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Learning From Sri Lanka

With the drawdown of the US and Allied forces in Afghanistan approaching fast, there has been a sudden surge of terrorist attacks across Pakistan. The recent deadly assaults on the DI Khan central jail, the ISI office in Sukkur and All Saints Church in Peshawar are chilling reminders of the outreach and ease with which the perpetrators of these attacks are operating.

Though an APC held recently where while drawing up a counterterrorism plan, the government also offered talks to the Taliban, past experience reveals that APCs only serve as occasions for the participants to reiterate their stated positions on an issue. Here again, the core issue was pushed aside and was overtaken by a keenness on holding parleys with the militant outfits, which are spawning gruesome attacks without any let-up. Overtures of talks with these elements have often only provided them with a breather to regroup and re-gear their operations.

Militant movements and killing squads the world over present a negotiable agenda. Either they demand a chunk of territory or a charter of political rights. In Pakistan’s case, the situation is far more murky and complex. The dark forces we face are employing the most violent means to create their own make-believe world, in which the state and society operate according to their own perceived ideas.

After the US withdrawal from the region, in all likelihood, we are going to see a big surge in the Taliban operations on both sides of the Durand Line. With the Allied forces gone, the supportive networks of militants both in Pakistan and Afghanistan will be acting in close concert. Convergence of sectarian outfits with the operations of the Taliban cannot be ruled out. This is what happened in the 1990s when the Taliban were ruling Afghanistan. With the American gloss having been removed from the scene, it will be interesting to watch the stance of our right-wing parties in case suicide bombings continue unabated.

The war on terror has to be won for the sake of establishing long-term peace and progress. It’s time now to learn from the experience of others. There are always close analogies, notwithstanding the situational specificities. Sri Lanka, for instance, is an example close to home.

Problems faced by the battered Sri Lankan nation were highly daunting, which involved placating international sensitivities, dealing with alleged interference by a mighty next-door neighbour, emotive and material support from Tamil Nadu to the separatist Tamil Tigers, etc. The country faced the vagaries of civil war and an unremitting spate of suicide attacks for nearly three decades. It, however, fought its way out of this quagmire.

Tamil separatists had turned into a professional combat machine and were able to raise a well-trained infantry, artillery, naval gunships and a fleet of stealth boats. They were also able to raise death squads of suicide bombers, which carried out the most chilling operations during these years. Commitment to the cause was so deep that the Tamil Tigers doyen, Villuplai Prabhakaran, had given a blank cheque to his followers to gun him down if he ever wavered in their cause. The Tamil separatists were able to gain control of the Jaffna peninsula. They imposed local taxes and ran their own affairs while unhinging peace on the main island. They had access to the international arms bazaar through brokers and agents located across the Palk Strait in Chennai.

How the Tamil Tigers sustained such a long-drawn war makes for an interesting reading. The Tamil Diaspora, which is spread across the world from Australasia to the Caribbean, is known as one of the most industrious and enterprising ethnic stocks. One-time indentured labourers were now present on the political and business horizons of many countries. The community boasted of an elaborate and wealthy financial network spread over money markets, real estate and retail businesses. The Tamil Tigers had set up their offices wherever the Tamil Diaspora was concentrated, which in turn, made generous contributions to their separatist movement and militant operations. Moves for truce and ceasefire through interlocutors never worked and agreements to this effect were often breached.

There was a turnaround in fortunes in 2006 when the Sri Lankan leadership and forces made a decisive move and successfully choked the Tamil separatists’ supply chain. Armed vessels were either seized or destroyed within the economic zone. The high seas were subjected to intrusive vigilance. A sizeable cargo fleet was owned by the Tigers, which was employed for shipment of arms; half of them were destroyed by the Sri Lankan Navy. The inflow of finances was tracked down and a constant trail was maintained. On the battlefront, the Tigers were underpinned and were taken under siege in the Jaffna peninsula, and their links with militants in the eastern region were not only severed but a creeping wedge within the Tigers’ leadership was played around to the advantage of the government.

The Indians were now feeling the blowback of the fratricidal war and seemed less than enthused about bolstering the beleaguered Tamil Tigers. Neutralisation of a foreign force in the conflict zone also made the difference. The Tamil resistance fell like a house of cards. A multi-pronged strategy, in essence, was buttressed by an overarching firm resolve of chasing the terrorists to the hilt, no matter how noble the causes they espoused were.

Is our leadership prepared to display a similar resolve in the face of similar challenges? Do we have the same kind of resolve to fight out the battles our society faces and is our politico-religious leadership ready to deny the militants space? The answer to these questions does not seem to be forthcoming despite the deep concern writ large on the face of every Pakistani. A look at the following figures will show that how Pakistan is capable of routing the terrorist outfits.

Sri Lanka’s Losses

1. The deaths include at least 27,639 LTTE fighters, 23,790 Sri Lankan soldiers and policemen, 1,155 Indian soldiers, and tens of thousands of civilians.
2. Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission concluded that from August 2006 to 18 May 2009 5,556 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed, 28,414 were wounded and 169 were missing in action.
3. During this period, LTTE lost 22,247 cadres of which 11,812 had been identified by name.
4. The total economic cost of the 26-year war is estimated at US$ 200 billion.

Pakistan’s Losses

1. More than 24,000 people ‘both civilians and troops’ were killed in terrorist attacks during the period between 2001 and 2008.
2. Pakistan lost over 49,000 innocent men, women and children and suffered a direct economic loss of over $70 billion in the fight against terrorism.
3. Another 25,000-plus people died during military offensives against Taliban insurgents in the restive tribal regions since 2008.
4. The armed forces have suffered 15,681 casualties while fighting Taliban militants in the tribal areas since 2008 ‘with 2009 being the deadliest year for them.
5. As many as 5,152 civilians have been killed and 5,678 injured in bomb blasts and suicide attacks since 2008, says the report.
6. Similarly, 3,051 insurgents were killed and 1,228 wounded in security operations during the same period.
7. There have been 235 suicide hits, 9,257 rocket attacks and 4,256 bomb explosions in the last five years. More than 200 members of tribal peace committees, or Lashkars, including volunteers and chieftains, were also killed and 275 wounded in targeted attacks in the last three years.
8. The report also revealed that 1,030 schools and colleges were destroyed by Taliban insurgents in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa from 2009 to 2013.

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