Presidency, of course is the problem! We are all concerned about the day to day happenings in the country, not so much of the Deraniyagala killing, but mostly of the Weliweriya shooting at present. The latter has overtaken by the former. But we should not lose sight of the larger picture and the key structural issues behind our predicament, if we need to genuinely seek solutions to our problems. Only passing comments on structural issues, either way, might not be sufficient. What we are facing is a systemic crisis without any exaggeration.
The President has not come up with any apology or even a statement after the brutal Weliweriya shooting. After all he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (not his brother!) in addition to being the Head of State and the Head of Government. It is unlikely that he would, except perhaps through his Secretary. That is the ‘immunity’ he enjoys under the Presidential Constitution. This is not to say that a statement or even an apology would ameliorate the situation.
‘Family bandyism’ of the Rajapaksas or MR’s split personality (smile and thuggery) might explain the specific nature of the regime, but not the generic character of the regime-system. Anyway, his personality has changed a lot after becoming the President and particularly after the end of the war. Perhaps it has lot to do with the happenings at the last stages of the war. There appears to be a serious deterioration in the ethical and moral premises of the regime and the personality.
The way the regime operates today is not so much different to the regimes operated under the presidential system previously, with some variations, except that the present situation is much worse than before. We are familiar with the way the situation of the ethnic pogrom against the Tamils was handled in July 1983 under JR Jayewardene regime. That propelled the beginning of the brutal war for two and a half decades. We are also familiar with the way the second insurrection was quelled in 1989/90 under the Premadasa regime not to speak of other atrocities. Of course the uprising had to be suppressed but not the killings of Wijeweera or others after taken into custody. The Matale grave yard is supposed to belong to that period. It is only recently that some security personnel of the former President CBK finally were convicted harassing and assaulting two prominent artists those days. Perhaps only sane President was DB Wijetunga for a brief period! But even he was insane in his utterances like denying any ethnic conflict in the country.
Are those just questions of personalities? I don’t think so. I would argue that the presidential system was primarily responsible of course along with the personalities involved. Parliamentary systems also could become degenerated and Prime Ministers also could act like authoritarian Presidents. Margaret Thatcher might be the best recent past example. But that is not a structural condition. It is also possible that ‘family bandyism’ exists even under a parliamentary system unless other measures are not taken and unless the political culture is changed. That is also our past experience before 1978.
Parliamentarianism and Presidentialism are not polar opposites. But there is a fundamental difference in terms of representative democracy and that matters most for accountability, transparency, responsibility and finally for democracy itself. We use representative democracy because direct democracy is not practical and also perhaps people are not interested. In a parliamentary democracy people elect a general assembly called Parliament for primarily legislative purposes and an executive emerges or selected within that which is again responsible for that Parliament. This is the best system.
The executive is crucial in the state structure, whether parliamentary or presidential, because it is the body which guides and directs the bureaucracy and the armed forces which can easily trample on people’s human rights and whose services (in the case of bureaucracy) are crucial in delivering or not delivering necessary services to the people including ‘clean water’ in the case of Weliweriya!
The judiciary could be structurally independent in both systems; however the tendency to trample on the judiciary is high (or almost certain in some countries) under the presidential system than in a parliamentary democracy. Sri Lanka is a clear example for both.
In a presidential system, there are two (confusing) electoral processes. One is to elect a Parliament primarily for legislative purposes. Then there is another process to elect a President for executive purposes directly by the people. Superficially, this may appear more democratic, but that is not the case. The distance between the people and the President is so vast and not punctuated by intermediary process. A President’s responsibility to Parliament is only nominal if at all. This is the dangerous aspect of a presidential system which can easily create authoritarianism or much worse as he/she controls the military and the bureaucracy. I am only outlining the barebones in this article.
In a parliamentary system, the executive functions are pinned down to extensive procedures and these procedures are effective unless there is something basically wrong in party politics. In a presidential system there may be some procedures (i.e. COPE in Sri Lanka) but those procedures may or may not be effective. Most Presidents might be laughing at them.
The main point is that there are inbuilt structural reasons for any presidential system to become authoritarian unless there are strong constitutional traditions in a country. This is the very reason why even the US presidential system was criticised by Woodrow Wilson although he didn’t make any attempt to change it! Presidential system in the US was an evolution, but when it was introduced in other countries the very purpose was to have a strong government or a strongly ruler disregarding the rule of law and human rights. The following was what JR Jayewardene said about democratic freedoms and rule of law when he argued for a presidential system in the country (Selected Speeches, 1944-1973, p. 91).
A democratic system of Government includes what are termed democratic freedoms, the freedom to vote, freedom of opposition, freedom of speech and writing, and the rule of law, among other freedoms. Do these freedoms alone satisfy the people? I do not think so.
Usually there is no denial on the part of anyone who believes or defends a presidential system that there would be a democratic deficit as a result of a presidential system. In the case of Sri Lanka, however, this deficit is colossal. The shooting at Weliweriya and the Presidential system are interlinked. As the popular saying goes, ‘there is no point in shouting that the snake is biting (kanavo, kanavo!),’ if you put the fellow inside your sarong.
There is another constitutional factor relevant to Weliweriya shooting. Who is the Member of Parliament for the Weliweriya area? What was he doing? No one can answer this question I believe. In the previous representative system, it belonged to the Gampaha seat and it was SD Bandaranaike who represented the people in the area in Parliament in 1977. Those days there was a close connection between the people and the parliamentary representative and in any local issue, the MP intervened or mediated. This has almost completely disappeared to the thin air under the present Presidential Constitution. I recollect during my young days in the Moratuwa electorate how close and how responsible the MPs behaved with the people. This is the same where I live now in Australia, the electorate called the Green Way. In Sri Lanka, this has changed to create an authoritarian system even MPs divorced from the people not to speak of the President.
When the presidential system was introduced to Sri Lanka it was mainly defended on the basis of an economic argument. I happened to interview President Jayewardene in April 1993 and he opined that it was also created to defend the country from possible separatism that time. He said that there was a call to ‘do a de Gaulle.’ But the experience has proved otherwise. The country became ripped apart after the introduction of the presidential system. One may argue whether this is a direct result or not. It may be true that the presidential system perhaps facilitated the defeating of the LTTE quickly, but at a particular cost to democracy. The saying goes that ‘when you fall into the pit you have to come out from the same opening.’
President Rajapaksa has gone beyond de Galle or Jayewardene. In fact he has virtually ‘done a Mugabe’ with the 18th Amendment. With the massive military and the bureaucracy under his beck and call he hopes to continue to be the ruler of this country like President Mugabe in Zimbabwe unless it is stopped through a broad and a strong opposition through democratic campaigning. What is important is to end the vicious cycle of violence and violations by terminating the presidential system by an authentic parliamentary system with a fair system of devolution of power.
The Rajapaksa regime increasingly appears to consist of twin forces within it, one civilian and the other military. The so-called UPFA government or the Cabinet is only a façade for the regime which is based mainly on the military and the bureaucracy. The UPFA even with the old left parties within it only have a decreasing influence on the civilian part of the regime. The Parliament with a feeble opposition appears to supply humour and entertainment to the cynical public these days. These are the culminating results of the presidential system and the recent subjugation of the independence of the judiciary as part of that same culmination. Just recollect how the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) behaved on the question of the impeachment of the Chief Justice. It was farcical and demeaning to the hilt.
The most alarming immediate development is the deployment of military troops in quelling a civilian protest in Weliweriya on 1 August without any justification or the backing of even emergency regulations. In a protest of villagers, asking for clean water, the military intervention has killed 1 civilian and injuring 15 others. The question has been rightly asked who gave the orders. There is no point in asking even the person responsible to resign because that will not happen in current Sri Lanka. A participant in the protest explained the brutal behaviour of the troops equating it to the LTTE attack on the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in 1988, reminiscent still in the public mind.
The military intervention in civilian life is reported to be a daily occurrence in the Jaffna peninsula very much pervasive and brutal. As the civilians have been so much subdued without much room to engage in peaceful protests like the Weliweriya villagers there has been no much opportunity so far for the military to use its fire power at least openly. One occasion to the contrary was when the university students peacefully engaged in remembrance or heroes day celebrations in December 2012. The harassments and brutality were quite extensive.
What has to be realized in the current context is that the people in the North or in the South are facing the same common enemy and that is the emerging danger of a military or a quasi-military rule in the country destroying all norms of human rights and democracy. These are developments particularly aftermath of the end of the war and hopefully there would still be possibilities of turning the situation around peacefully and resurrecting democracy with the international good will and even assistance. After all, Sri Lanka is a member of the international community and the United Nations with obligations on human rights, democracy and rule of law. No one should shy away of working towards international solidarity on the Sri Lankan question.
It was understandable when the military strategy dominated the civilian affairs prior to the end of the war in May 2009 and after the LTTE completely broke away from the peace process in July 2006. The country was fighting against a ruthless menace of terrorism. However, as a democratic country, even during the war there were certain international norms that the government and the military should have observed. If the declared ‘zero civilian casualty’ was a genuine proclamation, then after the war that should have been accounted for through independent and reliable investigations of the alleged and obvious deviations from the international humanitarian law. That was not done.
It is a known fact that during the period between 2006 and 2009, the military in the country became doubled in numbers and equipped with high-tech equipment and training. What was obviously neglected was the education or training on human rights and humanitarian law. After the war there was no effort to demobilize the military. Instead it appears that the ordinary soldiers are being politicized and used for other missions. Although in the past the military in Sri Lanka has been a professional army with high professional standards, it is obvious that these have deteriorated especially among the middle and the lower ranks thereafter.
If the government wanted to maintain a disciplined and a professional army after the war, the first thing should have been done to investigate the slighted allegation against any wrong doing during the war particularly between 2006 and 2009 and punish or discipline the perpetrators accordingly. That is the period that matters most for the discipline and the calibre of the military at present. It is also a well-known fact that although the President gave promises to the UN Secretary General on the subject of accountability in May 2009 that promise was not fulfilled for some reason and this reason can be identified as the influence of the military wing of the regime over the civilian leaders.
Weliweriya is not the first occasion that the defence establishment unleashed its strong arm tactics against the civilians in the South not to speak of the much concealed military oppression in the North. In February 2012, the STF was deployed against the protest of fisher folks in Chilaw and killed one, seriously injuring 8 others. The most alarming was the military deployment for the prison riot at Welikada in November 2012 killing 27 and seriously injuring 40 others. It was a gruesome operation violating all international norms on the treatment of prisoners.
There are arguments that the regime or its security establishment is intervening in this manner to maintain and establish law and order in the country. This is not at all a reliable argument. If that is the case, then at least the police should have been intervened in preventing over 75 well- orchestrated goon attacks on religious places of the Muslim and Christian communities in the country during the last three years. At least the perpetrators should have been punished. The newest attack was on 19 July in Mahiyangana. There are all indications that there is close association between the defence establishment and the Sinhala extremist forces that are unleashed against the religious minorities.
