Friday, May 22, 2009

ANALYSIS: Lessons from Sri Lanka —Najmuddin A Shaikh

This is a war for Pakistan’s survival. It must be fought without illusions and without yielding to the temptation to believe that one has credible and willing partners with whom a negotiated peace could be worked out

The curtain has at long last fallen on the destructive and polarising campaign of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, which claimed more than 70,000 lives over the last 26 years. Led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tigers pioneered the use of suicide bombers and were responsible for the assassination not only of Sri Lankan leaders but also of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Prabhakaran’s ruthlessness and total disregard for human rights did not appear to dent his hold on his people in the areas he controlled or even on the Tamils living abroad.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as the defence minister, adopted the same ruthlessness and disregard for human rights to achieve victory. From the Sri Lankan perspective, theirs was a desperate battle for survival as a united state. Previous efforts at finding a negotiated settlement had all foundered on the rocks of LTTE intransigence. Humanitarian concern about the innocent Tamils trapped and kept trapped by the LTTE for use as human shields was understandable but for the Sri Lankan army there was, in their view, no alternative to seeking an unconditional surrender, whatever the ‘collateral damage’.

Today there is outcry in the West about the manner in which the Sri Lankan army conducted operations and about the suppression of dissent in the Sri Lankan media. There is talk of denying Sri Lanka the IMF loan it desperately needs and withdrawing the preferential trading sights that it enjoys with the European Union. Yet the need of the hour is assistance for the refugees and for the more than a quarter of a million people who were more or less held hostage by the Tamil Tigers in their “last stand”.

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