PAKISTAN- SRI LANKA FIRST JOINT SEMINAR ON POLITICAL AND DIPLOMATIC CHALLENGES FACED BY NATIONS DURING AND AFTER CONFLICT CONFINED TO BORDERS
Posted on February 16th, 2013

Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute

16 February, 2013, Colombo:

Pakistan-Sri Lanka first Joint seminar on “Political and Diplomatic Challenges Faced by Nations During and After Conflict Confined to Borders” was co-hosted by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies with the High Commission for Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Sri Lanka on the 11thof February 2013 from 9.30am to 4.30pm at the Kadirgamar Institute. The seminar brought together eminent personalities from both countries to deliberate on the ramifications of conflicts on nations. The seminar was attended by diplomatic corps, government officials, foreign dignitaries, representatives of international organizations, academics, students, media and the general public. The conference sessions were followed by Question and Answers between the speakers and members of the audience and concluded with a networking session.

The Keynote Address was delivered by Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, Sri Lanka. Speaking on Challenges Faced by Nations After a Conflict Confined to Borders, Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that “[T]he many lessons that can be learnt from the Sri Lanka experience in dealing with its post conflict challenges are worthy of close examination”.

One of the biggest after conflict challenges for the government was the Internally Displaced Persons. The handling of the IDPS emerging from a conflict situation being a crucial issue a proper system was established to ensure their reception. The strategy adopted by Sri Lanka on the next biggest challenge immediately after conflict situation provision of proper medical care to the IDPs affected after a conflict is exemplary. Irrespective of the persons whether they were combatants or civilians crossed over to the Government controlled areas during the Humanitarian Operation received immediate medical care while civilians with significant health issues were given special attention.

One of the most serious problems with regard to IDPs in most conflicts is that they are unable to return to their homes for a long time because of the destruction of their property during the course of the conflict. A situation compounded as LTTE took civilians out of their properties for use as a human shield ransacking properties and taken any material to be used in battlefront and, densely laid antitank mines, antipersonnel mines and many different types of Explosive Devices in the built up areas it left behind, it became necessary for the IDPs in Sri Lanka to remain in Government supported shelters for some time. It is important for a Government faced with an internal conflict to anticipate this situation well in advance thus make adequate preparations to deal with the situation that is likely to arise after conflict is a critical responsibility on the part of the state.

The plans that the Government presented to the funding organisations were, however, sadly misinterpreted “¦when they saw the Government’s plans to establish high quality welfare villages, the representatives of the international organisations suspected the Government of intending to hold IDPs in camps for a long duration against their will. They argued strongly against the Government’s plans. This lack of trust in the Government’s intentions on the part of the representatives of these International Organisations was very unfortunate, and it is still more unfortunate that such mistrust continues to be voiced amongst some in the international community even today.

In addition to physical health, great care was also taken to provide psychological and psychosocial support to the IDPs. Many efforts were taken to promote religious, spiritual and cultural activities”¦[s]chools were established for students, and vocational training centres were established”¦providing food and nutrition to IDPs is also a particular area of concern after a conflict for a state as well.

Adequate measures to uphold security in the Welfare Villages was provided as it was possible that cadres who had evaded capture were still at large and seeking to infiltrate the villages. It was also possible that there were undetected cadres posing as civilians in the welfare villages, and hoping to escape justice. “I wish to stress that the civilians were not harassed in any way by such precautions, and that they developed a cordial relationship with the personnel who were providing security”, Secretary Defence, further emphasized.

[T]he next challenge was demining in the former conflict areas. The first priority was to demine the towns and villages. The scale of the problem the Government faced in demining was enormous. Nearly half a million antipersonnel mines, 1,400 antitank mines and close to four hundred thousand unexploded ordnance devices have been recovered to date. The hard work carried out by all the groups involved in demining is highly commendable, particularly since the two main priority areas identified for demining were cleared within three years.

Infrastructure development was another key concern. The Government also launched a programme entitled “Northern Spring” to undertake large development projects in the North. The renovation of houses and construction of new housing units was one of the Government’s first priorities in terms of reconstruction. Other nations (notably India provided 40, 000 housing units) as well as voluntary organisations have also contributed a great deal to the reconstruction and renovation of houses in the North. The role played by the military both in demining and in reconstruction activities deserves to be highlighted [providing] engineering expertise, construction plant and equipment, as well as much of the necessary manpower.

