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Army in the North : Contesting the Views of Prof. Rohan Gunaratna


[Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images, via A Sri Lankan Quest]

by Muttukrishna Sarvananthan

This is in response to the views expressed by “International Terrorism Expert” Prof. Rohan Gunaratna to Zahrah Imtiaz in the article titled “Don’t Withdraw Army from North: Prof. Rohan Gunaratna” published in the Ceylon Today of Sunday 15 February 2015, page 10.


I do agree with Prof. Rohan Gunaratna that “Without security there is no freedom and development”, but I would argue that vice versa is true as well; that is, without freedom and development there is no security. While Prof. Rohan Gunaratna opines that “Security is first”, I would argue that human security should be first. If there is human security, securing national security (against domestic armed opposition) would be easier.

Misplaced Analogy

The analogy that this venerable “International Terrorism Expert” draws from the experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq, viz. “After their defeat most insurgent and terrorist campaigns worldwide resumed within a decade. After the US military declared victory in Afghanistan and Iraq the insurgency and terrorist campaigns recommenced”, is inappropriate for the context of Sri Lanka. There is ample evidence in the academic literature on insurgencies and terrorism to show that an outright victory for either side of an armed conflict results in stability in terms of security (but not necessarily in terms of political stability).

In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq it was an external military power that dubiously declared victory in order to withdraw its ground troops and avoid a quagmire and political backlash at home. Neither the Afghan or Iraqi governments ever declared victory over the armed groups opposed to them. On the other hand, in Sri Lanka the security forces were fortunate to completely eliminate the LTTE militarily. There is no comparable evidence in Sri Lanka of the phenomenon of “Real IRA” in Northern Ireland or the Maoists in Nepal where they are yet to surrender their arms.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I also have serious doubt about the claim made by Prof. Rohan Gunaratna that Sri Lankan armed forces do not suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Several counselling centres operated by the armed forces throughout the country could dispute the claim by Prof. Gunaratna.


One of the cardinal principles of warfare is proportionality. I do not propose the total withdrawal of the armed forces from the North. I only would like the armed forces in the North as well as in the country as a whole to be down-sized or right-sized. The total number of armed forces (Air Force, Army, and Navy) should be proportionate to the total population of the country and the Northern Province. I would suggest that the total number of armed forces personnel should not exceed one percent of the total population of the country or the Northern Province. The Northern Province is the least populous province in the country (out of nine provinces in the country) with little over one million people. Therefore, I would propose that the total number of armed forces personnel in the North should be around ten thousand personnel the most. As a corollary, since the total population of Sri Lanka is less than twenty-one million, I would argue that the total number of armed forces personnel should not exceed 210,000 (which include air force, army and naval personnel).

Quantity versus Quality

I do not believe that the total number of armed forces personnel would necessarily boost national security; in contrast I would argue that the quality of armed forces personnel (in terms of their combat skills and more importantly commitment to fight) is a better determinant of the effectiveness and efficiency of the armed forces personnel in any country. Therefore, I would urge the security authorities to lay greater emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

Defence Expenditures

Furthermore, what national security purposes do the navy-run fishing and tourist resorts, military-run farms, hotels, restaurants, and other business ventures serve? Is it justifiable to arbitrarily confiscate private civilian lands and properties to operate military business ventures either in the North or South? If any armed forces personnel would like to do business on their own-accord, then they should be discharged from the armed forces. If indeed the armed forces personnel are earning revenue to the state coffers, why is that every single year since the end of the civil war in May 2009 the defence budget has increased considerably.

Higher defence expenditures or very high number of armed forces personnel do not necessarily buy national security; the collapse of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (or Soviet Union in short) is the best example. Should not Sri Lanka learn lesson/s from the experience of other countries?

Misplaced Nexus between LTTE and TNA

Prof. Rohan Gunaratna’s claim that TNA is a proxy of the LTTE reveals his parochial mind unbecoming of an academic. There is no doubt that the TNA had played a proxy political role on behest of the LTTE from about 2001 to 2009, but not beyond. The reason why the TNA is still popular in the North and East of Sri Lanka is because, although the Sri Lankan security forces have successfully defeated secessionism militarily, Sri Lankan politicians have failed to address the political grievances of the Tamil minority community to date. In fact, the recent past government of Sri Lanka has even fuelled the political grievances of the other major minority community, viz. the Muslim community, which is amply reflected in the results of the recent Presidential election.

Credibility of the “International Terrorism Expert”

The prophecy of the anti-terrorism pundit Prof. Rohan Gunaratna could be judged by his public claim even as late as early-2009 that the LTTE could not be ever defeated. Should I say more?

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan (Ph.D. Wales, M.Sc. Bristol, M.Sc. Salford, and B.A. Hons Delhi) hails from Point Pedro (Northern Sri Lanka) and a Development Economist by profession and the Principal Researcher of the Point Pedro Institute of Development, Point Pedro, Northern Province, Sri Lanka, established in 2004. He has been a Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA (October 2008 – July 2009), and an Endeavour Research Fellow at the Global Terrorism Research Centre, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. (September 2011 – February 2012) He is the author of “In Pursuit of a Mythical State of Tamil Eelam: a rejoinder to Kristian Stokke”, Third World Quarterly, Vol.28 No.6, September 2007, pp1185-95,


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