by Arie Kruglanski and Michele Gelfand
The world has a lot to learn from Sri Lanka. This island nation, south of India, was torn by vicious terrorism for 26 years, which ended in 2009 with a clear victory for government forces over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Since then, the ruling authorities have done a remarkable job forging reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation with the Tamil minority. This is truly an example of how military victory needs to be followed up by forgiveness and peacemaking.
Without a doubt, the LTTE has been one of the most vicious and dangerous terrorist organisations ever.
The last push against it was relentless and bloody, claiming significant casualties on both sides. When the war against terrorism ended, nearly 300,000 displaced Tamil civilians were left in the Government`s care.
These were persons who the LTTE dislocated from their villages and whose land was strewn with hundreds of thousands of mines (across five thousand square kilometres of land), making their resettlement impossible.
An immense demining effort took place now, three years later, only 5,424 displaced persons remain in a temporary welfare village, awaiting their return home on completion of the demining process.
The Sri Lankan Government proceeded to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure in the former LTTE-controlled areas of the island. It constructed a network of new roads, bridges, schools and hospitals and provided economic and vocational assistance to the returning civilians, resulting in over 20 percent annual growth in the north eastern parts of Sri Lanka.
Particularly impressive was the Government`s treatment of the nearly 12,000 LTTE fighters who surrendered to the Sri Lankan Army. Given the bloodiness of the protracted fight, the heavy casualties suffered by the military and the murderous track record of the LTTE, the surrendees feared the worst.
They were in for a shocking surprise. President Mahinda Rajapaksa publicly instructed the Army `to treat them as your children.` Rather than being imprisoned or punished, a vast majority of the LTTE cadre were put in rehabilitation centres where they were offered vocational education, artistic activities, psychological and spiritual counselling. The 549 LTTE child soldiers were put in a special program co-sponsored by UNICEF and received psychological counselling and catch-up education.
Systematic empirical research we have carried out with thousands of detained LTTE fighters yielded encouraging results. Over time, Tamil attitudes toward the Sinhalese have significantly improved this seems attributable to the rehabilitation programs rather than the mere time away from the `killing fields`. Of the 12,000 initial inmates of the rehab centres, over 10,000 have been released to their villages, and efforts are being made to reintegrate them into their communities.
Unfortunately, as often happens, numerous civilians used by the LTTE as human shields perished in the final fight.
We would like to bear witnessto the remarkable reconciliation efforts by the Sri Lankan Government that we saw on several recent visits to this country in our capacity as terrorism researchers. Our studies add up to an impression that what has been happening in the post-2009 years in Sri Lanka is truly unique.
The world would do well to pay attention to the case of the Tamils and the Sinhalese.
Does anyone have a plan for what to do after the war on terror is won? Sri Lanka does.
Arie Kruglanski is a distinguished university professor and Michele Gelfand is a distinguished scholar researcher at the University of Maryland. Both are senior researchers at the National Centre for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism.