19 September, 2020

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Quick Return To Normalcy Will Restrain Would-Be Dictators: Army Should Desist From Unwise Appointments

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Apart from the question of propriety and conduct unbecoming of a national institution like the military, the criminal charges of a serious nature filed in the courts by the police against the infamous Tripoli Military Intelligence Platoon, is a tinderbox political issue. The Rajapaksa Brothers and the SLPP are incensed by allegations that this unit and its commander Major Prabath Bulathwatte were instruments of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government for abduction and assassination of suspected LTTE cadres and anti-government journalists. Two cases filed against Gotabaya Rajapaksa in American courts allege such wrong doing. When the Paksas and their cohorts holler that intelligence units vital for national security have been dismantled they mean that their apparatchiks have been demobilised under public pressure about human and democratic rights. In just seven words: The Bulathwatte case is a political issue. 

Furthermore the Tripoli Platoon is deeply enmeshed with Gotabaya, therefore these political implications are also partisan in nature. Was Commander Mahesh Senanayake unaware of these corollaries? To be generous let us say that when he made his fateful decision he did not realise its full political dimensions. But the outburst of public condemnation afterwards has been so pronounced that by no means can he be still unaware. His minions surely have brought the following to his notice.

The Financial Times of 13 May reported under the title ‘Major Bulathwatte who commanded the Tripoli Military Intelligence Platoon, allegedly responsible for assassinations, abductions and attacks on journalists recalled to active service’ as follows: “The main suspect in the abduction of journalist Keith Noyahr in May 2008, Major Prabath Bulathwatte, who also led the shadowy military intelligence unit suspected to be behind the 2009 murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, has been restored to active service, Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake said. Making a shocking statement during a television interview aired on Saturday night, the army chief claimed that side-lining Bulathwatte had resulted in intelligence setbacks after the interviewer revealed details that the terrorist behind the Easter Sunday bombings, Mohammed Zaharan, had been on the intelligence officer’s radar”.

Colombo Telegraph carried, Lasantha’s Daughter Slams Army Reinstatement of Death Squad Leader: “Prabath Bulathwatte’s reactivation in a prominent post will not only pose a serious threat to and have a chilling effect on those army officers and witnesses who had the righteousness to speak up against Bulathwatte’s alleged wrongdoing says Lasantha Wickematunge’s daughter, Ahimsa Wickrematunge”.

The (international) Committee to Protect Journalists slammed Senanayake: “Promoting to active duty an intelligence officer implicated in the killing of a journalist and torture of two others severely undermines Sri Lanka’s claim that it is fighting impunity for crimes against journalists,” said CPJ Coordinator Steven Butler in Taipei. “The move creates threats to journalists in Sri Lanka, who are not safe to do their jobs.”

The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association “Strongly condemned the decision to restore Bulathwatte, the main suspect in the abduction of journalist Keith Nair and leader of a shadowy military intelligence unit suspected to be behind the murder of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wichremetunga”. 

Articles by Tassie Seneviratne (retired Senior Superintendent of Police Titled “Security Forces should not harass Innocent Public” in the Sunday Island of 12 and 19 May give details of many instances of communal oriented abuse of power by the security forces.

Believe me what I have quoted is not the worst being being said, particularly in the vernacular media and in private conversations. And what was Mr Senanayake’s response to this tirade? “Nobody should tell me what I should do”.He did not say he had cleared it with the President and Prime Minister; had he said so it would have put a different complexion on the matter. Then it would be a decision by politicians and there would be no undignified suggestion that the army was dabbling in politics. 

Leaving aside the political dimension there is a matter of propriety. Police investigators by all accounts have a strong case, but presumably there is nothing in the law preventing the reversion to state service of a person charged with the crimes, even abduction and assassinations. In India, candidates on murder charge are permitted to run for election to the Lok Sabha but they are turfed out if convicted. This ruling was to prevent governments in office filing fanciful charges to block opposition candidates from contesting elections. Bulathwatte’s case is in no way similar; his restitution to service is undesirable.

What are we to make of the argument that Bulathwatte is privy to useful information and/or that he is a capable investigator. Sure, both may be true but do not justify renewal of active service. Really Mr Senanayake is the 350,000 strong Sri Lankan military not able to find 10 to 20 officers of spotless reputation and high ability to man a top-class investigative unit? Current and retired police and military officers are incensed by the implication that the services are incapable of staffing a proficient intelligence unit without recourse people who are on trial. And as for information Bulathwatte may be privy to; why it’s simply a matter of debriefing him thoroughly. Or is it being said that he has declined to reveal critical information unless offered a post?

