Mumbai attacks: Lessons for Lanka

The commercial capital of India was again rocked this week by simultaneous bomb explosions, their impact resounding through the sub-continent.

It is easy for Sri Lankans to empathise with the anguish of the people of Mumbai, having lived through such venomous terrorist attacks not so long ago. It is unfortunate, however, that apart from a brief statement from President Mahinda Rajapaksa immediately after the explosions on Wednesday evening, the Government of Sri Lanka did not issue a more formal statement on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka to the Government and people of India sympathising with them and condemning these acts of terror.

The Government of India has a monumental task before it. While it has been accustomed to conventional wars and insurgencies since Independence in 1947, it is still not geared for this kind of cowardly terrorist acts. Despite the horrific events of 26/11 (2008) also in Mumbai, the authorities are still grappling with how to deal with them.

Sri Lanka, with its limited resources faced the same difficulties -- from the lack of prior intelligence to the lack of equipment and trained policemen, and an effective post-incident drill, but the authorities learnt on the job and the people coped as best as they could. Often, the shortcomings were self-inflicted. The head of the National Intelligence Bureau for instance, was in court appearing on behalf of the then President in a case of defamation when the Central Bank bomb went off in 1995. Priorities were lopsided. Tender rackets in procurements were the order of the day. One can see the Indian authorities now up against the same scrutiny and criticism.

To India's credit, the government has not permitted such terror attacks to erode its democratic fabric. It has not imposed Emergency Regulations and anti-terrorism laws that impinge on civil liberties and fundamental rights of citizens creating the elements of a Police state even at the risk of being blamed for not doing enough to crack down on terrorism. In the post-26/11 period, India introduced an 'Unlawful Activities Prevention Act' and set up a National Investigative Agency with limited powers to investigate terrorist activities but it seems to know the downside these emergency laws bring such as abuse and how administrations get accustomed to living with extraordinary laws as ordinary laws.

Increasingly, however, the shadows of Orwellian society are looming in calls for more CCTV surveillance cameras to monitor people's movements in public areas and for telephone tapping, as in the West as the scourge of terrorism becomes part of daily life. Their courts have interpreted state laws such as the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act (MCOCA) to extend to terrorist crimes. Therefore when on Friday, their External Affairs spokesman was to suggest that Sri Lanka must investigate allegations of war crimes based on a British TV documentary, one may ask how it would reconcile with India's own domestic war on terror that will need to be upgraded in the aftermath of these attacks on their home soil. The Indian statement might also have been prompted to coincide with the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who said on Thursday that she was determined to go to India despite the terrorist attack.

There is another significant byproduct of the Mumbai bombings that is of special relevance to Sri Lanka --. the Centre-state relationship in handling the security of the nation. In the political post-mortem now being conducted in India, there is debate on the lack of co-ordination in intelligence gathering and sharing between the different agencies of the Centre (in New Delhi) and the state (Maharashtra). The state complaint is that the Centre is delaying procurements and other essentials. The issue gets even more complex if and when the state and the Centre are run by opposing political parties, as we can see right now in the case of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state.

As much as the security expertise that Sri Lankan agencies acquired in handling the LTTE and its modus operandi (something the Indian agencies can learn from this end), a lesson Sri Lanka has to learn is what happens to the security establishment in a country where power is devolved to the peripheries. It is one thing to call for federalism, or devolution of power on paper, and for that devolution to include police powers, but it is another when you see this in real life as is unfolding in India right now. What is more, the Indian Prime Minister is on record saying that this kind of urban terrorism is not even their No. 1 internal security concern. That is reserved for the Maoist problem that has enveloped several states across India, straining the Centre-state relationship.

The signals from South Sudan

The international comity of nations welcomed the 193rd sovereign state this week as a fully-fledged member of the United Nations Organisation on Thursday. South Sudan became a separate state seceding from Sudan, Africa's then biggest nation.

Sri Lanka had a lucky escape, given the parallels between what happened in Sudan and Sri Lanka. Sudan was embroiled in a 20-year 'civil war' between the north and the south. The gravamen of the charge by the South Sudanese was that the Muslim-majority in the north was creaming the fat off the land and that there was disproportionate distribution of resources between the north and south. The fact that the south was not only largely Christian but had vast oil reserves could not have been a coincidence that attracted Western interest. In the ensuing civil war, the Western powers tacitly backed the secessionist terrorist movement.

In 2005, the secessionist movement - the Sudan People's Liberation Movement entered into peace talks with the Sudanese Government in Khartoum, agreed on a peace pact, campaigned for a referendum and following an overwhelming majority obtained Khartoum's imprimatur to form the separate state. It seemed the drama was choreographed to perfection, and divorce was by collusion. If there were elements that differed with Sri Lanka's confrontation with a secessionist movement for 30 years, it was that the main player in that drama, the LTTE, came for peace talks against an opponent unwilling to divide the country, and repeatedly kicked the negotiating table, going back to seeking secession through the battlefield. It was also averse to campaigning for elections, referenda or otherwise.

With Western, especially US backing, the recognition of South Sudan as an independent nation was a cake walk. But what of the future of this land-locked country of 20 million people? How well will it cope with the pressures of competing world powers with the covetous eyes of ravenous wolves. Already, China has invested as much as US$ 10 billion in Africa, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was on a five-nation tour of Africa last month as part of President Obama's drive to uplift Africa said in the Zambian capital of Lusaka that Chinese interest in Africa "is not inherently incompatible" with US interest, and that "Chinese foreign assistance and investment practices in Africa have not always been consistent with generally accepted international norms of transparency and good governance and not always used the talents of the African people in pursuing their business interest". This would be a message anywhere that Chinese foreign interest and investment exists, including in Sri Lanka.

The fact that the Tamil Diaspora that has actively engaged the West in attempts to destabilise the Sri Lankan Government was represented at South Sudan's Independence Day celebrations last Saturday must sound a cautionary note to Sri Lanka. Secretary of State Clinton will next week visit the southern Indian city of Chennai where already anti-Sri Lanka feeling is high. The events surrounding the creation of South Sudan as a separate state, far removed from us geographically may have escaped our radar when we were engrossed with our own problems, but its future in the world of international political intrigue will be something that Sri Lanka should watch out for, for her own good in the future.

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Editorial Archive 2011 
09th January 2011 - Reciprocity to visitors
23rd January 2011 - Food crisis: The balanced diet
06th February 2011 - Independence 2011 and beyond
13th February 2011 - The message from Egypt
20th March 2011 - Be with Japan, be prepared
27th March 2011 - Without FIA, more sabhas will mean more crooks
03rd April 2011 - Sports: Heroes and villains
10th April 2011 - Move towards direct democracy
17th April 2011 - A report that seeks to open old wounds
24th April 2011 - Clinically shred war crimes allegations
01st May 2011 - May Day: Distress call from migrant workers
08th May 2011 - Global 'dupli-macy' and what’s fair in war
15th May 2011 - The light of Asia and the Dhammadvipa
22nd May 2011 - Diplomatic debacle
29th May 2011 - India destabilising Lanka again
05th June 2011 - The reality and the rhetoric
12th June 2011 - Stop the pressure, give space to LLRC
19th June 2011 - Revise the Indo-Lanka accord
26th June 2011 - Damning NAM
03rd July 2011 - Govt. says ‘No’ to a modern citizen’s Right
10th July 2011 - People in the dark in every way
17th July 2011 - Mumbai attacks: Lessons for Lanka
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