Sunday Leader, 23 September 2012, where adifferent title was used: “Sri Lanka should devolve power at the centre.”
Prof. Rohan Gunaratna
International defence expert Prof. Rohan Gunaratna tells The Sunday Leader that rather than trying to breakup the country by region, ethnicity and religion, the strategy should be to unite the different communities, by devolving power at the centre by having a prime minister, several cabinet and other ministers, permanent secretaries and even a chief of the security forces from the Tamil and Muslim communities.
Q: How do you view the recent attacks on Sri Lankan travelers in Tamil Nadu, India, in the backdrop of a seemingly growing anti-Sri Lanka sentiment in the State?
A: Traditionally, Tamil Nadu has been a friendly state. When Prabhakaran broke the law in Pondi Bazzar, Tamil Nadu, in 1981, the Tamil Nadu police arrested him. However, Tamil Nadu became hostile to Sri Lanka with the emergence of Tamil nationalist politics in Sri Lanka and their counterparts in Tamil Nadu building a partnership with Sri Lankan separatists. Since the ethnic riots of July 1983, triggered by a LTTE attack, Tamil Nadu sentiments has been exploited by the LTTE and other terrorist groups to destabilize Sri Lanka. From 1983 August to June 1987, Tamil Nadu hosted over 20,000 Sri Lankan terrorists. With the blessings of Indian leaders MGR Ramachandran and M Karunanidhi, the LTTE waged a relentless terrorist campaign in Sri Lanka. After Dhanu, a LTTE cadre trained in Thindugal, Tamil Nadu, assassinated Rajiv Gandhi, the LTTE network was dismantled in Tamil Nadu. Nonethless, the LTTE was able to make a comeback because Tamil Nadu politicians are among the world’s most corrupt. Today, the LTTE has penetrated Tamil Nadu through Seeman, Nedumaran and Vaiko, LTTE beneficiaries; LTTE fronts such as TESO; and a faction of the TNA, with renewed funding by the LTTE.
Successive Sri Lankan governments have failed to appreciate the evolving situation and respond appropriately. The very same way, the Sri Lankan government built a relationship with New Delhi in the lead up and throughout the Humanitarian Operation to dismantle the LTTE, they should have engaged Tamil Nadu political leaders. It is not too late for the Sri Lankan Ministry of External Affairs to develop a dedicated capability to engage the Tamil Nadu leaders, invite them to visit Sri Lanka and see for themselves the unprecedented development in the north and east. In parallel, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence should create a strategic communications capability in Tamil language to counter the LTTE led and inspired misinformation and disinformation campaign waged in Tamil Nadu and project the ground reality in Sri Lanka’s north and east.
Q: How deep a threat do you see this situation proving to the country given the sensitivities of the political relationship between the two countries?
A: Sri Lanka is one of the safest countries in the world today. It has one of the most powerful security and intelligence services capable of detecting and neutralizing threats. However, the Government of Sri Lanka must not allow Tamil Nadu to reemerge as a safe haven for the LTTE. A LTTE cell in Tamil Nadu led by Sekarapillai Vinayakamoorthy alias Vinayakam nearly succeeded in mounting a terrorist attack in Trincomalee in which an EPDP member was killed.
Q: The President recently reiterated the need for a home grown solution to the political situation in the country following the war. This is in clear negation of western influences for a solution based on a foreign intervention. How viable do you feel this would be?
A: Countries that accepted foreign mediation, negotiation and facilitation have suffered terrible fates. Sudan is divided in to a northern and southern Sudan. Libya is divided into an eastern and western Libya. I can name another dozen cases where foreign intervention protracted the conflicts leading to greater losses. If Sri Lanka accepted foreign intervention in 2009, every year we will be burying a several thousand Sri Lankan civilians and soldiers.
Rather than try to breakup the country by region, ethnicity and religion, the strategy should be to unite the different communities. Unlike the US or India, Sri Lanka is too small to devolving power in the periphery. In contrast, Sri Lanka should devolve power at the centre by having a prime minister, several cabinet and other ministers, permanent secretaries and even a chief of the security forces from the Tamil and Muslim communities.
Q: What are your concerns with the US House of Representatives resolution on September 7th calling for an inquiry in to alleged violation of international laws during the last stages of the war?
A: The LTTE US network is behind this resolution. There are several pro-LTTE and LTTE fronts in the US – Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, Tamils for Obama, Tamils Against Genocide, etc. These organizations are led or staffed by LTTE activists who funded terrorism in Sri Lanka. Without exception, they have been identified parading or next to the Tiger flag, at LTTE events and with LTTE office bearers.
Despite their record as the worst violators of human rights, today they are masquarading as human rights champions. To get the west to buy into their proposal, their famous phrase is “both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE must be investigated.” It is paramount for Sri Lanka to make it clear that there were no such resolutions to investigate the LTTE when Sri Lanka suffered 30 years of brutal terror. Sri Lanka should invite the senators and congressmen misguided by the LTTE activists to visit Sri Lanka and see for themselves the progress Sri Lanka has made since the LTTE was dismantled in May 2009.