My next point is important. Times of political unrest and instability and periods in which a state of emergency prevails are dangerous for democracy. There is no denying that there are circumstances in which such measures are necessary, at the same time these are the circumstances in which plotters thrive and conspiracies abound. Historically when democracy has been abrogated and a dictatorship imposed anywhere in the world it is during turmoil; plain vanilla out-of-the blue dictatorship is rare. Taking all things into consideration I am not worried about the military per se in this respect in Sri Lanka at the present time. My concern is whether this or that political “black-hand” (there is more than potential culprit) may attempt to make a move behind the scenes. Such a thing was not possible in 1983 since we had a strong personality as President with 2/3 majority in Parliament and a stable government. Today the government is fractured, personalities at the helm plastic and the opposition ambitious. The atmosphere created by this double whammy (a terrorist assault followed by several days of communal mob rioting) is bad. The worst thing terrorism and mob rule does is to open the door to power grabbers. At such times strictly proprietary conduct of the military is most desirable. 

There are two more basic safeguards: Normalcy must the restored fast and the armed forces recalled to barracks, and second and more important, the primacy of civilian rule must remain absolute and unquestioned. The latter safeguard implies mobilisation of the people: Mobilisation in this context means openly and extensively discussing the dangers, vigorously opposing the idea in the media, and if the need arises, confronting it with a general strike. 

I do see the things returning to normal and the supremacy of civilian power being soon restored. Unfortunately, thereafter the three main candidates for the Presidency, Gota, Ranil and Sira are a poor slate. There are human rights charges against Gota and Tamils and Muslims perceive him as a threat. Will he try to hang on forever like brother Mahinda? Ranil is steward of a government that even UNPers call a failure and as for Sira the less said the better. None of this triumvirate will mobilise the people to meet a threat were it to materialise from one of the other two or from another source. The grapevine and social media are saturated with lies and speculation about potential presidential candidates – Dhammika Perera, Sarath Fonseka, Naganda Kodithuwaku, you name anyone and his/her name is floating in cyper space. The reality however is that there is a near universal demand for an alternative candidate. See for example the two web-links below or numerous others: 

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxwCgpTNfCnZjLRNsgJbhfFRMFdL?projector=1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij3XPGgscNU&feature=youtu.be

In these circumstances, how should one cast the second preference vote? No ways should any of the deplorable Gota/Ranil/Sira triumvirate get a first preference vote? This topic I will return to nearer the date and after Gota’s citizenship puzzle is clarified. Forget the triumvirate, Lanka needs an alternative that reflects ‘the fed-up voter’, those who rallied to the January Eighth Movement of 2015, the Left, Liberals, Democrats, TNA, Mano Ganesan, women’s and non-governmental bodies, the and if it wants to join the JVP. It’s not at all too early to call a Unity Forum(s) to take up the idea. Of course we won’t win or come second but Rome was not built in a day and I daresay the builders toiled for a while before the job got done. If the people in their majority choose Gota, Ranil, or some other rascal nominated by the SLPP or UNP they will suffer for five more years but the effort to get past such obstacles has to start now and the builders have to be tireless. Many people say this, but a concrete call for a Forum has yet to be issued.

A core element in the programme has to be rejection of ethno-politics – slavery to the identity obsession. Eradication will require intervention on many fronts; education, creating a new consciousness and changing the constitution. Embedding religion (the so-called rightful place of Buddhism) and special mention of Sinhala in all constitutions since 1972 has encouraged a narrow and profoundly divisive state of mind in the people. A plural, democratic, modern and progressive philosophy cannot be stimulated in the country unless the Chapter on Buddhism is repealed by assertion of secularism and all differential or unbalanced references to language are removed. None of this is going to happen overnight but it is time to boldly place these matters on the agenda. 

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Latest comments

  • 2
    1

    The Buddha taught absence of identity and compassion towards all living creatures. Therefore to say that there are sinhalese buddhists is a contradiction in terms. Sinhala is an identity and Buddhist is another identity. SriLanka is not a Buddhist country, but one in which people have been burnt alive, and hatred towards perceived other identities is very common, and led to mobs ( sinhala buddhist ?)
    to burn down the Jaffna Library and its contents.
    I suggest that those who have made comments above read ” What the Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula before continuing to comment

    • 2
      0

      US ambassador in Sri Lanka is always visiting Buddhist Mahanayakas and politicizing and weaponizing Buddhism and spreading fake intelligence to promote attacks on Muslims. No chance of a quick return to normality.What happened to the separation between Church and State? This woman should be asked to stop visiting Mahanayakas and politicizing and weaponizing religion or get out of Sri Lanka!
      Also lots of Fake Intelligence reports about IS boats, going to Kerala this weekend, in place of the other fake stories about IS caliphate of IS Mac Donalds franchize in Sri Lanka and weather disasters to spread panic and attacks on Muslims
      US ambassador Alina Teplitz is weaponizing religion – visiting Mahanayakas and Buddhist monks and then giving fake news about SOFA.

