24 September, 2020

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Letting The Military In

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

“Ignorance marches in triumph, carrying with her, in one place, barbarian ferocity; in another, a more refined and accomplished cruelty; every where, corruption and perfidy.” – Condorcet (Outlines of an historical view of the progress of the human mind)

Last week, ten uniformed soldiers under the command of a uniformed lieutenant, were caught felling teak trees in a forest reserve in Ampara. The soldiers claimed that the purpose of their illegal enterprise was to collect timber to build a barrack!

GotaWithArmyServing military-personnel engaging in criminal pursuits (ranging from fraud and robbery to murder and rape) is becoming a common Lankan phenomenon. Little wonder that the Sinhala-South is beginning to have second thoughts about the induction of this military into their economic spaces.

The CPA Surveys of Post-war Sri Lanka reveal that Sinhala opinion about creeping militarization of the economy was never monolithic nor adamantine, but as fractious and as evolving as Sinhala opinion on every other subject. Currently more than one third of Sinhalese disapprove of the military’s growing involvement in the economy. And the trend seems to be on the way up.

Between 2011 and 2013, the number of Sinhalese who disapproved of the military performing civilian economic tasks increased by 46.2%. In the same two years, the number of Sinhalese who approved of the creeping militarization of the economy decreased by 8.7%.

In 2011, 25.3% of Sinhalese strongly approved and 32.2% of Sinhalese somewhat approved of the military performing civilian economic tasks. 8.2% of Sinhalese strongly disapproved and 17.1% of Sinhalese somewhat disapproved of the military’s entry into the economy.[i]

By 2013, the picture had changed significantly. The number of Sinhalese who strongly approved of the military performing civilian economic tasks went down to 16.2% (by 35.97%) while the number of Sinhalese who somewhat approved of this process increased to 36.3% (by 12.7%). The number of Sinhalese who strongly disapproved the creeping militarization increased to 12.2% (by 48.7%) while the ‘somewhat disapprove’ category rose to 24.8% (by 45%).[ii]

Thus the Sinhalese are increasingly unhappy about the ongoing militarization of their economic spaces. This is despite the ethno-religious nature of the military, the barrage of pro-militarization propaganda the South is constantly subjected to and the dominant commonsense which equates any criticism of the military with anti-patriotism.

Almost five years after the end of the war, the military footprint continues to grow in Lankan society. According to the 2012 Global Militarization Index (which indicates the importance accorded to the military of a country in relation to the larger society), Sri Lanka, with a high score of 542, ranked 35th in the world.[iii]

Currently 13%-15% of the Lankan population serves in the military. And this oversized military is expanding its economic holdings at an alarming rate. For instance, the Army has its own resorts-brand – Laya[iv] – and its own travel agency – Air Travel Services Pvt Ltd. – catering to both tourists and pilgrims who visit India and Mecca. The Air Force has Heli Tours and manages two golf-links including the Eagles Golf Links near Trinco-harbour[v].

The Rajapaksas want to inculcate the belief that militarization of the economy is both necessary and good because the military can conduct economic tasks far more efficiently and honestly than civilian actors. The truth is far otherwise. The military, by virtue of being legally empowered to carry arms, has an unfair advantage vis-à-vis any civilian economic competitor. Since the military does not have to fear bankruptcy (or labour costs), it has no existential reason to pursue either productivity or profit. A country which opens the doors of its economy to its military lets in a major distorting factor which will result in crippling inefficiencies[vi], massive corruption and increased monopolisation. The expansion of the economic-jackboot does not create new employment or income generation opportunities. On the contrary, militarization deprives civilians of jobs and business-opportunities, a major problem in a country with a high youth unemployment rate.

Military Keynsianism is to Keynsianism what Social Darwinism was to Darwinism.

A military is, by and large, a microcosm of the society it springs from. In its serried ranks, it contains men and women of every sort, good and bad, law-abiding and criminally-inclined, efficient and inefficient. This reality is in stark contrast to the Rajapaksa-peddled fantasy of a monolithic military which is uniformly good, efficient and law-abiding.

Initially this fantasy was necessary to sustain the myth of a ‘Humanitarian Operation with zero-civilian-casualties’; if one admits that the military is made up of ordinary mortals, then the possibility of civilian-harm (either as a result of human error or human wrath) must be admitted. Subsequently, the Rajapaksas needed to glorify and sanitise the military in order to justify the creeping militarization of society.

So the myth of the War-hero as the Sinless Superman was created. The reality that the brave can be bad, that the indisputably courageous can also commit crimes and heroism may not be a developmental virtue became irrelevant, inadmissible, even unthinkable.

But as the militarization of society runs parallel to the criminalisation of the military, the Sinhalese are beginning to discover the disquieting reality behind the reassuring official-mirage of the virtuous, self-denying and infallible war-hero.

A Deadly Gamble   

What is specific about Lankan militarization is that it is happening under the clear guidance and tight control of a civilian regime. The motive force of Lankan militarization is the Rajapaksa need to disembowel democracy and create a protector-of-final-resort for their Familial Rule.

A familial oligarchy has a narrow stakeholder-base by definition. The military is being inducted as the (much junior and firmly-controlled) partner to fill this gap.

Post-war, instead of offering ordinary soldiers the choice of a financially secure civilian existence (via a system of voluntary retirement, based on the ‘golden handshake’ model’, combing monetary grants and pensions with skills training), the Siblings are using ordinary soldiers as indentured labour. The often menial tasks they are being forced to perform, without even the leavening of extra monetary compensation, cannot but seem demeaning to many soldiers. The end result would be a seething sense of social resentment which can become a breeding ground for anti-democratic and anti-minority fanaticism.

As yet the military is only an instrument of Rajapaksa Rule. The Siblings seem conscious of the potential danger of militarization, as is indicated by their conscious efforts to prevent the rise of any ‘popular’ military strongmen who can become alternate power-centres. This preventive method will work in the short term, especially since a Sinhala-Buddhist majority (albeit a declining one) still trusts the Ruling Siblings.

But once the Sinhala-Buddhist politico-electoral base of the Rajapaksas is substantially eroded and the continued existence of Familial Rule depends on force rather than consent – and if the democratic opposition is too weak to challenge the increasingly dysfunctional status quo – a disaffected military might see itself as the ‘solution’. The official ethos, which upholds the military as the embodiment of efficiency and honesty, may persuade an economically desperate and despairing Sinhala-South to see the military as the only antidote to the venal and feckless Rajapaksas.

The state is as strong as its core. Familial state is thus weak by definition. None would know that as well as its uniformed and armed guardians.



[ii] The number of Sinhalese who expressed no opinion decreased to 10.5 (by 39%) http://www.scribd.com/doc/182597529/Top-line-survey-results-Democracy-in-post-war-Sri-Lanka

[iii] http://www.bicc.de/old-site/uploads/pdf/GMI_Daten_2013_e.pdf Sri Lanka’s Military Expenditure Index Core was 4.08, Military Personnel Index Core was 4.83 and Heavy Weapons Index Core was 2.02.

[vi] Watch soldiers building a road or a park, and the inherent inefficiency of the model becomes obvious to the naked eye.

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Latest comments

  • 15
    26

    Another article by Tisaranee
    Variation on a theme – No. 87653
    Sri Lanka is an evil country
    Sinhala-Buddhists are demons
    Imperialists come and deliver us
    with your R2Pee

    • 14
      7

      .
      “The motive force of Lankan militarization is the Rajapaksa need to disembowel democracy and create a protector-of-final-resort for their Familial Rule”…..This is what author said….

      Nothing like srilanka is an evil country or buddhists are demon as you said. This shows the difference between you and the author.

      :-)

      • 1
        2

        A Change from the usual then;

        Theme SL has history of 2500 yrs (cull/thief history)
        SL has only innocents
        Sinhala Buddhists are Bodhisathvas
        Foreigners are against the world’s jewel of a country with foreign conspiracy
        We have nothing to learn from others, we only can teach the rest with pure and original language, culture & religion.

    • 5
      3

      Out rider the arse lifter aka nob-rider. Don’t blame Tissaranee for being honest and face the facts. Are you that dumb to not realise anything thats going on in this country? Sinhala Buddhist arseholes make me sick.

    • 4
      6

      No you fool! She is writing about militarization which is a problem in any country. Cannot you see a warning when you read it? You show all the absolute mulishness that has grabbed the country.

      • 3
        3

        Out of touch outrider,
        He is just another troll who borrowed his name from a UKIP extreme wing.

    • 5
      4

      Outrider, Jim Softy K. A. Sumanasekera etc.:
      Must you consistently display your allegiance to a violent and corrupt bunch of racists? We know the kind of b…ds you are. You don’t have to insist on confirming the fact.
      One of your comments is priceless. It is, “AND YOU GET COMMENTS WHICH ARE MOSTLY GARBAGE.” How very very true of you scum of the earth, hiding in various holes in various parts of the world.

  • 14
    2

    Commercialization of the military is copied from Egypt, where the army has a 40% stake in the economy. And the people there were impoverished. Look what happened and is happening after the overthrow of Mubarak. The military commander has promoted himself to field marshal showing what an idiot he is. He came our wearing sun glasses and started talking like Gaddafi. Now the news is he is running for president.

    Are we seeing the same scenario taking place in Sri Lanka?

    • 11
      2

      Our Gottafi cannot run for President. He, along with his brothers will face The Hague.

      • 3
        6

        buru mike…buffalo

        • 1
          0

          Thana kolla, it appears you are at a loss for words!

  • 8
    9

    Dear Tissaranee ,
    A very good paper but why blame the military men for taking a few logs of Teak timber from the forest reserves in Ampara to build a barrack to keep themselves safe from the ravages of the elements. After all they saved the nation from the terrorism of the Tamils. We must not forget Gotabhaya Rajapaksa the Secretary for defence using his familial position and of course his good offices in removing truck loads of valuable timber from the North viz. the Mannar district with impunity to build his luxury house in the cinnamon gardens in Colombo which included within an aquarium to house sharks. We are told that he would watch these sharks in action for his relaxation. If Gotabhaya could have done this why cannot the poor army men do what they did to keep their bodies and souls together. Bensen

    • 3
      4

      Sinhala military men are the ones to be blamed for following this Goat baiya.

  • 2
    7

    She says that in 2012 ‘Sri Lanka, with a high score of 542, ranked 35th in the world’, and we think ‘How terrible, how shocking, what is the government doing?’

    Then we take a look at the actual table for 2013 and find that democratic Israel is top of the list at 794 followed by the greatly admired Singapore at 752. So they are higher in ranking than all the Middle Eastern dictatorships and North Korea.

    • 1
      5

      Where was this survey she is talking about done was it from the. North of. S. L

  • 8
    1

    MR and the ruling regime have a firm grip on the essentials; keep the Sinhala-Buddhist Armed Forces onside, keep the Sangha and their saffron-robed imposters onside and, keep the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate well fed on the continuing threats to their Thrice-Blessed paradise in the sun. This is a recipe for a long and happy rule. Those who change this regime have a very big mountain to climb.

    • 0
      0

      damn typo…”’Those who would wish change this regime have a very big mountain to climb.

  • 2
    4

    All undergrads receive leadership training in army camps. No discrimination. Compulsory military service for all youth above 18 will end this talk on militarization.

  • 2
    4

    Thisa[Edited out]]ranee, From where you obtained these figures. Definitely not from Sri Lanka Statistics dept. Maybe from a INGO in SL and funded by West? Or maybe from your wildest dreams? But I doubt that because I think you sleepless thinking about SL and the Rajapaksha’s from May 2009 upwards. Poor soul.

  • 5
    0

    Rajapakse regime spent lot of national wealth for bribing UN Sec General Ban-Ki-Moon to former LTTE Commander (wanted by LTTE for corruption). Mahinda Rajapakse dedicated his power for corrupting the nation to his brothers Gota and Basil and his son Namal.The High level military personal were allowed to use their powers to what ever they want. They do the big corruption projects and they allow low level military to do low level corruption such as log cutting and robberies in the North. It is a chain of corruption from bottom to Top.

  • 3
    6

    Only a fool would trust CPA census!

    Lies, damn lies and statistics!

