Friday, December 07, 2007

Evictions and Mass Arrests Cannot Deter Infiltrators

Another bomb, another blunder. Public opinion on how the security forces handle the aftermath of a bomb blasts has never been good. Always the security establishment and the government get heavily blamed for hyperactivity AFTER a bomb blast when they should have acted BEFORE the blast. No amount of reactionary measures is goings to undo the damage caused. Instead what is required is to proactively pre-empt any and all future terror bombings. It seems that they have not learnt this vital lesson yet. Suicide attackers can never be tracked down by mass arrests. What is the motivation of a terrorist to spill the beans under interrogation? Nothing. Can the ability speak Sinhala, a foreign passport, a police report, the national identity card or any other document become the all powerful determinant whether an individual is a terrorist? Definitely not.

What should be done to stop terror attacks in government controlled areas? This is the million dollar question. It has a very simple answer which is anyway known to all Sri Lankans. We have gone through this before and out of a hundred possible solutions, one (1) can be clearly separated out and credited for its extreme effectiveness. Please consider the following facts.

1. A large number of terror attacks took place around the country targeting civilians and civil infrastructure from 1983-1987. Especially during one month in 1986 things got so worse that school bags were banned and children in Colombo schools were asked to bring their belongings in transparent bags. The STF or any other paramilitary group was not present in these areas.

2. In late 1988 terrorists caused all schools to close down; declared curfews and created havoc. This lasted till mid 1989 until the paramilitaries took over. Abductions became commonplace, extra-judicial means of justice resolution took precedence and schools reopened in no time. Law and order was established without using legal means. Had we resorted to only legal means we would be still waiting!

3. From 1990-1994 August there were only a very few terror attacks on civilians and nothing on civil infrastructure. This was remarkable as violent clashes erupted from time to time in the North-East. The few terror attacks were also clouded in mystery. Again extra-judicial means were the main defenders of law and order in a country more than 95% terrorists get away without conviction; most of them are never apprehended; the few apprehensions without doubt end up in acquittals or subsequent pardons. Length of the trial and associated delays ensure that the damage intended by the terrorists are done already.

4. In 1994 the STF (hitherto a paramilitary force not bound by the Army Act) and many other paramilitary groups were disbanded. The STF was brought under the Army Act and was assigned general army duties in the East. Colombo security was bare open for any terror attack. There were more than 20 terror attacks from 1994-2001 in civilian areas mainly in Colombo. There were no abductions reported in Colombo, etc. The Central Bank bombers were tried in absentia by the courts and convicted after a lengthy trial ended in 2002, six (6) years after bombing. But what happened? Nothing. The culprits were worshipped by the 2001-2004 government for killing more than 90 people and injuring 1,200 not to mention millions of dollars worth damages.

5. From 2001-2005 the LTTE carried out more than 60 terror attacks in government controlled areas; the highest ever in Sri Lankan history. There were abductions; this time committed by LTTE terrorists in Colombo! Terror attacks inside the Mount Lavinia police station sent shockwaves throughout the populace and there was nothing the government could do are it became a puppet of the LTTE.

6. After 2006 it was a mix bag of events as regards extrajudicial means of maintaining public security. Although abductions for ransom is a despicable act which must be punishable with heavy punitive measures, abduction of terrorists, infiltrators and their supporters proved highly effective. There were only a very few terror attacks, most of them unsuccessful or aimless. However, due to pressure the government clamped down on anti-terror operations carried out by the longer arm of the law.Terrorists spun into immediate action.

7. Iraq became a hot topic in every war, anti-war, peace, terrorism forum. It became a symbol of ever increasing anarchy. However, recently terror attacks in Iraq have reduced drastically. Why? Full credit must go to the process of empowering Iraqi paramilitary groups with an estimated strength of over 80,000. Obviously they are not authorised by law to kill, abduct, judge, etc. But who cares if security is ensured.

However, Lankan authorities are still tied down to retarded post-mortem acts that can only backfire. As regards human rights, mass arrests and evictions affect more people than other means for which the paramilitaries were blamed for. However, the success rate of extra-judicial means is there for all to see. It saved lives and property. The law has proved that it is helpless when faced with terrorism and it is a must that any means are employed to save the people.

Very large scale human rights violations can take place if terror attacks are allowed to take place. 1983 riots are a classic example. The government should do everything under the sun to stop the recurrence of such an eventuality.

There is a vast knowledge base among those who support the LTTE on potential terror activities. At least they know where that knowledge is. As a kid with a lot of friends who supported the LTTE, I was privy to many impending terror attacks in the 1980s. Although I never knew who is hiding where, I knew who had that information. Things changed after 1990 when those who knew feared for their lives and kept their little secrets to themselves. This trend continues today. However, a lethargic interrogation is not going to divulge anything as the person being interrogated weighs pros and cons of divulging. If there is not enough personal motivation to divulge, obviously nothing would come out. On the other hand, friendly means, financial incentives, witness protection and like measures are never going to get the authorities anywhere. However, the type of techniques that work are all very well known to all Sri Lankans without which Sri Lanka would not have survived thus far. These techniques must be readopted aggressively if civilian security is a genuine concern of the government. Paramilitaries must be brought back to fore. Never let people yearn for the days when Karuna’s men protected them from bomb blasts; instead keep things happening.

We can expect a surge in terror attacks in the months ahead. As the war intensifies in the North, terrorists will find civilian targets as their only let-out. The world’s most ruthless terrorists are not going to perish like lamb. They will try to cause maximum damage before their last breath. This is the challenge the government must take up and it cannot be handled singlehandedly. Support of the paramilitaries and extra judicial means is a must to ensure public security, law and order.

Although the government made another blunder by allowing mass arrests, its subsequent conduct must be commended. The complete disregard of a certain politician known for his rowdy, barbaric and uncivilised behaviour is a step in the right direction. All those who followed him ended up nowhere. On the other hand the CWC leader was effective. His allegiance to the government must remain the key power factor. There is no point in extending favours to anti-government politicians. Let them make worthless statements but people won’t trust them again. It also reiterates the need to take a co-operative approach than a subversive approach by any politician.

This war cannot be won by cowards; in fact no war can be won by cowards. If the key leaders who guide the defenders of the nation are threatened with a call to the Hague, fear not, it only means that they will try to get you since the terrorists couldn’t. Either way you are dead, why not do the right thing for the fatherland/motherland and die a national hero than die an international hero but a national coward. If bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki is justified on the basis that it averted a larger catastrophe, violating human rights is amply justified to avert even bigger. Its not only the security forces who must sacrifice their lives to win the war, civilians and politicians will also be called upon to do so in different ways. Even the best Buddhist Kings (Buddhism being a more powerful deterrent than threats) had to do the needful to defend their nation. Contrary to popular history, detailed history has legendary human rights violations committed by the best kings of Lanka to defend this nation. The world has a small Aryan heritage left in the midst of the vast Indian Ocean thanks to them.

If your enemies hate you for doing your job, you have done a damn good job!

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