Tuesday, June 22, 2010

‘Sri Lankan Model’ is no model

By T J S George

If it takes a thief to catch a thief, can we say it requires terrorism to defeat terrorism? That is the theory Mahenda Rajapakse put into practice in Sri Lanka. Because he succeeded in crushing Prabhakaran’s LTTE, the “Sri Lankan Model” is now attracting the attention of other governments that face internal insurrections.

Perhaps the most notable example is the not widely publicised visit Burma's military dictator Than Shwe paid to Colombo recently. Than Shwe rarely travels outside his country, yet he was impressed by the "victory against terrorism" in Sri Lanka. He went there to see if he could employ some of the techniques against the ethnic groups that have been fighting the Rangoon government for long.

Thailand faces a Muslim rebellion in its southernmost areas. But Prime Minister Abhisit Vijjajiva is facing a threat from political opponents in Bangkok itself and there is serious talk of a possible civil war in the country. The tactics Sri Lanka used against the LTTE won't work against the political opponents or the Muslims in the South because the circumstances are vastly different. Even so, he found time to exchange notes with Lankan leaders.

Bangladesh sent a military delegation to Colombo to see what lessons it could learn from the "war for peace" Sri Lanka fought. For all we know, P.Chidambaram himself must have secretly wished that he could do in Dandewada what Rajapakse did in Elam territory.

But, thank God, he can't. What Rajapakse did, no democratic country can do. His military operations elicited serious charges of war crimes by Western governments. Besides, the campaign against the LTTE was part of a larger political agenda that would perhaps suit Burma, but not others.

For one thing, Rajapakse only defeated Prabhakaran's LTTE, not solved the wider cause of Lankan Tamils, an integral part of Lankan polity. Prabhakaran was a cruel extremist who eliminated several Tamil leaders and his own eventual elimination was welcomed by large sections of Tamils themselves. But Rajapakse did not have the wisdom to see Prabhakaran as separate from the Tamils of his country whose claims for fairplay were, and remain, legitimate.

Secondly, Rajapakse's basic agenda is different. A glance at the power structure is enough to bring this out. He as President directly handles defence,finance, planning and a dozen other portfolios. Brother Gotapaya functions as defence secretary with direct control of the armed forces, immigration and urban development. Brother Basil is Economics Development Minister. Brother Chamel has resigned as minister and assumed the office of Speaker of the House. Son Namal has been elected to Parliament. The Constitution is being amended to make presidential powers virtually absolute. This is the real Sri Lanka Model. Who will dare follow it, other than Burma?

There is another model not far away. This is Indonesia's "Detachment 88", a 400-strong elite special operations unit of the police that functions as the country's counter-terrorism squad. That it is a police, not a military, unit is itself indicative of the government's thinking. The Indonesian military is still associated with the long dictatorship years and the present democratic leadership wanted to avoid any stigma arising from that history.

Detachment 88 has to deal with Indonesia's resident terrorists who are Wahabi-influenced Muslim fundamentalists. The unit is tough with them when required, but treats them now correctly, now sympathetically, never in harsh ways. Suspects are openly prosecuted. Members of the D-88 act also as spiritual counsellors, eating with the arrested men, praying with them. Muslim religious teachers are brought in for discussions on the Koran and Islam. The aim is to de-radicalise the suspects. Interestingly, anti-terrorist squads from Thailand and even Pakistan have attended training camps in D-88's centre in central Java.

The choice is clear. It is not between the Sri Lankan model and the Indonesian model. It is between family dictatorship and democracy.

TJS George, is an Indian writer, journalist and a biographer. He has achieved distinction internationally as a professional author and a serious political columnist. Apart from his involvement with well known journals such as'The Searchlight' and the 'Far Eastern Economic Review', he was the founding editor of 'Asiaweek' magazine. He currently works as the Editorial Advisor of The New Indian Express.

© TJS George - Point of View

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sri Lanka changed the rules in counter-insurgency operations

By Nitin Gokhale

The Sri Lankan military is the new flavour of the season for security establishments across many nations.

From despots like General Than Shwe of Myanmar to top Pakistani generals and Israeli political leaders, everyone seems to be making a beeline to Sri Lanka

In less than a year after it routed the powerful and brutal LTTE in a war that lasted 33 months, the Sri Lankan military is increasingly playing host to delegations from different countries, seeking to learn and understand the tactics that it adopted in taming and then completely decimating the quarter century-old insurgency.

The Sri Lankan model, as it is being described now, is finding favour with disparate nations for its apparent effectiveness in totally eliminating the internal security threat. The Sri Lankan tactics are being studied with great interest by security establishments since it did not conform to the well-known and widely practiced counter-insurgency tenets.

Classically, nation-states the world over have followed the pattern of militarily subjugating insurgencies to a point where the political process takes over. Political settlements or prolonged but peaceful negotiations have invariably followed successful or semi-successful military campaigns.

In India's north-east, there are at least three such examples -- the Mizo accord of 1986, the 13-year old ceasefire agreement with Naga separatist group NSCN-IM, and imminent political negotiations with the United Liberation Front of Asom.
Sri Lanka, which faced an all-out insurgency launched by the LTTE for over two decades, did attempt to follow first-the-military-campaign-then-the-negotiations route, but did not succeed. Instead, the LTTE, more popularly known as Tamil Tigers, grew progressively stronger and at one point, controlled at least half of Sri Lanka's landmass, putting in place its own quasi-government.

So when Mahinda Rajapaksa took over as president in November 2005, he had two choices before him: Follow the known, time-tested method of launching a military campaign aimed at weakening the LTTE just enough to force it to the negotiating table, or find his own way to deal with the problem that had plagued the island nation. He chose the latter and succeeded. So what was different?

The strategy was a mix of innovative use of brute military power backed by resolute political will aimed at crushing the well-entrenched insurgency. The third pillar of this strategy was the control and some times denial of access to media in the battle zone.

But the cornerstone of Sri Lankan strategy was to give the armed forces, for the first time in decades, a clear objective: destroy the LTTE militarily.

During an interview, Sri Lanka's then army chief Sarath Fonseka explained the difference between earlier military campaigns and this one in one simple sentence, "This time we were playing for a win, not for a draw."

Secondly, Fonseka, a battle-hardened veteran, had correctly assessed that the Tamil Tigers had expanded greatly in numbers, but had perhaps lost the agility and stealth that had made the group such a formidable adversary.

So Fonseka converted his frontline assault units into a guerilla force by forming small, highly mobile, independent and lethal commando teams. These teams often infiltrated behind the enemy lines to isolate and then demolish LTTE defences.

The most fascinating aspect of Eelam War IV, as the conflict came to be known, however was not just the military strategy but the flawless execution of information warfare and information operations technique by the Sri Lankan State.

As a journalist, I found the Sri Lankan methods of managing the media to be both effective and offensive. It was effective purely as a warfare tool, and offensive to my sensibilities as a journalist.

The core strategy was to create a firewall around the battle zone. The objective was two-fold: control and denial. Control the flow of information and deny access to unpalatable foreign journalists.

Simultaneously, the government set up a one-stop shop for information from the battle zone. The Media Centre for National Security became the most important address for visiting and local media during the war. By putting in place this system, Sri Lanka virtually eliminated the possibility of any other source giving news to the information-hungry media.

Simultaneously, pro-LTTE blogs and websites such as Tamilnet.com were blocked inside Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan state thus won the media war hands down. The result: a one-dimensional coverage of Eelam War IV.

For someone who's also had the opportunity to report the subcontinent's other big war in Kargil decade ago, I was not happy being part of the one-sided coverage. But to be fair to the Sri Lankan state, winning the information war was as imperative as gaining a military victory.

