Build­ing Democ­racy

Af­ter the Tamil in­sur­gency ended in Sri Lanka in 2009, the mil­i­tary got a chance to in­crease its pres­ence in the af­fected ar­eas and even be­come in­volved in com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties. This trend needs to be cur­tailed to pro­mote more demo­cratic prac­tices.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan

The coun­try is mak­ing ef­forts to build its democ­racy de­spite

many odds.

The mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to en­croach on the civil­ian space in Sri Lanka with the main con­cen­tra­tion of the armed forces and projects in the civil war-af­fected ar­eas in the coun­try’s north and east. Mil­i­ta­riza­tion of Sri Lankan so­ci­ety and state goes on un­abat­edly de­spite the end of the deadly Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009) be­tween the Sin­halese ma­jor­ity-dom­i­nated state and the mil­i­tary and the Lib­er­a­tion of Tamil Tigers of Ealam (LTTE). The LTTE was a sep­a­ratist group strug­gling for a new state for the mi­nor­ity Tamil pop­u­la­tion of Sri Lanka. The Tamil pop­u­la­tion of Sri Lanka is largely con­cen­trated in the coun­try’s north and east. The in­creas­ing mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the Sri Lankan state and so­ci­ety has had per­va­sive con­se­quences for the pop­u­la­tion at dif­fer­ent lev­els, in­clud­ing phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal, par­tic­u­larly the Tamil mi­nor­ity.

In my view mil­i­ta­riza­tion could be ex­plained as a macro-so­ci­o­log­i­cal process in which the coun­try’s mil­i­tary in­creas­ingly takes con­trol of var­i­ous as­pects of so­cial life and par­tic­u­larly the state and its in­sti­tu­tions, which are oth­er­wise con­sid­ered as the do­main of the elected or civil­ian au­thor­i­ties. Against this back­drop the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of Sri Lanka is go­ing on in nearly all ar­eas of so­cial life.

In Sri Lanka, a very im­por­tant as­pect of the post-con­flict sce­nario is mil­i­ta­riza­tion in the name of de­vel­op­ment. Af­ter the end of the civil war in the coun­try, the mil­i­tary was given or ap­pro­pri­ated for it­self a huge and def­i­nite role in the reconstruction and de­vel­op­ment. The de­vel­op­ment process in the Tamil-dom­i­nated north and east of Sri Lanka, which has been the the­atre of the in­sur­gency by the LTTE has not only been dic­tated by the mil­i­tary but also im­ple­mented by it. So pro­nounced has been the in­volve­ment of the mil­i­tary in the de­vel­op­ment of the north­ern parts of Sri Lanka that even as late as 2013, four years af­ter the end of the Tamil in­sur­gency, a com­mit­tee in the North that came to­gether to pre­pare de­vel­op­ment plans for 2013 was re­port­edly con­vened at the Head­quar­ters of 55 Di­vi­sion in Vet­ti­laik­erny and chaired by the area’s mil­i­tary com­mand­ing of­fi­cer.

In 2009, an­nounc­ing the in­volve­ment of the mil­i­tary in the postin­sur­gency de­vel­op­ment process, the North­ern Se­cu­rity Forces Com­man­der had stated that with the elim­i­na­tion of ter­ror in the north, "se­cu­rity forces will be en­gaged in a new role of de­vel­op­ing the re­gion." The mil­i­tary be­gan to play a proac­tive role in de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­i­ties, to the point where per­mis­sion to im­ple­ment projects or de­vel­op­ment work was sub­ject to au­tho­riza­tion by the mil­i­tary per­son­nel. This was a grave mis­take. The com­man­der could not fathom that the ter­ror in the Tamil in­hab­ited re­gions was the out­come of lack of de­vel­op­ment of the peo­ple and their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the gov­er­nance and up­lift process and that an im­posed de­vel­op­ment could never have the de­sired re­sults. There are ex­am­ples of de­vel­op­ment car­ried out by colo­nial rulers in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, par­tic­u­larly in the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, in­clud­ing Sri Lanka. De­spite lay­ing the foun­da­tion of mod­ern con­cept of de­vel­op­ment, the peo­ple of the sub­con­ti­nent did not stop de­mand­ing free­dom for them­selves and their lands as the process was im­posed upon the peo­ple.

