Colombo, Foreign Relations, Human Rights, Human Security, IDPs and Refugees, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

History is Irreversible – A ‘Postmortem’ on the Seminar, “Defeating Terrorism: Sri Lankan Experience”

The three day long seminar titled “Defeating Terrorism: Sri Lankan Experience” conducted by the SL Army and Ministry of Defence was concluded recently. During the event, top level military and civil officers addressed the international delegates and shared their experiences with regard to ‘defeating terrorism”. However, there are many views, opinions, doubts and speculations about the outcome of this seminar. Hopefully, the wheeling of time will provide satisfactory answers to many of these questions.

Apart from this, I would like to point out another visible issue that prevailed throughout the seminar, which strikes me as pertinent. All the speakers who addressed this event prevented themselves from uttering one significant name. That particular name was ‘unmentioned’ and ‘unmentionable,’ and it was of course “Former Army Commander Former General Sarath Fonseka”. As we all know, Fonseka was responsible for engineering the military victory by using his knowledge, skills and combat experiences. Soon after the war, he was praised and honoured as the ‘Best Army Commander in the world’ and was elevated to the rank of a “Four Star General’. Fonseka was the first serving ‘General’ in the history of the Sri Lankan Army.

The decision to remove his name from the seminar is quite apparently a political decision. There is no doubt about that. Fonseka, who is imprisoned in Welikada and facing a few trials in courts, was victimized because of his politics. It is an undeniable fact that Sarath Fonseka is a political prisoner. As a result of this political process Sarath Fonseka lost his military rank, uniform, medals, pension etc. His name was taken out from plaques and slates. The removal of his name from this seminar is merely another step in the very same process.

As a person who practices democracy and as a person who admires democracy, I personally have some serious doubts and fears about Sarath Fonseka’s encroachment to politics. Under any condition, history doesn’t permit us to trust military leaders when it comes to politics. Therefore, ‘General’ Sarath Fonseka also falls into the same category. Some of the remarks he made as a presidential candidate and some allegations that were leveled against him during his tenure as the Army Commander would affirm this prejudgment (I am pretty sure the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickramasinghe was very much aware of this during the election campaign.) But this doesn’t point out that Fonseka should be avenged in an imprudent and cavalier manner. The government and even the UNP (someday) should confront him ‘politically’ within the political domain, without playing foolish games that could possibly lead to disastrous repercussions.

In spite of all these matters, Sarath Fonseka’s contribution towards the military victory is irrefutable. This particular seminar, which was organized by the Army in order the counter the allegations that have risen in the international domain, was a great opportunity to muster the support of international community around Sri Lanka. But that cannot be gained by political decisions that are being taken to fulfill petty political desires. International support should be gained by prudence, responsibility, respectability and accountability. If the government has faith on these four factors, it is not so difficult to confront those challenges successfully and effectively. But unfortunately, these incidents expose their poor political foresight, particularly when it comes to delicate and important issues.

The international community is well aware of the way President Rajapakse and his brothers handled Sarath Fonseka’s matter. They are well aware of his incarceration, trials and all the other ill-treatment. Those types of things cannot be hidden from the world. Quite obviously, the international delegates who took part in this seminar must have noticed the removal of Sarath Fonsekha’s name from a phase of history in which he played an integral and essential role. It does not augur well for the government, especially in terms of gathering support. At the same time, we should not forget the fact that some powerful nations purposefully boycotted this event in order to express their objection towards the government’s approach on accountability issues. This sort of foolishness would affirm their convictions.

Just as they omitted Sarath Fonseka from their speeches, is it not possible that they could hide crucial incidents that were alleged to have taken place during the final stages of the war? Is it not possible for the government to ‘fix’ history for their benefit? Does this behaviour pave the way for an honest and frank dialogue between and the government and the international community? Is this a true ‘sharing’? Isn’t this seminar another time buying exercise in which they boast about themselves and exaggerate things while hiding the truth? These questions could come up in the minds of those delegates who came down to Sri Lanka to participate in this event, representing their own nations. They are the eyes and ears of their nations on this matter and therefore, undoubtedly, they will take this message to the world. In other words, they might lose their faith on the entire event and take it as a mere political event that is being carried out to fool the international community. Who will be the fools at the end?

Therefore, I believe, the Rajapaksa regime should find correct strategies to confront the global challenges it has to face at this very moment. These strategies should not be made of emotions, but intelligence. Ultimately, emotional political decisions would not provide desired results and all their efforts would become an utter waste of time. The government, especially President Mahinda Rajapakshe and his brother Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakshe, should realize this and revise their approach on former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. Without achieving inter-personal reconciliation, they cannot guide the nation towards inter-racial reconciliation. Inter-personal reconciliation (between the Rajapakas and their political rivals) will lay a robust foundation for national reconciliation. And on the other hand, it will substantiate the fact that the Rajapaksa regime is ready for a sustainable reconciliation process and hence the international community will have to support them.

But, as we all know, these strategies will not be materialized in reality since the ‘very top people’ of the government are so much confined to party politics and personal gains and interests. They are not ready to come out of that ‘box’ and confront the challenges in a prudent manner. So the problems and troubles they have to face on a daily basis will deteriorate and worsen. At the end of the day, all their methods and strategies will provide no results and eventually the citizenry will also have to pay the price. That is the most tragic ‘repercussion’ we all will receive one day.

  • ravana

    The author represents the typical middle-classed voter of Sri Lanka who base their judgements on prejudice.

    The author admits that she presumed a “General” to be unsuitable for politics (no doubt comparing SF to those who have grabbed power by force).

    “The way he spoke”, “what he said” is frequently stated instead of actually quoting what he said. When what he said is quoted, it is out of context, going along with the propaganda of the Rajapakse regime.