      • 0
        0

        Fake intell is the name of the new game to spread Islamopbobia that is promoted by CIA and USA.
        NPC and and shameless Jehan who is paid handsomely by USAID should get cracking and ask his funders, particularly Teplitz. to shut up and stop using religion to promote her military base in Trinco project by viisting Buddhist monks and telling lies about Islamic State to spread hate against Muslims .
        IS is owned and operated by US proxy Saudi Arabia and CIA planned the attacks on Easter to target China!

  • 4
    2

    The people who scream about Major Bulathwatte appointment were happy to hoist Batalanda butchers to power. What a comical world we live in……………..To these buggers Richard De Soysa (though he had all the credentials to be one of them) is nobody……..Why?

  • 3
    0

    Sri Lanka is in a utter mess as result of failed leadership over many decades. The intelligent and intellectual persons are either dormant or have left the island for good and is currently leaderless. What is needed in so called social democratic Sri Lanka is autocratic rule. At least for few decades until the Sri Lankan learn what true democracy means. Talking about how Sri Lanka is oldest democracy in Asia or not ” walking the talk” is not going to solve the problems. If Gota is the way forward or backward, so be it.

  • 1
    0

    Sri Lankan voters are a very resilient lot. Who expected the late Mrs. Sirimavo to lose in 1977. Who expected MR to lose in 2015.Do not be surprised if MS wins again although the chances look very slim at the moment. Further it is not going to be a one horse race even for GR. Everything resembles a cobweb at the moment.

    • 2
      0

      AD
      Many expected Sirimavo to lose but not so badly.
      The UF was split the SLFP itself had a split with a left faction led by TB Subasinghe joining the LSSP & CP. Sirimavo perhaps may have expected to return to power, as leaders after a while in power depend on individuals who only say what a leader likes to hear.
      A UNP-sympathetic friend predicted a massive UNP victory based on past results and an assumed marginal swing. The SLFP voter base was always weaker than that of the UNP, even at times when the UNP lost badly.
      Things are different now, thanks to JRJ for undermining the UNP through sheer vanity.

  • 0
    0

    This fiction writer says “There are two more basic safeguards: Normalcy must the restored fast and the armed forces recalled to barracks……..”
    How would the country restores normalcy after a 9 suicide attacks, without the armed forces?
    Why should they recalled to barracks? Is it because you want more innocents to be targeted?
    The rise of Muslim terrorism was a direct result of slave government’s decision to keep the armed forces in barracks and jail intelligence officers. It was a quick rise. It took Muslim terrorists only 2 years as they were inundated with funds and international support to annihilate Sinhalese.
    There is no going back now. It was the Army Commander who was instrumental in restoring normalcy in the country, not politicians.
    Sinhalese feel safe only if they can see soldiers on the street.
    With my highest appreciation to the Army Commander for all his efforts and the leadership to get the country back to normalcy, I cannot say it is fully achieved as people cannot stand this despicable government anymore. Their anger since 2015 against the slave government is like a volcano about to erupt.
    The country will get back to normalcy only after the Presidential election.
    Until then, it will be so so.
    If there was someone who could unite all Sinhalese, people won’t allow the President and the PM to stay in power any longer. Unfortunately, we don’t see such a leadership right now, though everyone expects someone to come forward.

  • 0
    0

    The events that unfold during the Easter Sunday fiasco investigation shown on tv will have a direct impact of the choice exercised by voters at presidential elections

    What we heard yesterday from head of intelligence is sufficient to drop Sirisena out of the race
    BBS and Bulatwatte issue will keep Gotabhaya to fiddle his thumbs without minority votes

    If no apparent contender outside the triumvirate is seen, like in India the UNP I f they infuse new orgonisers who are young educated tech savvy the chances are quite high of a resounding win

    But machinery must be oiled well ,a concrete propaganda plan where all orgonisers talk and focus on it without talking shop
    They must be well prepared with research on topics at debates on tv etc

    I see a good chance cos out of all the demons the UNP is still a decent demon

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