Colombo, May 2 (Daily Express): The Easter Sunday multiple suicide bombings in Sri Lanka have had an impact on the country’s external relations and on the domestic social, economic and political front.
Looking at the impact on the country’s external relations first, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has become quite dependent on the US and its Western allies for intelligence on the Islamic State (IS) and its world-wide tentacles. The West has been fighting with the IS and al Qaeda for many years now and has a fund of knowledge and expertise in this matter.
America’s FBI and British intelligence officials are already in Colombo participating in the investigations into the IS network including the National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ) and the Jamaathei Millathu Ibraheemi (JMI) which had carried out the blasts in a joint operation on April 21.
Since Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe feels that the blasts were carried out under the command of some elements based outside the island, the dependence on international intelligence agencies will only grow, especially since the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka Alaina Teplitz has said publicly that further attacks are possible.
The reappearance of the IS leader Abu Bakr-al Bhagdadi in a new IS video, his threat to fight a “long war” and his celebration of the Lanka bombings will enable the US to have a foothold in Sri Lanka’s security and political Establishments indefinitely though the US embassy has said that American presence will be a short one.
After helping the Sri Lankan Security Forces with vital intelligence on the Tamil Tigers’ “floating warehouses” during the war, the US intensified its military involvement in Sri Lanka. It has given US$ 39 million in aid for defense-related expenses. A Coast Guard Cutter has been given. Joint naval exercises on disaster management have been held in Trincomalee and Hambantota harbors. In addition, there is a logistics agreement and an American Air Logistics Hub in Katunanayake airbase, north of Colombo.
The US military and political interest in Sri Lanka is primarily rooted in the growing Chinese economic (and possibly strategic) footprint in Sri Lanka. However, it is also believed that the IS could have been irritated by the increasing American presence in Sri Lanka, and hence the bombing of places where Westerners gather and where Christians congregate.
Be that as it may, the addition of the IS factor to the existing China factor helps the US dig its boots into Sri Lanka.
And as The Sunday Times reported, the US would like to get all it wants from Sri Lanka while Sirisena and Wickremesinghe are in power. The Americans know that the duo may not get re-elected and the next man in, mostly probably Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is expected to be independent if not pro-China.
The Wickremesinghe regime is also humoring the US and the West so that the Western nations do not press for the implemention of the UNHRC resolutions on human rights in Sri Lanka. The government is said to be signing on the dotted line on pacts suggested by the US.
It is in view of this that the opposition Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is vehemently opposing any plan to let American troops or American intelligence personnel in.
Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that the bulk of the intelligence work could be done by Lankan intelligence, which had only a decade ago broken the cells of the deadly Tamil Tigers and eliminated their leaders.
While relations with the US and the West are expected to be a bit problematic with the public mood being against close ties with the US and the West, relations with India are likely to improve because it was India which had given actionable intelligence 16 days before the April 21 blasts which killed 253 people including 40 foreigners. It had repeated the input two more times.
To a man, Sri Lankans are blaming Lankan security officials and political leaders for turning a blind eye to the intelligence inputs and turning a deaf ear to complaints about Islamic radicals in the past three years. However, Sri Lankans will tolerate India only so long as it remains in the background and does not make its presence felt as the US does.
Sri Lanka’s relations with China will be unaffected because in the absence of US and Western investments in infrastructure development, the island nation will have to depend on China which has liberally funded the building of roads, railways, airports and seaports.
Even the pro-West Wickremesinghe regime has given more projects to China than to any other country. However, relations with China will be even more warm if one of the Rajapaksas comes to power in the elections due at the end of 2019.
Impact on International Situation
The Catholic leader Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has appealed to political parties not to politicize the blasts and has asked them to postpone elections to ensure concentration on cracking the terror network and maintaining national peace and harmony. But politicians of all hues are using the blasts to enhance their political chances and weaken their rivals.
Nobody or no political party is communalizing the blasts or seeking to humiliate, persecute or attack the Muslims community as such. They are saying with one voice that the perpetrators of the attacks were misguided individuals under the influence of a foreign terror group. But Muslim politicians, MPs and Ministers are being singled out for attacks by politicians from other communities.
This is because it is believed that Muslim leaders had been pampered by successive Sri Lankan governments and that these leaders had misused the privileges to continue to do communal politics.
Eastern Province Governor MLAM Hisbullah is being accused of getting Saudi money to set up a grandiose Sharia University which could be a breeding ground for Wahabist/Salafist ideology, which Islamic terrorists imbibe and uphold. Some key Muslim leaders’ staff have been arrested for possessing weapons like swords and explosives.
President Sirisena is using the post-blasts fear and apprehension to show that he can take resolute action in the interest of the country and live down the image that he has been ineffective for the last four years.
On May Day he declared that he is ready to sacrifice his life to protect the country against terror. He has said that terrorists attacked Sri Lanka because of his strong anti-drug campaign. He said terror groups survive on drug smuggling and that the IS was enraged because he was coming down heavily on drug trafficking.
He has promised action against officials who did not act on the intelligence made available by India. A good number of conspirators have been arrested under his orders.
While Sirisena’s actions are appreciated, there is still a deep-rooted feeling that he has been a weak leader under the thumb of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who himself had not been a hands-on man. There is a general yearning among Sri Lankans, including Muslims, that the country needs a strong leader who will deliver on all fronts including national security and economic development.
The duo – Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa – had delivered on both the national security and economic fronts when they were in power between 2005 and 2014. Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said that he is going to a candidate for the Presidency. If he is released from US citizenship and he contests, he has the best chance of winning.
But to weaken Gotabaya, the President, Prime Minister and other ministers are linking him with the National Tawheed Jamaath (NTJ) whose founder leader Zahran Hashim was a suicide bomber and leader of the bombing squad.
Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said that when Gotabaya was Defense Secretary he had used some NTJ members as spies for Military Intelligence.
There also a number of cases against Gotabaya in the courts. These cases are being pursued vigorously now.