These are also the two sectors that have been agitating against the holding of the elections to the Northern Provincial Council. Although the civilian political wisdom has prevailed on the question of holding of the NPC elections for the time being it is not clear in what ways that the attempt would be scuttled by the military wing of the same regime in the future. The most bizarre phenomenon in the current situation in Sri Lanka is that both the civilian and the military wings of the regime are led by the same family! It is most unlikely to perceive a serious split within this family given its past and its kinship cohesiveness.
Therefore, while the regime and with it the ruling politics will oscillate between civilian and military directions from time to time, the general course until the regime is democratically changed would be more and more towards a quasi-military rule in the country.
What happened on July 23, 1983 was not the event of a single day in history. The impact of that day lives on and with each passing year the situation of the rule of law in the country has become worse.
The 1978 Constitution was quite incompatible with the rule of law and democracy. Since then there have been several events which challenged the law as well as the traditions that had prevailed up until then. There were the cases brought against Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the former Prime Minister and her close collaborators. There were constant physical attacks on opposition political meetings, including the physical attack on the late Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, one of the county’s best known intellectuals. Then there were the constant attacks on the trade union movement which culminated in the sacking of all the workers who participated in the nation-wide general strike of 1980. Relentless attacks on the freedom of the press continued. And then there was the 1982 referendum to prevent the election for the parliament so as to allow the Members of Parliament elected in 1977 to continue for another term of six years.
All this and many other moves on the part of the J.R. Jayewardene regime shook the foundations of democracy and the rule of law. However, the older traditions did not die easily. The people still believed that the earlier framework of the law and democracy was still valid and there was strong resistance to Jayewardene’s scheme.
When the news of the ambush and killing of 13 soldiers in the north came to the ears of President Jayewardene he was shrewd enough to see that, “another great opportunity has come for him to push through his scheme”. The request to have all the funerals in Colombo was an invitation for a riot. He knew it and anyway, his Prime Minister, R. Premadasa, paying him a visit with the then Mayor of Colombo, Sirisena Cooray, had warned him that if the funerals were to be held in Colombo that day riots would break out all over the country. Their request was that he, as the president, should take action to prevent this. This, Sirisena Cooray records, was agreed to by the president. However, President Jayewardene was never known to be a man to keep his word. He let the funerals take place in Colombo and as predicted, riots did break out. However, no one was able to predict the extent to which the riots would spread and that Sri Lanka would never be the same again. Perhaps a simile is what the attack on the Twin Towers did to the United States.
This riot was no spontaneous event. The head of the state himself played a key role in letting the riot take place in his country. This is the very opposite of the notion of the role of a head of state in that it was his job to maintain peace. And when there was a threat of an extraordinary nature it was his task to take whatever measures necessary to maintain peace. But here in Sri Lanka the head of state did all he could to fan the flames.
Besides this, it was then, as it is now, the task of the police and the military to stop any breach of peace. However, in this instance it was the military that initiated the riots. Later investigations revealed the extent to which the military was involved in spreading the violence. The police complied with the requests to look the other way and took no steps to put out the fire.
Naturally the attack on Tamil business premises, homes and individuals spread, literally, like wildfire. The smoke arose from the capital city itself and the pictures of the houses burning and of the wounded people was seen around the world.
It is not necessary to go into the details of the horrors of the day which are quite well documented and which are also written in the memories of those unfortunate enough to witness the events. What is essential from the point of view of assessing the impact of what happened on that day on the rule of law system and democracy is that this violence was initiated with the blessings of the head of state and with the participation of the military and the support which was a result of the passivity of the police. Besides this the ruling party actively participated in attacking the business premises, houses and Tamil individuals. Therefore the claim that this was a riot initiated by the ruling regime with the full participation of state agencies may be fully substantiated.
It was the events of the day and the subsequent steps taken by the government to prevent any kind of measures to ensure accountability that resulted in the loss of faith in the capacity of the rule of law system to survive in Sri Lanka. Accountability of course was impossible when the head of state himself and the military was deeply involved in the causing of the riot and the violence that followed.
Ever since then, no government has taken any significant steps to restore the rule of law system from its collapsed state. Neither has the country’s judiciary made any decisive intervention to safeguard the rule of law system despite of the fact that their own legitimacy and their very survival depended on their ability to protect the system when challenged.
All subsequent events have, as is only to be expected, worsened the situation. Perhaps the only significant action that was taken to revive the rule of law system was the passing of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution with a rare consensus within the parliament. However, this attempt was thwarted in many ways and finally the passing of the 18th Amendment ended even the possibility of making a change for the better.
Thus, the requirement of the survival of the 1978 constitutional scheme, which is the complete displacement of the rule of law system, has been achieved. The executive president, whoever he may be, can take advantage of the situation without any fear that there is any law to stand against him.
I think it is not inappropriate to reproduce one of the poems which I wrote as the events were taking place then in July 1983.
Burma is often most renowned for its military Junta, repression of democratic rights and the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi that spanned over two decades. Such it is when in line with Western countries interest and their explicitly displayed values. Unfortunately what is lesser known is the multiple national independence struggles fought by suppressed nations in Burma, and the state sponsored persecution and terrorism against minorities. In 2012, Burma was being praised by the West for freeing opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, liberalizing its economy, allowing political parties, extending democratic rights, and for the abolishing of media censorship. In the backwaters of these events, with the West applauding what it considers positive steps taken by the new civilian government under President Thein Sein, a war was unleashed to eradicate the resistance of the Kachin nation in northern Burma (1). As the West is supplying funds, handing Burma international repute, facilitating it with international space to self-narrate the progress of the country, the Burmese army is unhindered in pursuing its structural approach towards minority nations. After a 17 year truce with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), it launched an extensive military offensive on June 2012. This decision coincided with the work on the billion dollar Sino-Burmese hydropower projects in the irrawaddy river in the Kachin homeland. In order to secure these areas for Chinese exploitation, the Burmese military is entrusted to drive out the Kachin people (2) . With both the subtle blessings and sinister involvement of contemporary imperialist powers, the West and China alike, a chauvinistic state is facilitated to carry out genocide. Another process which also began in 2012 summer, was the genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Rohinyga Muslims, in the central west of the country. In matter of few weeks, thousands of Rohinygas were reported butchered by Arakanese mobs, Buddhist monks, state police and federal forces, with tens of thousands being displaced. This brings to mind the parallels between the Burmese state and the Sri Lankan state and their interaction and liaisons with international powers.
Burma is a multi-ethnic country and was united under British colonial rule which placed the diverse region under the fold of a centralized authority in Rangoon. The boundaries set and the establishment of government ignored traditional and national peculiarities. The Burmese government represents the Bamar people alongside a range of other Buddhist people, who speak different but related languages. Thus the national culture is heavily marked by Buddhism and the Bamar. The military dictatorship has also drawn its legitimacy for military government from the rule of kings of the past. This leaves little space for nations with other religious following and another linguistic affiliation to prosper in its own right. The Kachin people speak various Kachinic languages and most follow Christianity, while the Rohiniygas speak Bengali and are Muslims. Both these people are viewed as multi-centric elements within the national space. They oppose and restrict the erection of the dominant Burmese nationality. The Karen took up arms in 1961 establishing the KIO and its military wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) to fight the Burmese government battling the state until 1994 when a truce was signed. As in Sri Lanka it was successively imposed discriminatory laws and actions in the post-independence period culminating in the state decision to make Buddhism the state religion which antagonized and marginalized the Kachin. Also as with the Sri Lankan context the Burmese state pursued a malicious counter-insurgency to impose its national unity. Sri Lanka’s war on Tamils starts as an element of the state’s intent to pursue a policy of creating a Sinhala Buddhist nation state. Similarly with Burma it targeted the ethnicities within its borders which were deemed multi-centric, this being foremost the Tamils who have since early independence been increasingly mobilized on lingo-national basis. With successive governments presiding over series of discriminatory laws, violent suppression and anti-Tamil riots , the Tamils took up arms in the 1970’s and the secessionist war broke out.
In the aftermath of 09.11.2001, a new international platform to fight counter-insurgencies emerged. It became rather advantageous for any nation-state to conjoin their counter-insurgencies with other nations on the pretext of fighting terrorism. For Sri Lanka this constituted a structural condition which would facilitate its reliance on international backing and subtle support in pursuit of a military solution to eradicate Tamil secessionism. With the collapse of the ceasefire in 2006, Colombo initiated a heavy offensive in the East of the island, a process which ended in May 2009 with the genocide in Mulluvaykal. International powers were known to have contributed with economical, diplomatical and military support, either directly or indirectly which served Sri Lanka’s ambitions. China poured in 1 billion dollars annually to the Sri Lankan state from 2005 to 2009 (3), while Pakistan upgraded the Sri Lankan air force’s radar and fighter jets. India trained military personnel, and aided the military forces with crucial logistics to weaken the LTTE. During the last war a range of Western countries were in support of dissolving the LTTE militarily in order to set the platform to deal with the national question concerning the Tamils. Later on through UN internal reports published in 2012 it was shown that even the U.N. leadership by grossly downplaying the civilian causalities assisted Sri Lanka in accomplishing what it had intended. What seems initially to be a series of strange events, tends to emerge as a systematic pattern, where it appears that the established international community of nation states apply a structural approach to people struggles. This very approach favours nation states’ military solutions to settle the self-determination struggles of oppressed nations and is pursued under the guise of eradicating terrorism and paving the way for development. Discourse and promises of democracy and peace, added with preliminary actions taken in the name of credence, shadow the brutal reality enacted by chauvinistic states and thereby sets the stage for the subtle support granted by international powers.
Statements expressing forthcoming harmony and the generosity to accede economic concessions by President Rajapakse resulted in the international community abetting the the Sri Lankan government’s genocidal war. It now seems Burma is effecting equally, through its adaptation of the Sri Lankan counter- insurgency model. The intent is to quash a genocidal war against the KIO and the Kachin people in the North while eradicating the Rohingya through mob and police perpetuated genocide and violence . The international community however is delighted and rather pleased with Burma due to rhetorics of democracy and the economic concessions endorsed under liberalization. A dreadful symphony of imperialist expansionism and genocidal nation state politics is perpetuated under the guise of development and reform. Failing to practice what it preach of equality and democracy, the west perceive it as more fruitful to aid the nation states in completing genocide and eradicating resistance in order to pursue imperialist goals. The West intends to counter China, China intends to counter the West and India, while India intends to counter China and make itself a power in the region. In this matrix the Burmese government maximizes on an abundance of supplies and support to pursue its agenda, an art the Sri Lankan government mastered in the last few years. The much praised Aung San Suu Kyi remains silent on these atrocities and is instead indulgent in praising the military for its historical role in the country’s establishment (4). Meanwhile the Kachen people brace themself for a bitter survival as Burmese troops are moving in towards their heartland with designs of occupying the town of Laiza. The international community and its media seemed to have abandoned the Kachin as was the case with Tamils in 2009, and now another genocide is lurking around the corner.
