Monday, April 27, 2009

Sri Lanka | End of war is not peace


New Delhi: A tiny and ever-shrinking strip of land between a lagoon and the sea is all that remains of the territory held by the LTTE. The bloody battle is nearly over according to the Sri Lankan army, but the end of war is not peace.

The Tamil tigers are counting their days, but the Tamil cause is not. It was not the LTTE – now in its final lap – that created the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, but the ethnic strife that created the LTTE.

If the genuine grievances of the Tamil minority are not met, the end of the LTTE and its chieftain will just be an interim victory for President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government, and worse -- another LTTE might crop up.

Already there have been predictions that, in the face of defeat, the LTTE would melt away and re-emerge as an "asymmetrical" terrorist organisation, in the style of the Provisional IRA or the Basque separatists ETA.

“Military force alone cannot defeat the adversary. Simultaneous political, economic, and societal initiatives are necessary to end the conflict,” says Lieutenant-General (retd.) A.S. Kalkat, Director Emeritus, Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

Apart from focusing on the post conflict situation, which would include resettling the nearly 200,000 civilians who have escaped Tiger areas this year, the government will have to implement a devolution package acceptable to the Tamils at the earliest.

The 13th amendment to the Constitution can be implemented as an interim measure until more substantial proposals for power sharing in the future are presented.

In the present parliament, the president does not have the requisite majority to amend the Constitution, and the Sinhalese hardliners in the JVP (Janata Vimukhti Peramuna) and JHU (Jathika Hela Urumaya) will make it difficult for him to devolve any powers to the Tamil minority.

Rajapaksa won’t put forward a permanent devolution package before Parliamentary and presidential elections. He may not need the support of any party to devolve power after that.

There is a need to strengthen the provincial administration by devolving more financial power and this should not be just restricted to the North and the East.

There is a need to induct minorities in the bureaucracy, judiciary and armed forces. The absence of minorities from all organs of the state is clearly evident.

In the North and the East the militarized environment should give way to a normal civilian one. The military check posts should be reduced and if need be, handed over to the police.

Winning the trust of Tamils is equally important. Local Tamil leaders complain that Colombo still has not given them any genuine power. For instance, Tamils can't impose taxes to fund schools in rural areas, and they have little say over how development money is spent.

Analysts say in the East, elections to the provincial council were overshadowed by reports of violence and intimidation, and the body has been starved of resources so that central government can continue to call the shots.

This only exacerbates fears that the Tamils will once again be overlooked or marginalized by Sinhalese nationalists within the national government in Colombo.

So, for the Tamils, their political future remains a question mark depending on Rajapaksa’s ability to fulfill their legitimate demands. The president has made repeated promises that once the Tigers are tamed, he would be generous in meeting the political aspirations of Tamil people. But most analysts find him ‘hawkish’.

“After winning the war against LTTE, the government, strongly influenced by a victorious army, might try to impose a dictated peace on the Tamils,” analyst B Raman was quoted as saying in a media report.

Rajapaksa is seeking a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and is looking for a further $1 billion in development aid to steady Sri Lanka's finances and he knows well that in order to persuade Western leaders to bail him out, he must offer his Tamil civilians a decent political settlement.

(As published in TheIndianStar.com)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Q&A with Walter Andersen and Shaun Gregory


It has become unusual to hear about a day minus bombings, protests and unrest in Pakistan, which began as an ally in the war on terror but ended up being an epicentre of terrorism. With the Taliban militant leader Baitullah Mehsud threatening two attacks per week and experts ‘prophesizing’ the end of Pakistan in six months, it is pertinent to ask whether the country has lost the will to take on the Taliban.

Meenakshi Iyer spoke to Walter Andersen, a South Asia expert at the Johns Hopkins University and Shaun Gregory, director of the Pakistan Security Research Unit, University of Bradford about the present crisis in Pakistan, the Af-Pak strategy and India's role

Excerpts:

Do you think Pakistan was more controlled under Gen Pervez Musharraf?

