Come and Have a Go If You Think You’re Hard Enough.
05/06/2011 4 Comments
You’ve won a brutal, pitiless 30-year war against probably the most effective and ruthless semi-conventional insurgent/terrorist group anywhere.
You’ve defied massive international pressure to stop the war as you were about to declare absolute and crushing victory.
You’ve pressed ahead with the war despite heavy civilian casualties.
You’ve faced two years incessant of criticism of your victory with unceasing demands for international investigations of abuses and war crimes trials of your victorious forces from human rights groups, Western media and diaspora supporters of the defeated force.
Your victory and the manner of its achievement have been condemned in report issued by the UN Secretary General. Gruesome execution videos damning your military and attempting to compare your country to Rwanda and Cambodia are about to be released.
A ‘normal’ poor, developing country would’ve decided that keeping a low profile would get it off the hook with its critics. A ‘normal’ poor, developing country would’ve agreed to letting its future policy be dictated by its critics, acting as benevolent, all-knowing, wise overseers. Sri Lanka is an abnormal poor, developing country.
In a move which has driven it’s critics into paroxysms of incoherent rage, Sri Lanka recently ended it’s first ever, post-war conference devoted to it’s victory over the LTTE called ‘Defeating Terrorism – The Sri Lanka Experience’. Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch was apoplectic at the idea of anyone visiting Colombo with anything other than with an arrest warrant for President Rajapakse and his allies and lead calls for a boycott of the conference.
Military delegates from over 42 countries attended the three-day conference to learn about Sri Lanka’s experience. They listened to a few self-congratulatory speeches from the usual suspects; Gotabya Rajapakse, Defence Secretary (Bad Cop) and Prof. Rajiva Wijesinhe, MP and Reconciliation expert (Good Cop).
More interesting were the open question and answer sessions. For a military more used to issuing stern-faced denials, there were admissions of mistakes and some accounting for failures. Key Western powers declined to attend, perhaps for fear of offending their own human rights lobbies and to strengthen their geo-political position in Sri Lanka.
Dr Hashim Professor of Strategic Studies, Centre for Naval Warfare Studies, Naval War College discussing comparative insurgency studies.
The British were conspicuous by their absence. After having lost their anti-insurgency war in Iraq (their forces were ejected from Basra by a motley bunch of Shiite groups) and now trying to find convincing reasons for exiting Afghanistan, they understandably couldn’t bear to sit through the Sri Lankan military discussing the finer points of a notable counter-insurgency victory.
In another move that totally wrong-footed it’s critics, the organisers provided live webcasts of the entire conference and uploaded the overwhelming majority of sessions on YouTube. Two Western academic presenters used the opportunity to give their insights into the war and post-war situation, including forthright criticism of various aspects of the post-war policies.
Dr David Kilcullen, a Pentagon counter insurgency adviser lectures on the necessity for post-war reconciliation to avoid a return to conflict within a decade.
Questions were even posed about the fortuitous deaths (the White Flag affair) of almost the entire surrendering top LTTE leadership element. The US defence attaché in Colombo noted that the fog of war often obscured the precise nature of who in the LTTE was attempting to surrender and whether their offers could be taken seriously. Oops.
“…the offers to surrender that I am aware of seemed to come from the mouthpieces of the LTTE – Nadesan, KP – people who weren’t and never had really demonstrated any control over the leadership or the combat power of the LTTE. So their offers were a bit suspect anyway, and they tended to vary in content hour by hour, day by day. I think we need to examine the credibility of those offers before we leap to conclusions that such offers were in fact real.”
This was another missed opportunity by the professional mourners in the international human rights community to directly question their hate-figures in the civilian and military hierarchy of Sri Lanka. They previously boycotted the very imperfect, civilian-led ‘Lessons Learnt & Re-conciliation Committee’ on the pathetic grounds that the LLRC was insufficiently independent. The mere mention of trigger words like ‘Sri Lanka’, ‘victory’ and ‘lessons learnt’ seem to act like catnip for human rights activists.
Rehabilitation efforts by civilian staff working with the Military.
Watching the presentations, the most astonishing thing to emerge (to those who know Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans) was there was a there was a Grand Strategic Plan (PDF), which involved more than having a few Lion lagers and calling in artillery strikes into the jungles. The tip of the iceberg seen by all, was the front-line fighting; but details of massive logistical, intelligence, political, diplomatic and joint operations mounted out of the glare of immediate publicity was very impressive.
The ghost at the feast was ex-Army commander, Gen Sarath Fonseka. He’s currently cooling his heels in prison on trial for (depending on whose version of events you believe) either attempting a post-war coup or paying the price for having entered the dangerous world of Sri Lankan politics to try to defeat his erstwhile Commander-in-Chief, the President of Sri Lanka. There was no mention of his indispensable role in securing victory over the LTTE – a churlish and paranoid re-writing of history.
What lessons have Sri Lanka’s opponents learnt from this conference?
War crime and international investigations? Gotabya Rajapakse says ‘After you, please’.