1) On the ingorance of the war against the Kachin people by international investors.http://karennews.org/2013/02/burma-investors-beware.html/
I welcome you to this lecture under the National Interest Module of the inaugural MPhil/PhD Programme of the Kotelawala Defence University. The topic of this lecture is “Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns”. As we all know, Sri Lanka is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world today. Our citizens are enjoying the benefits of peace and have complete freedom and countless opportunities to build better futures for themselves. At the same time, it must be understood that as with any other sovereign nation, Sri Lanka faces potential threats from various sources. Guarding against these threats and ensuring the safety of the nation is the first duty of the Government, because National Security is the foundation of our freedom and our prosperity. As such, the Government needs to be fully aware of all the issues that impact the country in areas such as Defence, Foreign Policy, Economic Affairs and internal Law & Order. It must formulate a comprehensive National Security strategy to deal with them.
A viable National Security strategy must constantly align ends with means, goals with resources, and objectives with the tools required to accomplish them. The strategy needs to be aligned with the aspirations of the people, and it must have public support. Ideally, if comprehensive security is to be ensured, it requires the achievement of national cohesion, political and economic stability, the elimination of terrorism, the countering of extremism, and the formulation of effective responses to external challenges. The Government must make every effort to keep aware of a continually changing situation and take appropriate action in response to new developments and challenges. It is only then that the safety of the nation can be assured.
In the course of this lecture on Sri Lanka’s National Security Concerns, I will examine the following areas:
Sri Lanka’s overall National Security context
The primary threats to our National Security at present; and,
The strategies that are being formulated in response to these threats.
The Context of National Security in Sri Lanka
In the first several years after the achievement of Independence, National Security did not need to be a primary concern of the Government of Ceylon. As an independent Dominion of Great Britain, and as a non-aligned nation with excellent relationships within and outside the region, there were few pressing threats that the Government had to deal with. As a result, the attention given to National Security was minimal, as was the emphasis placed on the country’s Defence apparatus. The military was largely ceremonial. It only had to assist the Government on occasions when there were issues such as public sector work stoppages or riots. The need to strengthen law enforcement and the Armed Forces to protect the nation against internal or external threats was not seen as a pressing concern. The attempted coup d’‚tat in 1962 further reduced the attention given to the Defence apparatus by the Government. Due to fears that a strong military would be a threat to democracy, as had been the case in some neighbouring countries during this period, funding for the Armed Forces was drastically reduced and recruitments curtailed.
As a result of the weakening of the military, the country was not in the best position to deal with the first major threat to its National Security when it erupted in 1971. This was the first JVP Insurrection. Although investigations into JVP activities had been going on for some time, cutbacks to intelligence services, including the closure of the Special Branch of the Police in 1970, had left the Government largely unaware of the scale of the insurrection it was facing. The nation’s military was overstretched. In response to the Government’s appeals for help, India and Pakistan sent in troops to secure critical installations while essential equipment and ammunition was provided by Britain and the Soviet Union. Although the insurrection was successfully suppressed within a short time, it had many consequences. One of the most crucial from a historical perspective was that National Security became a much greater concern both for the Government and for the general public. As Ceylon became Sri Lanka in 1972, upholding National Security was one of its foremost priorities.
In the late 1970s, Sri Lanka saw the emergence of the greatest ever threat to its sovereignty in the form of the terrorism of the Tamil separatist groups in the North and East. As the conflict worsened in the early 1980s, particularly after the riots of 1983, the threat of terrorism loomed large not only in the North and East but effectively all over the country. The rise of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and the likelihood of its attacks in public places fostered a deep insecurity amongst the people. There was significant loss of life, loss of property, and countless lost opportunities to achieve economic development. The law and order situation deteriorated as arms and ammunition started to flow to criminal elements in the underworld. By the late 1980s, the second JVP insurrection caused the further deterioration of the security situation throughout Sri Lanka. As a result of the increasing instability and violence, people began to lose some of their freedoms as more and more intensive measures had to be taken by the state in trying to uphold public security.
As the terrorism situation worsened, there was also an increasing involvement of foreign powers and the international community in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. During the early stages of the terrorist conflict, India trained LTTE cadres in training bases established in Tamil Nadu. Many of the leaders of other separatist groups also frequented that state. It is also important to note that several international Non Governmental Organisations that were based in the North and East first started to cooperate with the terrorist groups active in those areas during this period. In 1985, India facilitated talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the separatist groups in Thimpu, Bhutan. The talks collapsed due to the unrealistic demands made by the separatists. These demands would have gravely affected Sri Lanka’s sovereignty if granted, and the Government had no choice but to refuse them. Fighting soon resumed. By this time, the conflict transformed into one between the state and the LTTE, which had used the ceasefire granted for the Thimpu talks to destroy rival separatist groups.
As the fighting gained momentum, the emphasis given to National Security by the Government also increased. For the first time, the appointment of a Minister of National Security was seen as necessary. The strength of the military was also significantly enhanced, with larger recruitment drives, the acquisition of better assets, and improved training to counter the growing threats. With its improved capabilities, the military was able to make more and more progress in fighting the terrorism of the LTTE. For the first time, we also saw changes within the structure of the military. The need for a coordinated effort to combat terrorism led to the establishment of a Joint Operation Command to coordinate the three Armed Services, Police and Intelligence Services in counter terrorism operations. The military used battle formations for the first time, and the requirement for a National Intelligence Bureau to coordinate the intelligence services at a national level was also understood and subsequently brought into being.
In 1987, the very successful Vadamarachchi Operation enabled the Government to regain control of much of the North, leaving the LTTE on the brink of defeat. At this point, India intervened directly in the conflict by air dropping humanitarian relief supplies over Jaffna. This led to the abandonment of the Vadamarachchi operation, and the Indo-Lanka Accord was signed in July of that year. This led to the induction of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to the North of Sri Lanka, where it got embroiled in conflict with the LTTE. After more than two years of fighting, the IPKF withdrew from Sri Lanka in October 1990, and fighting resumed between the LTTE and Government Forces.
Although there were several periodic attempts at peace talks, the intensity of the war grew during the 1990s and in the early 2000s, with several major battles being fought and much hardship suffered throughout the country. The military was strengthened significantly to deal with this threat. Specialised units such as the Commando Regiment and the Special Forces Regiment of the Army, as well as the Special Boat Squadron of the Navy were developed to deal with the increasing military challenge posed by the LTTE in the North and East. However, in addition to its battles with the military, the LTTE also frequently carried out attacks against civilians in the rest of the country. Large bombings took place in public locations in Colombo, killing thousands. Hundreds more were massacred in vulnerable villages near LTTE dominated territory. Critical installations and economic targets such as the International Airport, Central Bank and the Kolonnawa Oil Refinery were also ruthlessly attacked. In order to contain this very serious threat to national security, precautionary measures had to be greatly increased throughout the country. This led to the visible presence of soldiers on the streets, the widespread use of checkpoints, frequent cordon and search operations, and the constant upholding of the Emergency Regulations, which gave wide-ranging powers to the military and law enforcement agencies. The entire country was effectively on a war footing.
In 2002, the next major development in the conflict was the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement with the LTTE under mediation of Norway. This event can also be viewed as the next major phase in the internationalisation of Sri Lankan affairs as a result of the conflict. The Peace Process that was entered into by the Government of the time was facilitated by Norway, with the support of the representatives of major donor countries, namely the European Union, the United States of America and Japan. Together with Norway, they comprised the four Co-Chairs of the Sri Lankan Peace Process. A Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission was also established, comprising members from Nordic countries, to supervise the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement. Despite their presence, the LTTE continued to create instability in the country; assassinating its key opponents including Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, and carrying out occasional attacks against civilians.
In 2006, increasing provocations by the LTTE culminated in its threatening of a humanitarian crisis by closing the vital Maavilaru Sluice Gate. This was a crisis that affected the right to water of thousands of households, and even affected national food security by preventing the flow of water to many thousands of acres of agricultural land. The Government intervened with a limited operation to reopen the sluice gate, but was met with large-scale attacks by the LTTE on several fronts. This led to the widening of the military campaign into the Humanitarian Operation that ultimately freed Sri Lanka from terrorism.
The Humanitarian Operation required significant strengthening of the military to enable its success. During the ceasefire period, the LTTE had managed to strengthen its offensive capabilities significantly. It had approximately 30,000 cadres in its ranks and a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment that included heavy artillery, mortar, missiles, rocket propelled grenades, and light aircraft. Combating such an enemy that employed guerrilla tactics required the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to grow significantly. Between the end of 2005 and the end of 2009, the number of Army personnel grew from 120,000 to over 200,000; its 9 Divisions were increased to 20; its 44 Brigades expanded to 71; and its 149 Battalions increased to 284. The Navy and the Air Force were also expanded significantly, and given tasks beyond their classic role. The upholding of security throughout the country also required the Police and Special Task Force to be strengthened, and the Civil Defence Force was revamped and significantly expanded.
Because of the internationalisation of the Sri Lankan situation during the previous decades, there was a great deal of foreign scrutiny on the progress of the Humanitarian Operation. By keeping the Indian leaders constantly informed about what was happening on ground, and by skilfully managing our relationships with other nations, it was possible for the war effort to continue unimpeded. Nevertheless, towards the end of the war in 2009, the Foreign Ministers of France and the United Kingdom arrived in Sri Lanka and attempted to intervene in the military campaign, although they did not succeed. Efforts by such parties to end the Humanitarian Operation reflect the tremendous influence that the LTTE’s international network had on foreign capitals. Many in the international community wilfully ignored the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka was duty-bound to protect its citizens from the aggression of the LTTE terrorists. Even after the war ended and peace dawned in 2009, this bias against the Government led to Sri Lanka being taken up at the United Nations Human Rights Council. Although the initial Resolution against Sri Lanka was defeated that year, two more were sponsored by the United States in 2012 and 2013, and successfully passed.
Today, Sri Lanka is a country enjoying the full benefits of peace, and it is engaged in a concerted push to accelerate its economic development and bring prosperity to its citizens. The country has much to catch up on. Three decades of conflict lost us countless opportunities for growth: foreign and local investment suffered due to fears about the war; tourists did not visit the country, and many of our best and brightest went overseas to build better futures for themselves. Countries such as Singapore, which were in a similar economic position to Sri Lanka when we reached Independence in 1948, developed at a tremendous rate during this period. This is because they did not have a major conflict to contend with. Sri Lanka’s prospects on the other hand were greatly curtailed as a result of the war. This is why the biggest responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka even today, in the post war situation, is to ensure the continued security of the country. Without security and stability, there will be no economic development. The maintenance of National Security is therefore of the utmost importance.
The National Security of Sri Lanka needs to be addressed in context of the history of this country and the realities of its present situation, and most critically from the perspective of several responsibilities of the state. The state must ensure that the Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity of the nation is maintained, and that there are no threats to the safety of our population. Ensuring economic growth so that the people of the country can uplift their standard of living is also critical in order to prevent internal problems recurring in the future. Creating a favourable environment for Sri Lanka internationally is similarly of the utmost importance in keeping adverse external influence at bay. Securing the safety of our physical assets and safeguarding the nation’s democracy are also critical. Considering this overall context, it is clear that National Security must be understood within a unified, single framework that integrates the nation’s Defence, Law and Order, Foreign Policy and Economic Policy. These four areas need to come together in the creation of a comprehensive National Security Strategy. This is essential if Sri Lanka is to consolidate its present peace and stability and fulfil its potential.
