29th August 2019 17:24:12 Hours
Mr Asad Ullah Khan of Pakistan, Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad speaking on the sub topic, ‘Lessons Learnt from Sri Lankan Experiences’ under the Session 2 theme, ‘Confronting Terrorism’ told the august assembly at the BMICH this afternoon (29) that Sri Lanka’s engagement in post-war rehabilitation and de-radicalization process with community engagement was proved a huge success according to leading US psychologists who conducted such programmes.
In his presentation to the gathering, the scholar pointed out that the Sri Lanka’s single military victory over ruthless terrorists sent a strong message to the world, although some of the Western countries at the last hour tried their best to stall the humanitarian operations that were underway against LTTE terrorists, he recalled.
Here follows the summary of his speech to the occasion;
Ladies and Gentlemen!
First of all I would like to thank the Sri Lankan Army commander in Chief who invited me to attend this prestigious forum and requested me to share my thoughts with all of you with on an important subject. Lessons Learnt from Sri Lanka Experiences. which is timely in manner.
Dear participants I will not try to go in historic details of the conflict occurred here in this beautiful country, rather my focus will be more on the facts that actually helped this strong and resilient nation to end this sort of complicated militancy. Therefore my presentation will analyse the two major developments that how the state dealt with the LTTE insurgency and what was done in the post conflict scenario so that the phenomenon of militancy may not start again in the country.
The three-decade long “Sri Lankan conflict” came to a conclusive end in May 2009, following the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers, an internationally proscribed terrorist organisation. The LTTE was notorious for its vile terror tactics such as the use of suicide bombers in carrying out attacks on civilians and the country’s leadership, the abducting of children for recruitment as child soldiers, forced money collection from Tamils with threats to life in case of non-compliance, attacks on the country’s economic infrastructure such as the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the only international airport, “ethnic cleansing” of Sinhalese and Muslims from the North and East of Sri Lanka, the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the assassination of Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, the systematic assassination of more than 40, prominent mainstream Tamil political leaders, including the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, and deliberately inflicting casualties by holding civilians as human shields during the final phase of the war and shooting at those who attempted to flee.
The so called Tigers were considered one of the most ruthless insurgent and terrorist organisations in the world. They were vanquished by the Sri Lankan armed forces in May 2009.In order to rehabilitate the 11,6644 Tigers who had surrendered or been taken captive, Sri Lanka developed a multifaceted program to engage and transform the violent attitudes and behaviours of the Tiger leaders, members and collaborators.
In the wake of 9/11, Sri Lanka took advantage of the new atmosphere and the prominence given to waging a “war on terror” to launch a focused diplomatic campaign to convince countries to accelerate their activities against the Tigers. Colombo managed to create pockets of support for its cause in the higher echelons of power in most Western countries. Many began dismantling Tiger networks using their intelligence apparatus and legal means. In the US, Britain, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany, representatives and activists of the LTTE were arrested and deported, which severely damaged its ability to raise funds and to continue its activities inside Sri Lanka.
This process encouraged the government to continue in its attempts to defeat the organization militarily. Nevertheless, once the military campaign on the ground began to gain momentum, those same governments began pressuring Sri Lanka to cease its efforts and agree to renewed talks. This was a precondition for both financial aid and weapons sales. After Sri Lanka’s adamant refusal to acquiesce, Western governments attempted to form an international front to force it to halt the campaign on humanitarian grounds. To counter this development, Sri Lanka needed to seek support elsewhere.
Over the years, the LTTE formed various administrative mechanisms, such as a police force, courts, a financial system, and a political party. It also supported a strong military component. Throughout the conflict, the LTTE was justly regarded as one of the deadliest and most sophisticated guerilla groups in the world, credited with pioneering the use of female suicide bombers and other means of terror.
After years of failed attempts to defeat the LTTE that wrought much desperation and hardship, a peace process was initiated in 2002. That process, brokered by Norway and sponsored by the US, the EU, and Japan, lasted three years but ultimately broke down. In 2005, a new ultra-nationalistic government rose to power and set out to completely crush the Tiger insurgency. A full-blown military campaign was launched in 2006, which, despite domestic and international skepticism, was ultimately successful: It destroyed the Tamil Tigers, and in the process its leader and founder was killed, and it forced the surviving remnant to surrender unconditionally in May 2009.
China is the largest foreign donor to Sri Lanka, exceeding even the US and Japan. It has also proved its worth by encouraging its ally Pakistan to support the Sri Lankan government in its war. Indeed, Pakistan provided extensive military assistance to Sri Lanka and is its largest supplier of advanced weapons, supplying the country with tanks, mortars, guns, grenades and “smart” bombs. It also covers joint training programs and intelligence cooperation. This alliance spilled over to the economic arena when Sri Lanka was the first to sign a free trade agreement with Pakistan in 2005. Pakistan’s influence on Sri Lanka’s military ability did not go unnoticed by the LTTE, which in 2006 carried out a failed suicide attack against the Pakistani high representative in Sri Lanka. Since then, the bilateral ties have only grown stronger.
As every conflict differs, there is no common template applicable to all rehabilitation programs. Nevertheless, there are some common principles of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is about changing the thinking and behaviour of offenders. Prior to the reintegration of former terrorists into mainstream society, offenders must move away from violent extremist thinking. Sri Lanka in this regard took an important step by introducing the 6+1 Model of community engagement.
3. Psychosocial and creative therapies
4.Social, cultural, and family
5.Spiritual and religious
+1: Community rehabilitation
An independent assessment of the effectiveness of the rehabilitation program was conducted by leading psychologists in the field, Arie W. Kruglanski and Michele J. Gelfand of the University of Maryland (USA), which included a baseline survey to assess the changing attitudes and opinions of the beneficiaries.
The assessment made by Kruglanski and Gelfand demonstrated three main findings:
(1) “Significant decline in the detainees’ support for violence toward the Sinhalese from the moment they joined the de-radicalization program
(2) “Evidence that this generalised decline in support for violence and armed struggle is even more pronounced for the most extreme terrorist members of the organisation;” (3) “dignity and adequacy”. I believe that “dignity” was a significant aspect of the rehabilitation program where the beneficiaries developed genuine friendships with centre staff and guards, and the feeling of being respected led to de-radicalisation.
Rehabilitation and community engagement is a counter-terrorism strategy that is long lasting and sustainable. Former combatants who are rehabilitated and have returned to their home communities remain vulnerable to recidivism. The community is the base from which terrorists are recruited. Therefore rehabilitation and the de-radicalization of former terrorists is an ongoing process. It is essential to continuously assess rehabilitation programs and the progress made by the former combatants. The aftercare process of the reintegrated beneficiary is a vital aspect to ensure smooth transition into community life. While within rehabilitation the beneficiaries are supported to de-radicalize and re-engage in community, it is essential to conduct ongoing Community Engagement Programs to prevent re-radicalization of the reintegrated beneficiaries, as well as to build community resilience as a counter terrorism and counter insurgency strategy.
To conclude I must mention that in any region of the world, the life line of the nation is assured through hard power. The World has witnessed how the US, China, Russia and other European nations used the mix of power as an effective tool to dominate the world. Sri Lanka is currently in a phase where it is developing its soft power along with hard power, but the level of this mix is yet to be determined. Therefore, this perfect mix of hard and the soft power in accordance with nation’s limitation and opportunities will define its position in maintaining peaceful co-existence at the international and regional level.