Learning lessons from Sri Lankan victory over rebel Tamil Tigers

By Sabir Shah

While Pakistan continues to be hit on regular basis by terrorism after 9/11, it needs to gain some inspiration from a much smaller and poorer Sri Lanka, which is literally rising from ashes after having fought with the rebel Tamil Tigers for nearly 27 long years and ultimately defeating the insurgents on May 29, 2009.

Sri Lanka was left with a daunting post-war task to ensure the welfare of nearly 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who were held as a human shield and a bargaining chip by the rebel Tamil Tigers.

Under its well-planned reconstruction, resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and reconciliation programmes after the war, the Sri Lankan government had helped the besieged Tamil civilians restart their lives.

Research tells us that the Sri Lankan Government had declared “No Fire Zones” for the safety of the civilians who were used as “battlefields” by the terrorists—- unlike what is happening in the troubled Pakistani areas where American drone attacks have seemingly made the matters worse.

Equipped with heavy artillery and mortars, the raging Tamil Tigers had disregarded humanity by killing the fleeing civilians and also by carrying out suicide attacks on those who would attempt to escape from their camps during the war.

These suicide attacks on civilians were in addition to the ones that had regularly targeted the country’s Army personnel and sensitive installations.

What is more enviable is the fact that Sri Lanka had only spent $5.5 billion between 2006 and 2009 to banish the Tamil Tigers. This figure was made public in June 2011 by the then Sri Lankan Central Bank Governor, Dr Ajith Nivard Cabraal.

This amount of $5.5 billion is far less than what the powerful countries normally spend on training their military personnel every year. Remember, the United States spends in excess of $40 billion every year to train its Army.

The intermittent insurgency by the defiant Tamil Tigers against successive Sri Lankan governments had resulted between 80,000 and 100,000 deaths, according to the United Nations.

According to the May 30, 2009 edition of the “Sydney Morning Herald,” the deaths included at least 27,639 Tamil Tigers or the LTTE fighters, not fewer than 23,790 Sri Lankan soldiers and policemen, some 1,155 Indian soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

The 2010 Sri Lankan “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” had estimated that from August 2006 to May 2009, 5,556 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed, 28,414 were wounded and 169 were missing in action.

During the same period, the Tamil Tigers had lost 22,247 men, of which 11,812 had been identified by name.

On May 21, 2009, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) had carried an AFP report that had stated: “The UN’s humanitarian co-ordination office says 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed in the war between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels. Sri Lanka’s President formally declared victory over the Tigers yesterday (May 20, 2009), after the government troops had captured the last sliver of rebel territory.”

However, a US State Department report had suggested that the actual casualty figures were probably much higher than the United Nations’ estimates and that significant numbers of casualties were not recorded.

While the Sri Lankan Civil War was still going on, the devastating tsunami of December 26, 2004 had hit this tiny Indian Ocean Island, killing more than 35,000 people and leaving many more homeless. A report by Asian Economic Institute had estimated that the total economic cost of the 27-year war in Sri Lanka was around $200 billion.

In 2007, the Sri Lankan regime had to borrow $181,449 worth of loans from international markets, virtually double than the 2006 figure.

In 2008, when violence had caused a 31.4 per cent plunge in foreign visitors, the country had allocated $ 1.5 billion for defence purposes.

And in 2009, the war cost had consumed over 30 per cent of the national budget.

The June 5, 2011 edition of largest Sri Lankan English newspaper “The Sunday Observer” had stated that committed and firm political leadership, adaptation of correct military strategy in attacking terrorists, the correct selection of the military officials to lead the state forces and the mass rescue of displaced people used as a human shield by the Tamil Tigers had helped the Sri Lankan government earn victory over the rebel forces.”

The “Sunday Observer” had quoted the then Sri Lankan Army Chief, Lt. Gen. Jayasuriya, as saying: “It is a saga to be shared with the world. It is our story of courage, valour and glory of compassion, humanity and joy of peace, freedom and democracy. Above all, it is the story of epic political resolve and the will to deliver a nation from the grip of terrorism, wherein strong political will and national support was the key to victory, which came with many sacrifices.”

According to this prestigious Sri Lankan newspaper, the government had spent over Rs1.8 billion during the first 18 months after the war to rehabilitate the ex-Tamil Tigers, some 11,664 of whom had surrendered to the military during the final months of the battle.

By June 2012, some 469,275 mines, exactly 1,399 anti-tank mines and 388,963 unexploded ordnance devices had been recovered by the country’s security forces and other de-mining organizations. At present, only a very small area remains to be de-mined.

According to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, peace has reigned supreme in this country after three decades of death, destruction and mayhem.

The above-mentioned Sri Lankan ministry’s website states: “Sri Lanka is now one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Its security forces had conducted one of the largest humanitarian operations in the modern history of the world to rescue the country and its people from terrorism which had brought in a reign of death, destruction and unspeakable misery on a once peaceful and resplendent nation. It is noteworthy to mention that within a short period of three years, a conducive environment has been successfully created where democratic pluralism, social cohabitation and economic freedom could flourish.”

The Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence and Urban Development further states on its website: “Renovation of road and rail network, power restoration, uninterrupted water supply and irrigation work were expedited after the war. A large number of funds were allocated to renovate the existing school buildings and construct new ones. Much emphasis was paid to uplift the health care and sanitation facilities. Stringent measures were taken to ensure the welfare of the resettled communities. Poverty alleviation and people empowerment programmes were carried out to improve the quality of life and harmonise civil society with sustainable livelihoods in conflict affected areas. With the successful resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the welfare camps were eventually closed. “

The website notes: “Since July 2011, more than 51,400 foreign passport holders from over 100 countries have visited Sri Lanka and travelled to the once war-torn North. The Colombo-based business houses and conglomerates are rushing in to set up shop there.”

Courtesy: The News

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