May 18, 2009

What Happens After COIN? The Emerging Sri Lanka Case

AM's already beaten me to the punch. (Not that I blame him, I have been absent. My org's firewall now blocks anything with the word "blog" in the URL, so I can't access there, and after a long day of work at the computer, I don't really want to get online at home. Oh, and the book contract went and got approved, but I did this backwards--most times, the book's mostly done before the contract goes out. I shopped an idea and it got bought. Damn. :)

The LTTE has always been an unusual group. As Charlie noted to me just a few moments ago, "you've got a very robust organization linked to a very strong cult of personality." The former suggests that cutting off the head of the snake isn't effective, the latter suggests otherwise. This early on, Carlos is guessing that the "cult of personality" side may have the edge, and that the *violent insurgency* may be over. Carlos expects some "rogue" events, but the days when the LTTE ran the northern part of Sri Lanka look to be done.

That doesn't mean peace, necessarily. The Sri Lankan government has won the military part of the insurgency, but they now need to win the peace. This is really where pop-centric COIN's going to have to make money, folks. Colombo has not really administered the Tamil-controlled areas for a while. They need to get in, but not get in so that the fence-sitting population (many probably quite tired of the fight) doesn't tip back over.

The still-robust LTTE support organization (fundraising, especially fundraising) could now move into less political, more organized-crime type stuff. Here, Carlos is guardedly optimistic. Much of the ability for the LTTE to raise funds, especially from the diaspora had been through power/ability to intimidate and threaten family members, usually still in Tamil-controlled portions of Sri Lanka. The loss of those areas may lessen this power, but it won't all go away. Chinese gangs have still been able to pick up protection money from diaspora populations with this intimidation tool.

Charlie asked the "why now?" question. As in, why did the Sri Lankan government finally get off its collective rear and go after these guys? I haven't looked at the domestic side, perhaps some changes in leadership explain some of that. I do know that Prabakharan had been reshaping his image the last 3-4 years as the "Nelson Mandela" of South Asia. Perhaps that was starting to gain traction and Colombo decided to move before that got any more momentum.

Now, of course, it's time for the real work. What does "phase IV" look like after a decades-long conflict? What's the reconciliation/reconstruction mechanism? How to (re)integrate LTTE fighters? Cutting the snake's head off just means you can start to deal with these problems (and if Colombo hasn't been asking these questions already, we are all in for a *long* ride....)