    CPA went to Canada and made anti-SL statements.

  • 3
    7

    Fascinating stuff.. Even at 13% , Srilanka has a Military as big as the US.

    Wonder whether it is the reason for sending Nisha from our Neighbourhood to warn out inhabitants?.

    According to the internet, 62 Coup in Srilanka was the hard work of 12 Sinhalese, who were all Christians, 6 Tamils and 8 Burghers..

    All were high rankers in the Three Forces , plus the Police.

    They were acquitted by Cameron’s Legal Lords, because Yakkos weren’t allowed to write laws.

    All recent Regime changes were carried out by the US and Cameron & his EU mates with the help of the Armed Forces in non developed Nation.

    Is Miss T dissing this age old Western Doctrine?….

    • 0
      0

      “They were acquitted by Cameron’s Legal Lords, because Yakkos weren’t allowed to write laws” says KAS. My information is GG Ponnambalam QC
      and Co had them released through due process of law at the Trial-at-Bar, which was a serious setback to the ambitious Felix Dias (Bandaranaike) at that time, who apparently worked to set up the Trial.

      Senguttuvan

  • 6
    0

    Can’t the US/UK come in, take the four Rajapakses to Hague and run our country for some time until we are fit to govern ourselves?

    • 0
      4

      Why, for eradicating our mother land of terrorism? What sort of an ungrateful pig are you?!

    • 0
      1

      What’s in it for them?

    • 3
      0

      Yes, they should target the Rajapakse family. Leave rest of armed forces heads alone. They following orders from Rajapakses.

      • 0
        0

        No one follows orders because they are afraid but because they are allowed to milk the cow Neda??

  • 1
    3

    TG:

    We can understand that you blame every thing on Rajapakses.

    Why Sinhala buddhists are not to be blamed for this militarization.

    Is it a new trend that you have used statistics to prove what the public wantED. That is another stupid way to manipulate the public opinion.

    Anyway, If the SURVEY QUESTION WAS “Instead of maintaining the military completely with public money if military was asked to earn at least part of their budget WHAT WOULD THE PUBLIC OPINION HAVE BEEN.

    ANYWAY, TG, YOU ARE WRITING GARBAGE – STUFF AND YOU GET COMMENTS WHICH ARE MOSTLY GARBAGE.

  • 4
    1

    Dear Ms Thisaranee Gunesekera,

    On hearing the BBC announcement of a namesake of yours being yet another apparent victim of the MR-GR regime, (both by omissions and commissions) mistaking it to be you, I find it very difficult express the mixture of feelings that I underwent. Yet suffice to say that it was akin to my parents naturally passing away about two months of each other and a couple of decades or so ago.

    I trust you too will get the message and be extra vigilant and move out of the sphere of influence of the GOSL if you have not already done so. I am willing to contribute a $1,000.00 towards a start-up fund to be accounted for transparently and openly by the Colombo Telegraph to help you and other journalists like you to move to safer country.

    I would not presently recommend Australia with the present more gullible and as intelligent a PM TA very much like MR who has been even smarter in getting the GOA both labour and Liberal get them under obligation with waves of refugees from SL through games of apparent double deception and deceit and provide morale support for the GOSL’s torture and dictatorial autocratic path through his euphemenistic utterance of “difficult things happen in difficult times” and even rewarding them with naval vessels for their cunning and craftiness.

  • 0
    0

    ” Currently 13%-15% of the Lankan population serves in the military. “

    Corruption and perfidy, or perfidy alone ?

  • 1
    0

    The north is already ‘militarised’ – minor ‘infractions’ are dealt with by threats/imposition of ‘rehabilitation’, major ones by even ‘disappearances’.
    Many of the 60,000 deserters are now part of the underworld.

  • 4
    1

    Dear Tisaranee,

    Your excellent article would have been enhanced if you had outlined upfront the constitutional roles and responsibilities of the military so that it would be clear to the reader that the military’s engagement in the economy was never envisaged.

    Another point, is the blatant use of military force to protect specific economic interests – i.e. Weliweriya – as a harbinger of what’s to come when military economic interests are threatened.

    Regards
    GTBP

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