Present National Security Concerns
There are several potential threats in today’s context that Sri Lanka needs to be concerned about. These include:
The possible re-emergence of terrorism
The emergence of other extremist groups
The creation of ethnic divisions and communal violence
The challenges of maritime security and border control
The growth of organised crime
Foreign interference in domestic affairs
Non-traditional threats through technology driven new media, including social media.
In discussing terrorism, it is first of all important to appreciate the sheer scale of the problem that the Government of Sri Lanka was confronted with as a result of the LTTE over the past three decades. Since the 1970s, the LTTE grew from a small organisation of armed individuals to a large, sophisticated terrorist outfit with very advanced combat capabilities. At its height, the LTTE had more than 30,000 battle-hardened cadres; access to large stockpiles of modern armaments, ammunition and equipment; a sophisticated naval wing and a fledgling air wing. For a considerable period of the conflict, the LTTE was able to maintain the illusion of a functional state apparatus in the territories it dominated. It also had significant influence in foreign capitals as a result of its extensive international network. Defeating the LTTE required a concerted effort on the part of the Sri Lankan Government. As a result of the unwavering leadership of His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this task was achieved in May of 2009.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, there were a number of issues that needed to be dealt with. First was the problem of nearly 300,000 internally displaced people who had been used as the LTTE’s human shield during the last phases of the war. Then there was the need to demine the North and East so that those areas would be safe for human habitation. This resulted in the recovery of hundreds of thousands of mines and improvised explosive devices laid by the LTTE during its retreat. Infrastructure development and reconstruction of those areas after years of neglect under the LTTE’s dominance was another significant issue that had to be dealt with, after which it was possible to resettle the IDPs in their places of origin. One of the most important issues was dealing with the nearly twelve thousand surrendered LTTE cadres and four thousand detained cadres. The Government took the bold step of rehabilitating nearly all of them so that they could become productive citizens in future. The vast majority of them have already been reintegrated with society.
Amongst other post war achievements has been the disarming of other armed groups that used to operate in the North and East, and the encouragement these groups have been given to contribute to society through democratic processes. The restrictions that used to be in force on movement, fishing, high security zones etc., have all been removed. Democracy has been completely restored, with free and fair elections taking place. Economic growth in the North and East has been truly remarkable in the recent past, and it is clear beyond doubt that normalcy has been restored to the people.
Despite all of these very positive developments, however, the threat of terrorism re-emerging still persists. One of the main reasons for the LTTE’s success during its heyday was its extensive international network, which has been in operation for many decades. Following the ambush and massacre of 13 soldiers in the North by the LTTE in 1983, there was a major communal backlash against the Tamils in the rest of the country. As a result of the July 1983 riots, a large number of Tamil people left Sri Lanka and travelled to countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and parts of Europe. These countries granted asylum to these immigrants, and later granted them citizenship. As such, there is a large population of immigrant Sri Lankan Tamils in other countries. A small minority of this population supports the LTTE even to this day. Extremist elements within this community, together with LTTE agents and operatives, including trained terrorists who fled Sri Lanka at various times during the war, comprise the LTTE’s international network.
After the demise of Prabhakaran, the LTTE’s former procurement chief Kumaran Pathmanadan, better known as KP, took control over this network and indicated that it would continue to work for the separatist cause through peaceful means. However, a breakaway faction emerged almost immediately, led by Nediyawan, who wanted to continue Prabhakaran’s ideology of violence. Nediyawan’s group, was previously known as The Tamil Eelam People’s Assembly or the Tamil National Council and is now known as the Tamil Coordinating Committee, Based in Norway, this group has been working with other international groups to promote the LTTE’s separatist cause in many parts of the world. The Tamil Coordinating Committee has control over most of the assets of the LTTE’s international organisation, including its media networks such as Tamil Net.
Following the arrest of KP in August 2009, Rudrakumaran took over the leadership of the main network and began working towards establishing a “Government in Exile”. This group now fashions itself as The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam. In the guise of fighting for Tamil rights, its primary objective is to lobby foreign Governments for the establishment of a separate state in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The so-called “Transnational Government” has about twenty “Ministers” and “Deputy Ministers”, and was formed with assistance of an advisory committee comprising prominent pro LTTE activists, including foreigners who have been helping the LTTE for many years. There has recently been a revolt within the TGTE, where one third of its members loyal to Nediyawan, went against the leadership of Rudrakumaran because they wished to engage in more radical action.
Another prominent LTTE-linked group emerged out of the British Tamils Association, which was active since 2001 in supporting the terrorism of the LTTE in Sri Lanka. In 2006, the leader of the BTA, Arunachalam Krishanthakumar, alias Shanthan, was investigated on suspicion of supporting terrorist activities. As a result of these suspicions about the BTA, the British Tamils Forum was formed in 2006 to carry on the same activities in a new guise. The BTF acted as an umbrella organisation that mustered support from the immigrant Tamil community and local British politicians for dividing Sri Lanka. With Shanthan’s arrest by British authorities in June 2007 for providing material support to terrorism and his conviction in April 2009, as well as the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the role played by the BTF needed to be changed to suit the post-war environment.
As a result of this, the Global Tamils Forum emerged in February 2010, with many of the same members as the BTF. The head of the GTF is the so-called Father Emmanuel, a Priest who was once hailed by Prabhakaran as “a freedom fighter who has given leadership to a movement committed to setting up the homeland to Tamil Eelam”. Father Emmanuel has been engaged in a propaganda campaign against Sri Lanka for many years, targeting Tamil expatriates, Foreign Governments and International Organisations. He is known to have visited LTTE strongholds in Sri Lanka in mid-2000 to conduct training for selected youth who were earmarked to take up overseas appointments for fundraising and propaganda for the LTTE.
Under Father Emmanuel’s guidance, the GTF has successfully influenced a number of politicians from various political parties in European countries as well as the United States, Australia, Canada, and India to support the separatist cause. In addition, the GTF has courted officials within international organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union and various international non-governmental organisations to obtain their support. Part of the success of the GTF in these activities can be attributed to the involvement of influential pro-LTTE foreigners in it. These include Mrs. Joan Ryan, a former British Parliamentarian who has become the Head of the GTF’s Secretariat.
Yet another group that is active internationally in supporting the separatist cause is the LTTE Headquarter Group, which is based in France and headed by Vinayagam, a senior intelligence cadre who managed to escape during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka. This is a group that is known to engage in Human Smuggling, with some of its past operations including the sending of the “Sun Sea” and “Ocean Lady” vessels from South East Asia to Canada in 2009 and 2010. The members of this group generally maintain a low profile and their movements are kept to a minimum as most of them have been issued Red Notices by Interpol for their involvement in criminal activities. They also keep their distance from both Nediyawan’s and Rudrakumaran’s groups, but maintain links with the GTF.
All of the LTTE-linked groups are coordinated by the GTF and united by one overarching objective. Their unwavering intent is the division of Sri Lanka and the establishment of a separate state for Tamil Eelam. There are several strategies through which they will try to achieve their objective. These include:
The winning of international opinion for the separatist cause,
Increasing international pressure on Sri Lanka in various areas; including pushing for international investigations into war crimes and claims of genocide, and by encouraging international monitoring of the national reconciliation process,
Undermining all efforts of the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka to create a better future for its citizens through reconciliation and economic development, and
Continuing to push for the resumption of conflict through reorganizing local pro-LTTE elements within Sri Lanka.
Some of the efforts of these LTTE-linked groups have been successful to a certain extent in that despite the war having ended four years ago, the internal affairs of Sri Lanka have been kept at the forefront of the UNHRC’s Sessions as well as at the top of the agenda of several prominent international NGOs even in the recent past. It has to be noted that many of those who create this pressure by claiming to be human rights activists and victims of state repression are actually trained LTTE cadres and operatives who are now fully engaged in propaganda activities. It is very important to understand that their attempts to put pressure on the Government through international bodies such as the UNHRC and non state actors such as international NGOs is designed to strengthen those who work against Sri Lanka’s interests.
In this context it is important to realise that there are groups even within the democratic mainstream in Sri Lanka that obtain funding from the LTTE’s international network and pro-LTTE elements overseas, which more or less openly talk about achieving the very same objectives that the LTTE had. Though they appear to have a democratic face, their actions and remarks clearly show that the extremist separatist ideology has not yet disappeared. Their ultimate objective is achieving the division of Sri Lanka. As a result of their actions and statements, it is very much a possibility that certain radical elements will feel empowered to once again attempt to take up arms in the name of separation. This is a major National Security threat that needs to be taken with the utmost seriousness.
In addition to the threat of terrorism, Sri Lanka also faces a potential threat from other extremist groups. These are the remnants of the radical groups that were involved in previous insurgencies. Some of these groups are trying to reorganise within Sri Lanka and mobilise people to once again take up their extreme left wing causes. There is information that some of these groups have started to link up with the LTTE-linked groups to create further problems in Sri Lanka. Some of their activities include radicalising students and encouraging them to take to the streets in various protests. Though such activities are still in their early stages, they pose another serious National Security concern that we need to be vigilant of.
Another growing concern in the post-war environment is the increasing communalism amongst ethnic groups, which if left unaddressed, could result in the rise of ethnic tensions in the future. During the period of the war, it was not only the Sinhalese and Tamil communities that were affected by the terrorist separatism of the LTTE, but also the Muslims. After the LTTE started engaging in ethnic cleansing in the North in the early 1980s, it expelled the Sinhalese community from Jaffna and soon after turned its attention to the Muslims. Several massacres were carried out at Mosques in the East, and in October 1990, the LTTE expelled more than 75,000 Muslim residents from the North. This was followed by further brutal attacks on Muslims in vulnerable villages near the territory dominated by the LTTE. In this environment, the Muslims also started to organise themselves for their own protection against the LTTE. After the LTTE’s defeat, some of these groups have begun to engage in activities that stem far beyond self-protection. There is some information that some of these groups have even tried to link up with the global Islamic terrorist movement. This is a situation that requires careful monitoring.
On a broader scale, it also has to be acknowledged that one of the consequences of the terrorist conflict Sri Lanka endured for thirty years has been the increased insularity of ethnic groups. Rather than identifying themselves on the basis of nationality, the communities of Sri Lanka have begun to identify themselves on the basis of their ethnicity or their religion. Instead of calling themselves Sri Lankan, they identify themselves as Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims or Buddhists or Christians. This fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity is most unfortunate, because activists within these communal groups seek minority rights or ethnic rights rather than working within the framework of a common national identity.
The cross-border links that can arise as a result of such insular ethnic or religious identification is also very troublesome. It is clear that there are some in the Tamil community who identify themselves more with the Tamil community of Tamil Nadu than with their fellow Sri Lankans. This has been encouraged by some parties overseas who wish to promote the idea of a greater Tamil Nation. Similarly, it has been observed that there are some foreign groups that wish to encourage Sri Lankan Muslims to identify themselves more with the global Muslim community, thereby reducing their integration within Sri Lanka. This trend has been particularly prevalent in the post September 11 world, in which there has been a tendency among certain groups to try and influence the global Muslim community towards religious extremism has become visible.
The increasing insularity and cohesion amongst minority ethnic groups has also led to the emergence of hard line groups from the majority community: the popularity of certain political groups and movements can be viewed as being largely a response to this trend. In turn, the emergence of hard line groups in the majority community causes further tensions amongst other communities, which leads to a vicious cycle of greater fragmentation of the Sri Lankan identity. Sri Lanka had enough divisions in the past that ultimately led to conflict; we must learn the lessons from our past and ensure that history is not repeated. This is therefore a very serious National Security concern at the present moment.
The maintenance of maritime security is another serious National Security Concern that the Government needs to be vigilant about. As an island, Sri Lanka does not have land borders to worry about, but maintaining maritime security is a serious challenge. In the past, the only maritime security issues that had to be dealt with was the illegal movement of Indians into Sri Lanka and the smuggling that took place between Sri Lanka and South India. Preventing these threats was one of the foremost duties of the military in the 1950s and the 1960s. However, with the development of the LTTE and other terrorist groups in the 1970s and beyond, maritime security became a major concern to Sri Lanka.
For example, it is a well-known fact that the LTTE acquired a vast arsenal of weapons and equipment including artillery, missiles, mortars, armoured vehicles and even light aircraft. None of these items were produced in Sri Lanka, but were brought into Sri Lanka through the sea. In addition to military supplies, the LTTE’s cadres were initially trained at bases in Tamil Nadu. Given the recent activities of LTTE-linked organisations outside Sri Lanka and particularly in Tamil Nadu, this is very much a current threat even today.
The organised trafficking of persons or human smuggling is another significant maritime security issue. Organised groups, some of which are connected to LTTE-linked organisations, have lured many people seeking better economic prospects into this lucrative illegal operation. During this year alone, more than 440 such people have attempted to leave Sri Lanka illegally. Having sold their properties and handed over all their wealth to the operators of these schemes, the victims of human trafficking find themselves trapped on board unsafe vessels along with hundreds of others, travelling to countries that will most often refuse them entry. In order to make a compelling case for their acceptance by border control authorities abroad, such economic refugees often concoct stories about being persecuted in Sri Lanka, thereby damaging the country’s reputation. Furthermore, the mechanisms of human trafficking have enabled trained terrorists to escape justice in Sri Lanka and flee abroad to safe havens, from which they may once again attempt to cause problems to the country through other means.
A further consideration with regard to maritime security is the protection of our maritime assets. One of the problems Sri Lanka has faced in the maritime domain after the defeat of the LTTE has been the increasing incidence of pirate fishing in Sri Lankan waters by South Indian fishermen. These fishermen use illegal practices such as bottom trawling to maximise their catch. This causes serious damage to the healthy fish stocks in Sri Lankan waters, and also adversely affects the livelihoods of our own fishermen. These fishing boats that enter Sri Lankan waters illegally have also been known to engage in other criminal activities including drug smuggling. Protecting our waters from these fishermen, as well as from others who might seek to exploit our other oceanic resources including oil and gas, will be one of the key maritime security challenges for Sri Lanka in the future.
Somewhat farther afield, the threat of international piracy is also a concern for Sri Lanka’s maritime security. Many of the world’s most important Sea Lanes of Communications are located in close proximity to Sri Lanka, and both the newly built Hambantota Port as well as the Colombo port are ideally situated to service the hundreds of vessels that cross these lanes on a daily basis. The reach and sophistication of the pirates originating mostly from East Africa has been increasing in recent years. This factor undermines the security of these Sea Lanes and could pose a serious problem to shipping in the region in the future. This will have an impact on the country’s economic security as well, and is therefore another challenge that needs to be monitored.
With regard to border security, one of the concerns Sri Lanka has is the possibility of the country being used as a transit point for transnational crime. The arrest of certain elements connected with extremist regional terrorist groups in India and Pakistan have shown that they have used Sri Lanka as a transit point from which to coordinate their activities. Some who are known to have been temporarily sheltered in Sri Lanka by an International Organisation after claiming refugee status in the west, are known criminals who engaged in illegal activities such as credit card fraud, drug smuggling and counterfeit currency printing abroad.
Organised crime in Sri Lanka is another issue that needs to be addressed. As a result of the rise of terrorism and the insurrections Sri Lanka experienced over the last forty years, and the response required from the state, a considerable amount of arms and ammunition inadvertently fell into the hands of criminals. This led to the rise of the underworld, which is now engaged in a number of organised criminal activities including drugs, armed robberies, kidnappings for ransom and financial frauds. There are also groups that engage in seizing land illegally. Tackling the challenges posed by organised criminal groups is another priority for the state.
In today’s environment, the possibility of foreign interference in our internal affairs remains a significant National Security concern. With the involvement of countries like India, Norway, and the United States of America in Sri Lanka as a result of the terrorist conflict, matters relating to this country’s internal affairs have gained increased visibility within the international community. India in particular is very sensitive to what is going on in Sri Lanka because of the large Tamil population in its influential southern state of Tamil Nadu. Especially during the elections cycle, Sri Lanka figures large in its power politics. In the recent past, we have seen even the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu attempting to pressurise the central government into opposing Sri Lanka internationally. This is a serious threat to Sri Lanka’s security, and perhaps even its sovereignty.
Furthermore, as a result of the rapid economic and military development of countries like India and China in recent decades, the entire Asian region has become increasingly important in global affairs. Because of Sri Lanka’s important geostrategic position within the Indian Ocean region, a great deal of attention is therefore placed upon it in the present era. There is a possibility that some western powers wish to have a Sri Lankan Government that is closely aligned with their interests, and will seek to influence Sri Lanka’s destiny so that it cannot pursue the independent course it is following at present.
A third factor that has led to Sri Lanka’s increasing importance in the international arena involves regional power politics. The issues between India and Pakistan, and the issues between India and China are particularly sensitive in this regard. With the rise of China as a world economic leader, there is a widespread belief that India feels insecure and is seeking to align itself with the other powers that seem similarly threatened by China’s ascendancy. The likelihood of the United States showing more interest in the region and aligning more with India is a factor that may affect Sri Lanka. Further, its establishment of a base in the Maldives is also changing the complexion of the region. These are developments that need to be monitored from the point of view of Sri Lanka’s national security.
The final threat to Sri Lanka’s National Security that I will highlight during this lecture is the emergence of technology driven new media including social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other websites on the Internet. We have seen the potential of this new media to destabilise nations and affect serious change in the case of countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt etc. Although the likelihood of events such as the Arab spring transpiring in Sri Lanka is minimal as a result of it being a democratic nation with an extremely popular political leadership that enjoys a very large electoral majority, this is yet another threat that needs to be monitored. Particularly due to increasing Internet penetration and computer literacy in Sri Lanka, many of our youth are familiar with social media and use it as a tool to gather information as well as propagate ideas. Those with vested interests can exploit social media to cause problems in Sri Lanka by propagating certain ideologies online and mobilising and organising people. This can be done with a minimal physical presence, and therefore forms a threat that is difficult to contain through the traditional tools of national defence.
National Security Response
Considering the foregoing threat assessment, it is clear that despite Sri Lanka being in a post-war situation in which most people are only concerned about economic development, National Security remains very much a core concern for the Government. In addressing the challenges discussed above and developing a comprehensive National Security Strategy, it is important for the Government to take a holistic view and incorporate many of its elements into a single policy framework.
In terms of internal security, the best response to most of the threats that we face is the development of the Intelligence Services. Sri Lanka has two primary intelligence arms: the State Intelligence Service and the Defence Intelligence, which comprises the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Directorate of Naval Intelligence, and Air Intelligence. In addition, the Police maintains the Special Branch, while the Special Task Force also has its own Intelligence Division. Furthermore, the Terrorist Investigation Department and Criminal Investigation Department of the Police also work closely with the other Intelligence agencies on matters relating to National Security.
In the past, the lack of strength and coordination amongst these various intelligence services used to be a serious issue. It is essential that they work together under a unified command structure in order to improve coordination and enhance capabilities. Towards this effect, one of the efforts undertaken by the present Government has been to bring these intelligence services under the Chief of National Intelligence, who reports directly to the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence. This has streamlined coordination and improved cooperation amongst the intelligence agencies.
Another important development in this regard has been the augmenting of resources allocated for the Intelligence function. After the war, the number of military intelligence units have been increased and each Security Force Head quarters now has its own Intelligence Unit. The Intelligence personnel are being afforded more and more training in order to enhance their capabilities and capacities, and as Sri Lanka moves forward, it is hoped that the Intelligence agencies will be able to keep track of and contain domestic National Security concerns.
Furthermore, although the requirement for offensive military operations no longer exists in Sri Lanka, it is of the utmost importance that our security measures are not relaxed. Although the military is not engaged in law enforcement activities, and although their visible presence has been greatly reduced, it is essential for the military to be placed in strategic locations throughout Sri Lanka. Particularly in the North and East, where we know that there are still potential threats to National Security, it is essential to have a significant though unobtrusive military presence. Some recent efforts of international elements to reorganise pro-LTTE elements in the North underscores the need for this. For example, the recent arrest of some youth in Jaffna and Chennai who had been recruited by a Chennai based LTTE-linked group funded by the LTTE’s Europe based network, shows the utmost need to remain vigilant in this regard.
It must also be underscored that as a Sovereign nation, Sri Lanka has every right to place its security elements in any part of the country it so chooses. While some in the international community talk about the so-called militarisation of the North and East, and some political parties in Sri Lanka decry the presence of the military in these areas, it must also be understood that the people of the North and East mostly have a very cordial relationship with the military. Since the end of the war, the military has been involved in a great deal of reconstruction work, and they have also supported the people of the area to resume their livelihoods. They have provided equipment and material for agriculture, fishing and various types of assistance for small business development. The increased attention given to Civic-Military affairs also helps National Security because it helps the Armed Forces to win the hearts and minds of the people in the former conflict areas.
With regard to the work of the Defence services in the post-war environment, it is also essential to expand the responsibilities of the Navy and the Coast Guard. The protection of Sri Lanka’s maritime borders is of the utmost importance, and there is a great deal of responsibility on these two institutions to safeguard our seas. The Exclusive Economic Zone Sri Lanka enjoys needs to be protected, as it is a vital economic asset. The Navy needs to get more naval assets so that it has the ability to patrol or dominate the blue seas. It is also important to improve the Navy’s surveillance capabilities through augmenting its Radars and adding a new air surveillance capability. The Air Force, too, needs to improve it capabilities with regard to surveillance operations.
Another aspect of internal security that needs to be mentioned is the rectification of weaknesses that we used to have with regard to the national identity system. Because it was a manual, paper-based system, criminal and terrorist elements could very easily obtain forged identity cards. This enabled the terrorists to operate throughout Sri Lanka under various names and aliases; this is why the threat of suicide bombings and other attacks in the rest of Sri Lanka was such a pressing problem during the period of the war. To address this critical weakness, the Registrar of Persons Department was brought under the Ministry of Defence & Urban Development, and a new identity card system that uses biometric information will be introduced shortly. Similarly, the problem of people coming into Sri Lanka and staying here illegally under false pretences will be addressed through the introduction of a proper border control system in which biometric information will be incorporated into the passport and international standards used for identity verification.
From the point of view of domestic security, perhaps the most critical aspect will be the achievement of national reconciliation and the forging of a common Sri Lankan identity. Economic development is an absolute necessity in this regard. The fact remains that unless people enjoy a reasonable standard of living, peace and reconciliation are very difficult to achieve. This is why the Government has spared no expense or effort to develop infrastructure and build up the North and East to a high standard. This will enable the benefits of peace to flow down to the people of those areas. When people know that they have the opportunity to achieve a better future for themselves, it is highly unlikely that they will waste their time on violent ideologies. The achievement of economic development and national reconciliation are therefore two of the key areas of focus of the Government in the present national context.
Finally, with regard to external threats, it is of the utmost importance that Sri Lanka maintains cordial relationships with its allies. Despite the present pressure from Tamil Nadu, it is essential to maintain a strong and healthy relationship with India. Relations with the many countries that helped us in the past, both in economic terms and through political support, should be strengthened further through skilful diplomacy and further development of mutual ties. It essential to further strengthen the existing cordial relationships with powerful nations such as China and Russia, which have permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council and can influence any international action on Sri Lanka more significantly than other nations. In this overall context, it is very important that the foreign policy of Sri Lanka needs to be realistic. It is essential for Sri Lanka to have close ties with certain powerful nations in the international community in order to safeguard its National Security interests.
During the course of this lecture I have outlined the overall context of Sri Lanka’s National Security concerns; identified our most pressing threats and discussed the broad outlines of the Government’s strategy to deal with all these issues. Ultimately, the best way to ensure that Sri Lanka remains safe and strong in the future is for all of us to put aside the differences of the past; unite as Sri Lankans, and work towards a better future for ourselves and for each other.
The suicide by a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in Sri Lanka to protest the slaughter of cattle has been hailed as an act of great self-sacrifice and compared to acts of self-immolation by Tibetan Buddhist monks protesting China’s repression in Tibet. Nothing could be more ill-informed. In fact, it is one more step by Sri Lanka’s chauvinist Sinhala-Buddhists to undermine the Muslim political base.
The monk, Bowatte Indraratne, who had been campaigning against the Muslim halal method of slaughtering animals, was also a politician. He was a former elected member of a local government body representing the extreme Buddhist political party Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). JHU’s leader Champika Ranawaka lost no time in exploiting the incident to advance the party’s agenda. He said the government should bring in legislation to ban the slaughter of cattle, and religious conversion. Christians have come under pressure from Buddhists for proselytising, a charge they deny.
The campaign to stop the slaughter of cattle and instances of violence against Muslims are not isolated events in Sri Lanka. These are steps to politically disempower Muslims are uncannily reminiscent of the way the Sinhala establishment tries to destroy the Tamil power base.
Persecution of Muslims is taking a particularly virulent form today. But in the past too Sinhala leaders viewed Muslims with suspicion, as they did Tamils. The control they exercised was a blend of coercion, political manipulation of Muslim elites and the policy of divide and rule.
Coercion of Muslims by Sinhalese was applied mostly through violence and intimidation. In recent memory are rampaging Sinhala mobs targeting Muslims in Mawanella (2001) and Beruwela (2002). Other disputes occurred over land, like Deegavapi in 1999.
Political manipulation of the Muslim elite compelled them to take decisions detrimental to their community. In 1956, Muslim politician and diplomat Sir Razik Fareed campaigned with Sinhala leaders to deny Tamil as an official language of the State, despite a large majority of Muslims being Tamil speakers.
Adopting a policy of divide-and-rule, Sinhala leaders forced Muslims – especially in the East – to view Tamils as enemies, which led to Tamil-Muslim clashes. The Sinhala-dominated military used Muslim home guards to target Tamil civilians in the East. The rift was magnified by the LTTE expelling the Muslim population in Sri Lanka’s North.
With the military phase of the conflict with the Tamils coming to an end in May 2009, Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists realised they now had the luxury of investing more resources in suppressing Muslims. Further, with President Mahinda Rajapakse intent on consolidating power, extreme nationalism was a good vehicle.
The government has made no secret of its connections to extremist civil society groups. Relations between government officials and the principal vehicle of Buddhist bigotry, the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS), are so fraternal that Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the hawkish head of the Ministry of Defence and brother of the country’s president, graced an important occasion of the organisation. The BBS plays a similar role as the Shiv Sena does to the pro-Hindu regimes in India.
As mentioned above, the objective of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism is to demolish Muslim political power in Sri Lanka. It is no different from efforts to destroy the Tamil power base in the country from the 1950s. The three examples below demonstrate the similarities.
The BBS has opposed the certification of food as ‘halal’ and Muslim women wearing the hijab. These cultural practices are important markers of Muslim identity. The BBS’s campaign is not only to demolish what distinguishes this group’s identity, but also the power its members derive from that identity. For the Tamils, the primary marker of identity is language. That is why Sinhala nationalism sought to undermine Tamil by denying it official language status and placing obstacles to Tamil-speakers’ access to higher education and State employment.
Second, mosques and Muslim-owned businesses have come under assault. It is important to note the significance of both in the political lives of Muslims. The mosque is a forum for political mobilisation. The strength of metropolitan Muslims in Sri Lanka is their success as a merchant community. And they have used their wealth to buy political power. Therefore attacking mosques and commercial establishments is a way to undermine the Muslim power base. In the case of Tamils, assessing that their political base was territorial concentration in the country’s North and East, Sinhala leaders took to dismantling it by settling large numbers of Sinhalese in those areas.
Finally, let’s look at the government’s use of counterinsurgency laws to stifle freedom of speech and political opinion. On May 2, Azath Salley, a well-known Muslim leader, was arrested (and later released) under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). He was detained for an interview he gave to an Indian magazine where he said that Muslim youth should take to arms. But the reasons appear deeper than that. Salley openly criticised the government for anti-Muslim racism. But more than all else, Sally heads a political party which advocates Tamil-Muslim political dialogue to resolve mutually important issues. This, by definition, excludes government and the Sinhalese.
The government arresting and later releasing Salley is reminiscent of the then government criminalising Tamil parliamentarians who even advocated democratic secession. This legislation – the Sixth Amendment to Sri Lanka’s constitution – suppressed democratic dissent and left armed rebellion as the only option to give effect to Tamil demands.
Therefore, the self-immolation by Bowatte Indraratne protesting cattle slaughter had a sinister motive. It used religion as a weapon to undermine the political base of a minority community in Sri Lanka. If steps are not taken to check this trend, Sri Lanka’s Muslims could be facing a future of persecution and violence.
*J. S. Tissainayagam, a former Sri Lankan political prisoner, was a Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard and Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in the United States. This article is first appeared in Asian Correspondent
“….establishing a complete series of methods which will allow the controlling oligarchy……to get people to really like their servitude. This is the, it appears to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions”. –Aldous Huxley (The Ultimate Revolution)
In the course of his current Ugandatour, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was reportedly enchanted by the servile conduct of the Ugandans he came into speak to with. According to the political column of last Sunday’s Rivira, the Lankan President asked his Ugandan counterpart, “When we appear at them (Ugandans) it is clear that they have a very obedient nature. How did you handle to make them so obedient?” President Musevini’s response was that this servility was a relic of the Colonial ethos, when White Masters kept their Black and Brown Subjects in total subjugation.
In a democracy uncritical obedience is a unsafe vice. Despotic rule can’t survive without uncritical obedience. Colonial rulers treated colonised peoples as political infants incapable of handling independence. Tyrants too regard their subjects as eternal political-minors, incapable of dealing with freedom.
Foremost amongst the freedoms considered unsafe by actual and nascent despots is the appropriate to info, the freedom of the individuals to know what is happening in their personal nation. Over the years the Rajapaksas have managed to subdue most of the print media. At present, websites are their major targets. In this month alone, de facto banns were imposed on numerous web sites which includes Gossip Lanka and Lanka Eagle.
The Rajapaksa worry of a free of charge and critical media is comprehensible. The Siblings have a lot to hide.
Take land grabbing. At present this is a major dilemma confronting not just by the Tamil individuals of the North but also by the Sinhala people of the South. Parallel to the stealth campaign of demographic reengineering in the North, the Rajapaksas are conducting an even more secretive operation of class and partisan-political reengineering in the South. Their ultimate aim is to create a new demographic which will render tough any democratic/electoral resistance to Familial Rule.
In the North, private lands are getting expropriated to create new army camps and military cantonments. For instance, according to Parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran, the regime is utilizing the Land Acquisition Act to expropriate 6,400 acres of land to build a military cantonment in Jaffna: “….the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outdoors the so known as illegal Higher Safety Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not comprehensive. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands….. Now abruptly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to other folks to occupy, who will turn into voters in the North. Equivalent notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, guidelines have gone out to obtain all the land that the military deems needed for its purposes”[i].
These cantonments and military bases are getting superimposed on a Tamil terrain to break the current ethnic contiguity of the North, thereby to render devolution not possible and to maintain Tamils in a continued state of subjection. Its other – and no significantly less important goal – is to make it possible for the Rajapaksas to win elections in the North, with a minimum quantity of violence and malpractices.
Most Sinhalese are indifferent to the situation of land-grabbing due to the fact they see it as a Tamil dilemma. The Rajapaksas would want this ignorance – and the consequent indifference – to last as lengthy as achievable. The plight of Colombo’s poor, who are facing the danger of becoming evicted from their houses en masse, has received some interest but the plight of the Sinhala peasants of Ampara who have been chased away from their classic lands is virtually unknown. In 2011, the Lankan Navy grabbed far more than 1,200 acres of land close to the tourist hot-spot ofPanama consequently thousands of Sinhala villagers of Shasthrawela, Ragamwela, Ulpassawela, Horowkanda and Ella lost their properties and their signifies of livelihood. A comparable fate has befallen the fisher-folk of Kalpitiya.
When the state requires more than private land for development purposes, it is obligated to provide the owners with either compensation or alternate lands. This is how successive governments in Sri Lanka carried out themselves, by and large. The Rajapaksas have developed a different method land grabbing is becoming carried out, added-legally, making use of the military. The situation is hence ‘militarised’ and garbed in the protective-attire of ‘national security’. This way the owners can be threatened at will, the Sinhala-language media silenced and environmental laws and archaeological regulations ignored. For instance, in Ampara, “though sanctions have been imposed by the Forest Department, Archaeological Department, Coast Conservation Department and Central Environmental Authority on carrying out any improvement operate on forestlands, the Sri Lanka Navy claims that such formalities are entirely discarded when the Defence Ministry approves their projects. Speaking on the construction work carried out by the Navy in Panamain the Ampara District, Navy Spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya stated that they have not followed any of these procedures nor would they require permission from the mentioned institutions as the building is becoming carried out on Defence Ministry land. ‘This is a Defence Ministry land and there is no necessity to get approval from any department to carry out any of our improvement function,’ claimed Warnakulasuriya[ii].
