Round Table Discussion on Sri Lanka: Reeling Under the Attack
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A round table discussion (RTD) was held on 16th May 2019 at the VIF to discuss the recent terror attacks in Sri Lanka. The discussants included Major General Ashok Mehta, Dr Adil Rashid, Dr Smruti Pattanaik, Prof S D Muni, Dr Sreeradha Datta, Ambassador Anil Wadhwa and Professor Sujit Dutta. Dr Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF, opened the discussion by marking the recent terror attacks in Colombo on 21st April 2019, as the one of the worst and most significant attacks of the recent times. He raised the question on the extent of radicalization in our neighbourhood and a possible connection with India itself. It also leads into an enquiry of the operating model at hand used by the terror groups. It further draws our attention to the specter of radicalization in our own societies.

The discussion began with posing a question on the revival of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) and the other prominent threats for Sri Lanka at present. It was believed that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or the Islamic State (ISIS, IS) found Sri Lanka as a soft target and caught them with their guards down to leverage the alienated and radicalized Muslim population, even by aiming the attacks at populous locations like hotels and churches. The Muslim alienation was traced back to the days of LTTE, suggesting that today this fault-line between Singhalese and National Tawheed Jamath (NTJ) was further fueled by the Rohingya crisis. The silent radicalization of the Muslim population was unheeded by the authorities, even though the Muslims themselves kept hinting at radicalization in the society. There has always been an over focus on LTTE in Sri Lanka. The fatal episode between the Sri Lankan President and Prime Minister too cannot be discounted in this mishap. The attacks were also agreed to be a total intelligence failure. The after-effects of the attacks are predicted to be horrendous for the economy of Sri Lanka, which is also heavily dependent on the Chinese.

The Al Qaeda had claimed of its chapter opened in South Asia back in 2014. Alienation is quite prevalent in all these countries and it creates the very fabric of radicalism. ISIS and other groups are making a global appeal to the youth by such extremist ideologies. These movements are seen to have supporters at all times and will have to be dealt with irrespective of grievances or alienation. Also, there is a growing incidence of Islamic symbolism in South Asia today, especially in terms of attire. Islamism has definitely taken its roots in South Asia and the new mutations are worrisome.

In India’s context, the Al Qaeda and ISIS were absent from India for long, probably due to the presence of other local groups. However, now the Salafi Jihadist Narrative is looking to dovetail its narrative with the universal Islamic ideology to declare an asymmetric war against the international system. In Kashmir, the ISIS has recently declared Vilayat-e-Hind. There is incidence of Kashmiri youth furtively learning and adapting to Salafi Jihad. It is the lack of trust in national institutions that has made the Muslim Community very silent, which further hints at something very insidious coming our way. On the other hand South India is an example of the global appeal of the ISIS ideology taking over a society with no communal disturbance or otherwise. It was emphasized that there are various versions of Islam which we thoroughly need to enquire into. We must have a nuanced understanding of both home grown and global terrorist groups. Indian Muslims should be our bulwark for which their trust needs to be won.

It makes more sense to take Maldives, Maynamar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka on board to meet this challenge, even if it is within the framework of regional organisations like BIMSTEC or SAARC. The terror programme of SAARC has been effective by far but definitely needs more and a strong bilateral framework. BIMSTEC, on the other hand, might be too loose a framework for the requisite actions. Proposed Solution against the Existing Threat.

It was suggested that if we endorse more Sufism in the country, as is suggested by many, then we would only be further alienating the very segment of the population which is susceptible to radicalization or extremist messages. The need is to counter the messages on social media by our own messages. The idea should be to get involved on a larger scale now. Also, intelligence sharing is a mandate, like with Bangladesh. An annual defence dialogue can resume between the regional countries. Particularly, the mentality developed by Sri Lanka post 2009 must be avoided by all. It is recommended to have nodal points in networks of countries which must take up an ideological challenge to preach counter radicalization with a whole network of South and South East Asian countries. We should also leverage the positive dimensions of Islam to fight the darker elements.

Event Date 
May 16, 2019

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