- Easter Sunday attacks have left serious geopolitical implications
- The US is responsible for most extremist Islamic terror groups from Taliban to ISIS
- Chinese leave Sri Lanka neither here nor there
What’s the aftermath of the Easter Sunday “terror” attack? On what is being reported, more than 150 have been arrested on suspicion by Tuesday last. Four from the list of six wanted suspects have also been arrested while two have died in clashes with the security forces conducting operations.
The reported number of trained jihadi activists now stand at 140 and are being tracked down. There is controversy nevertheless about Zahran Hashim, the leader of National Tawheed Jama’ath (NTJ) being one of the suicide bombers at the Shangri-la hotel, Colombo.
For the first time in the history of Catholics in Sri Lanka churches closed for Sunday mass and a special service instead was conducted by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith from his official residence in Colombo with the President, the PM and the Opposition Leader in attendance. For all others of the Catholic faith, the service was aired live on TV and radio channels.
After social media that was blocked for a week, the Burqa in public was banned with Muslim men in All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU) consenting.
Schools remain closed till Monday, May 06. The President has promised special security for schools and religious places of worship.
Meanwhile, a video clip went viral on 29 April with the elusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi making a speech from a hideout, five years after he made a victorious speech declaring the Caliphate from the pulpit of the famed al-Nuri mosque in Mosul, Iraq.
Wiped out of Iraq and the Caliphate seized by Kurdish and Syrian fighters, Baghdadi said: “And as for our brothers in Sri Lanka, I was overjoyed when I heard about the suicide attack,” Saying it was against the crusaders headed it “avenged them for our brethren in Baghouz”.
That leaves the government’s assumption that the Easter Sunday attacks were in retaliation for the Christchurch attacks on Muslims as ill-formed. Baghdadi says it was to avenge their lost fighters in Baghouz, where the ISIS fought its last battle in Syria, trying to save their Caliphate. ISIS affiliations have thus far been substantiated with such evidence far off. ISIS is a run-off from the most insanely executed occupation of Iraq by the US administration of George Bush Jnr. Pre-invasion US intrusions in Iraq, funded and assisted a few small dissenting Islamist groups in Saddam Hussein’s very repressive ‘Socialist Iraq.
Thereafter massive terror operations by the occupying US military in dismantling the Hussein regime turned those Islamist groups against them. One of the most brutal flushing out operations by the US forces in April 2003 in Fallujah eventually became an ISIS stronghold.
Three years later in March 2016 David Kilcullen a leading counterinsurgency expert, former adviser to both Gen. David Petraeus and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told Channel 4 that a lot of the problem is their making, adding “There, undeniably, would be no ISIS if we hadn’t invaded Iraq.”
The US is responsible for most extremist Islamic terror groups from Taliban to ISIS. In the late ’80s, the US started supporting Afghan Mujahideen groups against the Russian occupation. They worked with the Saudi Arabian “General Intelligence Directorate” and the Pakistani “Inter-Service Intelligence Agency” funding and facilitating the training of Taliban groups.
The Al-Qaeda also came out of the Iraqi occupation by the US. What is called Islam fundamentalism is not Islam the religion. It is a narrow political ideology extracted out of the Quran in challenging US dominance in global politics. Islam fundamentalism works on the premise that US is “Christian power”.
The ISIS, therefore, uses the term “crusaders” going back in history to wars between invading Christian armies and Muslims for “Holy land” then under the Islamic empire.
All extremist political interpretations reach out to the emotions of communities they wish to take control of.
Most extremist groups emerge with their own political ideologies, supported by some State somewhere. As it was with the Taliban, the Al-Qaeda and the ISIS that the US administration supported, the LTTE and other Tamil armed groups too were initially supported by the Indian State during PM Indira Gandhi’s time.
In creating Bangladesh out of “East Pakistan”, Mukti Bahini fighters were sponsored by the Indian State.