The Defence Ministry and the military are the law, not just in the Tamil-North, but even in the Sinhala-South. The ultimate objective of these acts of dispossession is to fill the Rajapaksa coffers, buttress the Rajapaksa dynastic project and render hard any powerful national resistance to Rajapaksa rule.
The Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims of land-grabbing have a issue and an opponent in common. Therefore coordinating their different acts of resistance into a single struggle tends to make perfect sense. However, rather of this essential and possible national campaign – ideally with the participation of the opposition parties – resistance is fragmented along regional/ ethnic/class lines.
The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to understand that they are not immune to Rajapaksa-injustice. The Siblings do not want the Sinhalese to realise that the military, far from becoming ‘our boys’, are Rajapaksa tools (just as the Tigers served not the Tamil folks but Vellupillai Pirapaharan). The Siblings do not want their Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim victims to uncover the typical ground and mount a coordinated resistance. The Siblings want to atomise Lankans along ethnic, religious and class lines, to avoid a united opposition to familial rule from coming into getting. The only Sinhala-Tamil-Muslim unity they want to market is a unity in apathy and indifference.
The Rajapaksa project aims at the psychological reengineering of the Lankan people. They want an ignorant nation which equates distinction with danger. They want a men and women more concerned about hemlines or eating habits than land-grabbing or kid abuse. They want a nation seeped in mutual-suspicion and habituated into obedience.
They want a nation which, unconsciously, cooperates in its own subjugation and undoing.
I want to be the rainbow From the inside out To show all my colours Colours that define me Colours that make me whole But it’s so hard For I wear many masks The truth sets me free
Miriam WandiaKaloki – from her poem ‘Masks’ in Human Rights and Culture (AHRC) Vol 4 Issue 13
Pakistan went to the polls a couple of weeks ago. Though the full results are still not known, it is clear that Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League has won sufficient National Assembly seats to be able to form a stable government in Islamabad. His party will also be able to form a government in Punjab Province. The incumbent Pakistan People’s Party dominated by the late Benazir Bhutto’s family was badly beaten at the election to the National Assembly but will continue to rule the Province of Sindh. Pakistan’s cricket legend Imran Khan’s Movement for Justice (PTI) took control of Khyber–Pakhtunkhwa (former North West Frontier Province) and had an improved result from previous National Assembly e3lection. In the fourth Province of Balochistan, a regional party seems likely to control the majority of seats. Significantly, to ensure a fairer poll, the Election Commission conducted the National Assembly and all the Provincial Assembly polls on the same day.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa waves during a photo opportunity with high-ranking military officials after unveiling a monument for fallen Sri Lankan soldiers in the town of Puthukkudiriruppu
Mr. President, victory over whom?
What was noteworthy about this election was that it was the first time since Independence in 1948, that an elected government was allowed to complete its term in office. In all previous instances, no elected government was allowed to complete its term of office. It was always interrupted by a military coup. So 2013 will be momentous in Pakistan’s political history in that one elected government is about to be inaugurated in office to succeed another following a democratic election, Nawaz Sharif who seems set to take over as Prime Minister was earlier removed from office 1n 1999 in a military coup led by General Musharaff. Ironically. in 2013 when Nawaz Shariff is installed as Prime Minister, Musharaff will be serving his time in jail, following a Supreme Court order delivered before Nawaz Sharif’s election.
This is the third time Sharif is to serve office in Pakistan as Prime Minister. David Blair and Rob Crilly writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph have stated that Sharif’s first term between 1990 and 1993 ended in ignominy when he was sacked for corruption; he was a steel magnate tainted by many allegations of dodgy dealings. During his second term, between 1997 and 1999, he re-wrote the Constitution, made laws making it obligatory for MPs to vote for the party line, and sent mobs to threaten the Supreme Court Judges. Along the way, he armed the Taliban in Afghanistan, gave Pakistan the nuclear bomb, and blundered into an undeclared war with India – the Kargil affair in 1999 when he sent Pakistani troops deep into Indian-held territory. But he was not able to rein in the powerful Army who sent him off to Saudi Arabia. The Press described his government at that time as ‘one of the most inept in Pakistan’s history’.
Time can change political leaders
But time changes men and women and also popular sentiment about their political lesders. Most Pakistan voters felt that during his decade long absence from the Pakistani political scene, Sharif had matured a lot and is now committed to ‘managing the economy and pursuing political reconciliation both domestically and in external relations. The Dawn, one of Pakistan’s leading daily newspapers wrote that Sharif’s election was a hugely important moment in Pakistani history. Sharif fought a campaign ‘to be proud of’. Though relentlessly attacked from all sides, he ‘resolutely kept his focus on what needs to be done to solve grave national issues’, the dire economy, crippling power shortages and endemic tax evasion. Most Pakistan voters seem to have believed him to be sincere. Though he had courted the Taliban in his previous terms, the voters thought he was best poised to tackle the Taliban. He has plans to start immediate talks with ‘all sides’, including the Army and the Taliban to end the violence. He is also keen to mend fences with India with whom there has been no durable peace since partition in 1947. He has already invited India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his swearing-in as Prime Minister. He probably knows that political reconciliation at home and with the neighbours will not be easy. While attempting reconciliation, he will have to be constantly looking over his shoulders at both the powerful Army as well as at the equally powerful insurgent Taliban movement. But he is now politically more mature to handle this.
The election that Sharif brought Sharif to power was not without controversy. The Taliban engaged in widespread violence and intimidation and did not allow all the candidates to campaign freely. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan however seemed to have been spared the wrath of the Taliban and seemed to have been allowed to attend and address election rallies. Not so lucky was the Pakistan People’s Party. Bilawal Bhutto Zardar, the young son of Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari, the current Chairman of the PPP, had to confine himself to speaking through video messages from his exile in Dubai. Imran Khan has referred to intimidation of many of his supporters that prevented them from going to the polling booths to exercise their franchise. Most of the acts of violence and intimidation were by the religious extremists, including the Taliban. But the Pakistani voter defied these extremists to go to the polling both. The turn-out at this election was over 60%, the highest ever in Pakistan’s turbulent electoral history. Imran Khan has said that his party intends to challenge the poll results because of the widespread intimidation. But it unlikely, given the record turn-out of voters, the margins of victory and the regional trend in voting which resulted in victories for all parties at the provincial assembly elections, that there was massive intimidation and/or vote-rigging Sharif has told Imran Khan to show the ‘sportsman’s spirit’ by accepting the results!
Imran Khan himself is now recovering in hospital from a fracture in his spine caused by a fall from an election platform a few days before the election. There was, of course, no suggestion, that the fall was caused by any act of sabotage. But one of Imrqn Khan’s leading supporters was shot dead two days after the election in what was clearly a political assassination. Kahn has accused one of the parties of religious extremism as being responsible for this killing. The problem with Pakistan is that it was founded on the basis of religion. Mohamed Ali Jinnah, their independence leader, who initially stoked the flames of communalism, died soon after independence from British rule. Had he lived, he may have been able to contain religious extremism as he was by nature a liberal though ambitious politician. Pakistan, unlike India, did not have outstanding liberal visionaries like Gandhi, Nehru, Rajagopalachari, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Humayun Kabir to direct the energies of a post-independence people in the path of religious and linguistic harmony.
Lessons for Sri Lanka
The first transition from one democratically elected government to another in Pakistan’s political history has lessons for Sri Lanka. The Supreme Court of Pakistan played an important role in clipping the wings of the powerful Army when the Army asserted themselves to interfere with democratic governance. The Supreme Court was also held he powerful President accountable for maintaining the rule of law. Pakistan is a partially failed state with the economy in a crisis state. There are twenty-hour black-outs which deal a crippling blow to industry. Tax evasion is a huge problem with the middle and working classes having to bear the brunt of falling resources for development work. The Army had enjoyed too much power that it tended to interfere in civilian affairs with disastrous results. Violence has reached levels when even Test playing cricketing countries avoid Pakistan as a venue for their matches. Corruption is becoming endemic. These problems, which the new Sharif government is now required to tackle. will require a change in the culture of a people. They have for over sixty years been plagued by military coups and corrupt politicians. It will need enormous courage and a singular vision on the part of the Nawaz Sharif government to change all this. Having been away from the political scene for over a decade, he comes in as a new broom with the vision and the capacity to bring about the changes that are necessary, despite his previous government being considered inept. Only time will tell if he can deliver. He was elected because the voter believed that he could do so, that he had shed his previous image as another run-of the mill Pakistani politician,
The problems the Pakistani people now face are common to the problems that we in Sri Lanka have to contend with. As in Pakistan, they have been caused primarily by corrupt and inept politicians, who used religious and linguistic extremists and/or used the language of extremism to cover up their own corruptness and ineptness. There are increasing signs that the voters in Sri Lanka are increasingly losing patience with those promote religious, linguistic or ethnic hatred. Two weeks ago, the government observed ‘Victory Day’, an annual event to celebrate the crushing of the northern insurgency. They were bypassing the LLRC recommendation that instead of this display of triumphalism, National Day 4th February include a separate event to express solidarity and empathy with all victims of the conflict and to commit ourselves to peaceful future. The government appointed LLRC also wanted the practice of singing the National Anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil, to the same melody, to be continued and supported. These two eminently suitable and easily implementable recommendations have been, obviously deliberately, ignored.
Dr Rajasingham Narendran, who can hardly be accused, even remotely, of being an LTTE fellow traveler, and who is regularly quoted by the state media, has written a detailed critique of the triumphalist speech of President Mahinda Rajapakse at the recent ‘Victory Day’ speech. One hopes that the Island will be bold enough to publish the full critique. But this column wishes to quote a few samples from it. Words in bold are from Rajapakse’s speech:
“Today we have the fourth opportunity to celebrate with dignity the great victory of our Motherland.”
Mr. President, victory over whom? I raise this question in terms of the word ‘Conquered’ used in a war memorial in Mullaitivu. Was it a victory over the LTTE or the Tamils? Motherland! Whose? I did not see any opposition figures in the podium? There were also no representatives of the Tamils, who were liberated by the armed forces, on the podium. I also did not see any Hindu priests, Christian padres or Muslim Moulavis on the podium, except for a handful of Buddhist monks. The absence of Sarath Fonseka, the man who led the army from the front, at this function and his name and role not being even mentioned were glaring omissions that portrayed the smallness this great country is being reduced to.
Further, the language in the inscription on the war memorial at which flowers were laid was only in Sinhalese. Why? What does this imply in terms of the word ‘Motherland’ used by you? Is Tamil not the language of the ‘Other’ children of ‘Mother Lanka’? Why were these inscriptions not also in Tamil- an official language and English- a link language? What is the message this government is conveying?
“We know that those who had ceasefire agreements that betrayed the country to the Tigers are making every effort to make us forget the heroism of this nation.”
This is a very unfair and inaccurate statement. It is the last ceasefire agreement signed with Norwegian mediation that exposed the LTTE for what it was to the Tamils and helped weaken it from within. It was an important prelude to what the last war achieved.
“Similarly, this era should go down in history as one that carried out a major transformation to prevent the occurrence of war again.”