So what are the frequent visitors to Sri Lanka hoping to learn?

Perhaps they are trying to find out if the Sri Lankan template can be applied to their own situations and challenges or perhaps to take back some valuable lessons in actual combat situations. No matter what the Sri Lankans have to offer, every country will have to find its own answers.

For instance, in India, the brutal and at times excessive use of force applied by the Sri Lankans can never be contemplated. For over half a century, India's counter-insurgency doctrine has been based on the use of minimum force and avoiding collateral damage.

Israel, on the other hand, uses somewhat similar methods as the Sri Lankans in Gaza. Pakistan's current counter-insurgency operation in its north-western parts is more or less like the Sri Lankan tactic. The Myanmar government has dealt with the internal security situations in its own unique way, which is some times even more brutal than the Sri Lankan technique.

And yet, it is interesting that Sri Lanka is the new destination for learning military lessons in counter-insurgency.

© Rediff.com

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

No hostage to the past: An encounter with Mervyn de Silva

By Asanga Welikala

The eleventh anniversary of the death of Mervyn de Silva, the great Sri Lankan journalist and editor, falls on 22nd June. I once had an extraordinary encounter with Mervyn, although sadly as it turned out, at the very empennage of his life. In a wholly spontaneous chat that lasted less than two hours, we (mostly he) talked about the international use of force for humanitarian interventions and Robin Cook’s ‘ethical foreign policy’ in the then fashionable Blairite project (Mervyn wasn’t impressed), F.C. de Saram and M. Sathasivam (and the politico-sociological implications of their fractious dispute over the All Ceylon captaincy in 1947), billiards and snooker (I knew that the latter was invented in the Indian Army, but did not know of the debate whether it was the Jalalabad officers’ mess or the Ootacamund Club), and the relative merits of a pre-prandial aperitif at lunchtime (for one of which he was on his way).

It was one of those conversations one remembers forever, and it was a near complete pastiche of Mervyn de Silva, the journalist, the intellectual, the conversationalist, the man. It was a sparkling demonstration not only of the breadth of his intellect and the depth of his knowledge, but also his palpably genuine interest in the human condition, both underpinned by the total absence of that plague that afflicts progress in every sphere of Sri Lankan life: deferential hierarchy. He knew he was a living legend, and saw no need to reiterate it.

This conversation was prompted by my telling Mervyn that I had implicitly relied on his dispassionately analytical, yet deeply empathetic essay about the politics that led to and followed Black July 1983, in my first editorial in the Michaelmas term of 1995 as co-editor of the S. Thomas’ College Magazine (which, incidentally, was a case for a federal Sri Lanka). That intelligent and elegant, but disquieting essay was published as ‘Paradise – and Hostage to the Past’ in the Far Eastern Economic Review in January 1984, a chilling coincidence with the dystopia Orwell described in his novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’.

Two and a half decades later in post-bellum Sri Lanka, its major themes are as relevant as ever.

In anatomising the conflict of ethnic nationalisms, Mervyn expressly relied on the history of Evelyn Ludowyck, who like him was part of mid-twentieth century Sri Lanka’s admirably urbane, liberal intelligentsia associated with the golden age at Peradeniya. It is history that celebrates pluralism, embraces modernity, and above all, enables tolerance and coexistence. It is also history that has no time for the trite hagiographies of either humanitarianism or genocide that are now dominant on either side of the ethnic divide.

Not only that historical tradition and its proponents, but also the necessary civic institutions for its survival have been under siege since the 1950s, an attritional process that Mervyn vividly described in 1984 in relation to the Jayewardene administration’s acts of democratic manipulation. In 2010, we see the full autocratic possibilities of our monarchical presidency being exploited to the hilt, if only more efficiently with the benefit of the experience and precedents of the last twenty-five years.

