Pakistan, SL’s infallible friend

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By 2018-01-08

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe

The West would like us to believe that Pakistan is a land of rogues. Almost daily, we hear of a country beleaguered by terrorism, religious extremism and political instability. Last week Trump lamented that the Pakistanis have taken American leaders for fools. He insinuated that Pakistan had somehow tricked US into giving USD 33 billion over the last 15 years, while giving "safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help," and giving nothing in return except for "lies and deceit". He vowed not to do so any longer.

The very next day China refuted Trump's accusations. Pakistan has made an outstanding contribution to counter global terrorism with enormous efforts and sacrifices, said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang. He went on to praise Pakistan for its engaging role in international cooperation, counter-terrorism and mutual respect to contribute to regional peace and stability.
Our relationship with Pakistan during its own experience with three decades of terrorism certainly attests to this Chinese assertion. Pakistan was one of the few countries that rendered all the assistance that we sought whilst standing steadily by our side, even in our most vulnerable moments. This should be appreciated when all the so-called civilized nations such as Britain, Canada and those in the European Union salivated over destabilizing Sri Lanka. They also tried to tie Sri Lanka's hands behind her back to ease the task for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The much touted anti-personal (AP) mine ban convention, aka the Ottawa Convention, is a case in point. Throughout its lifespan, the LTTE used landmines indiscriminately. An example for this is the infamous 1983 attack on army personnel that led to attacks on Tamils, which in turn legitimized terrorism. Since then, the LTTE used mines and even improvised them beyond internationally acceptable norms. They often buried an AP mine on top of another, so that the ground still remained stealthily lethal even if the first is removed. Major General Kamal Gunaratne's Road to Nandikadal explains how the LTTE used mines to lay siege to army camps. Unlike the professional Sri Lankan army that maintained strict maps and ensured that mines were buried in set patterns, the LTTE did not. Hence, almost nine years after successfully concluding the war, we are still de-mining.
Yet, the International pressure had always been for the Government of Sri Lanka to ban AP mines that the Army used mostly to protect its perimeters. Even after the Kebithigollewa massacre, whose victims mostly consisted of expectant mothers, the west remained dumb to LTTE atrocities. The very countries that drop explosives worth millions of dollars into other territories got very upset over the civilian maiming caused by AP mines.

The Sri Lankan security forces are an arm of a legitimate government of a sovereign country. Still, throughout our war against terrorism, equipping forces adequately had always been a challenge to every successive government. It was not the LTTE that had to keep up with the Security Forces' weaponry, but the other way round.

It is not a secret that the LTTE was armed and funded by the Tamil Diaspora. It is also not a secret that this extremist group is domiciled and operates in the West. It is also a well-known fact that, LTTE funders, ideologists and senior terrorists have been living openly as citizens of western countries to date. Now that the LTTE is no more, those very groups together with those governments are pushing us to fulfil the LTTE dream via a new constitution. This is obvious despite pathetic attempts to camouflage their nefarious plans. These groups while studiously ignoring LTTE's atrocious deeds are demanding justice and reparations from the security forces.

One lesson we learned from fighting and defeating terrorism is that terrorists are not some raggedy bunch of gun toting boys. They are merely the sacrifice. The real terrorists are well-dressed, well-fed, educated, and far removed from jungles and are in positions of power. Their agenda is geopolitical. Their bottom line is not humanity, but regional and global superiority.

Pakistan's troubles: A Complex
In that context, it is interesting to study Trump's lament. Why would Pakistan support terrorism that is killing thousands of Pakistanis every year? When and how did Pakistan get embroiled in terrorism? It certainly did not start with 9/11.

Trump may shout rhetoric and lay the full blame on Pakistan's shoulders, but the actual scenario is quite complex. Sandwiched between the troubled state Afghanistan and the trouble-maker India, Pakistan has a lot on its plate. The Afghans' troubles escalated when Russia 'intervened' in December 1979. The Soviets were trying to prevent an all-out civil war and a hostile Islamic force from taking over the government. The Americans wanting to rid the Soviets armed and funded the insurgents. After ten years, Soviets finally withdrew, leaving Afghanistan shattered, paving the way to the very thing they tried to stop - the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban seizing control. Osama bin Laden rose from these very grounds.

This was during the height of Cold War. Russia was with India, so naturally Pakistan was with the Americans. Thus, did Pakistan really have a choice then but to support the insurgents as US would have expected? Even if they did not want to, with the vast areas encompassing the Afghan-Pakistan borders through rugged terrain, is it feasible for the Pakistani military to stop insurgents from moving back and forth - especially, if both sides of the borders are more or less kith and kin.

When America too is facing a huge debt, Trump's threat to stop aid to Pakistan may be out of sheer necessity than annoyance. However, it is not that easy for US to pull out now. US cannot afford to let Pakistan, now a nuclear state, fall economically. It is mainly social injustice (real or perceived) and poverty that feeds terrorist organizations with fresh recruits. Therefore, the US must continue to pay. After all, Pakistan's problem today is the monster that the US created yesterday.

Combating Afghan insurgencies
If Trump is serious about pulling out, he needs to do more than just huff. He must pump more money into both Pakistan's military and schooling. If Pakistan's military is better equipped, trained and supported, then perhaps Pakistan would not be hesitant to take on Afghan insurgents. As it is, with India gnawing from one side, funding terrorism in Kashmir and separatism in Balochistan, Pakistan is not likely to get entangled with its neighbour on the other side. Thus, Trump must press hard on his newfound friend Modi, to ease off Pakistan and to stop using terrorism to drain Pakistan's finances.

Once internal security in Pakistan; for which India has gone to great lengths to corrode, improves, it will be safer for children in remote areas and peripheries to attend school once more. With proper education and consequent opportunities and not mere religious teachings from mullahs (whose grasp on their own religion remains dismally low), terrorist organizations will be starved for recruits.

Pakistan has shown solidarity with us over the Indian sponsored terrorism involving Northern Sri Lankan Tamils. As of recent, Buddhists and Muslims in Sri Lanka have been deliberately provoked by certain parties. Yet, Pakistan still has not sided, supported or sympathized with Muslims. Their relationship has always been only with the Sri Lankan Government and not with any particular community. Another lesson for India is the care Pakistan had shown towards Buddhist ruins within its borders, which have been carefully preserved and promoted.

As easy as it is to snigger at Trump's buffoonery, America must realize that its foreign policy had failed and has become an endless drain on their economy and the world is fast becoming a more dangerous place for Americans. It is time for the US to become smart. If they want sincerity from countries like ours, then they must first be sincere. They must place humanity before their own interests.

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