The world has a lot to learn from Sri Lanka. This island nation, south of India, was torn by a vicious civil war for twenty-six years, which ended in 2009 with a clear victory for government forces over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Since then, the ruling authorities have done a remarkable job forging reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation with the Tamil minority. This is truly an example of how military victory needs to be followed up by forgiveness and peacemaking, two senior researchers on Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism said.
The Sri Lankan government proceeded to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure in the LTTE controlled areas of the island. It constructed a network of new roads, bridges, schools and hospitals and provided economic and vocational assistance to the returning IDP resulting in over 20 percent annual growth in the northeastern parts of Sri Lanka, Arie Kruglanski and Michele Gelfand wrote.
"Particularly impressive was the government’s treatment of the nearly twelve thousand LTTE fighters who surrendered to the Sri Lankan Army. Given the bloodiness of the protracted fight, the heavy casualties suffered by the military and the murderous track record of the LTTE, the surrendees feared the worst (our interviews indicate). They were in for a shocking surprise. President Rajapaksa publicly instructed the army "to treat them as your children." Rather than being imprisoned or punished, a vast majority of the LTTE cadres were put in rehabilitation centers where they were offered vocational education, artistic activities, psychological and spiritual counseling," they said.
Systematic empirical research we have carried out with thousands of detained LTTE fighters yielded encouraging results. Over time, Tamil attitudes toward the Sinhalese have significantly improved; this seems attributable to the rehabilitation programs rather than the mere time away from the “killing fields.” Of the twelve thousand initial inmates of the rehab centers, over ten thousand have been released to their villages, and efforts are being made to reintegrate them into their communities.
To be sure, the process wasn’t perfect. Unfortunately, as often happens, numerous civilians (used by the LTTE as human shields) perished in the final fight. At present, members of the international community, including the United States, are questioning the intensity of the army’s onslaught and accuse the Sri Lankan government of human-rights abuses. The Sri Lankans, for their part, feel disappointed by what they see as hypocrisy and betrayal by nations they had considered allies in the global war on terror.
As academics, we are unwilling to take sides in that debate. We would like to bear witness, however, to the remarkable reconciliation efforts by the Sri Lankan government that we saw on several recent visits to this country in our capacity as terrorism researchers, they added.
A great deal remains to be done, hopefully with the full participation of the international community. The tasks ahead are challenging, yet there are reasons for optimism.
The world would do well to pay attention to the case of the Tamils and the Sinhalese. The United States urges the Pakistani and Afghan armies to crack down harder on Taliban and other extremists, but does anyone have a plan for what to do after the war on terror is won? Sri Lanka does.
Arie Kruglanski is a distinguished university professor and Michele Gelfand is a distinguished scholar reacher at the University of Maryland, College Park. Both are senior researchers at the National Center for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism.
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