    Then there are “allegations” about him bandied about as if they are true. Subsequent Kangaroo courts and so-called evidence and verdicts clearly indicates to those of us fortunate enough to live where the judiciary is independent, Sri Lankan “middle-class” and “intelligentsia” are not parallel to the same types of people in liberal countries.

    The author is merely another mouth-piece for the state propaganda, not even realising that she being a mouth-piece. I doubt if the author even understands what democracy is, if she professes to practice it using blatant prejudice she has demonstrated.

    The recommendation for Rajapakse’s to have interpersonal reconciliation is the biggest gaff of all. Would you expect a woman who has been raped to reconcile with the rapist? Of course not (that was a rhetorical question). The point is, if Rajapakse’s can expect any forgiveness from Sarath Fonseka.

    In fact one has to ask, “if the Rajapakse’s took the bait and fell for the Grand Chess Master’s trap then do you expect the Chess Master to accept a draw or do you expect him to take the game to its ruthless conclusion?”

    No, the Rajapakses went beyond the point of no return in February 2010 and ensured that they can never return by mid 2010. Like Prabhakaran, they have no choice now but to keep going down the path of disaster. If Prabhakaran took a large populace of the country hostage in his last days, what Rajapakses are capable of is truly frightening.

    Sri Lanka is currently under “check”. Check mate is about to happen. Either choose rule by the workers or rule by International Law. I doubt if you would have many other moves. Better think fast. Time is running out. One way or another, it will be spectacular.

    • wijayapala

      Dear ravana,

      “The way he spoke”, “what he said” is frequently stated instead of actually quoting what he said. When what he said is quoted, it is out of context, going along with the propaganda of the Rajapakse regime.

      A number of times you have sung hymns for Fonseka’s “professionalism,” leadership qualities etc while accusing all of his critics as being Rajapaksha mouthpieces (like this author, whose main point actually was that Fonseka’s incarceration is unjust).

      Kindly educate us of the “context” under which Fonseka made the following revealing statement about the present SLA leader:

      “5. During Elam war IV, the Commander had banned alcohol in the North and East operation areas as he expected all officers to be fully sober and committed all the time as the operations continued. However, during this time it was reported to Army Headquarters by one of the escorts of Jayasooriya who gave an anonymous call to Army HQ saying that Jayasooriya was consuming liquor in his room every day and indulging in homosexual activities with his Aid de Camp. Based on the report the Army Commander got his Aid de Camp arrested by the Military police where the officer had given a statement saying that he used to drink with Jayasooriya in his bedroom while Jayasooriya was lying down in bed and the Aid de Camp sitting next to him. However, the officer had denied involvement in any sexual activates. Anyway, Jayasooriya keeping a junior Lieutenant as his Adc, instead of a Captain and retaining the same officer even as the Commander of the Army when the normal rank of the Commanders Adc is a Major, the allegation of homosexual behavior with this young officer was seems to be quite true although it was not proved.”

      • ravana

        Yes I do believe Fonseka was a professional soldier with clear leadership qualities. It’s not a hymn but fact.

        So, you are quoting Fonseka giving facts about his decision to take disciplinary proceedings against the current Army Commander. I think the context you are referring to is the “Defeating Terrorism: Sri Lankan Experience” forum which attempted to exclude Fonseka’s contribution.

        How is this comparable to the author’s allegations? The author’s assertions exactly that. What Fonseka is saying (as distasteful as it may be to you) are facts of events during the last phase of the War.

        Are mixing metaphors here? Perhaps what you want to allege is that Fonseka is a homophobe. If you can prove it then I would be with you in denouncing him as a person. But I would not retract the opinion about his professionalism unless you can demonstrate he acted in any way other than within the rules of the Army.

    • Lakshan


      I think Rasika is a “he “:) may be a former journalist attached to Rivira Group

  • “Fonseka was the first serving ‘General’ in the history of the Sri Lankan Army.”

    This is incorrect. SF was the first serving SL Army commander to be promoted to the rank of four stars or full general; but he wasn’t the first serving SL Army officer. Gen Hamilton Wanasinghe was the first, when he was promoted full general and took over the Joint Operations Command in the mid-’90s. He was still a serving officer though no longer Army commander.

    • justitia

      Anuruddha Ratwatte was made a Four Star General by President Kumaratunge.
      There were photos of him on a horse, reviewing the troops.
      He was in charge of the war in his time as minister of defence.
      He may have been very first serving four statr general.

      • Don’t be silly, Justita. First of all, Hamilton Wanasinghe was promoted to general under President Premadasa, long before the CBK era. Second, Ratwatte wasn’t a serving member of the Armed Forces, so him being a general is like Mervyn being a doctor.

  • Rasika Jayakody

    Thank you very much for correcting it David..

  • Hela

    There wouldn’t have been any space for democratic dissidents or alternate media like GV to exist with in the country had SF won the presidency.

    However, the contribution of SF in eliminating terrorism is undeniable. It should have been acknowledged at the seminar.

  • wijayapala

    Dear ravana,

    What Fonseka is saying (as distasteful as it may be to you) are facts of events during the last phase of the War.

    If Fonseka’s effort was intended to convey his contribution to the LTTE’s defeat, then he shot himself in the foot (again) by digressing into diatribes against the Defence Secretary and sitting Army Commander. There absolutely was no need to mention Jayasuriya’s sexual proclivities, which had nothing at all to do with the outcome of the war, and in any case Fonseka was in no position whatsoever to substantiate his claims. This had the effect of reducing the credibility of his entire monologue on Lanka Guardian to a tirade.

    Did you not find it fascinating that Fonseka could not name even a single subordinate who had helped implement his grand strategy? Does he really expect us to believe that the entire officer corps of the SLA, save for himself, were a collection of robots that won the war simply by following his orders, with no capacity for individual thought?