Sri Lanka: Hasty recognition of Taliban likely to send wrong signal

Both Prof. Gunaratne and Samaranayake found fault with US strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan with the former alleging that the failure on the part of successive US political leaderships though the US military enjoyed superiority over any other military.

Director General of Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka (INSSSL) Prof. Rohan Gunaratne says hasty recognition of the illegitimate Taliban administration would be inimical to Sri Lanka.

Prof. Gunaratne asserts that consequences of such a move would be catastrophic and may result in domestic challenges to the government.

Prof Rohan Gunaratne

In an exclusive interview on ‘Hide Park’ on Derana 24×7 recently, Prof. Gunaratne, the author of ‘Afghanistan After the Western Drawdown’ explained how a wrong move on Sri Lanka’s part vis-a-vis Afghanistan could give a wrong signal to both Tamil and Muslim communities here as well as to the international community.

Pointing out that Taliban hadn’t regained power through an internationally accepted election, Prof. Gunaratne who earlier had the opportunity to interview senior Taliban figures emphasized the responsibility on the part of the current government to await the UN’s response to the developments in Afghanistan.

Gunaratne succeeded Asanga Abeygoonasekera as DG of INSSSL, which comes under the purview of the Defence Ministry. The change took place in the wake of the 2019 presidential election. Abeygoonasekera, who contested the Gampaha district at the 2015 general election on the UNP ticket had been the founding DG of the outfit established by then President Maithripala Sirisena and later became an advisor to Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa.

Declaring that Taliban hadn’t changed and essentially remained an extremely violent outfit among international coalition of terrorist organizations, Prof. Gunaratne advocated toughest possible measures against terrorism.

The academic emphasized; “Nothing short of death penalty for terrorism. The government should consider, at least at this stage, especially after developments in Afghanistan and the continuing presence of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, how to deal with the situation.”

Gunaratne asserted the importance of the government reaching consensus on what he called proper legal and policy framework to manage external threats.

Prof. Gunaratne appeared on Derana 24×7 before the Islamic State mounted a suicide attack just outside the Kabul airport compound. The single blast claimed the lives of nearly 180 persons, including 13 US personnel.

Prof. Gunaratne advised that Sri Lanka shouldn’t recognize any group that hadn’t gained power through constitutional means. The official stressed the importance of having a proper general election in Afghanistan, formation of an all-inclusive government followed by UN recognition before Sri Lanka decided on the issue at hand.

Gunaratne, who first cut his teeth as a journalist in the now defunct Sun newspaper in the early ‘80s emphasized the need to examine carefully what was going on there before Sri Lanka recognized the Taliban whom he categorized as new actors.

During the interview Prof. Guneratne made reference to the Islamic State as the party behind those who carried out the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage here blamed primarily on the NTJ (National Thowheed Jamaat) now a proscribed group.

About a week ago Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) member and Jaffna District TNA lawmaker S. Sridharan compared the Taliban’s triumphant return to Kabul and the Tamil community’s struggle here. The MP’s declaration didn’t receive the backing of his party.

Mohan Samaranayake

Former Director General of Presidential Media Division (PMD) and the incumbent Director General of the Government Information Department Mohan Samaranayake told ITN yesterday (29) that recognition of a country by a particular government would depend on its agenda. Samaranayake was responding to the interviewer’s query regarding China quite clearly indicating its desire to work with the Taliban.

Samaranayake, formerly with the UN mission in Colombo said that recognition of Afghanistan would largely depend on five permanent members of the UN Security Council comprising the US, Russia, China, UK and France.

Both Prof. Gunaratne and Samaranayake found fault with US strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan with the former alleging that the failure on the part of successive US political leaderships though the US military enjoyed superiority over any other military.

Samaranayake discussed the challenge experienced by China and Pakistan in the wake of rapid changes in Afghanistan. ITN interviewed Samaranayake close on the heels of a devastating Islamic State attack directed at Afghans seeking to leave the country and the withdrawing Americans.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador in Kabul retired Navy Chief Admiral Piyal de Silva returned to Colombo before the fall of President Ghanis’s administration clearly kept afloat with the military muscle of US and its NATO allies. Admiral Silva succeeded retired Air Marshal Gagan Bulathsinhala following the 2019 presidential election.

Diplomatic sources say both Pakistan and China appeared to have adopted a sort of soft approach towards Taliban and are working with the new leadership. Recently, Afghanistan developments had been taken up when Pakistan High Commissioner in Colombo Maj. Gen. (retd) Muhammad Saad Khattak met newly appointed Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris at the Foreign Ministry, where the Pakistanis gave an assurance on the safety of Lankans in Afghanistan on behalf of Taliban according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.

The statement quoted HC Khattak as having told Prof. Peiris that Pakistan has received an assurance from the Taliban as regards the safety of foreign nationals in Afghanistan and also made a pledge that rights of women and children would be protected. The High Commissioner also said Pakistan hoped that Afghanistan would soon establish a peaceful government structure and integrate with the rest of the world.

Former Premier and the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned against hasty recognition of Taliban. Former PA National List lawmaker and Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador to Iran M.M. Zuhair, PC, strongly criticized the UNP’s stand.

The US led NATO forces evicted the Taliban from Kabul in late 2001 following 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on the US. Foreign forces reached agreement with Taliban on the basis of Doha talks initiated during the previous Trump administration. Foreign forces are scheduled to complete their withdrawal on August 31. 

( Courtesy: The Island )

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