Sunil Bastian

(2009) Politics of Social Exclusion, State Reform and Security in Sri Lanka.

IDS Bulletin, Vol.40 No.2, March.

The debate on security in Sri Lanka is dominated by the traditional discourse of the security of the state. Primacy is given to the question of how to ensure state security from internal as well as external threats. Notions such as human security have had very little impact on mainstream debates on security.

In recent times these notions have consolidated even more. An obvious reason has been the separatist threat that the Sri Lankan state has been facing from Tamil ethno-nationalism. During the initial stages of Tamil self-assertion, the Tamil demand for a separate state was articulated through democratic means. But soon the Tamil political movement transformed into an armed conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) becoming the dominant armed group. The LTTE developed into an armed organization with infrastructural facilities resembling those of a regular militarized force. In addition to armed cadres, it developed capabilities in the sea and more recently in the air. It also styled itself as a regular armed force with ranks, insignia, etc. On top of this, the LTTE attempted to develop institutions resembling a state in the area where they were in control. These developments contributed to making the threat to state security a reality on the ground.

The Tamil struggle for separation internationalized very quickly, and the activities of the Tamil diaspora played a critical role in this process. The war forced a large section of the Tamil population to migrate and settle mainly in Europe, the US and Australia. Over the years this population became a formidable force in support of the separatist struggle. In addition, the Sri Lankan government has been under pressure from foreign governments as well as numerous international organisations to settle the conflict through negotiations. Among these governments, India, the regional power in South Asia, played a critical role. Finally, the overall context of globalisation within which the Sri Lankan state has had to operate has contributed to the internationalisation of Sri Lanka’s conflict. Consequently, these factors enhanced the perception that the Sri Lankan state was under threat.

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