[R]esettlement for all IDPs was completed in less than three and a half years. The rapid resettlement accomplished in such a short time span after the war is a tremendous achievement by any yardstick, and one about which Sri Lanka can justly be proud. Resettling the IDPs after a conflict situation is a task that any Government should undertake with great urgency, because it is the best way to help the people who were most affected by the war return to normal lives quickly. In this context, paying adequate attention to the ability of the resettled people to lead normal day-to-day lives is another very important factor that needs to be addressed in any post conflict situation.

Perhaps the most controversial issue that a Government will have to face in the aftermath of an internal conflict is with regard to the treatment of the combatants who fought against the state. It is very important to bring closure to the conflict, and to ensure that ill feeling is minimised so that whatever causes led to the conflict in the first place do not gain new momentum once it has ended. The approach adopted by Sri Lanka in this regard is instructive. The natural tendency of most Governments would have been to severely punish these cadres for their involvement in such a brutal terrorist organisation. However, His Excellency the President had a different view. He believed that the LTTE cadres had been misled and that they deserved a chance to lead normal lives in a peaceful nation. As a result, it was decided that the vast majority of cadres would be rehabilitated and reintegrated with society as soon as possible, and that only the cadres most involved in terrorist activities would be prosecuted.

A”ƒ”¹…”six plus one’ rehabilitation process model was adopted for all beneficiaries. This process rested on six pillars; namely Spiritual, Religious and Cultural Activities, Vocational & Livelihood activities, Psychological & Creative Therapies, Sports & Extracurricular Activities, Sociocultural Activities and Education.

Special attention was given to the 594 child soldiers who surrendered with assistance from UNICEF. The child beneficiaries were reunited with their families within one year, although 74 came back to Hindu College Ratmalana to continue their education. The counselling programme was designed to correct the mind-set of the ex-combatants and affect attitudinal change”¦self-employment, entrepreneurship and micro enterprise development were encouraged to ensure economic independence for the beneficiaries. Many rehabilitated ex-LTTE combatants have also been absorbed into the Civil Defence Force, and will be employed in development activities in their areas of residence.

The primary focus of the rehabilitation and reintegration programme has been to equip the former LTTE cadres with alternative means to a meaningful existence. Giving them a chance to become productive members of society has been a very successful way of deradicalising these individuals.

These good intentions have also extended to the LTTE cadres who were arrested and detained at various other stages for their involvement in terrorist activities. Out of the approximately 4,500 cadres who were arrested and detained since January 2006, more than 2,000 were released after ascertaining that their involvement in LTTE activities was at a very low level. This is because the speed at which Governments deal with those it intends to prosecute for involvement in militant activities is another critical issue in post conflict situations.

After facing all of these immediate post war challenges, the objective of the Government in the long term has to be to bring back stability to the country. [E]nsuring that there is an end to the problems that led to the conflict in the first place is critically important. The maintenance of Law and Order has been completely handed over to the police. New police stations have been opened and many more Tamil-speaking policemen have been recruited to serve in these areas. All of these measures have ensured that life is returning to normal in the former conflict areas. This is one of the greatest benefits of the hard won peace.

Although the LTTE’s military leadership was destroyed during the Humanitarian Operation, it is important to understand that this was only one part of the LTTE’s vast organisation. The rest of the organisation is still at large, and although it has adopted a democratic face in its international dealings, there is no doubt that its members will try very hard to restart the conflict in Sri Lanka. This is a threat that must be guarded against, that is why the Government of Sri Lanka will not compromise when it comes to providing security to the nation.

On the contrary, one of the most critical tasks of the military in the post war context is to win the hearts and minds of the people from the former conflict areas.Most of the time in any conflict, whether it is ethnic or religious, the background to it is that poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment causes discontent amongst the people. This unhappiness is exploited by militant leaders, who motivate and organise them to take up arms. This is why it is essential that post-conflict reconstruction should focus on promoting economic activity. Infrastructure development, provision of proper facilities and the strengthening of institutions are critical factors in this regard.

[T]he political challenges after a conflict can be immense“¦In the case of Sri Lanka, one of the biggest issues in the North and East has been the lack of mainstream political parties operating in those areas because of LTTE dominance he also added.

