On 9 June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a day-long visit to Sri Lanka. During that visit, he spent some time at St. Anthony Church that came under bomb attack on Easter Sunday this year and paid tributes to the victims of that attack. He has opined that terrorism is a common threat and must be faced jointly. He also reiterated the commitment of India to build a united, secured and prosperous future for Sri Lanka. He believes that Sri Lanka will rise again. In fact, this was the first visit of a foreign Prime Minister after the April bomb attack.
Meanwhile, the High Commissioners and Ambassadors of Muslim majority countries working in Sri Lanka have expressed their fear that if the violence in Sri Lanka targeting Muslims continues further, it might have a negative impact on the regional and global security situation. All Ambassadors of the OIC member countries, at an Iftar party hosted by the President of Sri Lanka, had also expressed such fear. Very recently, the situation has added a new dimension when nine Muslim ministers and two Muslim provincial governors of Sri Lanka have submitted their resignation due to the government's failure to protect the Muslims and their properties. This has obviously made the world community worried.On 5 June, Sri Lanka's main Buddhist religious leaders held a special meeting to discuss the current situation of the country following the Easter Sunday bomb attack. They have prepared a15-point proposal to restore stability in the country. They mentioned that the present situation of the country's social, economic and administration has created uncertainty among the people. In order to overcome this uncertain situation, they have pointed out the importance of the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and other communities working together with a single commitment. They have also requested the Muslim ministers who have resigned to return to their respective positions. They have also apprehended that injustices caused following the Easter Sunday attack should not be allowed to increase further and if the fear and uncertainty prevailing in the country are allowed to continue, the country will face an economic crisis and peoples’ lives will deteriorate.
We know that on 21 April, during the Christian religious festival Easter Sunday, there were bomb attacks on a number of establishments in Colombo including churches and hotels. More than 250 people of different religions and countries were killed and hundreds were injured. Among those killed, there was a Bangladeshi minor boy. Indeed, this attack was against humanity, against the peace loving people of the world. This terrorist act has caused the world community deeply grieved and shocked. The world leaders including Bangladesh have strongly condemned this heinous attack.
Not only the Christians or local people were killed in that bomb attack; there were Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims as well as peoples from many countries of the world. On the other side, the attackers, whatever religion they belonged to, their only identity is that they are terrorists. They have no religion. Their inclusion in any religion would be to dishonour the religion. Because of this incident, if the innocent people of that religion become the preys of oppression, then that will be just unfair and injustice. If we look at the history of inter-religion relations in Sri Lanka, we will see that there had been clashes between Buddhists and Muslims as well as Buddhists and Christians at different times, but there was always good relationship between Muslims and Christians.
While analysing the ongoing violent activities in Sri Lanka, it is clear that only the Muslims-owned business establishments and their homes had come under attacks of the Buddhist zealots. Those mobs have not only broken or burnt the business establishments and homes of the Muslims, but have also ransacked and damaged several mosques. Even, Buddhist monks have participated in the mosque attacks. It is to be noted that no Christians or Muslims were seen in the mobs. Are not these violent activities resembles that bomb attack? And is not it a crime to indulge in such violence or terrorist acts? How were the police or military personnel standing mum there without any action? On the contrary, it is known that if an attacker was held by any police, he had to be released under political pressure. However, in the context of the ongoing violence, police have been ordered to use full force of the law to control the situation. But, many Muslims have expressed the fear that due to the present fragile political atmosphere in the country, police might not intervene to protect their life or property.
There is no doubt that the problems between Sri Lanka's President and the Prime Minister that have started since last year, will affect Sri Lanka's future political, social and economic directions. The President and the Prime Minister's contradictions on Easter Sunday bomb attack issue are getting more and more critical every day. Nobody is listening to anyone, no one is convinced. Everyone is showing his own power. These behaviours of the President and the Prime Minister have been interrupting the implementation of good governance in the country.
In fact, they are not thinking the welfare of the country and the people. The people are now in a great delusion. Some vested interest groups, taking the advantages of the government's weaknesses, are set to continue violence against Muslims. And every Sri Lankan has to take the responsibility for it. Will not the image of Sri Lanka be damaged to the world community because of this? Is it not better to bring the terrorists to justice without torturing the innocent Muslims? One should not forget that these Muslims are the citizens of Sri Lanka, like the Buddhists and the Christians. It is the constitutional obligation of the Sri Lankan government to provide them security and to ensure their human rights. At the same time, the Buddhists, being the majority group in Sri Lanka, also have the moral duty to stand by the minorities of other religions in enjoying their safe and normal life. Any extremism leads a person to destruction. I believe it is not necessary to explain the importance of this situation to the Sri Lankans in protecting Sri Lanka's national integrity, as they had such experiences for decades.The next general election in Sri Lanka is supposed to be held by September next year. On the other hand, the Presidential election has to be held between November 2019 and January 2020. In view of the ongoing political context, these two elections are very crucial for the people of Sri Lanka. These elections might be the best way to save the Sri Lankans from the bad effects of the internal rivalry in the government. And if the same situation continues in Sri Lanka in the coming years, it would be a great misfortune for them. Anarchism will not come only in the economy, ethnic or religious conflicts might be increased and lead the whole country to an unstable situation. We believe the people of Sri Lanka will not welcome that situation in any way.
Like many others, Sri Lanka's former President Mahinda Rajapakse has called upon all communities of Sri Lanka to think themselves as Sri Lankans and to be united to hold the nation together. He said, "We are a peace loving nation and we are stronger together. Let us stay calm and allow the law enforcement authorities to do their job.” The Muslims of Sri Lanka have also appealed to stay calm and avoid any retaliation against mobs.
We are against terrorism. Terrorists have no religion. Not only South Asia, but we wish to see the whole world free from terrorism. We are with the people of Sri Lanka and will be there to eliminate terrorism from the soil of Sri Lanka. However, the Sri Lankan government must be careful and attentive so that not a single innocent Sri Lankan becomes a victim of violence. There should be strict vigilance so that the actions to be taken against terrorism do not lead to communal violence. We expect that every citizen of Sri Lanka irrespective of race or religion will be beside the government in combating terrorism. Of course, the people's confidence and support will strengthen the government's steps to combat terrorism. We wish that peace will be re-established in Sri Lanka after overcoming all the existing adversities.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary