By Salma Yusuf
The notions of justice and equity are paramount in any endeavour to establish and sustain national security. The sentiment was consistently resonant in the submissions and interventions made by a range of speakers from diverse backgrounds at the fifth annual International Symposium of the Sir John Kotelawala Defence University held last week. Accordingly, the following were among the key messages tabled at the deliberations.
Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa clarified concerns regarding the presence of security forces personnel in the North which he stated had been reduced with 28 battalions being moved to the East and the South. The overall number of troops had been reduced by over 21,000 since the war ended in 2009. The government, he said, would compensate the owners of the properties within the Palaly cantonment and provide them with alternate lands.
Travel restrictions to the north have been removed which has resulted in the movement of a large number of persons between the North and South. In 2012 alone, over 31,000 persons have travelled to the North of the country. Further, restrictions on fishing in certain areas of the sea particularly around critical harbours have been removed. The task of maintaining law and order has been completely handed over to the police. Rajapaksa went further to say that military camps have been retained only in strategic locations which is not unusual for a country emerging from the throes of a brutal and violent conflict. However, he mentioned that even where such a presence does exist, it would be non – intrusive to civilians in the daily conduct of their affairs.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Responding to questions posed regarding excesses of the armed forces in the final stages of the war, the Defence Secretary remarked that such personnel have been dealt with either through punishment or by removal from the service. Furthermore, he said that just as the concept of human rights and humanitarian law are critical to the exercise of the functions of the armed forces in any part of the world, so too is Sri Lanka aware of this nexus. Additionally, military personnel have been provided with training in international humanitarian law, human rights norms and principles to provide guidance in the execution of duties.
A NATIONAL REVIVAL
The sustenance of national security in Sri Lanka depends on the inclusiveness of democracy, and the equality of all citizens. In the past, there was mistrust between communities that led to unfortunate incidents. All Sri Lankans irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliations, must be confident that they can lead lives of dignity, equality and fulfilment within a supportive, dynamic and multicultural environment, Rajapaksa said. To achieve this vision, the government is working hard to achieve national reconciliation and sustainable development, he said.
Recognising that perceived discrimination by the state apparatus towards the Tamil citizens was a key cause of the conflict, Rajapaksa contended that equal access to all facilities provided by the state is essential in any effort to sustain peace and security. Linked to this has been the training and recruitment of Tamil speaking policemen amounting to a number of 789 and a further 425 in 2012 alone. Additionally, 11 new police stations have been established in the North and training in the Tamil language to non – Tamil speaking officials is underway.
HOW SECURE IS SECURE?
Vice Chancellor of the Kotelawala Defence University, General Milinda Pieris pointed out that both preventive and proactive measures are necessary to curb internal and external threats, and it is only to that extent that any nation can be safe and secure. Pieris went further to say that the bringing together of communities that have been artificially torn apart by the three – decade conflict is essential for reconciliation and can be consolidated only through constitutional means.
FROM WAR – FIGHTERS TO PEACE – MAKERS
Chair of the session, Prof Rohan Gunaratna identified the following as critical in addressing two of Sri Lanka’s key challenges: the development of specialist agencies to counter both misinformation and disinformation that is being propagated nationally and internationally pertaining to developments in the country and secondly, the need to constructively re-engage and reach out to Sri Lankan Tamils living overseas.
UNIFORMITY IS NOT UNITY
Additional Secretary, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, India, Major General Dhrouv C Katoch, stated that the imperative of national security must be regarded as a public good and not the private property of a state. Further, reconciliation is closely linked to justice and the denial of the latter will inevitably lead to a resurgence of conflict. While economic development must be looked at as a catalyst to maintaining national security, it is justice that must be accorded priority in any endeavour to sustain national security.
He went further to explore how the issue of language has been the cause of conflict in the larger Asian context including in both India and Pakistan where the declaration of Hindi and Urdu as the national languages respectively led to national unrest and upheavals. It must be remembered that uniformity will not necessarily lead to unity, as has been the unfortunate misconception underlying the declaration of a single language as the national language in multi – ethnic and multi – lingual societies.
PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY
President of the National Defence University in Pakistan, Lt General Naseer Junjua, opined that forging friendly and peaceful relationships between states in Asia will not only ensure security in the region but also contribute significantly to the national security of individual states in the region. For such to be achieved, there is a need to encourage multi – sectorial engagements between states while increasing the frequency of people – to – people contact between countries.
CUTTING – EDGE EDUCATION AND NON – TRADITIONAL UNIVERSITIES
Vice Chancellor of Massey University in New Zealand, Hon Steve Maharey, highlighted the need for educational institutions, particularly at the tertiary level, to contribute to a nation’s post-war development efforts. In this regard, two Memorandums of Understanding have been signed between Massey University and the University of Colombo and the Kotelawala Defence University. Sharing experiences from New Zealand, Maharey noted that a three-pronged approach has been adopted in New Zealand: first, Learning for Life Reforms were introduced in the 1980s where it was made mandatory that universities respond to the new social, economic and technological age and related needs of the country; second, the focus of education was opened to different groups of people which encouraged inclusiveness and increased participation through the provision of loans to those previously disadvantaged and excluded from tertiary education; and third, the Government in its most recent regulations has made it mandatory that universities incorporate strategic, entrepreneurial and socially-responsive elements to its curriculums and plans and in turn remain accountable to the Tertiary Education Commission of the Government of New Zealand.
A NEW ROLE FOR THE ARMED FORCES
With the conclusion of the war it has been opined that the armed forces must play a new role in reconciliation, sustainable development and national security.
Speaking on the subject, Secretary, Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security, S.B. Divarathne, identified the following as key aspects of nation building which require intervention by the armed forces: maintenance of essential services in the immediate aftermath of a humanitarian operation; partnering in resettlement activities including demining activities, restoration of damaged infrastructure, and restoring national irrigation systems coupled with bringing land to a cultivable state; provision of skilled labour to improve the quality and standard of vocational training; information management and administration to increase productivity in the public service.
THE WAY FORWARD
Since the end of the armed struggle in May 2009, both organised and natural processes of reconciliation are taking place in Sri Lanka. While the path to moderation, tolerance and coexistence must be paved as prerequisites for genuine peace and reconciliation, so must an organised process of reconciliation be put in place so as to prevent a relapse or resurgence of past animosities that initially led to hostilities. Such an endeavour must necessarily be state – led in order to ensure that dividends are maximised and confidence is restored in the state machinery.
While the Government’s efforts in rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction in the North-East have been commendable, it is imperative that the important next step is taken, namely, reaching out to the Tamil community to address their concerns and grievances. The Muslim community has oft been caught in the crossfire and hence need to be taken seriously and made stakeholders in any endeavour aimed at peace and stability.
Conversely, the minority communities too must be urged to reposition themselves by not only demanding equality but also conducting themselves as equals. One way of doing this is for minority communities to speak not only on issues affecting their respective communities but also to participate in national issues and lead national campaigns.
Four aspects remain critical to Sri Lanka’s nation-building enterprise. First, the need for internal consensus within government of positions related to issues of national importance: such will augur well not only for keeping citizens and stakeholders informed of national decisions and plans but also for the country’s international relations ; Second and closely related, is the need for an improvement in the state’s communication strategy which will not only serve as a barometer for measuring progress but also identify gaps to be filled by providing direction for taking the nation-building and peace-building agenda forward; third, there remains a need for greater and active involvement of citizens and relevant groups in national processes of consultation; and fourth, there remains the need to cultivate and capitalise on the crucial aspect that unites all the peoples of Sri Lanka, namely, the common identity of being Sri Lankan. Such is imperative in the ultimate analysis of moving the nation forward to sustainable security, peace and prosperity.
This article appeared in The Daily Mirror and is reprinted with permission.