The de­vel­op­ment process im­posed upon a peo­ple or area from the out­side is al­ways prob­lem-rid­den be­cause it is not car­ried out by the de­vel­op­ment prac­ti­tion­ers af­ter hav­ing done ‘de­vel­op­ment need as­sess­ment’ of the lo­cal peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties. In other words, real de­vel­op­ment re­quires par­tic­i­pa­tion of lo­cal res­i­dents. Against this back­drop, the mil­i­tary-led post­con­flict de­vel­op­ment in Sri Lanka has been car­ried out from the stand­point of the Sin­halese-dom­i­nated Sri Lankan state and its in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing the mil­i­tary, which may not be in the in­ter­est of the Tamil-in­hab­ited north and east of the coun­try. The ge­n­e­sis of the civil war in Sri Lanka was in dis­crim­i­na­tion, which the Sri Lankan state since its birth in 1948 had been do­ing with the Tamil in­hab­ited ar­eas in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and pro­vi­sion of their po­lit­i­cal and so­cial rights. It was large-scale un­der­de­vel­op­ment of the Tamil in­hab­ited ar­eas vis-àvis other parts (mostly Sin­halese pop­u­lated) of Sri Lanka that re­sulted in a deep-rooted feel­ing of de­pri­va­tion and dis­em­pow­er­ment within the pop­u­la­tion. There­fore, if in the post­con­flict sce­nario, reconstruction and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment is car­ried out in the north and east of the coun­try by the mil­i­tary it is un­ac­cept­able to the Tamil pop­u­la­tion. Ob­vi­ously af­ter the trounc­ing of the LTTE in­sur­gency, com­mon Tamils can­not speak against any mea­sure of the state in­clud­ing the reconstruction and de­vel­op­men­tal process but this does not mean that they are happy with the mil­i­tary-led de­vel­op­ment. This is tan­ta­mount to sow­ing the seeds of fu­ture con­flict in th­ese ar­eas and the coun­try in gen­eral. The Sri Lankan state needs to be very cau­tious in this re­gard.

Mil­i­ta­riza­tion in the north and east of Sri Lanka is also said to be quite ob­vi­ous in the form of the mil­i­tary’s in­volve­ment in the civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion and more sor­didly in com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties. In­so­far as the mil­i­tary’s in­volve­ment in civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion in the north of the coun­try is con­cerned this could be un­der­stand­able in the im­me­di­ate post-con­flict sit­u­a­tion. No­tice­ably, the in­sur­gency by the LTTE ended in 2009. How­ever, the mil­i­tary’s in­volve­ment in civil­ian af­fairs to­day can­not be war­ranted be­cause this cre­ates enor­mous ill-will among the peo­ple, who hap­pen to be mi­nor­ity Tamils. The state should have de­vel­oped the ca­pac­ity of lo­cal civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion and should have en­sured in­creas­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and in­di­vid­u­als in gov­er­nance and ad­min­is­tra­tion. In this way a sus­tain­able gov­er­nance and ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture could be put in place in the north and east of the coun­try. Un­for­tu­nately, this has not hap­pened and see­ing the sit­u­a­tion as get­ting some­what un­man­age­able the state is in­creas­ingly re­ly­ing on the mil­i­tary to run the civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion. But this is a crit­i­cal mis­take which would have neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions in the fu­ture.

The in­volve­ment of the mil­i­tary in com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties in Sri Lanka, es­pe­cially in the north­east of the coun­try will also have se­ri­ous reper­cus­sions for the civil­ians, par­tic­u­larly in­hab­i­tants of the in­sur­gency and counter in­sur­gency-af­fected ar­eas. Mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties squeezes the eco­nomic space for the civil­ians. Again in­sur­gency in Tamil-in­hab­ited parts of Sri Lanka was the re­sult of large-scale un­em­ploy­ment and poverty in the re­gions. If the mil­i­tary is en­croach­ing on the com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties then the lo­cals would have fewer and fewer busi­ness and work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and its con­se­quences could be dis­as­trous in the long run.

The fu­ture of a peace­ful and de­vel­op­ing Sri Lanka de­pends on eq­ui­table op­por­tu­ni­ties in all spheres for all the cit­i­zens of the state. Spe­cial fo­cus must be con­cen­trated on the in­sur­gency af­fected ar­eas so that the sense of be­long­ing of the mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups in the state and its in­sti­tu­tions could be re­stored. In­creas­ing mil­i­tary pres­ence and in­volve­ment in the de­vel­op­ment and eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties does not au­gur well for the coun­try and its fu­ture. The writer is a po­lit­i­cal-econ­omy and se­cu­rity an­a­lyst hold­ing a doc­toral de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions.


The mil­i­tary’s in­volve­ment in civil­ian af­fairs to­day can­not be war­ranted be­cause this cre­ates enor­mous ill-will among the peo­ple.

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