Sri Lanka witnessed one of the worst militant attacks in a decade on the Easter Sunday. Militancy in Sri Lanka is not new. Sri Lanka saw peace and prosperity since the brutal Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) was defeated in May 2009 after 26 years of civil war. It is estimated that around 70,000 people were killed in the conflict. As one of the beautiful country tourists started coming in lakhs after 2009. Last year, Sri Lanka welcomed around twenty lakh tourists. But, the Easter Sunday bombings will once again affect the tourism and so Sri Lankan economy.
The attacks on Sri Lanka show us that no country is safe. The Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks. A senior government official said the suicide bombings were ‘in retaliation’ for the attacks on two Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15th March. The Mosques in New Zealand were attacked by white supremacist terrorist from Australia. New Zealand is one of the most peaceful nations in the world.
The presence of IS in the neighbouring country and its capacity to strike should be a matter of concern to India and South Asia. Nobody noticed the presence of IS in Sri Lanka. The terrorist organisation does have a presence in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan. Many Muslim youths from Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan had gone to Syria and Iraq to join IS and fight for the Islamic State. Even some Indians joined IS. Now, Syria and Iraq are liberated from the militants and so most of them returned to their home and started militancy in their own country. In July 2016, a group in Bangladesh linked to IS attacked a Holey Artisan Bakery favoured by Westerners and killed 20 including an Indian girl. The scenario in the Maldives, an archipelago of 1,200 islands, is also a matter of concern. The recent victory of liberal Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in the Presidential and Parliamentary elections is a positive development and gives some hope. They need to act against the growing influence of radical Wahhabis in the country of around four and a half lakh population.
The island nation of Sri Lanka has around 70 per cent Buddhist Sinhalese population. It is followed by the Hindus who consists of about 12 per cent and the Muslims 10 per cent. The minority Christian population are mainly in cities. The attackers were local Sri Lankan Muslims. They were well educated and belonged to wealthy families. The capital city of Colombo has a sizeable Muslim population.
Earlier, Muslims were supporting Tamil cause but they parted after LTTE attacked Muslims.
The attacks could have been stopped. Sri Lankan authorities were warned by foreign security agencies couple of months ago that radical Islamic organization is likely to commit terrorist attacks. Indian agency had also warned. But, the authorities ignored warning signs and failed to act. The local militant organization National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) was not known to have such kind of destructive capacity. It was known for attacks on Buddhists. The IS provided them support. The blame game started. Surprisingly, both Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said they were unaware of the intelligence input, though the security agencies had received prior intelligence. Probably, they failed to act on intelligence information as the Sri Lankan government is bitterly divided between the President and PM. Last October Sirisena removed PM Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Finally, the Supreme Court intervened and Wickremesinghe was reinstated. The Presidential elections are likely to be held at the end of the year and Parliament next year. Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned following security forces failure to stop the deadly attacks.
Militancy is a global threat. Their networks are international. They can be defeated only by sharing intelligence information globally and by concerted action. In South Asia, it is time to revive SAARC, share intelligence information and act in an organized manner.