PM’s interviews with foreign correspondents cringeworthy
Yahapalana grandees have done so much to discredit armed forces
Mangala the only Foreign Minister to have co-sponsored a resolution against own country
Admittedly, there is a huge amount of work to be done, but the rapidity of the response and speed in which our police and security services apprehended the Islamist terrorists following the Easter Sunday attacks, and exposed the vast extent of their network, was the only silver lining in the unwarranted gloom that had descended upon our motherland. They deserve the gratitude of the nation, more so, because it was their prompt action alone that reassured the public. This becomes even more significant considering the step-motherly treatment meted out to our security services by this government.
Following the admirable lead given by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, leader of the religious group most affected, all other religious leaders too joined in calls for unity and peace. By their timely action, they prevented further bloodshed and we should be thankful to them. We should heed their message and continue to be united to defeat this internationally-mediated threat.
However, one group, the most important in fact, unfortunately failed the country, very badly. An interesting quip circulating around, which shows we are a nation that does not lose its sense of humour even at the worst of times, goes as follows: “I went to my Vedamahattaya and he told me to bring a mustard seed from a house that does not blame the government to cure my illness,” giving a modern and apt twist to the famous Kisa Gothami tale. Maybe we can find a few mustard seeds from diehard supporters, but it is pretty obvious, vast majority of the populous find the government wanting.
Maybe there was an intelligence failure and even so, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the government. All that happened was passing the buck and dilly-dallying. If no one individual was willing to take responsibility, at least they should have taken joint responsibility and reassured, promptly, that all action would be taken to ensure safety. The President who was in Singapore, probably shopping after obtaining the blessings of an Indian God, took the flight he was booked on, in spite of two previous flights being available. The Prime Minister took his own time to return from Bentota, rather than take charge immediately, as the President was away.
It took 48 hours to declare ‘emergency’ and it is rumoured that it was at the insistence of the Army Commander. The Defence Secretary, who has resigned since, commented to reporters that they were aware of the attack but did not expect it to be this ‘big!’ Adding insult to injury, he opined: “this sort of things happens in other counties as well.” If the Defence Secretary were aware of the intelligence reports, surely, his minister, the President, should have been appraised. Had he not briefed the President of a security threat to the country, it would have been gross dereliction of duty and he should have been sacked forthwith. This did not happen and therefore denials ring hollow.
The Prime Minister did not do any better either. His interviews with foreign correspondents were embarrassing, to say the least. Surely, Ranil’s interview with Sky TV would take pride of place as cringeworthy. When asked about Sri Lankans joining foreign terrorist groups, Ranil said they could fight for any foreign terrorist group like IS or even in the ‘French Legion’(!) but they could not be arrested in Sri Lanka as they had not committed any offence. When questioned again, he admitted that IS was a terrorist organisation, virtually declaring to the world that Sri Lankans were allowed to fight for IS and return to the island safely. The climax of the interview, however, was when Ranil said there was a ‘lacuna’ in our legal system. In an interview with BBC, Ranil said he was not in the ‘loop’ making the interviewer to respond, “But surely you are the Prime Minister?” A cynic may remark that the lacuna is in the Prime Minister’s head!
According to legal experts I consulted, the Prevention of Terrorism Act(PTA) is present to prevent the proliferation of terrorism. Ranil and his then Foreign Minister Mangala were instrumental in declaring a ‘moratorium’ on this Act at the behest of foreign powers. This apparently was the reason for not enacting legislation and there is no doubt Ranil is responsible; so is Maithripala. It was incumbent upon them to formulate legislation to protect us from terrorists which they did not do. Is this not gross neglect of duty?
Further, it is interesting to note the verdict of Daily Mirror fact-checking service: “Therefore, we classify the Prime Minister’s statement as false.” According to its investigations, sections 121 and 122 of the Penal Code cover these offences and it begs the question whether the government turned a blind eye to these terrorist efforts at the behest of some supporters. If so, the price we paid is exorbitant!
Well-informed columnist D.B.S. Jeyaraj in his commendable piece ‘Anti-terrorist action must not become a witch hunt against Sri Lankan Muslims’ (Daily Mirror, May 4) states: “In a further twist, Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne has said four military intelligence operatives had coordinated the killings of the two cops in Vavunathivu. The minister also alleged that 26 members of National Tawheed Jamaat(NTJ) had been on the payroll of military intelligence when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President and his brother Gotabaya the Defence Secretary. It remains to be seen whether there is some substance to Dr. Senaratne’s allegations or not.”
It is an established practice for intelligence agencies to enrol members of suspected organisations to infiltrate, but they may turn out to be double-agents. Therefore, Rajitha Senaratne’s statements have to be examined against the background of his propensity to blame anything and everything on the Rajapaksa administration, conveniently forgetting that he was a part of that administration. When Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe informed Parliament in December 2016 that he had reliable information to prove members of three families have had training with IS, MP Mujibur Rahman mocked him. At a press briefing held the subsequent day, Rajitha denied this and reassured that Islamic terrorists would never attack us. He said he was making the statement with authority as he had close acquaintances with the Muslim community across the country. How wrong he was! Did he have the decency to at least admit he got it wrong?
Yahapalana grandees headed by Mangala Samaraweera have done so much to discredit our armed forces. Actually, it started with callous statements made by Sarath Fonseka during his unsuccessful presidential campaign to lure minority votes, but it was a totally different Sarath Fonseka who addressed Parliament following the terrorist attacks. His speech was commendable except for the ending when he started making the case why he should be made the law and order minister.
Mangala did something unprecedented in political history. He is the only Foreign Minister ever to have co-sponsored a resolution against his own country. Perhaps, he should get into the Guinness Book of Records! Maybe Mangala is doing all this because of his pathological hatred towards Mahinda Rajapaksa. His response to the terrorist attacks was a derogatory comment on Mahinda! Of course, Mangala has won plaudits from John Kerry and Samantha Power, who attended his tamasha to celebrate 30 years in politics, where she declared that though she was in the final weeks of writing her latest book and would not go out even for groceries, she had travelled some 8,000 miles for Mangala because “Mangala is one of the most remarkable people I encountered during my eight years serving in the US Government.” Perhaps, a top diplomat’s way of stating “he is our best agent!”
To satisfy UNHCR, some of our servicemen have been punished. I am not saying they should not be punished if they had committed any crime, but most punishments were on flimsy grounds. Our services did not commit war crimes but some – a tiny minority – have committed crimes. However, the behaviour of the Yahapalana Government gave the impression that it acknowledged that war crimes may have been committed as alleged by the LTTE rump.
How does USArespond to war crimes? The best example is the My Lai Massacre, the Vietnam War mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by US troops on March 16, 1968 when between 347 and 504 unarmed people were killed by the US Army. Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offences but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr. was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years – that too was just house arrest. We did the opposite, to appease USAand the rest!
Our government demoralised the services and virtually disbanded the intelligence services. That, to a large measure, is responsible for what happened. Have we not paid dearly for treachery?