A post-war challenge for Sri Lanka: Dismantling the LTTE overseas and rebuilding a Sri Lankan identity
Lecture delivered August 02, 2010,at the Auditorium of the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on the invitation of the Nandadasa Kodagoda Memorial Trust.
by Rohan Gunaratne
Professor of Security Studies - S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies , Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
(August 04, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is my distinct privilege to deliver the 13th Deshamanya Professor Nandadasa Kodagoda Oration this evening. Professor Kodagoda was an intellectual giant of our times. Born in Ahangama in the Galle District in 1929, he was educated at the Ahangama Village School, Nalanda Vidyalaya (till the onset of the 2nd World War) and at Mahinda College, Galle. He received his medical education at the Colombo Medical Faculty and became a doctor in 1954. He served in Galle and Karawanella for two years as a medical doctor and joined the Faculty of Medicine in Colombo in 1956 as a junior lecturer.His postgraduate qualifications included a MD (Ceylon), DMJ, MRCP (UK) and FRCP (UK). He was Senior Lecturer in Forensic Medicine, Professor in Forensic Medicine, Head, Department of Forensic Medicine, Dean of the Colombo Medical Faculty for two terms and Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo. Professor Kodagoda functioned as the Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board for two terms and as the Acting Director of the Institute of Indigenous Medicine. He was also the founder Chairman of the Alcohol & Drugs Information Centre (ADIC). Although Professor Kodagoda retired from university life in 1995, he remained active continuing his lifelong passion as a keen and an effective mass communicator in public health issues using both the radio and the TV. He was awarded national honours, Kalaa Keerthi in 1986, Deshamanya in 1992 and Vishwa Prasaadini in 1995. He was also awarded honorary Fellow of the National Academy of Science.
As a student at Ananda College in Colombo, I met Professor Kodagoda. He inspired a generation of students like me by his prolific writings and talks. What touched me most was his deep interest in national and international issues, and the need for all of us to be educated formally and informally on such matters before they affect us. As such, I like to share my own views about a challenge facing Sri Lanka after the defeat of the LTTE.
Sri Lanka defeated the world’s first insurgency of the 21st century. On May 19, 2009, the country achieved a great strategic and moral triumph by militarily defeating the LTTE. The theory that a political solution is a prelude to defeating an insurgency articulated by Western theorists and scholars was shattered. After three decades of fighting a cruel and costly insurgency, peace finally returned to Sri Lanka. Whether peace will endure and future prosperity will be achieved will depend on the ability and willingness of the political leaders of the country to work together across the party divide to build a new Sri Lanka.
The failure of Sri Lankan leaders to govern a multi-ethnic and a multi-religious society since independence precipitated Sri Lanka’s ethno-political conflict. Sri Lanka’s political masters compromised Sri Lanka’s long term national and strategic interests for short term political gain. Unless Sri Lankan politicians build the understanding never again to play ethnic and religious based politics, poison the ground by radicalizing its youth, and reinforce ethnic and religious divisions, the country is likely to suffer a repetition of its unfortunate past.
Sri Lanka celebrated the end of the war but a segment of radicalized Sri Lankans both at home and overseas resent this victory. The terrorist threat to Sri Lanka has diminished but has not ended. The LTTE threat has declined in Sri Lanka, but it is on the incline overseas. The LTTE had two organizational bases – the domestic or the territorial base, from which it recruited, and, the foreign or the diaspora base, from which it generated the funds. To prevent a disconnect the LTTE exercised exceptional control over these two bases through intense and sustained propaganda and punishing dissent, at times brutally. After the LTTE was dismantled in the banks of the Nandikadal lagoon, the group very quickly reorganized itself overseas. Regarded once as the worldmost ruthless terrorist and guerrilla group, the LTTE after one year, is steadfastly re-emerging in Western cities. The LTTE is acting through three fronts – the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam led by Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran in New York, Global Tamil Forum led by Father S. J. Emmanuel in the U.K. and the criminal faction led by Perinbanayagam Sivaparan alias Nediyawan in Norway. The LTTE leaders, offices and assets overseas are largely intact. The LTTE-controlled diaspora campaign contributions and carefully orchestrated constituency pressure/electoral compulsions compel the U.S., U.K., Norway and a few countries to turn a blind eye to LTTE activities. Although the LTTE leadership in Sri Lanka has been decapitated, the LTTE’s global network poses an enduring and a long term threat to the stability and security of the country. The LTTE ideology is intact, its financial infrastructure is operational, and its vicious propaganda machine is impactful. For sustainable peace and stability, the long term ideological and the operational threat posed by the LTTE will need to be carefully managed.
To harness the hard earned gains of militarily defeating the LTTE, government must quickly develop a strategy of working towards engaging both the international community as well as the resident and non-resident Sri Lankan populations. Fourteen months have passed since May 2009, but we still need a concept, a master plan, or a national road map of crafting a future of prosperity for all Sri Lankans. While security is essential to setting the conditions for such success, a lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, broad-based political participation, and restored hope.1 The likely future trajectory of the LTTE will depend on the government’s ability to continue to work with the Tamil population, move fast and reach out to the Tamil diaspora and invest the time and resources to co-opt the Tamil political opposition both at home and abroad. The art of politics is not only to work with friends but also engage the opposition, the pockets of adversaries, and even past, present, and future enemies – this includes even those infected and still suffering from the Eelam ideology and seeking pathways to lead to a respectable mainstream life. To craft a road map to unify the country through nation building will de-legitimize and effectively invalidate the vicious ideology that spawned and sustained the violence that plagued Sri Lanka during 30 years. The government’s highly visible strategy of attrition of the past must be replaced by a high profile strategy of proactive engagement.