Mervyn also saw clearly the impending dangers of the clericalism that has become such an insalubrious feature of democracy in our country today. As he explained with both truth and economy, "…as in the Shah’s Iran, suppressed dissent has found refuge in an impregnable forum, the temple, and an articulate spokesman whom nobody dares to touch, the monk." The ghastly intolerance that is associated with monks in politics requires no retelling, but the wider lesson is about the failure of democratic institutions in delivering good government and prosperity which might have obviated these electoral adventures with monks in politics in the first place.

Like many in his generation, Mervyn was a Butskellian social democrat who believed in the power of government to do good, and in the developing world context, public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. He could therefore be expected to be sceptical of the post-1977 liberalisation of the economy, and he warned of "…the question of whether the new economic strategy has in fact exacerbated old conflicts [which] presents unexpected dilemmas for both policymakers and their foreign advisers and patrons."

Sri Lanka of course has never experienced genuine capitalism, in which the full potential of free trade and commerce to generate wealth in ways in which consumption, savings and investment become a mass phenomenon rather than the preserve of a privileged few, and which enable government to ensure the level playing field, reinvest in growth and development, and escape assistance dependency. Instead of a properly functional free market under the rule of law, what we have had was colonial capitalism, then a disastrous experiment with state capitalism, and finally various forms of what has been accurately called ‘crony capitalism’.

Aside from this, the role of economics in the exacerbation of conflict in Sri Lanka has been in the failure of both the state and the markets to generate sufficient prosperity so as to enable any kind of meaningful stake-holding by citizens in the economy, not whether one or the other was the better mechanism of redistribution. But Mervyn was right to draw attention to the fact that unplanned and inequitable growth would generate discontent and add impetus to existing conflicts.

No model of economic development is likely to succeed in Sri Lanka without certain key foundations, which include less politicised and stronger institutions, the rule of law and a sustainable settlement of our political problems. The post-war economic paradigm of state-led developmentalism we see in 2010 may well succeed in the medium term, but it will not be sustainable in the longer term without also addressing those broader institutional and political issues. And those have been the issues which time and again have come back to haunt peace, democracy and development in our country.

"Each fresh confrontation and every violent eruption becomes an instant invitation to an overpowering onrush of self-righteous recidivism," wrote Mervyn, "against which reason can only erect the feeblest defences." Mervyn made this observation in the context of what had transpired in 1983 generally, and in relation to Cyril Mathew and his toxic brand of Sinhala-Buddhist supremacism in particular. It is unlikely to be what the evangelist Reginald Heber had in mind when he wrote of Ceylon as ‘where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile’, but it surely is what the stanza, of which Mervyn was fond, means in present day Sri Lanka.

Mervyn de Silva was an excellent Sri Lankan journalist and editor, literary critic and intellectual, political analyst , broadcaster and commentator on world affairs. He was the Founding Editor of "Lanka Guardian", a widely read English language journal, in which he remained as the editor until his death. The award instituted in his name by the industry is the pinnacle prize of the annual Journalism Awards ceremony in Sri Lanka.

© The Island

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hard Talk

By Dr. P. Saravanamuttu

Many readers may have seen if not read about Defence Secretary Gothabhaya Rajapaksa’s interview with Stephen Sackur of the BBC HardTalk programme in which he calls Sarath Fonseka a liar and threatens to hang him for his position on a war crimes investigation. Local opinion, not surprisingly, given the current political context, has been divided on the propriety of Mr Rajapaksa’s outburst and the damage it could do to the image of the regime and of the country internationally. There are the shocked and perturbed, albeit mostly in private, on the one hand and on the other, the hallelujah chorus of the apparatchiks. According to them, Mr Rajapaksa showed Sackur what’s what and saw off the smug arrogant, hostile Occidental propagandist with panache!

My concern here is to inquire into what this interview and the response to it tells us about the state of governance in our country, post –war and once more on the verge of constitutional reform.

