Thursday, Oct 02, 2014

Persistence of memory

For the sake of peace, it’s essential that the war is quickly forgotten and the process of inclusive nation-building is catalysed. For the sake of peace, it’s essential that the war is quickly forgotten and the process of inclusive nation-building is catalysed.
Written by Syed Ata Hasnain | Posted: April 3, 2014 12:22 am

Despite military victory, Sri Lankan government has not achieved internal integration.

Having been an active member of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in northern Sri Lanka 25 years ago, anything associated with the island nation draws my interest. I have continued to analyse the Sri Lankan army’s brilliant military campaign and the handling of the post-conflict dynamics, which are even more essential to analyse than just the strategic and operational aspects of the fighting. Thus a return to Sri Lanka was a high priority, especially at a time of international refereeing on its human rights record. I was to attend an international conference in Colombo and therefore arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport. As I approached the city, I kept my eyes and ears peeled for sights and sounds that could hold clues to Sri Lanka’s post-war confidence. Much as I would have liked to, it was not possible to visit Jaffna or Vavuniya.

The morning papers said much — that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), patterned on the lines of South Africa’s, could be set up. A delegation of two ministers was to visit South Africa in the wake of talks between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Jacob Zuma. The articles appeared to reflect a fear of the unknown — the possibility of Sri Lanka being censured or, even worse, investigated for the alleged human rights violations towards the end of the conflict with the LTTE. Allegations extend to the killing of over 40,000 civilians during that period. The international community is constantly threatening the Sri Lankan government and even India has refrained from supporting Sri Lanka, due to its own compulsions of Tamil affinity. What is the best personal position to take in such a situation? Much depends on your knowledge of this very long-drawn conflict, the ethics of war and ideas on the definition of national victory.

This conflict started at a time when human rights had not become a by-word in internal conflict. Besides compulsory knowledge of the Geneva Convention, I do not recall any discussion or demarche from our headquarters on human rights issues during the IPKF period of 1987-90. That’s not to say the Indian army violated human rights; it just wasn’t something that mattered then. However, demands are being made today to investigate alleged IPKF human rights violations.

Perceptions do prevail that the Sri Lankan government made many attempts to resolve the conflict, including accepting Indian intervention and, subsequently, Norwegian interlocutorship. However, the UN never considered it a conflict worth stepping into. The LTTE reneged on its promises and utilised the time between ceasefires to strengthen itself. India’s hands-off policy after the unfortunate assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and its inability, or reluctance, to oversee continued…

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