Many an aspect of Sri Lanka's successful war has been discussed. Its proponents are jubilant over military victory over terrorism and the resultant freedom from fear and obviation of threats to national security, while its opponents stay focused on the external costs of the conflagration including displacement which the government is struggling to tackle at present.
But, what was the real cost of Sri Lanka's war on terror in monetary terms? And how does it compare with the cost of major anti-terror offensives elsewhere?
One main argument against the war here a few years ago was that the economy could not afford it. Those who wanted to take on the LTTE militarily were accused of trying to bankrupt the economy and ruin the country's future. There were many foreign funded workshops and advertising campaigns to sell the idea that Sri Lanka was without an alternative to suing for peace with the LTTE.
Appeasement, it was argued, was the only way to avert an economic disaster. This kind of scaremongering and the attendant fear psychosis underpinned the past peace efforts which helped the LTTE go from strength to strength. The carrot some prominent members of the international community dangled before Sri Lanka to lure her into mollycoddling the LTTE and treading the path of negotiations infested with booby traps, was an aid pledge of US dollars 4.5 billion in 2002!
In battling the LTTE, described as the most ruthless terrorist organisation, Sri Lanka spent US dollars 4.2 billion from 2006 to 2009. However, this expenditure was not entirely on combat operations conducted in the Eastern and Northern Provinces. The defence budget prior to the recommencement of war stood at around 1.1 per cent of GDP. That is about US dollars 1.6 billion could be considered 'non-conflict' defence expenditure, which the country would have had to incur anyway. Therefore, the actual cost of the war that delivered the country from the clutches of terrorism was only US dollars 2.6 billion, which is approximately one half of the aid package (US dollars 4.5) that Sri Lanka at one time tried to obtain at the expense of her sovereignty, territorial integrity and public security.
Today, Sri Lanka is already reaping the dividends of defeating terrorism. Her foreign reserves have improved considerably; inflation has come down––at present it is 0.7 per cent; tourism is reviving and foreign investment coming in.
The US has been all out to destroy its terrorists all these years. By April 2009, it had expended US dollars 694 billion on military operations in Iraq alone! (In Vietnam, it spent US dollars 686 billion.) In Afghanistan, America's hunt for the elusive Al Qaeda has, so far, cost the US taxpayers US dollars 223 billion. Worse, the US has to go on throwing at least US dollars 100 billion at its terrorist problem year in and year out, perhaps till kingdom come.
(A wag says the US should seriously consider outsourcing the prosecution of its war on terror to Sri Lanka, which is capable of doing a much better job at a lower cost! After all, according to the UNP, several architects of Sri Lanka's successful war, including Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and former Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, are US Green Card holders. Sri Lanka, the same wag suggests, could design a cut-price counter-terrorism package!)
Sri Lanka would have won her war much earlier at a lower cost in terms of funds and loss of life and property but for the despicable backing the LTTE received from some rogue members of the international community. The US is free from such frustratingly formidable impediments in its wars as no country dares interfere with its affairs, military or otherwise.
Regrettably, some leading nations that opposed Hitler and helped rid the world of his brand of terrorism shamelessly backed Prabhakaran and his killers in all but name thus making war on terror an uphill task for Sri Lanka, which is being persecuted even after defeating terrorism.
Tiny as Sri Lanka may be, the world has a lot to learn from her war against terrorism. She has exploded the myth that terrorism defies military action and negotiations are the only remedy. Debunking such baseless myths which terrorists draw sustenance from is a prerequisite for defeating terrorism anywhere in the world.
Sri Lanka certainly deserves a better deal from the West, which has been battling terrorism without success at a huge cost, for showing the way.