Terrorism: The case of Sri Lanka and Pakistan
Civilians streaming in columns toward the Government run
An NYT editorial expresses, yet again, the
concern within America’s corridors of power regarding the threat of the
Taliban’s imminent advance upon Islamabad and its intention to take over
a nation which isn’t simply trying to acquire nuclear energy for
peaceful endeavours (as Iran claims), but actually possesses nuclear
The article repeats Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s concern
that Pakistan was ‘abdicating to the Taliban,’ and that the U.S. has
been wrong in their policy of assuming that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani
was in control of the situation. The distress within the American camp
As the NYT puts it, “like Pakistan, Washington cannot afford to waste
any more time figuring out the way forward - not with the Taliban 60
miles from Islamabad.” Under the Taliban, as confirmed by the new wave
of fundamentalist reform sweeping the Swat Valley which was conceded to
them, terror reigns supreme and much of it is against women and the twin
pursuits of learning and the expression of joy.
America’s concerns are that the Taliban is gaining not merely in
strength but in the land mass available to it from which its forces can
and will “launch attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.”
All this is true. What is less true is the assertion that Pakistani
brass and civilian government officials do not know what they are doing
or are a few peas short of a full pod. The arrogant assumption that it
is only Washingtonians who know how the world should turn, apparently
caught the flight from the Bush administration to the Obama
administration during that glittering inauguration.
For starters, how many pundits within the State Department speak
Urdu? Next, how many understand the culture within Pakistan? How many
believe that the only ‘fix’ necessary is an infusion of cash - being
debated right now in Congress and poorly thought out press releases from
the rank and file of Senate committees and sub-committees?
Does South Asia or any other region, or indeed, our intimately
intertwined world, have any issue that can be treated in isolation, or
is it not true that there should be not merely “an integrated strategy
for dealing with both Afghanistan and Pakistan” but one that deals with
the whole of South Asia?
I say all this because right around the corner from Pakistan, another
battle is raging between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the mother of modern terrorism.
Under the LTTE, thousands of Tamil people in whose name they
ostensibly took up arms, have been forced to give up their children and
women to be trained as child soldiers and suicide bombers respectively.
They have lived in deprivation, cut off from the rest of the country
where a multi-ethnic, multi-religious ecumenical society has and
continues to thrive in peace.
The Sri Lankan military spent a year picking its careful way through
the Eastern Province, once LTTE territory, now liberated, cleared of
mines, its refugees resettled and engaging in traditional industry and
full participants in the political process. It is now doing the same in
the North. As of today, a single stretch, 4 square kilometres in size,
remains under LTTE control.
A unilateral ceasefire by the Sri Lankan Government two weeks ago
yielded but a trickle of civilians who were, instead of being allowed to
leave, forced at LTTE gunpoint to reinforce its bunkers.
At the end of the ceasefire and with the breach of LTTE positions,
satellite imagery shows the civilians streaming in columns toward the
Government run safety zone. In a few days, Sri Lanka, which has been
crippled by the terrorism of the LTTE and Sri Lankans of all ethnicities
who have lost innumerable lives at their hands, could be free at last of
that menace. The world could be a better place.
So, why does the United States continue to speak with a forked
tongue? On the one hand, it is concerned about the ‘fragile democracy’
in Pakistan, and urges the Pakistani Government to engage in an all-out
assault on the Taliban.
On the other, it demands that the robust democracy within Sri Lanka
should submit itself to further assault by its own and by the FBI’s own
definition, equally ruthless and as proscribed, terrorist organization
by declaring another ceasefire and amnesty for the LTTE?
Does this not seem both misguided and supremely stupid? And as if
that in itself were not sufficient, in a NYT article by Thomas Fuller
(‘From Sandy Strip in Sri Lanka, Tales of Suffering,’ 4/25/09) the first
relatively responsible piece of reporting on Sri Lanka to come from the
mainstream media in recent times, there is no mention of the United
States or the United Nations offering assistance to first, aid the local
medical personnel to care for the influx of refugees, or second, assist
the government in its tactical strikes against the terrorists who have,
thus far, refused to surrender.
What we get, instead, is the ongoing cry that the Sri Lankan
Government grants more visas to foreign doctors. Even the physicians
interviewed for the article are foreign.
This, even though Sri Lanka has a thriving free public health care
system with highly trained medical professionals, a large number of whom
are now involved in providing care to the stricken in the North and
almost all of whom speak English and have access to telephones.
It is a cry echoed by the Clinton State Department even though its
parent organization, the Obama administration, has since of late,
clamped down on visas to foreign nationals seeking employment here,
including those foreign nationals who are students in American
universities at the present time.
The golden rule for writers, “show, don’t tell,” applies to foreign
policy as well. If President Obama wishes to have a coherent foreign
policy, he should not make the mistakes of his predecessors of having
good terrorists and bad terrorists.
There should be no concessions made to terrorists and every
concession made to civilians and to democratically elected
representatives of those civilian populations. In other words, if he
wants to be taken seriously in Pakistan, he needs to do more than
pronounce its name correctly; he needs to invest in personnel who
understand the country and its multi-layered tribal loyalties so that he
can comprehend the thinking that goes into Pakistan’s domestic policy
viz-a-viz the Taliban.
If he wants to engage Afghanistan, he needs to secure the faith and
respect of his allies by reciprocating with faith and respect and the
strongest of those allies in the region, at present, is Sri Lanka.
It is too bad that the only statement of reason came from none other
than The Washington Times in a Sunday editorial, (‘Tigers At Bay’
4/26/09), but it is perhaps just another wake-up call to our new
President. If he treats his friends as foes, particularly in a climate
when the might of Asia is rising and Japan, China and India are strong
supporters of the Sri Lankan Government - then they may well decide that
they should go ahead and deserve the label. The world may still love
Obama, but there is a very thin line between love and hate.
The writer is an author and activist. Her political journalism and
cultural criticism has appeared internationally. Her novel, A
Disobedient Girl, will be published in English and in translation in