That extremely vested political interests do play about with these small fundamentalist groups, should not be lost in understanding the emergence of NTJ from Kattankudy. Fundamentalist extremism, as a rule, is established in society through intimidation, violence and brute force as it was with the JVP during its insurgency in the 88 to 90 period. It was that in Kattankudy too with moderate and traditional Islamic communities being forced into accepting the ideology of the NTJ. People refused to accept them, protested against them, lodged complaints with the police against NTJ leaders. As claimed recently by the ACJU, written complaints had been made with all details even to President Rajapaksa and his Secretary to the Ministry of Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Apparently, no attention had been paid by the Rajapaksas to those complaints and appeals.
This brings into focus another aspect of how politics play with the State. Sinhala Buddhist politics of that Rajapaksa government needed another bogey after eliminating the LTTE. Islamic fundamentalism was tailor-made for them in having Sinhala Buddhist fanaticism on the roads. The NTJ perhaps was therefore allowed to exist. What is also important to note is how the State behaved after the Rajapaksa regime was ousted. All special operations now carried out exhibit one simple truth. State intelligence had almost all necessary information with them. They knew where to go for what. They knew who they wanted in connection with the chain of explosions.
The “wanted list” of 06 though with an unnecessary photo mix up of an innocent undergraduate girl in the US, released to media within 03 days of the explosion said they had all that information with them. But there was no proper and adequate action taken to avert this tragedy. Not even during the last few weeks with Indian authorities too providing detailed information. Obviously, the uneasy alliance put together after the 2015 January elections in forming a government that fractured in no time, left the State on its own. The State also has its own ideology, not necessarily that of the ruling government. That can also compromise inept and fragile governments into inaction.
"ISIS is a run-off from the most insanely executed occupation of Iraq by the US administration of George Bush Jnr."
This UNP government led by PM Wickremesinghe was hoisted with US geopolitical interests despite democratic slogans and good governance promised at elections to oust Rajapaksa. Post-Easter Sunday attacks now seem to further those US interests in keeping the government as distant from Chinese economic and geopolitical influence as possible. While China showed no special interest in making statements on the Easter Sunday attacks, the US is here with Britain in a big way. Their “experts” are here to help investigate the Easter Sunday attacks and have vowed to help the government eradicate “Islamic terrorism”.
US Ambassador Ms Teplitz here in Colombo has warned of ongoing plans by NTJ to launch further attacks, while the State intelligence is yet to confirm such warnings. Meanwhile, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) of the US government approved a grant of 480 million US dollars to SL, 04 days after the Easter Sunday attacks. The IMF has also pledged more assistance.
While all that was between Colombo and Washington DC, the Chinese government for the second time convened a meeting in Beijing of Heads of States last Friday and Saturday on the world’s largest project ever planned; the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This second meeting had 39 countries participating including Germany, UK and Switzerland. “Notable absentees” were the US, India, Turkey and Sri Lanka. The Wickremesinghe government was reported as having said it was not briefed about this meeting. Brutal Easter Sunday attacks have certainly had their impact in defining geopolitics in our region.
Meanwhile, in local politics, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith emerged in no time as a popular religious leader with discipline and compassion for all across religious and ethnic divides. As expected, Sinhala Buddhist extremist elements were busy driving a fear psychosis across all communities. Statements by government leaders too led to a growing fear in society that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith did not directly contribute to. In fact, with his new found popularity he now stands as critically opposed to this government playing the role of a “vigilant Opposition”.He engages with the government while keeping his identity clear and independent. He said publicly he was not satisfied with how security was being handled by this government. He refused to have the bulletproof vehicle the government offered him.
He publicly stated this country does not need new laws to face “terrorism”, contradicting PM Wickremesinghe’s mighty haste in having the “Counter Terrorism Act” passed as law. He sounded extremely political when he said he is prepared to lead the people against the government if it fails to solve issues in normalising society. His political stance runs along with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s projection as the Leader of the Opposition. His politics in a “non-political” cloak indicates his cordiality with the Rajapaksas all through the Rajapaksa era is still maintained. His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is certainly a “holy thorn” in UNP politics.
Easter Sunday attacks have left serious geopolitical implications. The traditional UNP voter base in Catholic and Christian areas is fast eroding. The Muslim community remains utterly frustrated with the government getting more entrenched in US interests in South Asia. The Chinese brakes off with growing regional acceptance, leaving Sri Lanka neither here nor there. Immediate future no doubt is packed with uncertainty.