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.