Sri Lanka opposition criticises govt’s rush to accept Taliban

Sri Lanka’s main opposition party has urged the SAARC to ensure the safety and security of nationals of the member countries living in the troubled Afghanistan. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa called upon the Secretary General of SAARC to use his office to ensure safety and security of all SAARC national during this time.

While reminding the Sri Lankan government of its international obligations, the Opposition urged to respect the obligation of non-refoulement, which forbids a country from returning asylum seekers to a country in which they would be in likely danger of persecution.

“The government has a specific obligation to respect the rights of Afghan asylum seekers who are either currently residing in Sri Lanka, or may enter Sri Lanka in the future,”

“Specific attention must be paid to the rights of women and children, as they are particularly vulnerable during political crises of this nature”.

According to reports, at present Sri Lanka has provided refugee status to nearly 140 Afghan nationals registered the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and most of them are from the ethnic minorities, the Hazaras.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe led opposition party, United National Party (UNP) criticised Sri Lankan government’s decision to recognise the Taliban as the governing authority in Afghanistan.

The UNP in a strong worded statement noted that Sri Lanka’s recognition of the Taliban has made the country one of the first to acknowledge the group’s ascent to power. “The Government has rushed to embrace the Taliban while the rest of the world is proceeding with caution”.

The party said that the decision by the Government to recognise the Taliban has been made in haste with no proper consultation. “It has left the country a laughing stock on the international stage. Had the Government withheld their recognition of the Taliban, Sri Lanka could have influenced the direction that the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) takes in regarding Afghanistan. However, this misstep by the Government has left the country with little bargaining power in the regional politics,” the UNP charged.

The party also complained that the Sri Lankan government has accepted the Taliban while the terrorist group itself has not formed a government. “The Government has recognised a group that has not officially formed an administration in the country. The Taliban have publicly stated that they are still in negotiations with other groups to form a Government,” the UNP complained.

“In 2001 the Taliban was ousted from power by an international led coalition which was sanctioned by the United Nations. At the time the Taliban was responsible for providing a sanctuary for terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda, who was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in America. To date the Taliban have not renounced ties with terror organisations such as Al-Qaeda which raises concerns that their assumption of power will embolden such terror outfits,” the party stated.

The UNP also condemned Government’s decision to recognise a group who was responsible for the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues in 2001 despite strong opposition by the Buddhists around the world.

“For Sri Lanka to recognise such a group, they will have to immediately issue an apology to the global Buddhist community over the destruction of the Bamiyan statues”.

The opposition has urged the Government to have a Parliament debate to decide Sri Lanka’s stance on Afghanistan and the Taliban.

Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry in a statement last week said, “Now that the Taliban is in power, the government of Sri Lanka requests that the law and order situation be stabilized and the safety, security and dignity of all people in Afghanistan be safeguarded.”

After the Taliban’s taking over the power, China was one of the first countries in the region to express to work with Afghanistan, its neighbour which shares a 76-kilometre border.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has said the Beijing was ready to deepen “friendly and cooperative” relations with Afghanistan. “The Taliban have repeatedly expressed their hope to develop good relations with China, and that they look forward to China’s participation in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan,” she has stated.