Colombo, Galle, Human Security, Peace and Conflict

Bus bombs

The south is in turmoil after bombs in buses. Allegedly the work of the LTTE, it’s bringing home, once again, the terror & anxiety that many of us thought we had left behind after the Ceasefire Agreement in 2002. Over 20 people have died in the two attacks, scores injured. Once again, civilians are the target of choice – and not just in the North and East. While its doubtful whether investigations into these bombings will ever find the culprits and hold them accountable under the law, the bombings have re-ignited the debate on combating terrorism in Sri Lanka and how we should respond to these attacks. For over 25 years we’ve been talking about this issue, and these bombings, and incidents like Kebbitigollawa in the past, demonstrate just how little progress we’ve made at ensuring a) human security for Sri Lanka’s citizens, irrespective of caste, ethnicity or religion b) formulating a solution that’s sustainable & just as a response for terrorism c) which in turn is a failure of the State and policy makers to fashion a process through which the root causes of terrorism are addressed.

As Indi Samarajiva’s post on his blog points out:

Terrorism is a much abused word and I try not to bandy it, but this is pretty clear. The LTTE is attacking innocent civilians on buses. That is terrorism and it is wrong. No other events justify killing a father on his way to work, or a daughter on the way to school. It is simply not right. I’m so sorry for their families, and I’m so worried. One for my friend, and two because the LTTE seems to be clamoring for escalation so bloody and so loud.

Acknowledging Indi’s insight, the situation in Sri Lanka is perhaps more complex with citizens not just in the South, but also in the North and the East suffering under the pall of terrorism. Furthermore, citizens in the North and the East in particular have suffered the brunt of terrorism (homelessness, despair, trauma, displacement, rape, torture) for over 25 years, leaving not just them, but our entire country scarred for many generations to come.

The bus bombings need to be seen in context – not just as isolated random incidents, but as a larger indictment against those policy makers and decision makers in power and in authority who choose to employ methods such as a renewed war effort to solve what cannot, essentially, be solved through more violence. Of the many responses needed to stop terrorism, war cannot be ruled out, but in the long-term, without parallel political processes, democratisation, and an emphasis on human rights throughout, runs the risk of making the response to terrorism look like the very thing it seeks to destroy.

I guess the bus bombs will for a short while inflame the passions of those who feel that Sri Lanka must wage an all out war and frankly, I think that it’s going to happen in 2007 anyway. The mistake the LTTE makes is that through the killing of innocent civilians, they are merely strengthening the hands of those who are in favour of all out war. The mistake the Government makes is that in responding to attacks through war alone, it alienates further those who are caught up in the middle – ordinary citizens who are battered by both sides, and who just want to live in peace. The mistake all of us make is that this wretched war in Sri Lanka will end in our lifetimes – perhaps we are all doomed to see this beautiful country perennially go up in flames.