A series of bombings struck churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday killing more than 250 people including 40 foreigners and wounding more than 500 others following the Easter Sunday suicide attacks that also devastated the livelihood of the entire nation.
The attacks were the deadliest since the end of the civil war 10 years ago, and targeted three churches as well as four tourist hotels in Colombo.
These attacks were carried out by a little-known Islamic organization named National Thawheed Jama’ath (NTJ), which sent shock waves across all directions in the country.
WHO SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE?
At the outset, I would like to place a question before citizens of this country - who should be held responsible for the Easter Sunday attack for not taking prompt actions?
Majority of Sri Lankans believe that the President, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of Defence, the Commander of the Army and Inspector General of Police.
WHY THE PRESIDENT?
Because the President is the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces, head of the Security Council and Minister of Defence and also Minister of Law and Order.
The information of a possible bomb attack had been brought to the notice of the President many a time at the Security Council by Intelligence Chief and responsible Defence and Police Officers.
This will be further proved by the information provided by Indian authorities.
Indian intelligence managed to break into National Thawheed s communications and began tapping into the plot, according to Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi.
“That is why the kind of detailing of the incident they received was very, very specific,” Sahni said.
“They knew the group, they knew the targets, they knew the time, they knew the whereabouts of the suicide bombers, and all of this was communicated to the Sri Lankan Government.”
Top Sri Lankan officials also have acknowledged that some of the island nation’s intelligence units were given advance notice about the attacks and that little was done to prevent them. Accordingly, although ample and accurate pieces of information were provided well in advance, the Commander in Chief failed to take either pre-emptive nor preventive actions causing a massive human disaster in the Sri Lanka history creating a lot of uncertainties, tension and panic among people and ruining the national security, national economy, national culture, national intelligence, which have a correlation with political leadership directly impacting national survival.
Furthermore, Jonah Blank a principal investigator and senior political scientist for the RAND Corporation said, “In this case, it does appear as if there was a political failure which led to a poor Government response. The warning from an external intelligence agency ( almost certainly India) was reported relayed to the office of President Sirisena. It seems as if these warning were not acted on sufficiently and were not relayed to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. There are two reasons for this! First, the President doesn’t trust the Prime Minister (He tried to have him ousted in October 2018), and there is bad blood between them. Second, the President believes that India favoured the Prime Minister over him, so he may have discounted the intelligence on these grounds.”
Therefore, President Sirisena cannot wash his hands off from his responsibility for national security simply by sacking the Secretary of Defence and the Police Chief. As per Article 30(1) of the Constitution, “The President of the Republic-of Sri Lanka who is the Head of the State, Head of the Executive and of the Government and the Commander – in Chief of the Armed Forces.”
Accordingly, the SC judgement re-19th Amendment, national security is an inalienable part of people’s sovereignty reposed on the President in trust. As per the opinions of legal experts, inaction of commander in chief has amounted to violation of fundamental rights of victims and citizens.
Similarly in France, the credibility of King Louis XVI was deeply undermined and the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic became an ever increasing possibility. Louis XVI was the last king of France and the first part of his reign was marked by attempts to reform the French Government in accordance with enlightenment ideas like yahapalanaya.
The king failed to fulfil promises made including to provide basic need bread which was the staple food. It says when people asked for bread, the queen replied “Why? Don’t they have cake?” This amply demonstrated and knowledge he had on people and towards humanity. King’s indecisiveness and conservatism led by some elements of the people of France to view him as a symbol of the perceived tyranny in addition to being ineffective, inefficient and useless to the nation.
The king was arrested and tried by national convention, found guilty of high treason and executed by guillotine on January 21, 1793 as a desacralized French citizen.
WHY THE PRIME MINISTER?
After the 19th Amendment two sources of authorities were created. In terms of practicality the incumbent PM is the key responsible person behind most of the policy issues of the Government. As the PM, who is likely to have the command of Parliament and the leader of the political party who formed the board of ministers is under the effective control of the executive powers including the national security.
Therefore, Prime Minister is also responsible for the human disaster for failing to take prompt actions either to pre-empt or prevent.
THE IGP AND THE DEFENCE SECRETARY
Both of them were asked to resign as they were held responsible and were pending inquiries. It is unfair and unrealistic to hold Navy and Air Force commanders responsible as extremists carried out a land attack and there was no violation of air and sea.
WHY THE ARMY COMMANDER?
The Army Commander is personally responsible for handling, directing, managing, controlling and commanding military intelligence.
Military intelligence includes information on other countries’ military forces, plans, and operations gained through a variety of collection methods. It helps civilian policymakers and military leaders understand political and military trends around the world, the sources of potential regional conflict, and emerging threats to the global and regional security environment, and provides recommendations on how best to employ information-gathering techniques and technologies. All these process fails when military intelligence is neglected.
The Sri Lanka Army is a classic example of negligence of military intelligence by the Army Chief.
