by T.V.S. George
If it takes a thief to catch a thief, can we say it requires terrorism to defeat terrorism? That is the theory Mahenda Rajapakse put into practice in Sri Lanka. Because he succeeded in crushing Prabhakaran’s LTTE, the “Sri Lankan Model” is now attracting the attention of other governments that face internal insurrections.
[Protesting visit by Burma's military dictator Than Shwe - Nov 2009 - Vikalpa SL]
Perhaps the most notable example is the not widely publicised visit Burma's military dictator Than Shwe paid to Colombo recently. Than Shwe rarely travels outside his country, yet he was impressed by the "victory against terrorism" in Sri Lanka. He went there to see if he could employ some of the techniques against the ethnic groups that have been fighting the Rangoon government for long.
Thailand faces a Muslim rebellion in its southernmost areas. But Prime Minister Abhisit Vijjajiva is facing a threat from political opponents in Bangkok itself and there is serious talk of a possible civil war in the country. The tactics Sri Lanka used against the LTTE won't work against the political opponents or the Muslims in the South because the circumstances are vastly different. Even so, he found time to exchange notes with Lankan leaders.
Bangladesh sent a military delegation to Colombo to see what lessons it could learn from the "war for peace" Sri Lanka fought. For all we know, P.Chidambaram himself must have secretly wished that he could do in Dandewada what Rajapakse did in Elam territory.
But, thank God, he can't. What Rajapakse did, no democratic country can do. His military operations elicited serious charges of war crimes by Western governments. Besides, the campaign against the LTTE was part of a larger political agenda that would perhaps suit Burma, but not others.
For one thing, Rajapakse only defeated Prabhakaran's LTTE, not solved the wider cause of Lankan Tamils, an integral part of Lankan polity. Prabhakaran was a cruel extremist who eliminated several Tamil leaders and his own eventual elimination was welcomed by large sections of Tamils themselves. But Rajapakse did not have the wisdom to see Prabhakaran as separate from the Tamils of his country whose claims for fairplay were, and remain, legitimate.
Secondly, Rajapakse's basic agenda is different. A glance at the power structure is enough to bring this out. He as President directly handles defence,finance, planning and a dozen other portfolios. Brother Gotapaya functions as defence secretary with direct control of the armed forces, immigration and urban development. Brother Basil is Economics Development Minister. Brother Chamel has resigned as minister and assumed the office of Speaker of the House. Son Namal has been elected to Parliament. The Constitution is being amended to make presidential powers virtually absolute. This is the real Sri Lanka Model. Who will dare follow it, other than Burma?
There is another model not far away. This is Indonesia's "Detachment 88", a 400-strong elite special operations unit of the police that functions as the country's counter-terrorism squad. That it is a police, not a military, unit is itself indicative of the government's thinking. The Indonesian military is still associated with the long dictatorship years and the present democratic leadership wanted to avoid any stigma arising from that history.
Detachment 88 has to deal with Indonesia's resident terrorists who are Wahabi-influenced Muslim fundamentalists. The unit is tough with them when required, but treats them now correctly, now sympathetically, never in harsh ways. Suspects are openly prosecuted. Members of the D-88 act also as spiritual counsellors, eating with the arrested men, praying with them. Muslim religious teachers are brought in for discussions on the Koran and Islam. The aim is to de-radicalise the suspects. Interestingly, anti-terrorist squads from Thailand and even Pakistan have attended training camps in D-88's centre in central Java.
The choice is clear. It is not between the Sri Lankan model and the Indonesian model. It is between family dictatorship and democracy.
Protest against in Burma Military Junta, 26th May 2010 - Colombo (near the Burma Embassy in Colombo) - organized by ''Friends of the Third World" ~ Vikalpa SL