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Post Conflict Role of the Army in the North and East, and maintenance of the Professional Image and Dignity of the Army

( Created date: 12-Aug-2013 )

Expansion of the summing up by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha
of the last session of the Seminar on
Post Conflict Role of the Army in the North and East, and maintenance of the Professional Image and Dignity of the Army - Buttala Officer Career Development Centre, August 7th 2013


In summing up this last session, I will try also to sum up the Seminar as a whole, since I think this was a timely initiative with thought provoking presentations made by both the civilians and the officers who participated. I believe these need to be connected to make clear the lines along which we should proceed in fulfilling the tasks we are discussing.

The first session dealt with what is needed in general, and the constraints on work in the North. This was followed by a session on what the forces are doing, while the third session gave a case study as it were of the way in which the forces work in the field of Disaster Management, the most obvious field in which military involvement is essential. Finally we had a conceptual approach to the task of National Building.

In a sense this mirrored the general account by General Udaya Perera of the role of the armed forces, when he spoke of the physical role they fulfilled, and then noted the moral and conceptual perspectives they needed to adopt. To put this simplistically, we need to know what we are doing, but also why we are doing it. The rationale has to have a moral purpose, and then we need to understand how the task must fulfil the purpose. We need then to see too that work that negates that purpose, even though it seems a short cut to an obvious objective, can nullify all our efforts.

Thus we had to defeat the Tigers, but we had to do this on behalf of the Tamil people too, since they are an integral part of the nation we were fighting to hold together. And this perspective has to continue too after the fighting has ceased, because as General Aruna Perera indicated, when there is a fragile peace, you have to continue with operations other than war to ensure that it becomes solid and sustainable.  

Unfortunately, as Mr Divaratne pointed out in the opening presentation, when he laid out what government has done in the North, we are lacking a conceptual framework for Reconciliation, which should inform all our work, so that the physical efforts you are putting in are seen to be part of a moral commitment.  General Aruna Perera noted that, beyond the basic needs that we fulfilled so swiftly, the people also have a thirst for esteem and self-realization that we have not done enough to fulfil.

Underlying this is the failure to treat each of the 5 Rs we talk about as an end in itself. We all know about Resettlement and Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, and we can show what we have achieved in these areas, but we then wonder for a moment what the other two are. Or, rather, we know about Reconciliation, since we have now understood, if a bit late, the importance of the LLRC Report and the Action Plan based on it, but we are at a loss to see or show what has been done in this area. This may be because, as Mr Sugathadasa made clear, in his exposition of the six pillars through which government is endeavouring to build up the nation, much of what has been done is about building up the state. The spiritual dimension as it were that nation building requires is dealt with cursorily, as can be seen indeed from the fact that the trilingual initiative has barely got off the ground four years after the war, while physical infrastructure, which costs more money but needs much less strategic planning, proceeds apace.

In one sense this is also because we have practically ignored the other R, the link between the physical work of Resettlement and Rehabilitation as we have practiced it and Reconstruction, on the one hand, and the spiritual goal of Reconciliaiton on the other. In a word, we have scarcely thought about Reintegration.

Nearly five years ago, when I was Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, when the Ministry that had the mandate was doing virtually nothing about it, we developed with the help of ILO a plan for Rehabilitation and Reintegration. But that was never adopted, rather as the Draft Policy on Reconciliation that I prepared has been lost. Thus, though Rehabilitation was done well, through the forces, with several successive Commissioners General of Rehabilitation fulfilling their responsibilities admirably, they were not able to do enough about Reintegration, since they did not have a mandate for this. When I referred to this shortcoming the Secretary of Defence said they were doing it, but I pointed out that they needed a mandate since otherwise they could not plan and deploy funds coherently.

And so we have a situation where, though people have been resettled, and livelihoods have been re-established, there are no coherent programmes for vocational training and job creation and value addition for agriculture and micro-credit for the development of cooperatives. And saddest of all, we have not developed community responsibility, through the institution of cultures and the  encouragement of initiatives. As Dr Bandara pointed out, in his fascination paper on rebuilding community resilience, we need to develop both formal and informal networks.

This requires greater attention to what seemed a major plank of the Mahinda Chintanaya, namely the concept of Gramya Raj, but that, like Reintegration and Reconciliation, which it would do much to foster, has been forgotten. The ease and the usefulness of establishing consultative structures at village level, and ensuring that their voices are heard and responded to mean nothing to those who exercise power at higher levels. Again, I have done some papers on this, and indicated how we might empower local communities through local government reforms, and through clear job descriptions for Grama Niladharis, which would ensure consultation for both development and capacity building – but this is of no interest to politicians and decision makers who are concerned only with central authority.

It is heartening though that all those who participated, the civilians and generals who spoke, all of you who participated in the discussions, have noted that much more needs to be done. Dr Bandara noted the problem of ad hoc planning, without participation, and suggested that we should involve communities in planning – and also in evaluation – and that the plans should foster family and community support. To give a simple example of what might have been done, with regard to a matter General Aruna Perera mentioned, such a participatory approach might solve the problem of military involvement in the hospitality trade. That was meant to fulfil a need, but as he noted, it now causes resentment. But this could have been avoided if such ventures were through partnerships with local communities, with ownership being shared, and eventually being passed on.

I believe the appreciations and consultative approach to planning your military training involves would benefit others too, our administration as well as the communities we need to empower. The ideas we have shared here will I hope be taken further through follow up discussions with practical recommendations. I have suggested that, after your internal evaluation of the seminar, you have a workshop together with the civil participants from so many crucial fields, the Human Rights Commission, the LLRC, the DMC, national and international think tanks, to build on the inspiring ideas we have heard.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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