The Sri Lankan government should restore its relations with the US. The US provided invaluable intelligence that led to the destruction of the LTTE fleet transporting weapons from North Korea, the disruption of the LTTE financial network and the arrest of the key LTTE procurement officers including Pratheepan Thavarasa alias Peter Pratheepan alias Fiona. The US-Sri Lanka relationship has improved after Secretary Clinton and Minister Piers met but more work is necessary to bring it back to its earlier status.
Q: In sharp contrast to such Western interventions, the recently concluded NAM summit in Sri Lanka saw the defeat of a motion on a greater degree of human rights issues to be overseen. How do you see this situation?
A: All civil wars are uncivilized. They kill both combatants and civilians. Similarly appalling human rights violations were committed by first world armies from Vietnam to Germany and Japan and more recently in Guantanamo in the US, Abu Gharib in Iraq, Bagram in Afghanistan and blacksites maintained by the US. When governments accuse other governments of rights violations, they must be very careful. The US may have turned a blind eye to rights violations by its allies and friends in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Similarly, anyone could see that the US resolution in Geneva was not an excercise in human rights but an excercise in politics.
Governments critical of Sri Lanka should recognize that the country ended at great costs to its citizens a vicious insurgent and terrorist campaign. Today, there are no bombings and assassinations. With its huge resources, the US failed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and recently in Libya; the Russians in Afghanistan and Chechnya; the Chinese in Xingjiang; and the Indians in Kashmir. With the current global human rights regime, it is very likely that in future conflicts, there will be no clear winner!
Q: The recently concluded Provincial polls saw the election of the country’s first Muslim Chief Minister to the Eastern province. How do you view this given the acute need for faith to be built between the communities especially in the North and the East?
A: There is no institutionalized discrimination in Sri Lanka but because of the 30 year conflict, still there are some suspicions between communities. However, with the air, train and road networks developing, businesses linking north and south, and greater interaction, the hatred seeded by Prabhakaran is fast dissappearing. Over 60 percent of the population in Colombo, the capital, is Tamil and Muslim. More than their ethnic ratio, the minorities enjoy access to opportunities. Similarly, Tamils are well represented in all the sectors except in the armed forces. After the end of the conflict, Tamils are now joining the police and the Civil Defence Force in significant numbers. Even former members of the LTTE have been recruited to the CDF. Like in the past, the Sri Lanka army, navy and air force must start to recruit Tamils.
The election of a Muslim Chief Minister should be viewed positively. We should stop thinking like Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils. Muslims and Tamils are blood relatives of Sinhalese. Muslim traders married Sinhalese, Sinhalese Kings married Tamil princesses and Sinhala soldiers are the biggest blood donors to the Tamils in Jaffna. We are brothers and sisters divided by parochial politicians who exploit ethnicity and religion for personal and political gain.
With the ordinary public becoming wiser, the hatred instilled during the conflict is slowly and steadily dissappearing. In the future, we should hope for a Sinhala Chief Minister in the north and a Tamil chief minister in the south. Eventually, we should even aspire even for an enlightened Tamil President of the caliber of the late Lakshman Kadirgamar. Today, Sri Lanka is a model for both war fighting and peace building.
Q: As someone who has been in touch with the developments in the North and the East following the end of the war, how do you see the present situation there both with regards to the developments in the infrastructure and post war reconciliation?
A: Today, Jaffna is growing at 22 percent and rest of the country at 7-8 percent. We must continue to develop the north and east to ensure that Tamils become economically well integrated. We must also ensure that every citizen of Sri Lanka learn English, Tamil and Sinhala. We must encourage Sinhalese and Muslims to invest in the north and Tamils and Muslims to invest in the south. We should not permit ethnic or religious ghettos. It is in such isolated ethnic and religious enclaves that extremist ideas spawn and flourish.
We must enact a Harmony Act to promote moderation, toleration and coexistence. We must also enact a Race and Religion Act that empowers prosecution of those who insult the ethnicities and religions of others. With such an act, there will be no repeat of the disgraceful incident in Dambulla! Politically, we must progress as one country, one community. To create a harmonious living, we must get rid of all sectarian parties and encourage only multiethnic and multi religious parties. To create the new Sri Lankan spirit, we must ban ethnic and religion based politics as that divides and disunites our people. We should all strive to create that Sri Lankan identity by coming together to build a common future.
Q: The recent attack on the US Envoy in Libya can have serious repercussions on the global security situation added to a growing threat to US national in the Muslim world?
A: The Muslim radicals have exploited the democratic space created by the west sponsored Arab Spring. The western governments should ensure that the secular regimes that they got rid of is not replaced by Taliban style theocracies. The killers of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his colleagues as well as the Libyan leader Ghadafi should be brought to justice.
Q: There is a serious increase of anti-US sentiment in the Muslim world at present following the screening of a movie allegedly bringing Islam to ridicule. How serious a threat does this prove to a safer world to be enjoyed by the people?
A: The Americans are well intentioned but as they are culturally naive their actions are often misunderstood or lead to greater insecurity. The US First Amendment permits free speech including offensive speech. The film Innocence of Muslims was neither produced by the US government nor endorsed by the US people. A group of Christian fanatics produced it but today, the US is been blamed globally. Until today the protests and attacks in relation to the film has killed over three dozen innocent people in the Middle East and Asia. The film must be banned and the US must enact laws that ban racial and religious incitement and hatred. But as American guard the First Amendment so jealously this is unlikely to happen.