Sri Lanka: the serial bombing

Sri Lanka—the island nation had its serenity disrupted with serial bombing, while the Easter mass was on in Sri Lankan cities of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa. Apart from targeting the churches on the bloody Easter Sunday on April, the 21st five hotels frequented by tourist were on the hit list of the terror network.

Though the casualty figures keep on varying with fresh updates, 250 plus are confirmed to have lost their lives including foreigners, with more or less 500 injured. Initial reports indicated a higher death toll.  As the police force investigating the dastardly happening was raiding the suspected hideouts at a housing complex and a motel, there were explosions killing the police personnel. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the attack. The calamitous security breech in the island nation occurred after a decade of calm following the elimination of Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the outfit of northeastern Tamils fighting for independence.

Islamic State (IS) in Arabic Daesh by claiming the Sri Lankan mayhem might have announced its South Asian entry in a big way. The deadly organization with an insignia much in variance with the mainstream Islam remains an enigma. It sudden emergence and spread in West Asia has fed many a conspiracy theories. The question marks remain, without a uniform conclusion.

As it overtook large land mass of Iraq and Syria, the name of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) spread. The so called puritan approach had ISIS demolishing many ancient sites of historical importance, evoking revulsion and worldwide condemnation.

Following the initial shock attacks, the nation states in the region–Iraq and Syrian got their act together in various anti-militancy combinations, and repulsed ISIS.

Global powers also intervened, thus USA and Russia were very much in the picture, though not in the same combination, and with varying purposes. ISIS collapsed largely, though IS remains, raising its head in different locations with varying insignias.

One such insignia is ‘Islamic State of Khorasan’ which is an extension of ISIS or Islamic State of Iraq and Levant. Khorasan is the northeastern province of Iran. The eastward propagation of IS has already a presence in Afghanistan, competing Afghan Taliban for control of territory and ideological projection.

In it’s hey days in West Asian sojourn, IS attracted South Asian cadres. Some South Asians settled in England and other European States also joined IS. It caused some stir in South Asian states, as the hunt for suspected IS modules continued. It continues, as the concern heightens. One such module might have announced itself in Sri Lanka, by breeching its security.

The local unit, as Sri Lankan Government sources reveal is called National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ). This group is said to have carried out suicide attacks on the Easter Sunday. How much of a foreign support the group had is still being investigated by the Sri Lankan security authorities. It is widely believed that such a deadly, widespread attack could not have occurred without help from terror modules outside Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan ethnic mix with a history of ethnic conflict makes the country vulnerable. With a population of 21,670,000 people, the Sinhalese constitute the majority, with 74.8% of the total population. Sinhalese are mostly Buddhists. Tamils form the largest minority group with a percentage of 11.2% mostly Hindus.

Tamils are of Indian origin, as well as original Sri Lankans, though they are indistinguishable. Tamils of Indian origin were brought into Sri Lanka by British colonists to work on estate plantations as indentured labourers. Nearly half of them were repatriated as Sri Lanka gained freedom in 1948. Sri Lankan Muslims are 9.7 percent of the total population, and there are 6.1 percent Roman Catholics.

While the majority Sinhalese and Tamils had a tense standoff over an extended period of time, with LTTE seeking independence, it cooled off considerably following Sri Lankan army’s triumphant march to Tamil stronghold of Jaffna.

Of late, there has been trouble between Buddhist extremist groups and pockets of Muslim population. It might have stoked some Muslim groups to take an extremist course, with IS ever ready to embrace such modules, and bring them within its ambit. Majority of Sri Lankan Muslims however stick to the peaceful path. There are reports that Muslims alarmed by growth of extremism in their midst might have put security agencies on alert.

The breach of Sri Lankan security though alarming should alert the security agencies not only in Sri Lanka but in the South Asian region. India is already alerted, given the raids in Kerala. 

The carnage in West Asia should be a reminder that South Asia needs to be safeguarded. The South Asian nations would do well to start a process of conflict resolution between the nation states in the region.

It may also involve activating SAARC to maximize intelligence exchanges. And, it may be noted that extremism may not be taken as religion specific, nor does it have ethnic specificity. It has to be understood that extremism of one form cannot but feed extremism of another form.

Sri Lanka has mostly remained calm in her hour of trial. It has refrained from propaganda barrage demeaning any community. It has rightly chosen a path of collaboration rather than confrontation, a lesson other nation states need to emulate.

One hopes that the ban a veil taken as a security measure remains for specifically short period. And, Sri Lanka returns to calm and tranquility, alert nevertheless to prevent any breach of its security.     

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival] Feedback on: iqbal.javid46@gmail.com