Yet another challenge that a nation will face after an internal conflict is in its dealings with other nations. The emphasis placed by the international community on various issues changes over time. Today, the issue of human rights has become one of the most critical topics in the relationship between states”¦ [the]asylum seekers will end up getting citizenship in these foreign countries and become a powerful political voice there. Thus comprises a powerful lobby in those countries. This is a major challenge that the Government has to face not just today but in time to come. And despite the obviousness of their motives, they have been successful at generating considerable pressure against the Government of Sri Lanka. In today’s increasingly globalised world, it is possible that other Governments emerging from internal conflicts will also face similar challenges.

Unfortunately, the international pressure brought to bear on Sri Lanka especially by western nations misled by LTTE sympathisers can cause international investors and even tourists to stay away from the country. This will have a very adverse impact on the country’s economic situation, which will be most felt by the people in the former conflict areas. Instead of narrowing the scope of their engagement with Sri Lanka because of the many misrepresentations and lobbying affected by special interest groups in their own countries, the nations that are pressurising Sri Lanka internationally should engage constructively with the Government. It is only then that they will see for themselves the good work being carried out here despite significant constraints.

The unwavering commitment and resolve of the Government to overcome all the challenges that it faced in the post conflict situation has laid the foundation for a prosperous future for all our citizens, irrespective of their diversity and differences. It is this commitment to deal with any and all difficulties that arose after the conflict that lies at the heart of Sri Lanka’s success today. That, more than anything, should be the lesson to be drawn from the Sri Lankan experience of dealing with its post-conflict challenges, Mr. Rajapaksa concluded.

Mr. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera, Executive Director of the Kadirgamar Institute welcomed the distinguished gathering to the first Pakistan-Sri Lanka joint seminar, and commented on the long standing cordial relations between Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He also said that”Sri Lanka was one of the first countries in South Asia to have established trade relations with Pakistan. Defence cooperation between the nations is also strong and well established. Nation building in an ethnically plural society, addressing humanitarian concerns, maintaining law and order, economic development and managing external relations are similar challenges faced by both countries, he stated.

Mr. Karuanthilake Amunugama, Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Sri Lanka making the introductory remarks said “Sri Lanka and Pakistan have traditionally maintained this ancient cultural bond that has sustained for many centuries”¦our bilateral relations encompass the areas of defence, political, economic, education and cultural relations and the cooperation existing in these areas have remained strong and steadfast over the years. Pakistan has always stood behind and provided strength to Sri Lanka in difficult times. This was quite evident during Sri Lanka’s war against terrorism and her interactions in the regional and multilateral fora”, he said.

H.E. Ms. Amna Baloch, Acting High Commissioner for Pakistan commended on rapid progression Sri Lanka is making on the trajectory of development. Pakistan and Sri Lanka share the same dreams, trust and mutual respect, similar values and enjoy warm friendships, nonetheless poverty, disease, backwardness, political disharmony are persisting challenges, she added. Economic ties have seen a steady growth in trade -FTA, bilateral investment, custom cooperation agreements and increasing services and investments. Pakistan provided unconditional and unwavering military support during difficult times for Sri Lanka, at International forums consistent support was given particularly in Geneva by Pakistan over the years. Despite being a non Buddhist community at large, Buddhist heritage in Pakistan is well preserved, H.E. the Actg. High Commissioner invited all Sri Lankans to visit the architectural marvel in the ancient kingdom of Gandhar, Pakistan.

The speakers and their deliberations at Session I-Diplomatic and Economic Challenges Faced by Nations in South Asia were: Mr. Riaz Khokhar, Former Foreign Secretary, Pakistan, “Strategic environment in Asia with emphasis on South Asia”, Mr. Nihal Rodrigo, Former Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary SG/SAARC, Ambassador to China, “Conflict resolution in South Asia: Challenges faced by Pakistan and Sri Lanka”, Dr. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Senior Analyst, Pakistan, “Learning from Sri Lanka experience”, Prof. H D. Karunaratne, Faculty of Management and Finance, University of Colombo, “Recent Economic Progress, Opportunities and Challenges Faced by Nations in south Asia”. Mr. V. Krishnamoorthy, Director General, South Asia and SAARC Division, Ministry of External Affairs, Sri Lanka moderated Session I.

