03 October 2011

Calling Naval Commodore Kanishka Kularatne (Rtd): your services are needed sir!

The war is over.  The idea of the war hero has lost its lustre.  Or so they say.  I am not sure on either count.  It would be ideal if we were left alone to resolve our differences and decide our futures.  This is not the case.  If it took men and women of exceptional courage, determination, skill and wisdom to bring to where we are, i.e. a terrorist-free Sri Lanka, such men and women are still needed so we can pick ourselves up, correct our systemic flaws and continue to move ahead boldly and with confidence.

There was a time when our security forces played a ceremonial role.  All that changed in 1971 when the JVP launched its first insurrection and taught this society what terrorism is and what terrorism is capable of.  Tamil chauvinism proved to be a quick learner and surpassed guru swiftly.  Tamil nationalistic terrorism ruled this country for almost three decades.  Freedom was recovered at great cost; all the more reason why it should not only be protected but made more meaningful. 
These are days of off-shore terrorism.  In a different era it would be called invasion.  The trick now is to get proxies within a country to deliver what foreign interests demand.  These are days, therefore, when vigilance has to be maintained.   On all fronts.  While securing national borders is no doubt of paramount importance, but as important is to put in place mechanism whereby national interests in other spheres are protected.  Weaknesses need to be addressed, loopholes eliminated, holes plugged.  Today’s heroes will be those who give their best to be principled in public and private spheres, have unquestioned integrity and are endowed with the skills necessary to put things right.  
Few politicians would make decent soldiers and not all soldiers make good politicians.  On the other hand, if discipline, courage and self-sacrifice are considered useful attributes and indeed considered to be absent in the political firmament, there is a strong argument for such people to contest elections.  Provided of course that they have an exceptional track record and their post-military performance has not left room for doubt regarding outlook and ability.
The end of the war saw many high ranking officers in the security services being offered high posts, including diplomatic appointments. Some made sense, some not.  Some contributed, some didn’t exactly help the cause.  All things considered, however, it can be safely said (and we should not be self-congratulatory in this) that the majority of these individuals were more effective than people who have the training and experience in the relevant fields.  One thing is certain: those who have stellar military records are far superior to your run of the mill politician.  This is why people have elected several such officers to parliament and to provincial councils. 
Navy Commodore Kanishka Kularatne is contesting.  I have never met the man, but when I saw the name I wanted to check him out, for there are officers and officers, some exceptional and some pedestrian, and we live in times when more mileage than is deserved is sought to be obtained on account of having served in the security forces.  I did the background check.
Kanishka Kularatne is an Old Anandian whose leadership qualities were noted even as a schoolboy; he was appointed Head Prefect.  He joined the Navy as a Cadet Officer and being among the brightest prospects in his cohort was selected to follow the International Midshipman Course at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.  HE was the Commanding Officer of several vessels including SLNS Balavatha and SLNS Ranakami and bases such as Gemunu, Tissa, Vijitha, Parakrama and the Dockyard. He also served as the Acting Director (Naval Training) at the Navy Headquarters.
Like many officers, he too won many medals.  Unlike many, he was honoured with the Ranashura Medal for bravery and gallantry, especially for his exceptional dedication and courage in combatting terrorism.  Does that single him out? Probably not.  He nevertheless stands among the tallest in the security forces.
In my inquiries I came across an interesting story about the man.  Sometime in the year 2003, i.e. when the Ceasefire Agreement was in operation, he had been detailed to search for a ship purportedly carrying arms for the LTTE.  Today everyone knows that the CFA was a sham and was a mechanism for the LTTE to rearm, recuperate, recruit and regroup in anticipation of renewed hostilities.  Back then, those of us who made that argument were vilified as ‘war mongers’ not willing to ‘give peace a chance’.  The Army knew, though, and so too the Air Force and the Navy.  Their hands were tied. 
Kanishka was directed to take whatever action was feasible.  On June 13th or 14th, 2003, the said arms ship was detected.  Two stories. One, that facing imminent engagement by a determined and superior weaponry, the terrorists opted for self-destruction.  The other was that Naval Commodore  Kanishka Kularatne engaged the rogue vessel and destroyed it.  The first story claims that the incident occurred inside territorial waters while the second claims it happened beyond waters that legitimately came under the jurisdiction of the Navy.
The matter was inquired into by the SLMM.  Strangely, they seem to have dismissed the fact that the LTTE had no business to engage in arms smuggling.  Naval Commodore Kularatne got a lot of flak.  He was exonerated. 
I am not versed in the relevant legalities, but it is clear to me that any rogue arms shipment which delivers people-killing instruments to a bunch of ruthless terrorists is a massive threat to the ordinary citizens of the country.  If the leaders sanction such smuggling for whatever reason then I don’t think it is incumbent on any right thinking citizen to uphold such laws.  It is different for an office of the Navy.  If it was indeed the second story that is true, then Kanishka is a hero in my eyes.  He would not have been unaware of the personal costs of embarking on such a course of action.  If it is the first story that is true, then too, the precipitating factor was his presence and readiness to engage.  Either way, a hero. 
That kind of sacrifice I do not see in our present day politicians.  Indeed few would expect our politicians to show even a fraction of the courage and to be ready to give up a fraction of what Naval Commodore Kularatne was ready to sacrifice. 
That war was won and it is because of people like Kanishka.  Today we are in the midst of another war, that of restoring dignity and effectiveness to public office.  Kanishka won’t be able to do it alone.  But then again, it will not get done if not for people like him doing what they can do: being courageous, determined, ready to sacrifice and putting country and fellow citizen before self. 



sri lankan lion said...

Great article to pay tribute to heroes!!!