What sort of major transformation? Are increased militarization and surveillance the only answers? Should not the political needs, concerns and fears of the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims be addressed in a more Statesman-like manner? Isn’t it important to remember that each one of us is a child of Mother Lanka and the weaker in political terms, need special care from your government, which at the moment is in charge of affairs here.”
Why were warnings against commemorating the war-dead among the Tamils, issued by the military and not the police? Why has not the government organized official events to commemorate all the riot/war / insurgency dead in this country? If the government can publicly celebrate victory, why can’t the Tamils publicly commemorate the innocent victims of war?
Why should almost 7000 acres of land that was commandeered for reasons of war 25 years back from their owners, be not returned to the rightful owners, four years after the war ended? What is the moral justification for acquiring these lands? Will this help with reconciliation or win the hearts and minds of the Tamils? How will these acquisitions prevent the recurrence of war? Do you understand that the Tamils will not want a war in their midst for the next thousand years? You have to know what the Tamils think, better and trust their good sense. They have learned more lessons the hard way than you and your government have learned.
The government’s decision to celebrate May 19 as a day of victory and the country’s second Independence is another one of its actions that has polarised the Sri Lankan people. Whether by accident or design, it is ironic that through its continuing actions the government that reunified the territory of the country should also be the one that fosters the divisions between the people. I was in Mannar on that day that marked a watershed in the modern history of the country, and saw that the Sri Lankan people were divided in their attitudes. There was no collective remembrance of loss, but a reinforcement of the separation that has overshadowed the post-Independence era.
While the government was celebrating with military march pasts and air and sea shows in Colombo, in Mannar there was real action that was reminiscent of what happened during the war. A group of people who had gathered to commemorate those who died in the last battle, were prevented from doing so by armed military personnel and police with guns pointing. It is reported that 15 of them were arrested and only released on bail late at night. Earlier the state media had reported that such commemorative meetings were illegal and warned anyone commemorating the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was liable to be arrested.
However, the Tamil political parties in the opposition said they staged the remembrance for those who died in the final battle. This was where the top LTTE leadership were killed. In this charged context, the decision of the Catholic Church in Mannar to commemorate all victims of the war was pragmatic. Whenever Tamils have tried to commemorate the death of their loved ones, the government has taken steps to prevent this. The military in particular is sensitive to commemorations of the LTTE being held in the guise of commemorating the civilians who lost their lives. However, the reality is that the two groups of LTTE and civilians were often mixed. Especially in the last days of the war, the LTTE forcibly recruited children, some as young as 12, and this included the children of Mannar.
Mannar is the only one of Sri Lanka’s 25 districts that has a Catholic majority. With its unique cultural attributes, it is a celebration of the country’s cultural and religious diversity which must not be made into a weakness when it is a strength. Unlike the Tamil political parties who had called on the people to commemorate the war dead amongst the Tamil population, the Bishop of Mannar requested the clergy in the area to commemorate all victims of the war, and not just those who were Tamil. By implication, this would have included those of all three ethnic groups, the Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and also the fighting personnel on the two sides, the government and LTTE. It is a testament to the strength of Sri Lanka’s diversity, that it was a minority group that decided to commemorate all who lost their lives as recommended by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the President.
This year’s victory celebration by the government was focused on the valour of the armed forces and the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. President Mahinda Rajapakse viewed the military parade and pledged that there will be no room for those who tried to divide the country. He said, “We will not allow a single inch of the land that you won by the sacrifice of your life to be taken away.” The past fortnight saw a build up in the mass media to remind the people of those days of blood and bombs and how it all has ended. The contrast with the peaceful situation of the present will continue to bring in the votes of a grateful nation.
But the unfortunate reality is that the support of the Sinhalese majority for the war victory and the government’s celebrations has not been matched by any kind of equivalent support from the Tamil minority. They too have been beneficiaries of the peaceful situation that has followed the end of the war. They are now safe from the ravages of child recruitment and terror tactics that the LTTE brought to bear upon them. But they also wish to mourn their loved ones who are no more with them, to find out what happened to them, and also to regain their dream of enjoying equal rights in which they also have the right to decide. These are all matters on which the government appointed LLRC has made recommendations on but are not being followed by the government.
Four years after the war’s end the political solution that the leaders of government promised during the time of the war has yet to materialize. The LTTE has been replaced by the Sri Lankan military who govern them in conjunction with the civilian administration. The Northern Province, where the first gunshots of the war were fired and where the last of the rebel fighters fell, has still to enjoy the right of elected provincial governance even to as limited an extent as the other eight provinces do. A government ally has filed action in the Supreme Court calling on it to abolish the system of devolution of power for the entire country. In this context, there is increasing skepticism whether the promised Northern Provincial Council elections in September this year will actually take place.
The civil war ended in 2009 but four years later the country has yet to find its path of reconciliation and to heal the wounds of war. At the present time it also appears that Sri Lanka is moving backwards, and not forwards, in terms of securing the Rule of Law. The impeachment of the Chief Justice process eroded the rule of law and usurped the pre-eminence of the Supreme Court in its role of interpreting the constitution. This has impacted negatively on the rule of law and by extension the protection of human rights and political accountability. There is also the rise of inter-religious tensions fanned by government allies. A new dimension of inter-communal unrest is the rise of Buddhist extremism that has targeted the Muslim community and taken on an open and frontal confrontational approach.
Sri Lanka could have been a very different country today. There is a need to recognize that although the civil war ended in 2009 the country has yet to find its path of reconciliation through an inclusive process of political negotiations and a sincere effort to heal the wounds of war. If the recommendations of the LLRC appointed by the President had been followed, the government could have changed course last year. Government leaders would have ceased to further engage in ethnic triumphalism and instead focused on commemorating all victims who lost their lives in the senseless conflict. They could have utilized the occasion of May 19 to resolve that never again would such bloodletting be permitted to take place. This would have been a commemoration that all Sri Lankans, respecting multi ethnicity, equal rights, and the safety and dignity of all, could have taken part in as a united Sri Lankan nation.
The A9 highway that bisects the Northern Province and leads to its capital of Jaffna would be the best advertisement for the government in its election campaign to win the provincial council elections scheduled to be held in September. The dramatic improvement in the highway and the network of roads that connect to it have enhanced the quality of life to all who make use of them, be they the businessman or landless labourer, northerner or southerner. But the A9 highway, which was once called the highway of death on account of the thousands of lives it consumed during the war, also shows why the government cannot win those forthcoming elections unless there is a change of course.
The huge military checkpoint at Omanthai, which was once the border between government and LTTE-controlled territories in the north, still stands like an ageing dinosaur. All vehicles traversing the road at this point have to stop to be checked. At the best it means getting out of one’s vehicle and giving one’s identity card and vehicle number to be written down in a register. But sometimes it can mean having one’s bags poked and opened for inspection. Passengers in private vehicles are usually spared the hassle of getting down to be checked, but those travelling by bus have to disembark and line up to be checked. This war-time practice serves as a reminder of the war and the division of the country.
A police officer who flagged down our vehicle and requested a short ride was present when this exercise took place. He explained that the roots, or is it seeds, of militancy still remained in the people of the North and needed to be guaded against. The visible surveillance serves as a reminder to them that the government is watching and it is better to keep out of trouble. Viewed from the other side the visible presence of the military in the North is a constant reminder to the people that they are mistrusted and being treated differently. It also sends a harsh message that the North is still not fully integrated with the rest of the country, remains a potential threat, and hence it is under a state of military occupation, even if largely benign.
The large military presence in the Northern and Eastern provinces, even after the war, has been a source of grievance to the people living in those parts. The issue of the military presence has re-emerged in full force due to the government’s decision to acquire over 6000 acres of prime land in the Jaffna peninsula to set up a regional military headquarters. It is reported that as many as 25 Grama Niladari divisions (which means more than 25 villages) will be affected. Thousands of people will be affected, with an estimated 29,000 still in camps for the displaced. The military has said that this land is being acquired under relevant law, and this is done in other parts of the country also. But given the large territory and population that will be affected, and the lack of transparency in military affairs, it has also given rise to fears of army-sponsored Sinhalese settlements in the North.
It is noteworthy that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission has recommended the de-militarisation of the north and the full restoration of civilian administration. The two resolutions passed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 and again in 2013 call upon the government to implement the constructive recommendations of the LLRC. The LLRC was very specific on this issue, especially in regard to land issues, which is at the heart of people’s sense of belonging and security. The LLRC said that many people who were displaced in the war had lost their title deeds and other documents proving their ownership or rights to use the land. It recommended an expert and civil administration to restore to the people what had been theirs. It also said that land policy should not be used to effect artificial changes in demography and the ethnic composition of the population.
The refusal of the military authorities to permit the Leader of the Opposition and a delegation of opposition parliamentarians from entering the area to see the situation for themselves is bound to send an adverse message to the Tamil people and to the international community about the ground realities in the north. It highlights the lack of transparency that accompanies military affairs, which is why the military is unsuited to engage in civilian affairs. Unfortunately the indications of a shift in government policy towards the demilitarization of the north are bleak at the present time. The government has recently added a second compulsory checkpoint in the North in addition to the one at Omanthai. This is one at Elephant Pass at the entry/exit point of the Jaffna peninsula. This latest checkpoint was announced a few days ago in the context of the sudden upsurge of politically motivated violence in the North which saw events organized by opposition parties broken up allegedly by security personnel in civilian attire.
The acts of violence that have started taking place against opposition activities in the North, as occurred with the Uthayan newspaper and TNA meetings, can be a harbinger of things to come. The government’s determination to win the Northern Provincial elections reflects the government’s concern that it will pave the way to political and international challenges with the establishment of an opposition Tamil-led administration with a democratic mandate. So far the government’s chief response to its local and international critics has been that it is the sole elected authority in the country entitled to speak on behalf of all the people. Every time it wins an election it reminds its detractors that whatever they may say, it has the democratic sanction of the people. An opposition and Tamil led provincial administration in the North would have a corresponding legitimacy to speak on behalf of the people who elected it.
Already two constituent parties of the government have expressed their opposition to these elections being held. The All Ceylon Muslim League headed by Minister Rishard Bathiuddin has objected to the elections being held until all war-displaced Muslims are resettled in the Northern Province. The National Freedom Front headed by Minister Wimal Weerawansa has stated that these elections can lead to an outcome that is detrimental to the country’s unity. He has also said that the system of provincial councils should be scrapped and replaced by district councils. Interestingly, President Rajapaksa himself articulated this vision of district-based devolution several years ago until local and international pressure caused him to withdraw from this position. It is possible that views such as these are being floated to justify a postponement of the elections.
However, too much is at stake for the government to now seek to either abolish the provincial council system or postpone the promised September elections. The President’s promise to hold the elections by September this year is noted in too many international documents, such as the joint communiqué signed by the Prime Minister of Japan and President Rajapaksa following his visit in March to Japan, and also in the UN Human Rights resolution on Sri Lanka which was also passed by a large majority of countries in March this year. With the provincial elections to be held in September, there is still time for the government to make the shift that would make it more attractive to the northern voters. De-militarisation of the North would come as the first priority accompanied by the resettlement of displaced people in their own lands.