Restoration of peace and security and minimizing any criminal elements within its borders is one of the challenges facing Sri Lanka at present. The role of military in an after conflict context, that had been a cause for concern for INGOs need be viewed in terms of efficiency effects and, numerous social benefits communities receive through their inclusion in nation building and development activities. Attaining long term reconciliation by restoration of trust and confidence is a challenge and a continuous process in the country at present. Among various diplomat challenges for Sri Lanka its dealing with external world, pressure mounting tactics utilized by lobby groups; “ƒ”¹…”coalition compulsions’ seen through Tamil Nadu on the Indian Central government, diaspora community in Canada with vote power provide strong examples. Certain LTTE elements have re branded themselves and involved in financial crimes (credit card frauds, drug trafficking and narcotic related crimes) as well.

Mr. Khokar, was of the view that countries coming out of conflicts of a nature similar to Sri Lanka must be left alone to settle their domestic problems. Examining the strategic environment in Asia and addressing concerns over Pakistan’s input for peace in Afghanistan, he was of the view that Pakistan has limited control over Taliban. However with influx of refugees across border and other socio-economic and political concerns, he stressed that it’s in Pakistan’s best interest to see Afghanistan stabilizes as early as possible and share the concern of the international community. “The solution must come from within Afghanistan and from all key players in the region.

The presence of the US in Asia is important when considering the strategic environment in Asia. The over arching problems of revolutions-the Middle East, invasion of Iraq, Syria, Palestine-Israeli tensions, Iran US relations- are intensifying issues that make the Asian landscape complex and uncertain. Any action on Iran in future is likely to change the strategic interest of the Asian region dramatically and recalled that Asia is host to 7 nuclear nations including potential nuclear interests by Iran. The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan pose questions related to what is the left behind and consequences to peace and stability for the region. Negotiations between Afghanistan government and Taliban rebels being unsatisfactory major players such as Iran need play a bigger role by accommodating regional neighbors for a cohesive strategy to ensure peace and security in the region. Increased militarisation by procurement of arms and military equipment in India, in return is making Pakistan rely more on nuclear deterrence. Asia-Pacific region is dominated by disputes between China, Japan, North Korea, Taiwan on maritime boundaries and sea lanes and making the “ƒ”¹…”great game’ spread into the oceans.

No two conflicts are the same, nonetheless a comparative analysis of conflicts in Sri Lanka and Pakistan many similarities dis-similarities can be examined. Conflict of Sri Lanka and in FATA region (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) reveals that multiple factors led to the inception, later transforming into different areas. While Sri Lankan conflict principally resulted in discrepancies in state language and education policies, denial of economic opportunities and political failures related to devolution of power, an estranged fraction resorted to violence to challenge government, on the contrary, invading soviets are some of the key factors for the conflict in the FATA region. The unrest mainly stemmed from militancy due to Soviet invasion that the United States supplied training, arms and equipments to radical group instilling a martyrdom status for those who destroyed the invading Soviets. Other similarity included the involvement of outsiders and their impact in conflict- diaspora, immediate and distant neighbours and, outside facilitators, in both conflicts financing often came from outside. The use of military power, resolute political will, media management and acceptance of collateral damage (condemnation of drone attacks) are some lessons Pakistan need draw from the Sri Lankan conflict.

Capitalizing the growing middle class in South Asia (particularly in India) for enhanced trade opportunities and encouraging diaspora community for increase in foreign remittances are some of the economic opportunities need to be considered, however creation of employment for its growing working population remains a significant challenge for both countries. Policies to mitigate environment related adverse effects (climate change) are also key challenges facing South Asian countries and governments at present. Increased financial management education imperative for countries in South Asia to reach the necessary targets of business ownership (20-30%) and stimulate entrepreneurial opportunities that sustains continuous growth in economies (Sri Lanka records only 3%).

The speakers and their deliberations at Session II-Political and Security Challenges Faced by Nations in South Asia were: Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, Head, Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Singapore, “Sri Lanka’s Changing Geopolitical and Strategic Alignments. Lt. Gen. (Retired) Hamid Khan, Defence Analyst, Pakistan, “Challenges during and after Conflicts within Borders. Mjr. Gen. Milinda Pieris, Vice Chancellor, Sir John Kotalawala Defence University, “Sri Lanka-Pakistan Defence Corporation: A Glimpse into the Past and the Way Forward”.Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa, Attorney-at-Law, Dean, Faculty of Law, Kotelawala Defence University, Commissioner, Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, Senior lecturer, University of Colombo,”SAARC Convention on Suppression of Terrorism: Prospects and Challenges”. Session II was moderated by Dr. Mariam Saeed (Ms.), Second Secretary (Political Affairs), High Commission for Pakistan in Sri Lanka.

