and democracy cannot be taken for granted.” The North American country, with a substantial Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora population, marks May 18—the day when the island’s civil war ended in 2009—as ‘Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day’ since 2022, following a motion in the Canadian Parliament that was adopted unanimously.

Sabry’s statement calls for a full explanation from the government of Sri Lanka whether it endorses the remarks made by him against another country, a third country that has an ongoing dispute with our neighbour. Sabry appears to have come to a conclusion on the matter on his own and unleashed his tongue-lashing.

Besides, Sabry has taken a pro-India stance when he is about to deny entry to the Chinese research vessel into Sri Lankan waters.

He said on Monday that Colombo has not given permission for the Chinese vessel to dock, either in Colombo or Hambantota, adding that Indian security concerns are “important” for Sri Lanka.

Asked about reports regarding a Chinese research vessel named Shi Yan 6 scheduled to dock in Sri Lanka in October and India’s concerns regarding it, he said that they adopted a standard operating procedure (SOP) and had consulted many friends, including India. It appears that the Sri Lankan government has given into Indian pressure so much that the government has included several amendments proposed by India to the Standard Operating Procedure.

“That’s a conversation going on for some period of time. India has expressed its concerns for a long time, but we have come up with the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) as a plausible solution for the problem. When we were doing that, we consulted many of our friends, including India. So, as long as it complies with the SOP, we have no problem. But if it doesn’t comply with the SOP, we have a problem,” Ali Sabry told the Indian media.

He said that Sri Lanka has not given permission for the Chinese vessel Shi Yan 6 to dock in October, adding that negotiations are still underway.

“So, therefore, as far as I know, we have not given permission for it to come to Sri Lanka during October. Negotiations are going on. Indian security concerns, which are legitimate, are very, very important for us. We have always said that because we want to keep our region a zone of peace,” said Ali Sabry.

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, had said that a SPO had been worked out for foreign vessels.

The Chinese research vessel was expected in Sri Lanka in October to conduct research along with the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), media reports had said earlier.

US Under Secretary Victoria Nuland, during her meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, raised concerns regarding Shi Yan’s visit.

Taking to X, formerly Twitter, Victoria Nuland stated, “The US supports a strong and prosperous Sri Lanka. Our work together continues at #UNGA. I met with @MFA_SriLanka Minister Ali Sabry to discuss U.S. economic assistance, human rights, and our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

However, the most pertinent question that remains to be answered is whether all foreign vessels, barring cargo and passenger vessels entering Sri Lankan waters, would be treated with the same yardstick.

Has Sri Lanka also consulted China when drafting the SOP as they negotiated with India?

This is a critical question that should be answered henceforth by the state while understanding that the Indian Ocean should remain a peace zone where there is freedom of movement.

The general impression is that Sabry is working at the behest of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who follows the JRJ instincts in politics.

JRJ (JR Jayewardene) had ACS Hameed, a veteran, as the foreign minister, but the question is whether Sabry could even come close to Hameed when he discharges the duties of the foreign ministry.

Sabry has to answer yet another question: whether he is entitled to take his son as a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the United Nations General Assembly sessions. It is important in that context: who assigned Sabry’s son to represent Sri Lanka? Maybe Sabry’s son has fulfilled all the basic qualifications, but can another youth with similar or more credentials be given the same opportunity? At the same time, we ought to say that we do not harbourany kind of ill will against the young Sabry.

Besides this, the new bill to impose limitations on social media platforms and the anti-terrorism bill have come under heavy fire from many segments of society, including the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The opposition is also up in arms over the matter and has vowed to go before the Supreme Court to challenge the provisions therein.

The Bar Council of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) urged the government to immediately withdraw the Anti-Terrorism Bill and the Online Safety Bill, which were recently published in the Gazettes.

The Bar Council of the BASL had come to this decision following a meeting held last week and urged the government not to proceed with these two bills.

The Bar Council unanimously resolved that both Bills seriously impinge on the liberty and freedom of the people and will have a serious impact on democracy and the rule of law in the country.

The BASL maintained that both Bills had been introduced without due consultation with the stakeholders, including the BASL. Therefore, the BASL requested that the government has a meaningful dialogue with the relevant stakeholders before enacting laws that would infringe on the rights of the people.

Many social activists and the BASL had urged the government to take into consideration the concerns of the stake holders prior to proceeding to gazette such bills which would have a serious impact on the community at large.