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Sunday, 15 June 2014

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Combating terrorism - Sri Lanka leads

Terrorism has raised its ugly head again in Pakistan, bringing operations at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport to a standstill. Day-to-day life in the most populous metropolitan city of Pakistan was severely disrupted when terrorists attacked the international airport twice within 48 hours.

Security forces at Pakistan's busiest airport in Karachi came under attack, a day after militants stormed one of its terminals.

The brazen terrorist assault on Pakistan's largest Karachi Airport that began near midnight last Sunday left almost everybody stunned. It was the Pakistan Taliban's deadliest strike on a state security apparatus - in terms of human casualties, and is a reminder of the massive security challenge from affiliates of Al Qaeda holed up in the mountainous Pakistan-Afghanistan border terrain.

Twenty-eight people and 10 attackers died during a firefight which lasted several hours. Almost all the suspect gunmen were reportedly wearing suicide vests, devices usually worn by terrorists on termination missions. Two terrorists had detonated suicide vests. By putting down the attackers, the security forces preempted a big hostage-taking as the terrorists had dry foodstuff such as dates and chickpeas as well as hand-grenades and petrol bombs which show they had came for a long haul.

Flights at the airport resumed a few days ago. Pakistani Taliban said they carried out both attacks. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had said that the attackers should be "pursued and eliminated".

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in a message to the Pakistani leader, vehemently condemned the terrorist attacks on the Jinnah International Airport. "I am deeply shocked to learn of the heinous terrorist attack. Sri Lanka having been a victim of terrorism for nearly three decades, can empathise with Pakistan's dreadful experience in this instance," President Rajapaksa had said.

The professionalism of the Pakistani security forces and their effective action which mitigated wider damage is commendable. It was obvious that the terrorists had planned to wreak damage on aircraft and hold the airport for the maximum period possible. Thanks to the prompt action by the Pakistani forces, the terrorists were unable to damage any aircraft. President Rajapaksa had quite rightly pointed out that the terror attack at the Karachi airport demonstrates the urgent need to further intensify international cooperation to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations in the interest of global peace and security. In this context, Sri Lankans recall with profound gratitude Pakistan's invaluable support to eradicate terrorism on our soil. Sri Lanka will continue to stand by Pakistan in combating terrorism.

As a nation which had been subjected to such merciless terror attacks on many occasions during three decades of terror unleashed by the LTTE, we could well perceive the feelings of our neighbours. While offering our deepest condolences to the Government and the people of Pakistan, and sharing the grief of the bereaved family members in their hour of great adversity, our thoughts and prayers are with them and those injured in this tragedy.

Sri Lanka too had the bitter experience of at least three LTTE terror attacks at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake and its neighbouring Sri Lanka Force Base. As the BIA was the country's only international airport at the time, Sri Lanka's air links to the rest of the world were severed for a few days.

It was one of the many setbacks the nation had suffered due to the deadly terror attacks. International airlines are reluctant to operate to such destinations and even the handful of carriers that operate incur heavy insurance surcharges due to additional risks. This results in enhanced air ticket prices.

More importantly, terrorist attacks at international airports impacts adversely on the tourism industry of a country. Sri Lanka was no exception as the country's tourist industry was in a near state of collapse a little over five years ago.

Since the 9/11 attack in 2001, most Western countries made a big hue and cry on the need to crush global terrorism. Regrettably, they did precious little towards that goal. Had they been sincere in their efforts and practise what they preach, global terrorism would have been crushed by now. In going that extra mile in the guise of crushing Al Qaeda, countries such as the US and UK are yet to prove their sincerity in crushing global terrorism. Had they been sincere in their preaching on the dire need to crush terrorism, they would not have exerted such undue pressure on Sri Lanka following its success in the 2006-2009 battle against terrorism.

President Rajapaksa had time and again said that there can't be two definitions of terrorism - one in the West and another for this part of the world. There are no good terrorists and bad terrorists. Terrorism in any part of the world inflicts only pain and suffering. Hence, terrorism in any part of the world should be crushed likewise. The definition of a person engaging in terror acts should not be changed from a terrorist to a freedom fighter when it comes to this part of the globe. The West should desist from using human rights as a tool to appease terrorists in countries such as Sri Lanka.

While shouting from the rooftops over the human rights of terrorists in Sri Lanka, these Western countries go all out to eliminate all elements which they feel are a threat to national security. Countries such as the US even go to the extent of invading the air space of countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan to launch drone attacks which have killed hundreds of civilians.

Barely anybody raises those crucial issues at the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC). On the other hand, there are enough and more godfathers of human rights who are vociferous when it comes to human rights of LTTE terrorists killed in action.

The US resumed its drones attacks in Pakistan, with two strikes on militant strongholds in the North Waziristan tribal region overnight. Over 16 people, including 13 civilians had been killed as a result. The Obama administration had agreed to suspend its drones program last December to allow Islamabad to pursue peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). However, pressure mounted on the Pakistani authorities to launch a ground offensive in the region following a breakdown in peace talks. The US' right to combat Al Qaeda terror and protect its people is quite understandable. Nevertheless, these Western countries must respect Sri Lanka's inalienable right as a sovereign nation to protect its people. Sri Lanka should not be penalised for crushing LTTE terror.

The recent terrorist attack in Karachi should be an eye-opener to one and all. Those in the West should examine their conscience whether they had done anything tangible to eradicate terrorism in South Asia. The manner in which certain countries exert unwarranted pressure to meddle in Sri Lanka's internal affairs having eradicated LTTE terror only exposes the Western hypocrisy. Asian countries should no longer be swayed by the preaching of the West whose leaders invariably do more talking than acting.

If the West was really sincere in its efforts to crush global terrorism, it should have grabbed Sri Lanka's expertise and its successful first-hand battlefield experience in defeating terrorism. All what the West had done since Sri Lanka had overcome the scourge of LTTE terror had been unwarranted pressure and glib talk on the human rights of Tiger terrorists killed in action. This only mollycoddles terrorists in South Asia and renews fresh hopes. The West must demonstrate its sincerity and make good use of Sri Lanka's landmark achievements in its battle against terrorism.

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