Army Chiefs of member nations of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical & Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) recently met in Pune, India on the heels of the BIMSTEC Summit in Kathmandu and resolved to work together for betterment of the region.The first conclave of its kind for any such grouping in South Asia, hosted by the Indian Army was attended by Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake, Commander of the Sri Lanka Army who has also been invited to deliver a lecture on the main theme of the Conclave, ‘Possibility of Creating Viable Regional Security Architecture to deal with Threats-Terrorism & Transnational Crime’.
The BIMSTEC Army Exercise, ‘Military Field Training Exercise’ (MILEX - 2018), aimed at promoting strategic alignment among member states and share best practices in counter-terrorism in semi-urban terrain and cordon and search operations, an initiative of the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat, was also conducted around the same time (10 - 16 Sept) on the sidelines of the Army Chiefs’ Conclave at the College of Military Engineering under the aegis of the Southern Command of India.
Also present at the Conclave, together with the Sri Lankan Army Commander were Chief of Army Staff of India General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Army Staff of the Bangladesh Army, General Aziz Ahmed, Myanmar’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Commander-in Chief (Army) Vice Senior General Soe Win, Deputy Chief of Staff (Operations) of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Choochart Buakhao and Deputy Chief Operations Officer of the Royal Bhutan Army, Brigadier Dorji Rinchen and their high level delegations. Former Ambassador of India Mr G Parasarthy acted as the moderator in the Army Chiefs’ Conclave where elaborate views were exchanged on promotion of security cooperation and inter and intra operability among armed forces of BIMSTEC countries for carrying out anti-terrorism and preventing transnational crimes, exchange of information and experiences and ensuring a secure, peaceful and tranquil region.
Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake in his contribution to the BIMSTEC Army Chiefs’ Conclave focused on the question of Drug Trafficking, Human Smuggling, Transnational Crime and Terrorism and explored possibility of creating a more viable regional security architecture to deal with transnational crimes and challenges of terrorism.
Lieutenant General Senanayake in his speech further pointed out that apparatuses of terrorism, transnational organized crime and radicalization, have seized the attention of marginalized groups all around the world and terrorism has not only shaken the fundamentals of human rights, but also it has posed a threat and an intimidation for the pillars of statehood.
“The government of Sri Lanka acknowledges that terrorism, transnational crime and radicalization are widespread issues that can be resolved only with the resilient cooperation of all states in the region. Sri Lanka also understands that efforts at the grass root level are also significant in countering these threats,” he said.
Touching on the subject of Terrorism and Counter Terrorism, he recalled how the Sri Lanka Army tackled the threat. “Sri Lanka has grappled with the LTTE terrorism for nearly three decades and is aware of how hard it is to identify and thwart terrorist activities. Use of hard power to defeat LTTE was a failure. Using of soft power alone led to strengthening of the LTTE. When we were in peace negotiation, the LTTE has regrouped, reorganized and sophisticated. Ultimately, the application of both hard and soft power with the cooperation of friendly foreign countries made the way for Sri Lanka to win the war against terror,” he noted.
“Tomorrow’s terrorism needs a far more balanced application of both hard and soft power tools, which we can call smart power. Sri Lanka already experiences this with the Tamil Diaspora creating the ‘Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’, going to the extent of holding elections and creating a virtual parliament that propagates separatism in Sri Lanka. The interaction within geographical communities is decreasing and the interaction in virtual communities is increasing, so that and countries like Sri Lanka cannot fight this alone, and this only further justifies a collective effort such as this BIMSTEC initiative,” the Commander added paying an appreciative remark to the Indian Army’s initiative.
Elaborating on the question of ‘Transnational Crimes’, the Commander of the Army explained; “Sri Lanka faces two aggravated challenges which are People Smuggling and Drug Smuggling. These challenges are also core regional problems that cannot be countered by the Sri Lankan Government in isolation. When it comes to People Smuggling, Australia has been one focus of cooperation, among many for the Sri Lankan Government.”He pointed out that the Australia - Sri Lanka Joint Working Group on People Smuggling and Other Transnational Crime was formed in 2012 to complement the latter agreement.
“With that, I am proud to say that Sri Lanka Navy and law enforcement authorities have succeeded in arresting a total of 124 boats and more than 13,500 illegal immigrants moving from Sri Lanka to Australia in 2012 alone. Sri Lanka has been very successful in countering human smuggling to Australia with increased cooperation between Sri Lankan and Australian authorities”.
When it comes to Drugs, Lieutenant General Senanayake summarized the series of preventive measures, being adopted by various agencies in Sri Lanka. “The Police Narcotics Bureau, being the specialized unit in Sri Lanka performs its duties in two ways. Firstly, it considers as a priority to reduce the supply of drugs targeting major drug traffickers. Since drug trafficking is an internationally affected problem, the Police Narcotics’ Department works closely with related Foreign Anti-Narcotics Agencies on information sharing and also to expedite investigations.”
Recalling regional gestures of cooperation, the Commander commented. “When it comes to cooperation among BIMSTEC member states in counter terrorism, I wish to recall that in 2012 a few Tamil youths were arrested in Chennai denying them sanctuary to plan and plot violent activity in Sri Lanka. Then again, another youth was arrested in Rameshwaram in July 2015 while he was attempting to move to Sri Lanka with detonators, cyanide capsules, mobile phones and a large amount of cash in hand. These important arrests made by Indian Law Enforcement facilitated investigations and judicial action against those trying to resort to terrorism in Sri Lanka.”
He further underlined; “Sri Lanka, alone, cannot respond to next wave of terrorism if at all it happens and therefore should forge partnership with countries, sharing common values to curb terrorism and transnational crimes. BIMSTEC member states should develop a regional strategy by networking for addressing the terrorist threat and transnational crimes that involve not just all member countries, but regional and global organizations that have already been set up to meet these challenges.”
“I take this opportunity to make an open invitation to all senior military officers to study the Sri Lankan counter terrorism fighting strategies and our post-conflict development initiatives. I am confident those realistic strategies will surely enhance knowledge, skills and understanding of your respective militaries,” he appealed.