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Battling terrorism: Time to discard mindless shibboleths
There is bad news for terrorists and their apologists, wherever they may be living, killing and propagating lies. The myth that terrorism cannot be dealt with militarily is being demolished systematically and even the western media is coming to terms with reality that terrorists are not invincible, in spite of a long held threadbare view to the contrary, which has unfortunately come to influence the policy of some states battling terrorism.

At a time, Sri Lanka is coming under increasing pressure from some members of the international community to present a devolution package by way of a precondition of military success or a solution to terrorism in itself, the prestigious Wall Street Journal has carried an article—reproduced below because of its relevance to Sri Lanka—which reflects a change of heart of sorts on the part of the West as to how to remove the scourge of global terrorism against the backdrop of success stories reported from some terror-stricken nations.

In his column being transmitted to the four corners of the world by anti-terror activists with great gusto, internationally acclaimed columnist Bret Stephens has put his experienced finger on the real obstacle to crushing terrorism.

He says: "The deeper problem here is the belief that the best way to deal with insurgencies is to address the ‘root causes of the grievance that purportedly prompted them to take up arms. But, what most of these insurgencies seek isn’t social or moral redress: It’s absolute power. Like other ‘liberation movements’ (the PLO comes to mind), the Tigers are notorious for killing other Tamils seen as less than hard line in their views of the conflict. The failure to defeat these insurgencies thus becomes the primary obstacle to achieving a reasonable political settlement acceptable to both sides." However, he says, "This isn’t to say that political strategies shouldn’t be pursued in tandem with military ones." He cites as an example how Gen. David Petraeus shrewdly offered former insurgents a place in Iraq’s security forces so as to capitalise on enmity between Al Qaeda and their Sunni hosts.

Stephens focuses on the situation in Sri Lanka in support of his argument: "In Sri Lanka, a military offensive by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has wrested control of seven of the nine districts previously held by the rebel group LTTE better known as the Tamil Tigers. Mr. Rajapaksa now promises victory by the end of the year, even as the Tigers continue to launch high-profile terrorist attacks. All this is good news in its own right. Better yet, it explodes the mindless shibboleth that there is ‘no military solution’ when it comes to dealing with insurgencies. On the contrary, it turns out that the best way to end an insurgency is, quite simply, to beat it."

There is, Stephens says, ‘a tendency to misjudge the aims and ambitions of the insurgents: To think they can be mollified via one political concession or another’.

The EU Parliament, too, expressed a similar view in its resolution of Sep. 08, 2006 on Sri Lanka, condemning ‘the intransigence of the LTTE leadership over the years, which has successively rejected so many possible ways forward, including devolution at the provincial level or Provincial Councils; devolution at the regional level or Regional Councils; as well as the concept of a federation with devolution at the national level’.

Stephen invites our attention to former Colombian President Andres Pastrana’s ill-conceived experiments with peace-making. Pastrana, he says, sought to appease the FARC by ceding to them a territory the size of Switzerland with the predictable outcome of emboldening the guerrillas, who were adept at sensing and exploiting weakness.

Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga made a similar blunder in 1994, when she offered the entire Northern Province to the LTTE for a period of ten years without elections. The LTTE sensed her weakness and sought to exploit it.

Ironically, though the US and other Co-Chairs are twisting Sri Lanka’s arm to negotiate a settlement with the LTTE, the US reacted to Pastrana’s peace moves in a totally different manner. The US kept on throwing a monkey wrench in the works and dumped a massive multi-million dollar military aid package on Colombia, urging it to take on FARC. However, if the way top FARC commanders are perishing now with its combatants deserting at a rate and the gradual decrease in the outfit’s strike capability are any indication, then the US policy is beginning to pay dividends. "Nobody was abandoning the FARC," Stephens says, "when Mr. Pastrana lay prostrate before it. It was only after Mr. Uribe turned the guerrilla lifestyle into a day-and-night nightmare that the movement’s lustre finally started to fade."

Why the US policy towards Sri Lanka’s terrorism differs from that on Colombia is baffling. If the US believes by any stretch of imagination that the LTTE is different from FARC, where their goals are concerned, let it heed the EU Parliament’s assessment of the LTTE’s political project and see that Prabhakaran is not prepared to budge from his goal of separation. Never mind the US. The advocacy by the EU of devolution of power through negotiations with the LTTE as a solution to the conflict, in spite of its parliamentary resolution at issue, is mindboggling!

Stephens concludes by saying that ‘beating an insurgency allows a genuine process of reconciliation and redress to take place, and in a spirit of malice towards none."

How the White House reacted to Osama bin Laden’s offer of a truce a few years ago comes to mind: A spokesman for President George W. Bush said the best way to deal with terrorists was to put them out of business.

It is time the world realised, as Stephens argues very convincingly, that unless it sheds double standards and unites against terrorism, it will do a great disservice to global democracy and peace.

Let the mindless shibboleths that have hitherto stood terrorists of all hues in good stead be discarded and the bull of barbaric terror taken by the horns!

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