By M.M. Janapriya –
Last Sunday devotees assembled as usual at the churches but in a grander scale to observe the Easter Sunday. Some sat down with friends and family for breakfast at three of the city’s top most hotels to celebrate Easter. Alas! in a matter of milliseconds 259 innocent lives were blasted and over 600 were injured by some mentally deranged or misguided youth carrying powerful bombs in their back packs. This tragedy took place despite the authorities getting to know well in advance that an attack on sites of worship of Christian faith and some 5 star hotels was imminent. Even so why wasn’t it thwarted?
Response of the Cardinal
In the face of there being clear and unforgivable security lapses which converted a preventable attack in to an inevitable one, the Arch bishop was magnanimous enough to make every effort to dispel any fears the country might have developed on the ordinary Muslim community and remained consciously above the level of playing the usual blame game. This prevented a possible backlash and more bloodshed for certain so the Arch Bishop’s approach was exemplary and indeed deserves to be lauded.
On their own admission the government knew for quite some time that there have been extremists of Islamic faith in our midst. On the 4th April 2019 or thereabouts foreign intelligence agencies have officially alerted the local counterparts of the imminent danger giving a good amount of detail in the process. Apparently Indian intelligence have been briefing their Sri Lankan counterparts of this attack for about 4 months at unofficial level and in the last month this briefing has happened weekly till the official intimation took place on the 4th April. According to foreign journalists, countries rarely get this kind of detailed information. In the above mentioned background one would have expected the Sri Lankan authorities to have moved very quickly and to have mobilized all their intelligence, police and military muscle in order to draw up a fool proof plan to thwart this attack. Instead, what followed was a comedy of errors. The IGP apparently wrote letters (I am not sure of the date of the letter) to 5 DIGG about the matter but the action 4 of them seems to have taken is unclear. The one in charge of VIP security had intimated in writing to his colleagues in charge of different VIPs asking them to tighten the security of the latter by letter dated 9th April 2019. This reminds me of how the health department functioned the time I started working as a junior doctor 48 years ago. Write letters and wait for things to happen. The way the Defense Secretary responded to foreign journalists trying to absolve himself from blame was shameful to say the least. One of the young Ministers owes his life to his dad who was in a hospital ICU. The senior advised him not to go to the church on the fateful day as there had been a threat of an attack on churches. Unfortunately even this minister failed to pass this information to the public. If the strength of the information was such that it prevented him attending the Easter Sunday mass, it was indeed authentic enough for him to have left no stone unturned to inform the public of the impending disaster.
The president and the Prime Minister were quick to place before the suspecting nation, the reason why they should not be responsible for letting the attack go through by audacious inaction. The time now is 11.30 pm on the 26th April 2019 and just about 10 minutes ago I watched the President Mr. Sirisena being quizzed by journalists at a press conference. A little earlier he addressed the nation in which speech he exclaimed many times “I am not trying to shirk responsibility for not being able to prevent this attack. The entire government should stand responsible”. There is a saying, the one who excuses accuses himself, so let the nation decide whether the head of the state who was holidaying in Singapore (his own revelation on state TV of 26th April 2019) when the country was getting blasted like falling dominos was indeed a Nero playing the viola when Rome was on fire. It looks to me that the 359 people who paid the ultimate price had committed as a group, an unforgivable sin (like facilitating mass killers by suboptimal action, inexplicable inaction or indeed as a result of professional lethargy) in one of their previous births, for they went on their exit journey despite there being enough that could have been done to foil the attacks that killed them.
As I said before, the president and the PM were quick to point out (authenticity has to be established) that they had been kept in the dark as per intelligence shared by the foreign agencies which the intelligence chief Sri Lanka had passed on to the Secretary, Ministry of Defense as per protocol. The latter’s premise was that they never thought the attack was going to be one of this magnitude. So quite rightly he was made to resign as he seemed to shamelessly hang on to his job after the wanton destruction of many lives and property in which his suboptimal action may have played a significant role.
The Defense Secretary was probably appointed by the president as the latter is the Minister in Charge of Defense. As such for presiding over a blunder caused by quasi-perfect action of an appointee of his, costing hundreds of innocent people’s lives, the President himself should seriously consider resigning his job. Position of the PM is less clear but it is proven that his security staff was alerted by DIG Dassanayake. If so there is a good chance the PM too was in the know of this threat. Had that been the case PM should gracefully relinquish his duties too.
I am not that particular whether President and/or the PM resigned or not because in this part of the world where accountability is conspicuous by its absence, politicians have continued to sit pretty in their respective jobs no matter what but the worrying thing is how and why police department from the IGP through the DIGG to the heads of VIP security and the Defense Secretary were almost ‘laughing in the face of disaster’. Their casual action or indeed audacious inaction is a matter of serious concern. The questions I would like the president to answer is 1) Did these people act in the way they did, due to individual professional cretinism? or 2) Were they dancing someone else’s tune in unison?
I would like to call the bizarre response of the police and Defense Secretary masterly inactivity. Masterly inactivity can be good. Let me explain. The treatment of Appendicitis is Appendicectomy (surgical removal of the Appendix) done within 48 hours. Thereafter an Appendix mass forms with the surrounding structures localizing the infection. This is the nature’s way of trying to cure the disease and at this point we as surgeons facilitate this process by resting the patient, resting the gut, infusing antibiotics etc. At this juncture the surgeon seems inactive because he is not operating but this is not just inactivity due to indifference or lack of motivation due to some other reason. This apparent inactivity is masterly inactivity as all modes of help are being accorded to the patient, short of surgery which will be instituted if complications were to occur. Taking the Appendicits example, should the inaction of the officials and the police be categorized Masterly Inactivity? It shouldn’t be, because the calamity could not be prevented but if the intended outcome was a sort of ‘shepherding’ the bombers to their respective destinations this is indeed masterly inactivity at its highest.
If the answer to question number one is yes we can all breathe a sigh of relief. One can easily get rid of the entire slumbering constabulary and replace them with better ones. If on the other hand the answer is yes to the second question we are doomed. If this is indeed the case it is imperative that we make the full use of available world expertise like the FBI or the Scotland Yard to uncover the unseen hand that is puppeteering these figures whose relative inaction is unfathomable. As a citizen of this country I want these questions answered and answered quick. I can be certain that the country at large will be asking these questions themselves and they deserve a quick response too.
*Dr. M.M. Janapriya FRCS FRCSEd, Retired Senior Consultant Surgeon, NHSL, Colombo