Conflict Resolution As Janus-faced?
WHEN COUNTERINSURGENCY WINS: SRI LANKA’S DEFEAT OF THE TAMIL TIGERS
By Ahmed S. Hashim
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2013, pp. 267, Rs. 850.00
VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 7 July 2014
The author has impressive credentials. With a doctorate from MIT, he has taught at the US Naval War College and lectured at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He is currently Associate Professor at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The catch is that an American of Turkish-Egyptian origin, he served three terms advising the US command in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. His earlier book Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq carried his impression of that conflict. His service in Iraq perhaps explains the term ‘defeat’ in the title. To him, Sri Lanka’s ‘defeat’ of the LTTE is without a doubt ‘the first counter insurgency victory of the twenty-first century’ (p.2). This fixation with ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’ is a conceptual error that Americans have been guilty of across many conflict theatres. It can be be attributed to their strategic thinkers, such as the author; but then, the author’s interest itself can be attributed to socialization in the American school of war fighting. In all fairness to the author, it must be acknowledged that he has taken care to caveat his title and effusive introductory lines covering the death of Prabhakaran by highlighting that military victory is but a step towards conflict resolution. His concluding chapter does justice to the miles that remain for the Sri Lankan state to traverse out of the post-conflict environment it is in. He brings out the important point that victory can be lost in case the politics does not keep pace. That this is not happening in Sri Lanka is apparent with its latest stricture in the UN Human Rights Council which decided with a vote of 23 to 12 and 12 abstentions to investigate Sri Lanka’s record during the final stages of the conflict. It is clear that Prabhakaran may yet have the last laugh with the three Rajapakses—the President, the Defence Minister and his advisor—possibly being arraigned in front of the International Criminal Court at curtains to the conflict. That would indeed be a befitting end, not least from poetic justice point of view but as instruction to governments that watched, and prefer to continue to do so, with hands firmly behind their backs, not excluding the Indian Government. As the regional power, it is curious that Ahmed barely notes India&...