Learning from Sri Lanka

Is our leadership prepared to display a similar resolve in the face of similar challenges?


Tariq Mahmud August 07, 2013
The writer is a public policy analyst and former interior secretary

With the drawdown of the US and Allied forces in Afghanistan approaching fast, there has been a sudden surge of terrorist attacks across Pakistan. The recent deadly assaults on the DI Khan central jail, the ISI office in Sukkur and in the thoroughfares of Parachinar are chilling reminders of the outreach and ease with which the perpetrators of these attacks are operating. The government, while drawing up a counterterrorism plan, is at the same time, mulling over the idea of staging an All-Parties Conference (APC) for evolving a joint recourse to tackle the scourge.
Past experience, however, reveals that APCs only serve as occasions for the participants to reiterate their stated positions on an issue, which is now threatening the existence of the state and society. The core issue is pushed aside and is overtaken by a keenness on holding parleys with the militant outfits, which are spawning gruesome attacks without any let-up. The net outcome waters down the plan of action. This is more on account of the fact that certain political parties wish to stay relevant in terms of their anti-West narrative, which at the same time, unwittingly provides space to the militant outfits. Overtures of talks with these elements have often only provided them with a breather to regroup and re-gear their operations.
Militant movements and killing squads the world over present a negotiable agenda. Either they demand a chunk of territory or a charter of political rights. In Pakistan’s case, the situation is far more murky and complex. The dark forces we face are employing the most violent means to create their own make-believe world, in which the state and society operate according to their own perceived ideas.
After the US withdrawal from the region, in all likelihood, we are going to see a big surge in the Taliban’s operations on both sides of the Durand Line. With the Allied forces gone, the supportive networks of militants on both sides of the Durand Line will be acting in close concert. Convergence of sectarian outfits with the operations of the Taliban cannot be ruled out. This is what happened in the 1990s when the Taliban were ruling Afghanistan. With the American gloss having been removed from the scene, it will be interesting to watch the stance of our right-wing parties in case suicide bombings continue unabated.
The war on terror has to be won for the sake of establishing long-term peace and progress. It's time now to learn from the experience of others. There are always close analogies, notwithstanding the situational specificities. Sri Lanka, for instance, is an example close to home.
Problems faced by the battered Sri Lankan nation were highly daunting, which involved placating international sensitivities, dealing with alleged interference by a mighty next-door neighbour, emotive and material support from Tamil Nadu to the separatist Tamil Tigers etc. The country faced the vagaries of civil war and an unremitting spate of suicide attacks for nearly three decades. It, however, fought its way out of this quagmire.
Tamil separatists had turned into a professional combat machine and were able to raise a well-trained infantry, artillery, naval gunships and a fleet of stealth boats. They were also able to raise death squads of suicide bombers, which carried out the most chilling operations during these years. Commitment to the cause was so deep that the Tamil Tigers doyen, Villuplai Prabhakaran, had given a blank cheque to his followers to gun him down if he ever wavered in their cause. The Tamil separatists were able to gain control of the Jaffna peninsula. They imposed local taxes and ran their own affairs while unhinging peace on the main island. They had access to the international arms bazaar through brokers and agents located across the Palk Strait in Chennai.
How the Tamil Tigers sustained such a long-drawn war makes for an interesting reading. The Tamil diaspora, which is spread across the world from Australasia to the Carribbean, is known as one of the most industrious and enterprising ethnic stocks. One-time indentured labourers were now present on the political and business horizons of many countries. The community boasted of an elaborate and wealthy financial network spread over money markets, real estate and retail businesses. The Tamil Tigers had set up their offices wherever the Tamil diaspora was concentrated, which in turn, made generous contributions to their separatist movement and militant operations. Moves for truce and ceasefire through interlocutors never worked and agreements to this effect were often breached.
There was a turnaround in fortunes in 2006 when the Sri Lankan leadership and forces made a decisive move and successfully choked the Tamil separatists’ supply chain. Armed vessels were either seized or destroyed within the economic zone. The high seas were subjected to intrusive vigilance. A sizeable cargo fleet was owned by the Tigers, which was employed for shipment of arms; half of them were destroyed by the Sri Lankan Navy. The inflow of finances was tracked down and a constant trail was maintained. On the battlefront, the Tigers were underpinned and were taken under siege in the Jaffna peninsula, and their links with militants in the eastern region were not only severed but a creeping wedge within the Tigers’ leadership was played around to the advantage of the government. The Indians were now feeling the blowback of the fratricidal war and seemed less than enthused about bolstering the beleaguered Tamil Tigers. Neutralisation of a foreign force in the conflict zone also made the difference. The Tamil resistance fell like a house of cards. A multi-pronged strategy, in essence, was buttressed by an overarching firm resolve of chasing the terrorists to the hilt, no matter how noble the causes they espoused were.

Is our leadership prepared to display a similar resolve in the face of similar challenges? Do we have the same kind of resolve to fight out the battles our society faces and is our politico-religious leadership ready to deny the militants space? The answer to these questions do not seem to be forthcoming despite the deep concern writ large on the face of every Pakistani.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2013.

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COMMENTS (28)

Ali | 8 years ago | Reply

I too wish that we have he resolve of the Rajapakse's. The govt. and the army need to get on the same page and wipe out these creatures.

TropicalStorm | 8 years ago | Reply

Parts of this analysis has validity, however does not do justice to the single minded resolve and dedication the Sri Lankan leadership managed to evoke in every man, woman and child in the face of this 'do or die' fight. It rallied around itself people from far and wide and even those who were skeptical of everything else the Rajapakse regime stood for. It is called visionary leadership and Sri Lanka's military victory against terrorism was the unflinching stance its larger population adopted as a result. Other factors helped.

Never underestimate the power of human resolve. Pakistan too has to resolve to put its entire house in order, and have its citizens buy into a 'do or die' fight to the finish in search of a stable nation in which every one can feel safe. Not doing so will definitely give reasons for external involvement, as is happening today.

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