Let us be clear at the outset as to what we are inquiring into – an interview given by a public servant in which he delivers threats and accusations against a former army commander and defeated presidential candidate who is currently in detention and who is – and this is important – a Member of Parliament. The public servant is the defence secretary and an architect of the historic military defeat of the LTTE. He is also a former army officer and of course, this is important too, the president’s brother. Furthermore – this is important as well – the public servant’s minister is the president, his brother.

Were such an event to have occurred in India, the world’s largest democracy or in Britain from where our parliamentary traditions and conventions of governance hail, the public servant would have had to resign and if he did not, he would have been sacked. Were the latter action not taken, the government of the day would be in jeopardy. Public opinion and the media would bay for its blood. The rationale for all of this being that in functioning democracies, public servants are not supposed to make policy pronouncements of their own, voice their personal opinions to the international or local media or make statements that are tantamount to the grossest interference in an issue, which is the subject of an ongoing judicial process.

Was Mr Rajapajsa merely expressing government policy, the policy of his brother, his minister and president? Or, since no action has been taken, is it the case that this a case, not of Yes Minister but of Yes Secretary?

It is indeed sad that Mr Fonseka apart, members of parliament have not seen it fit to raise what is surely a privilege issue. A secretary to a ministry has in effect called a MP a liar and traitor on international television and pronounced that he should be hanged. It is also sad that there has been little comment or observation of the insight this affords us on the state of governance in the land. Is Gothabaya Rajapaksa a one man deterrent to discussion and dissent – the lifeblood of democracy? Does one decisive military victory and two thumping electoral mandates to his brother and by extension his family, give him the licence to mouth off maliciously in flagrant violation of the dignity and propriety of the office he holds?

Given the impending revocation of the Seventeenth Amendment and the jettisoning of the Constitutional Council and independent commissions it provides for and the removal of the term limit on the presidency, the structure of power and government in the country will be shoved further away from the structure of power and government that characterizes democratic governance. Those who railed against the executive presidency and promised loudly to abolish it are to entrench it instead and with it no doubt, the arbitrariness and caprice of a monarchy and dynastic rule.

The nature of the regime and its rule are profiled by the defence secretary’s vituperative interview, the priorities for constitutional reform in the current context of limbo between the post war situation we are in and the post-conflict one we should aspire to and the reported appointment of who is now frequently referred to as the First Son, 24 year old fresher MP Namal Rajapaksa to head the District Development Committee for Kilinochchi! More Crown Prince perhaps than First Son, being given war ravaged Killi to dabble in development? Is there a precedent here of Killinochchi becoming the local Duchy of Cornwall?

The gratitude and appreciation of the citizenry for the defeat of the LTTE and expressed in two thumping mandates for the Rajapaksa family should not blind the citizenry to the dangers of authoritarianism and the corrosion of governance. Nor should we allow fear to silence protest and resistance to this and then wallow in regret for our complicity and appeasement at a later, god forbid, much later date. Whoever rules, whoever governs and for how long is not the issue. There must always be, as a basic minimum, checks and balances, the rule of law, due process, best practices and standards adhered to, rights protected and duties fulfilled.

And public servants should be public servants, irrespective of who their siblings are. Or else they should go and if they do not, they should be sacked. This is surely the way of a functioning democracy.

© Groundviews

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

130 Tamil civilians reported disappeared in Batticaloa district since 2007

One hundred thirty Tamil civilians are reported disappeared during the last three years in the Batticaloa district since 2007, relatives of the disappeared told Batticaloa district Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarians at a discussion held Sunday at Batticaloa American Mission Hall. They requested the TNA parliamentarians to help trace the disappeared. Most of the disappeared were between the ages 20 and 35, they said. TNA parliamentarians P. Selvarajah, S. Yogeswaran and P. Ariyanethiran participated in the discussion.

In mid 2005 hundreds of youths seeking employment and students and supporters of the LTTE were abducted by Para military group led by Karuna (present Deputy Minister for Resettlement, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan), Pilliayan group and military intelligence group.