The opening speech was delivered by Professor Rohan Gunaratna who made some insightful remarks with regard to the security infrastructure of the country. He commented that the government needs to dismantle the support infrastructure irrespective of geographical location; he further gave a descriptive explanation on the different fractions of the LTTE sympathetic diaspora and stated that the Geneva Human Rights convention was an exercise of political maneuvering. He also made the remark that Sri Lanka’s geopolitical location led to aggravating the ethnic conflict and in the past as Sri Lanka was aligned to the western sphere of influence and India under the influence of Russia was the object of suspicion by India, and interfered with the security situation, hence the reasons why the LTTE was able to receive the support it did, he also cautioned that Sri Lanka should not get trapped into another cold war between the growing Asian powers, and the country should be cautious of religious extremism which is of growing significance at present.

Lt. Gen. Mohammed Hamid Khan who explained that terrorism was a result of Political, Ethnic, Social and Religious motivations. He discussed the defense strategies used to combat terrorism emphasizing that along with military operations, economic equality should follow as this will stop the spread of terrorism and he also highlighted the importance of reconciliation which will help in impeding the fight against the state. Furthermore political will, a political consensus and motivating the forces to fight against their own are challenges that a state encounters, in addition to the collateral damage that terrorism causes must also be dealt with.

The next speaker was Major General Milinda Peiris the Vice Chancellor of the Sir John Kotelawala Defence University who spoke of the warm bilateral relations Sri Lanka shared with Pakistan and the many instances where Pakistan has come to the aid of Sri Lanka during the past ethnic conflict in the Island nation and how the unconditional support rendered, at times even by passing formalities and regulations in order to assist Sri Lanka with its Military struggle against the Tamil Tigers. He stated that Pakistan though not geographically close were true friends and allies of Sri Lanka. Pakistan Sri Lanka relationship is on a solid footing and that the defense cooperation is very deep and run into many decades, he concluded. The final speaker for the session and the seminar was Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa who is the dean of the Faculty of Law at the Kotalawala Defense University, he spoke on challenges and effectiveness of the SAARC convention in combating terrorism in the region.

The Q&A the discussion revolved around recommendations on balanced foreign policy approaches; a host of western countries being traditional friends of Sri Lanka restoring the relationship with them and adopting a balanced approach (China-US-India-Pakistan) based on mutual friendship and, also the necessity to access social, political, economic benefits countries accrue with foreign policy dealings were highlighted. Lessons learnt from Pakistan were the balance and sturdy state level relations pursued with the US and China, albeit “ƒ”¹…”issue based’ approach adopted by the US in contrast to a needed foreign policy based on long term bilateral relations with Pakistan. Too much pressure from western countries would inevitably make Sri Lanka shift more towards China, in return causing tension and concern for India and other western countries. Sino-Lanka relations a long standing friendship, a cause for concern particularly for India misinterpreted due to recent “ƒ”¹…”String of Pearls’ perceptions, main factors China disapprove the concept; affordability of maintaining harbours off mainland China, security treats linked to possible attacks on bases, and fundamental values central to Chinese foreign relations based on friendships that are forged through bilateral relations, and moreover reasons seeking connectivity with East and West through maritime routes for China’s economic development are noteworthy remarks during the session.

Support of military and intelligence agencies of the US, Europe, India and Pakistan contributed extensively for the success in Sri Lanka’s fight against terror, the steadfast alliance with the US resulted in arrests, revealed clandestine arms purchases and crimes, and led to the destruction of LTTE navy fleets, and this cooperation still continues with India, the US and Pakistan etc. Military and intelligence was pivotal in fight against terrorism, countries embedded in conflicts could learn from the Sri Lankan experience.

A key drawback for the South Asian region is the dispute between Pakistan and India, additionally SAARC convention has also failed in establishing an effective conflict resolution strategy hence enhanced cooperation, and engagement on an effective discourse and dialogue, with sacrifices from both countries must be sought in order to restore stability that impedes regional growth and prosperity.

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