The New Political Landscape:
My presentation seeks to map contours of Sri Lanka’s new political landscape and what we must accomplish in a post-War phase to stabilize Sri Lanka with a short- to mid-term strategy. Today, every Sri Lankan must comprehend the new political reality and benefit from the peace dividend before us. The most dominant actors at play are the government, the international community and the remnants of the LTTE. The LTTE remnants seeking to reorganize include three components: (i) the LTTE group (dismantled), (ii) the LTTE network (active), and (iii) the LTTE movement (active). Let us examine each one of these components that took our country backwards by three decades.
The LTTE as a group:
The LTTE as a group is militarily vanquished. Although its ideology is intact, the component that was physically based in Sri Lanka is no longer operational as a coherent group. The conduct of the LTTE leadership in the final phase of battle demonstrated its true face of being willing to sacrifice its own support base and potential support base. Despite every Tamil family voluntarily or involuntarily providing a family member and resources, the Tamil public confidence in the LTTE that was meticulously built through years of systematic indoctrination was shattered. Instead of respecting the fifth No Fire Zone (NFZ), the LTTE held nearly 280,000 Tamils as hostages. When the LTTE persisted and eventually started to shoot the civilians who wanted to flee, the Sri Lankan military was able to breach the LTTE human shield and launch an operation to rescue them. The angry Tamil civilians rescued by the Sri Lankan forces identified several thousand LTTE leaders, members and helpers. While over 10,000 LTTE cadres were killed, a total of 12,500 LTTE leaders, cadres and helpers who did not wish to fight either surrendered or were spotted by the Tamil civilians in the welfare centres. Although government was highly criticized for holding and screening the civilians, its strategy of preventing a re-infiltration and re-radicalization of the community was effective. Today, except a few thousand civilians who are free to leave the open welfare centres, every Tamil civilian have been resettled. Ironically, one part of the UN lobbied by the LTTE called and campaigned side by side with the LTTE fronts for early release of IDPs, while another part of the UN pressurized the government to delay the releases because of the slow pace of demining. Some leaders of international organizations, foreign governments, non-governmental organizations and a segment of the press exposed to LTTE’s powerful propaganda towed the LTTE line when they spoke of "concentration" and "internment" camps. This includes some poorly informed think tanks in Colombo that even propagated this view.
Despite the status of the economy of a country recovering from conflict, government even provided a resettlement allowance and continue to assist those IDPS. In recent history, no country has resettled such a significant number of the displaced in such a short period of time. Government appointed one of its ablest commanders Major General Kamal Gunaratna, the General Officer Commanding the 54 Division, as the Competent Authority of the IDPS, a task he admirably accomplished. Likewise government skilfully launched a multifaceted rehabilitation program under the guidance of the former Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda and Secretary of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to engage the LTTE followers.2 Away from the glare of the international media, government has today released all the disabled and student rehabilitees and has started the process of releasing the women rehabilitees. Unless there is a terrorist attack, government is likely to release over half of those undergoing rehabilitation within the next year. To prevent recidivism, it is paramount for government to continuously engage this vulnerable segment of our population. To ensure complete reintegration back to the community, there should be a separate authority to monitor their re-entry and maintain the engagement. Although the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation and his dedicated staff has treated the rehabilitees in the most humane way, the government has yet to get the re-entry piece into the community especially the long term monitoring part worked out. To prevent a relapse to the old ways, governments’ reintegration staff should work with the families, community and religious leaders, business and NGO communities. Extensive interagency collaboration is necessary to ensure that each one of the rehabilitees has a job and is never again trapped and once again misguided by the vicious and the intolerant ideology of the LTTE. The LTTE network overseas in partnership with a few Tamil political leaders at home seeks to re-poison another generation of Tamil youth.
If government is strategic in its thinking, the LTTE as group is unlikely to re-emerge in Sri Lanka in our life time. As long as government continues to re-orient its combat forces to developing the north and east and expand its intelligence strength, government will be capable to detect LTTE individual operatives and emerging support cells both at home and overseas especially in Tamil Nadu. In addition to focusing on economic growth and strengthening the partnership with Tamil parties, a powerful national and military intelligence service at home is the key to securing Sri Lanka in the coming years.
The LTTE Network Overseas:
The LTTE as a group has been rendered impotent at home. Nonetheless, the second component of the LTTE – its network overseas - has survived. The network’s activities that supported the terrorist campaign in Sri Lanka have moved to the diplomatic and international arena. They lobby not only governments but also the U.N., World Bank, IMF and other important stakeholders in international affairs. The network presents a short term (1-2 years) nuisance and an irritant and dependent on government response, a mid- to long-term threat (5-10 years). Although factionalized into three entities, these factions cooperate, at times, fight. To ensure compliance, the LTTE shadow leader Nediywan who heads the criminal network threatens and conducts acts of violence against other LTTE leaders and activists. The three factions are no longer genuinely interested in the welfare and well being of Tamils including those affected by the war. Their leaders, Nediyawan, Rudrakumaran and Emmanuel are interested in building their personal and political power and financial strength. As the activists and assets of the LTTE are located overseas, its network of front, cover and sympathetic organizations are not within the reach of the Sri Lankan law enforcement. Due to an inherent weakness of the Sri Lankan government’s overall strategy, in parallel with the security forces and the intelligence agencies that dismantled the LTTE in Sri Lanka, there was no similar fight overseas. Like the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of External Affairs must develop a vision and a mission that they too must play their role by making it their personal fight. The former foreign minister Lakhman Kadirgarmar, PC, a Tamil himself, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during his tenure understood the threat from overseas and the need to counter it. Nonetheless, the working culture of Sri Lankan Foreign Service and other associated systemic factors of the service did not make it its single most important mission to dismantle the LTTE overseas.