Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Sri Lanka option Friends like these The rush to learn lessons from the obliteration of the Tamil Tigers

LITTLE Sri Lanka is rarely a model of anything. But since it crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam its government has found itself in an unfamiliar position. Some of the world’s less savoury regimes are beating a path to its door to study “the Sri Lanka option”.

Last November, Myanmar’s military dictator, Than Shwe, who rarely travels abroad, visited the island “so that his regime can apply any lessons learned to its efforts against the ethnic groups in Burma,” says Benedict Rogers, a biographer of General Than. In May last year at a meeting of regional defence ministers in Singapore, Myanmar’s deputy minister made the link explicit, saying the world had witnessed a victory over terrorism in Sri Lanka but had forgotten about the insurgency in his country.

In October Thailand’s prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, held talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart about the lessons of the Tigers’ defeat (for handling a Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand, not the protests cleared this week in Bangkok). In March a military delegation from Bangladesh met Sri Lanka’s army chief, to swap notes on what he called Sri Lanka’s “successful completion of the war for peace”. Behind the scenes, hawkish generals and politicians from Colombia to Israel seem to be using Sri Lanka’s experience to justify harsher anti-terror operations.

Louise Arbour, head of the International Crisis Group (ICG), says the Sri Lanka model consists of three parts: what she dubs “scorched-earth tactics” (full operational freedom for the army, no negotiations with terrorists, no ceasefires to let them regroup); next, ignoring differences between combatants and non-combatants (the new ICG report documents many such examples); lastly, the dismissal of international and media concerns. A senior official in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s office, quoted anonymously in a journal, Indian Defence Review, says “we had to ensure that we regulated the media. We didn’t want the international community to force peace negotiations on us.” The author of that article, V.K. Shashikumar, concludes that “in the final analysis the Rajapaksa model is based on a military precept…Terrorism has to be wiped out militarily and cannot be tackled politically.” This is the opposite of the strategy America is pursuing in Afghanistan. It is winning a widespread hearing. The Economist

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