Relatives of the disappeared civilians expressed dissatisfaction over the assurance given by TNA parliamentarians during the discussion that they would take steps to appoint a committee with Sri Lanka President as its head to inquire into the complaints.

Relatives told media later that they wanted foreign governments and non-governmental organizations to exert pressure on Colombo government to trace the disappeared.

They further said that some of the disappeared had been given weapon training and made them cadres of the Para military group TMVP.

Some of them were shot and killed in clashes with the LTTE.

Relatives have complained to several non-governmental organizations including Batticaloa Regional Office of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, UNICEFand International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC).

© Tamil Net

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sri Lanka: BASL opposes hasty moves on constitution

By Susitha R. Fernando

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) by way of a Bar Council resolution yesterday urged the government to desist from passing any constitutional amendments as urgent bills.

“While we have appointed a special committee to study constitutional amendments, the Bar Council passed this resolution because of reports that the government was planning to bring Constitutional amendments by way of urgent bills,” BASL President Shibly Aziz PC said.

On June 9, the Bar Council appointed a special committee comprising eminent senior attorneys to consider amendments to the Constitution.

Mr. Aziz, with Bar Council approval appointed this committee comprising constitutional lawyers who are President’s Counsel and senior attorneys. It is headed by senior constitutional attorney Faisz Musthapha PC.

The committee is tasked to study matters relating to the independence of the judiciary and the bar as well as issues relating to human rights. “Introducing constitutional amendments as an urgent bill will deprive the people of opposing the amendments because once the bill is passed it cannot be challenged even in a court,” Mr. Aziz said.

The special committee which has had informed the Bar Association Executive Committee to urge the government not to introduce Constitutional Amendments in such a manner.

Meanwhile the committee met yesterday to discuss proposed constitutional amendments. The committee led by Mr. Musthapha comprises P.L.D. Premaratne PC, Nihal Jayamanne PC, Jayampathi Wickremaratne PC, Manohara de Silva PC, Geoffrey Alagaratnam PC, Dr. Jayatissa de Costa, S.L. Gunasekara, A.P. Niles, Dr. Sunil Coorey, Ruana Rajepakse, Prof. H. M. Zafrullah, Rohan Sahabandu with Anita Perera as convener.

“The deliberations are bound to a month or two,” Mr. Aziz said and added that based on the committee findings the BASL will make necessary representations, comments and recommendations to the government on Constitutional amendments.

© Daily Mirror

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sri Lanka told no unconditional extension of EU trade benefits

The European Union will not unconditionally extend the GSP Plus trade deal giving Sri Lankan exporters duty free access to European markets, the EU Delegation in Colombo said.

The EU is ready to extend the GSP Plus deal for a limited period when it is set to end on August 15 if the Sri Lankan government makes specific human rights commitments, it said in a statement.

The GSP Plus deal is to expire in August after the EU refused to extend it owing to concerns over human rights abuses in the island.

The Sri Lankan government has rejected charges of human rights abuses and maintains it meets the EU conditions to quality for continued benefits under the GSP Plus deal.

The Delegation in Colombo issued the statement in response to media reports that the EU had decided to extend the deal for a limited period.

“Contrary to these articles, the date of 15 August on which Sri Lanka would cease to benefit from GSP+ will not be extended unconditionally,” the statement said.

The European Commission has told the Sri Lankan government it is ready to propose to the Council of the European Union to maintain GSP plus preferences for Sri Lanka for a limited additional period.

But this was “subject to a clear and written commitment by the Government of Sri Lanka to undertake a well defined number of human rights related actions, within a six-months time frame beginning in July of this year, and to provide reassurances as to the sustainability of progress registered under the GSP plus dialogue,” the statement said.

“Only if a written commitment to this effect has been made by the Government of Sri Lanka, by 1 July 2010, would the European Commission put such a proposal to the Council of the European Union, without prejudice to the final decision.”

© Lanka Business Online

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