WA: Pakistan was certainly more controlled under Musharraf, though he permitted substantial press freedom for a miltary dictator. But then democracies by definition are more open societies.

SG: No I do not. The seeds of all that is happening now were sown during the Musharraf era. It was Musharraf that supported extremist religious-political groups like the MMA; Musharraf who continued the army's support of militant groups like the LeT; Musharraf who tolerated or supported [depending on what you believe] the return of the Taliban Afghanistan between 2002-2007, and it was Musharraf who diverted so many of Pakistan's scarce resources to the Army when this money should have been invested in raising the living conditions and education and employment opportunities of ordinary Pakistanis. Remind yourself that Musharraf threw the senior judges into jail, shut down the free media, etc.

It is said that Pakistan neither has the resolve nor the capability to take on the Taliban. Do you agree?

WA:
There is little doubt that it lacks the capacity. The Taliban have essentially fought it to a stand still and hence the various agreements. The Pakistan army is trained and armed to fight a conventional war with India, not a counterinsurgency effort. On the will, there are certainly some parts of the military sympathetic to the Taliban, as it could be used to advance Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. The insurgency is not popular, seen as Muslims killing Muslims.

SG: I certainly agree that they lack the resolve, but this is not because they lack the capability in my view. The Pak Army after all has 500,000 troops and a similar number of reserves. When it wishes to quell a rebellion - as in Balochistan - it is able to do so and to eliminate the leadership. No, the explanation for the lack of action against the Taliban lie elsewhere.

In my view the Pakistan Army is actively supporting the Afghan Taliban because it does not want Karzai to rule, opposes the growing Indian presence in Afghanistan and opposes the US/NATO presence. It is also worth mentioning that many in the Army are reluctant to fight Taliban militants who they see as fellow Pashtuns or countrymen and they don't like fighting "America's war".

What do you think about Obama's Af-Pak strategy?

WA: Obama's Af-Pak strategy was shaped by Bruce Reidel and clarified in the report he drafted for the president that was released in late March. I think it is the right approach: it links Pakistan and Afghanistan, that is you can't make much of a headway in Afghanistan until you stop the cross border activity from Pakistan Our focus on both countries will be to build up counterinsurgency capability of the security forces, to focus more on issues of governance, and to have meaasures to periodically determine degree of success.

SG: I wrote a long piece about this for the Sunday Times of India last week - please read it and you will know my views. Obama Strategy: Win hearts and minds

Can things change for the better in Pakistan? How? Where do you think lies the solution?

WA: I think things are changing for the better in Pakistan, in that for the first time you have a civil society that has forced the political system to pay attention. I think that the present democratic system needs more time to work things out, and hopefully that the various challenges will not undermine it prematurely.

SG: It will be very difficult to turn things round in Pakistan but some important elements of a successful strategy would be: (a) shift resources to civilian/pluralist forces in Pakistan - that is, elected leadership, political parties, civil society, business, etc;

(b) Ensure that any and all military aid is subject to strict conditions and accountability;

(c) Funnel resources through the government so that it is better able to discipline the army and ISI;

(d) Shift the focus of counter-terror spending and effort into policing and rule of law rather than ISI/Army;

(e) Devise a strategy to contain the violence to the Pashtun areas of both sides of the Durand line;

(f) Exercise maximum leverage on Pakistan army/ISI to end its support for terrorists and Afghan Taliban.

As regards the Af-Pak strategy, do you think India should be brought into the picture?

WA:
India can play a very helprful role in strengthening the government in Afghanistan, and it has been doing so. It needs to deal with restraint with Pakistan, a problem because of the terrorist threats which originate there.

SG:
Yes, part of the solution must be a regional framework which has Af-Pak at the centre but which includes all the regional players, above all India. India has two important contributions to make in particular: (a) supporting democracy in Pakistan by working with the new government and not allowing the Pak Army/ISI or terrorism to derail bilateral progress; and (b) by taking Pakistan's legitimate security interests into account and taking steps to avoid fuelling the paranoia of the army/ISI.

Read shorter version