Sri Lanka: Security and ‘sense of security’

N. Sathiya Moorthy 2 October 2018


If someone thought that cutting down on the personal security of war-time President Mahinda Rajapaksa, then Defence Secretary, Gota R, among others, would keep them away from public glare, or expose their sensibilities to their own safety, it was not to be. On the one hand, they began moving even freer and more frequently all across the country only later, with the result, they are seen as a real electoral threat to the present-day rulers, if only the laws in this country and the distant US, respectively, would not stand in their way.

The issue has potential to become a serious, multi-faceted controversy after senior Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe went on record that the conspiracy “is serious than we think as several individuals have been involved”. In a nation with a history of failed coups involving a section of the police force, and assassination attempts of the elected leadership in the past, such statements from responsible Ministers have potential to spread panic, without addressing the situation on hand. 

A new angle was added by the CID detaining an Indian national, M. Thomas, staying on in Sri Lanka on expired passport, for investigation. With the local media seeking to establish linkages, the Indian High Commission in Colombo has come out with an official statement that their backward enquiry has shown that the “arrested person has a history of mental imbalance”.


The police spokesman has since stated that the Indian had not revealed any assassination plot. For his part, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera too went to town, clarifying that the CID had not linked the Indian national to any plot of any kind before the local Courts.


For now, the Courts have ordered voice-tests of the conversations involving anti-graft activist, Namal Kumara, who blew the lid and anti-terror DIG Nalaka Silva. As reports claimed, the Indian, Thomas, was detained when he was sighted at Namal Kumara’s residence. The DIG, whom a section of the media portrays as a suspect, has been transferred, and is being interrogated.


Psychological boost


The issue however, is not the forgotten security issue pertaining to the Rajapaksas, Mahinda R especially. If nothing else, his JO leaders created avoidable ruckus in Parliament when it all happened, or whenever it happened, in stages, that is. It was left there. But now, months and possibly a couple of years later, comes reports about a conspiracy to target not only Gota R, but even more dangerously President Maithiripala Sirisena himself.


The investigations into the conspiracy case is sure to bring out the culprits to book, and also give the authorities an insight into how it was all planned to be executed. Therein may be hidden the clue to future conspiracies of such threat-magnitude.


It is all about prevention in the future. But it is only the past that holds a mirror to the future. The question may, hence, have to be asked as to the ‘theories of threat perception’ that the Government had floated while scaling down the security cover for the Rajapaksas.


It is not only about personal security of political personalities, and their withdrawal. Instead, it more about creating/retaining a climate of security, which in post-war Sri Lanka was still required. It was not to give a psychological boost to the people that terrorism was a thing of the past, and that they could breathe free and fresh air, all over again.


Such a sense of safety had returned the day the anti-LTTE war ended. What however remained was the need to keep the security blanket around individual leaders and army officers who might still have become targets of stray bullets and hired assassins.


Reviewing processes


In a nation where the security forces kept digging out new cache of LTTE arms by their tons time and again, weeks and months after the war, for any Government agency to have re-assessed threat perception in the way it had done may require a review of some kind. What however needs to be done for now is a review of the threat-perception of top-notch national leaders of every ethnicity, party and faction, to ensure that other individuals and new groups do not get fresh ideas.


Sri Lanka is not new to terror-threats to leaders and coup conspiracies. Not only the victims, but even the killers came from varied ethnic hues. Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike fell to the bullet of a Buddhist monk. The JVP killed Sinhala leaders even while threatening minority Muslims and Upcountry Tamil labour with eviction from the Central Hills.


In its time, the LTTE not soon after followed in the same format and the JVP footprint, so to say. It targeted Tamil leaders, too, but did not stop there. It killed Sinhala leaders, Ministers and security officials in greater numbers. The LTTE again, threw out the generations-old Muslim residents of the North out, overnight, and even without a word of leave, or ‘Sorry’.


It is thus unknown how authorities, tasked with evaluating the threat-perceptions to living leaders, particularly those associated with the war, could scale it down without any serious thought or concern. If it was found to be political, maybe, there may have to be a review of the processes, which may now require strengthening, too.


No political sense


Not the one to miss an opportunity to underscore the threats to senior members of ‘the family’, Gota Rajapaksa has since recalled how “there were always conspiracies to kill us. There were death threats even when (LTTE’s) Prabhakaran was alive”. He sought to take them to a higher level of human existence by adding that they had “endured all these threats thanks to virtues we posses”.


For further effect, Gota added that “one cannot afford to live in fear of death….We must do something for the country where we are born. I never asked to strengthen my security – people are there for my protection”. It is yet a fact that both that Mahinda and he, among other senior Government personalities, did face serious threats to their lives at the height of the anti-LTTE war. The attempts that he had survived would show that no one would try risking his own life in ‘stage-managed threats’, as uncharitable sections of their detractors would often claim, without any evidence to the contrary.


In this overall background, it may be interesting to know from the investigators of the recent threats to Sirisena and Gota, as to who were brains behind it all. On the face of it, the choice of the two together does not make political sense, as the two come from two sides of the same SLFP electoral coin, competing with each other.


Conversely, if the ‘plotters’ had to blot out two faces, it could well have been two Rajapaksas, and the obvious ones at that. It could have been a Rajapaksa and a senior official of the armed forces. Why, in the contemporary context, a little removed from the war that ended a decade ago, a Rajapaksa and a moderate Tamil leader, too, would have made sense.


Coming to the present-day, no one political leader expects Sirisena to win the presidency a second time, alone or in the same alliance as in 2015. Victory for Sirisena even as the common candidate of the Rajapaksas’ SLPP-JO and his own SLFP, even if remote, is an unsure proposition, to say the least.


Unless there are derailed business propositions where he might have been the cause for such derailment, or it was a way to mislead the investigators now, the name of the incumbent President should not have figured in a hit-list of the kind, in normal circumstances.


There, of course, is one exceptional situation. Though the nation and the international community might have accepted Sirisena as a lesser participant in the war against LTTE terrorism, he was the Acting Defence Minister on the day the war ended, and terror-boss Prabhakaran was killed.
By a process of ‘reverse osmosis’, it may have to be considered, if not concluded, that if Gota is a target, and so is Sirisena, the LTTE could be the common cause. Otherwise, yes, Gota especially, and Sirisena separately, too might have one too many enemies around, who might wanted them threatened, or targeted for real.


Failing in duties?


Independent of all these speculations, imagine a situation in which where the security agencies and/or the armed forces are caught unawares and are titled as ‘failing in their duties’ for no fault of theirs? As institutions in their own right, they may be forced to feel small before the rest of the nation, that too for no possible fault of theirs.


It is no one’s case that Sri Lanka should go back to the eminently forgettable days of check-points and army soldiers manning street-corners, and ethnicity-wise and otherwise, individuals and communities became suspect in the eyes of the law-enforcers.  Suspicion feeds mutual suspicion. In an election year, it can have worse consequences than can be imagined.
At a time when time is running out on the Government’s promise to the UNHRC and the rest of the international community, regarding the setting up of an independent, international war-crimes probe, it can mean a lot. 

Considering that the Government is seeking to move amendments to a scheme that was anyway unworkable on the ground from the very word ‘Go’, it could have as much ethnic revulsion in the more emotional North as anything thing on the reverse would have had in the larger South.


Either way, there is a need for an early closure to the current investigations into the ‘conspiracy’ against the President of the day and the Defence Secretary of yesteryear. There is also greater urgency for re-visiting threat-assessments to individuals, going beyond what war-time Army Commander, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s sweeping statement that Gota was safe and secure as of now, or already now!

http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print-edition/3/print-more/14301

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