Inadequacies of the security approach to terror containment
Posted on May 8th, 2019

Courtesy The Island

A glaring inadequacy in current public discussion or ‘discourse’ on the issues growing out of the Easter Sunday terror attacks is the almost lop-sided stress on short-term security measures as answers to these complex posers. Immediate security measures to protect the public are urgently needed and the Sri Lankan state is providing these requirements adequately but discussion on these questions needs to go well beyond this dimension in the country’s present affairs.

As has been pointed out in this column frequently, long term security and protection of life and limb needs to be addressed in an informed fashion and a discussion on inter-communal reconciliation too is needed if we are to arrive at comprehensive solutions to the country’s current needs. Reconciliation is an arduous, complex undertaking but minus this requirement we would be having only half measures to ethnic and religion-related, implosive violence.

Seen from this point of view, a lecture delivered on Wednesday in Colombo by former US ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert O. Blake Jr titled, ‘Update from Washington: US Foreign Policy Towards China and South Asia and What it Means for Sri Lanka’, proved thought-provoking, comprehensive and instructive. The lecture was organised by the Pathfinder Foundation in partnership with the Joint Apparel Association Forum Sri Lanka and was held at the BMICH. Blake is at present the chairman of the Board of the US-Indonesia Society and a member of the Board of the Asia Foundation besides being Senior Director at the India & South Asia arm of McLarty Associates.

For the majority of listener’s in Blake’s audience short term security or law-and-order measures, very understandably, would have been of the prime importance. The speaker dealt very amply with this dimension to the country’s current issues with his stressing the need for a rigorous, impartial and fair probe into the Easter attacks by the Lankan authorities. They need to find out the wrong doers and bring them to book. The country needs to find out how the tragedy came about and how the terrorists escaped detection for so long. Besides, how did they come to acquire Rs. 7 billion in assets and money?

Besides focusing on these law and order questions, Blake also pointed to how closely coordinated operations by Sri Lanka’s intelligence and defence authorities from now on could prevent future terror attacks in this country. On this score Sri Lanka could have, and is already having, the cooperation of US security and intelligence agencies, such as the FBI. Such cooperation would continue.

Blake made a crucial observation when he pointed out to how close coordination among the US’ intelligence and security agencies has prevented external terror attacks on the US since 9/11. What Sri Lanka should take from this is obvious.

Accordingly, the most essential law and order measures needed to strengthen local security in the short and medium terms were outlined along with an update on the military cooperation measures currently taken by the US with its allies in Asia, such as Sri Lanka.

Besides strengthening the internal security of states in the Asia-Pacific, it was pointed out by the speaker that such measures also served some of the most vital foreign policy requirements of the US in consideration of the emergence of China as a major Asia-Pacific economic and military power.

On this score, Blake dealt with a range of issues pertaining to current US-China relations. One of the most important observations was that China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative was basically a strategic project that intended to link the markets of the world with Beijing. It has prompted the US to rename its Pacific Command, the Indo-Pacific Command. This fleet would enable the US to have a presence from the East Coast of Africa to the West Coast of the US, besides yielding other strategic benefits.

However, China’s ‘Belt and Road’ project has also prompted the US to launch a number of counter-measures in the economic field of almost the same kind, such as the launching of the International Finance Corporation with its major allies. Essentially, the US is not intending to look the other way as China grows as a major global power.

One of the most important parts of Blake’s presentation took the form of his outlining of religious and ethnic reconciliation measures. These should be seen as complementing the law and order requirements which were detailed earlier. Without these measures stability and peace for the ordinary citizen cannot be seen as being sealed.

As this is being written, an outburst of fighting between Syrian government forces and a group of resistance fighters has claimed some 45 lives in north-west Syria. This is a disquieting reminder that law and order measures could be effective only in the short term. Without reconciliation among warring groups we cannot have enduring peace. There is a lesson here for big powers such as the US and Russia. Military means alone cannot and would not deliver peace. Moreover, the big powers should awaken to the fact that the Taliban has made a come back in Afghanistan. The security approach should be seen as highly inadequate in view of these developments.

However, Blake gave his audience some valuable pointers on how peace-building could be proceeded with. For instance, religious leaders from all communities concerned need to come together to launch conflict avoidance and resolution measures. This was successfully worked out in Indonesia where after a bout of religious turmoil some years back religious leaders worked out ‘early warning’ signals, for example, that could defuse inter-religious tensions before they degenerated into full scale rioting.

Basically, it could be inferred that the dignity of ‘the Other’ had to be recognized by antagonists. This columnist cannot help but observe that this is the glaring lacuna in Sri Lanka’s so-called reconciliation and peace efforts. Blake was of the view that one of the aims of the Easter attackers was to irreconcilably antagonise the Christians against the Moslems. Needless to say, only growing amicability between these groups could stave off this tragedy. Consequently, bridge-building among communities is the most enduring path to peace.

One Response to “Inadequacies of the security approach to terror containment”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    As always Sri Lankans come up with various nonsensical matters that let terrorists off the hook. These are some of the distractions that will cost Sri Lanka dearly.

    1. Sirisena is reponsible for the lapse.
    2. UNP is responsible for the lapse.
    3. Mahinda/Gotabaya is responsible for the lapse.
    4. BBS is responsible for provoking.
    5. ISIS international is resposible.
    6. USA is behind the attack.
    7. Pakistan/India is behind the attack.
    etc.

    But they all miss the obvious – all terrorists are Sri Lankans, terrorists are out at large and terror indoctrination continues unstopped in Sri Lanka. Thanks to distractions, these are not handled.

    This was what happened in early 1980s.

    1. Sirima didn’t stop Tamil militants.
    2. UNP is responsible for the war and riots.
    3. Naxellites are responsible.
    4. CIA conspiracy.
    5. KGB conspiracy.
    6. JVP was responsible for riots.
    etc.

    The real terrorists – Tamil separatists – were not hunted down as we should thanks to these distractions. As a aresult it dragged on for 34 years since the first Tamil terrorist kill.

    Can we get our act together and identify the threat clearly and destroy it first?

    Theories can wait.

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