There’s nothing funny about explosives and explosions. Nothing to salivate about. And yet, we are hearing guffaws and seeing people licking their lips. All this because some explosives were found buried in Chavakachcheri.
The derision obviously comes from the Opposition or rather those affiliated with what is now called the ‘Joint Opposition’. Obvious because of the way the two camps have broadly viewed two interrelated factors: terrorism and security. The movers and shakers of this regime have a long history of pooh-poohing threats to national security. On the other hand, those in the Join Opposition have a long history of being fascinated with national security to the point of paranoia. Similarly the former set has always hobnobbed with the LTTE and bet on negotiations while the latter advocated military approaches. All this, of course, framed by political prerogatives.
The Joint Opposition knows, given the uncalled for complacency on the part of the Government, an explosion somewhere (anywhere in fact) would cause a lot of embarrassment.
A coalition is always embedded with political unease. In this instance, there is also public displeasure on account of economic ills (no longer dismissible by ‘blaming the Rajapaksas’). As such a bomb or equivalent incident that jolts everyone is not something this Government can afford at this point. The ITCA affair, mismanagement, a pervading sense that nothing is getting done and worse, nothing can get done due to incompetence, a fixation with the Rajapaksas rather than focus on ‘getting the job done,’ and the general tendency of politicians to shoot their mouths, could make the bang sound even louder.
This is why the Joint Opposition is making it sound as though terrorism is back. That’s silly. That’s irresponsible. The hard facts, so far, give cause for concern but certainly not panic. If there were moves to kill the story or dilute it, that’s understandable. Indeed, there’s reason to believe that the Government quickly moved to play things down, either to keep the people calm or to stop the Joint Opposition or anyone else from exploiting it for political gain.
All we know is that some bombs have been found in a part of the country that knew only war for several decades. Commendable as the efforts of the security forces have been in clearing land mines, ferreting out LTTE combatants and looking for and discovering LTTE arms cache, it would be silly to think that the job was completed. Indeed it is reasonable to predict that there would be such discoveries in the future as well. This does not mean that the security forces are incompetent and neither does it mean that the LTTE or anyone else is getting ready for battle.
But if the Government is really concerned about the Joint Opposition or anyone else playing this up, then it should seriously consider doing something about its pretty dismal reputation with respect to national security.
This regime, after all, is heavily loaded with politicians, advisors and self-appointed spokespersons who vociferously opposed all moves to defeat the LTTE militarily.
Some of them did their utmost to scuttle that effort. When preferred outcome did not materialize, i.e. when the LTTE was militarily crushed, these pundits called for an immediate withdrawal of the security forces citing ‘end of war’. Now, a country that has suffered from terrorism for three decades must err on the side of caution. Demilitarization is necessary but at a pace that is determined by those responsible for national security and not by NGO racketeers, academics and politicians who would not have to take the responsibility if some tragedy had taken place had their advice been taken.
Almost seven years have passed since the LTTE was militarily defeated. Is that long enough to conclude that ‘things are back to normal’? Perhaps. Perhaps not. We still have sabre-rattling Eelamists. We have LTTE backers sharpening knives. Even if we forget all that, there are two reasons why it is silly to drop guard.
The truth is we are still quite a distance from ‘reconciliation’. We have had the LLRC and we have had fresh reconciliation-moves from this Government. The new initiatives are being handled by people with dubious track-records vis-à-vis the LTTE, the Eelam lobby and engaging terrorism. Expecting anything but disaster from such worthies would be silly. Constitutional reform and other such projects marked by reconciliation-sweeteners are conspicuously silent on the A, B, C of conflict resolution, especially the facilitation of grievance-articulation, the call for substantiation and the deployment of doability-logic with respect to aspirations.
This is a government that is led by people who refuse to acknowledge that federalist and devolutionist advocates keep confusing myth with fact and are silent on the following: a) that the majority of Tamils live outside the North and East, b) that the provincial demarcations have no historic, geographic or economic logic, c) that historical claims of Tamil chauvinistic groups come without substantiation, and d) that devolution makes no economic sense.
However, since grievance is felt, it is real and if reconciliation of any kind is slow, messy or (as is evident) scripted to flounder due to the utter idiocy or pernicious intent of the architects, it can grow into further discontent. Some have argued that it was such conditions that fathered the LTTE. It was not of course because there were other factors, but if we go with that argument, then it makes sense to be vigilant.
Secondly demilitarization by way of troop withdrawal, dismantling of military facilities etc., should not mean that military intelligence should be retired. That’s a non-negotiable in the year 2016 given the dimensions of terrorism and other security risks that have become part and parcel of life on this earth. However, this is something that this Government has either not understood or chooses to compromise for reasons best known to the decision-makers. We have a Foreign Minister who operates as though he also holds the Defence portfolio. We have an ex-President who thinks she is the President. All in all, we have a Government that believes reconciliation is about pandering to the whims and fancies of those who not too long ago were either endorsing the LTTE or demanding parity of status for the terrorists vis-à-vis the Government of the time.
This Government seems hell-bent on attacking the previous regime to the detriment of doing the job it was elected to do. Some key players believe that ‘governance’ (good or otherwise) is about sacking or punishing every individual associated with the previous regime, quite forgetting for example that those in the security establishment, intelligence personnel included, are state employees and that national security is their business. Harassing them while being coy with LTTE operatives (here and abroad) may feed the illusion that reconciliation will ensue, but it severely compromises the ability of the state to respond to ruptures that are in the end never easy to predict.
Let us repeat: it is silly to go overboard about security lapses over the ‘Chavakachcheri bombs.’ The discovery and the angst over security that has enabled the Joint Opposition to give the incident more play than it deserves is something that should make the Government think, but that’s a political issue of the less-important kind. What’s important is this Government clearly evident naïvete with respect to the security requirements of a nation in the 21st Century, especially aspects of military intelligence. That, we emphasize, has little to do with reconciliation or scuttling the same. Non-negotiable. Mishandle it and you not only open the door for the kind of violence the country suffered for three decades, but it will also make for a quick political exit.
The ‘Chavakachcheri bomb’ that might explode the political equation does not lie in the Northern Province. It is right in the heart of Colombo. It is in the minds of those in power. The problem is that a mind-set that is naïve about national security needs can cause detonation simply by naval-gazing.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer whose work can be found on his blog, www.malindawords.blogspot.com.
This article was published in the Daily Mirror, April 1, 2016. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: malindasene.