It has reduced the military effectiveness and efficiency and put the military into a darker side allowing the enemy to capitalize on the weak security situation. The Easter Sunday attack on Sri Lankan Christian churches and tourist hotels killing more than 250 civilians including 40 foreigners proved the consequences of negligence of military intelligence where Army commander himself should be held responsible and he cannot blame police saying that police didn’t pass down the information. It is the prime responsibility of the Commander of the Army to find, analyze and take actions against a threat to national security, where he failed. Therefore, inexperienced Army commander who lacks required knowledge in national security same as dismissed the Secretary of Defence, should resign without further proving to the world his inability.
Similarly, India’s Naval Chief Adm. D.K. Joshi, resigned after a Russian-made Indian submarine caught fire off the coast of Mumbai, injuring seven officers and leaving two missing.
After the accident, Adm. D. K. Joshi, the Chief of the Indian Naval Staff, submitted his resignation, “Taking moral responsibility for the accident.”
Likewise in USA, the Air Force’s General Ronald R. Fogleman, top officer retired citing “a variety of reasons” that included differences over responsibility for failing to defend against a terrorist attack that killed 19 U.S. servicemen last year in Saudi Arabia.
“I do not want the institution to suffer and I am afraid it will if I am seen as a divisive force and not a team player,” Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, the Air Force chief of staff, said in a written statement. He becomes the first of 16 Air Force chiefs to step down voluntarily before completing his full term.
The chief of France’s armed forces resigned in a dispute with Emmanuel Macron over defence budget cuts. In a statement, 60 year-old Pierre de Villiers said he had tried to keep the armed forces fit for an ever more difficult task within the financial constraints imposed on it, but was no longer able to sustain that.
“In the current circumstances I see myself as no longer able to guarantee the robust defence force I believe is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people, today and tomorrow, and to sustain the aims of our country,” he said.
Above examples amply demonstrate qualities of an officer and a gentleman of professional Armed Forces in the world, more than command responsibility.
One must understand that, one cannot demand respect, but that it should be commanded. This is the most important moment in Sri Lankan history. It was proved beyond doubt that the person who holds the office of Commander of the Sri Lanka Army lacks competency and experience to tackle Sri Lanka Army, which had an immense reputation in defeating the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization and therefore, he should not try to further stay in the seat for personal benefits at the mercy of politicians specially the President.
PRESIDENT’S PROMISE TO CHANGE HEADS OF DEFENCE FORCES
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said he expected to change the heads of the country’s defence forces within a day following their failure to prevent the Easter Sunday bombings, despite the fact they had prior information about the attacks.
“I will completely restructure the Police and Security Forces in the coming weeks. I expect to change the heads of defence establishments within the next 24 hours,” Sirisena said in a televised address to family members. They may struggle with or face new challenges following the event and they may suffer from post stress traumatic disorder (PSTD) which authorities must take prompt actions. Inter-ethnic anxiety has also risen in the affected districts as well as in the country.
There are a lot of uncertainties, tension and panic among people, due to ongoing threats of another round of explosions, ongoing security checking across country, suspicion about terrorists and state of emergency being issued and authorities warned that the country still faces the threat of ISIS terror attacks.
The Inspector General of Police, Pujith Jayasundara, came under heavy criticism following the bombings with the United People’s Freedom Alliance urging that he resign for this total failure to prevent the bombings. Later, former Presidential candidate Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka claimed it was unfair to blame the IGP and claimed it was a conflict between the functioning of military intelligence and criminal investigators, and called for better intelligence mechanisms and security clearances to be streamlined.
In a speech delivered in Parliament, former President and Current Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa slammed the Government for weakening the intelligence services over the years.
He stated that in January 2015, he handed over a secure and peaceful country with a strong national security apparatus.
He claimed the present Government was squarely responsible for the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings, stating that on an important occasion such as Easter, representatives of the Government usually attend Mass; on this occasion, no representatives were present in or near churches.
He blamed the Government for diluting the powers of the national security apparatus and claimed this terrorist attack would never have occurred under his administration. Additionally, the Government was preparing to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act; he questioned what kind of position the Government would have been in to respond to the incident had they been successful in having the Act repealed.
On April 24, 2019, President Sirisena promised major changes to the leadership of the security forces within the next 24 hours and pledged a “complete restructure” of the police and national security forces in the coming weeks. These changes come amidst allegations that a rift between the President and Prime Minister contributed to the failure to effectively respond to threats that undermine national security.
The incident also caused a major setback for the Government and for other political parties just before the 2019 Sri Lankan presidential election. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe later apologised for failing to stop the attacks issuing a statement on twitter stating “We take collective responsibility and apologise to our fellow citizens for our failure to protect victims of these tragic events. We pledge to rebuild our churches, revive our economy, and take all measures to prevent terrorism, with the support of the international community.”
Tourism in Sri Lanka is the country’s third largest foreign exchange earner and employs around 135,000 to 150,000 in the industry. The industry had expected three million tourist arrivals and a revenue of $5 billion in 2019. Due to the attack on tourists, The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka estimated a loss of $1.5 billion in tourism earnings for the year.
The Government’s plan to grant visa-on-arrival to visitors from 39 countries has been suspended due to the current security situation.
Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka called for the Batticaloa Campus and Islamic Study Centres (Madrasas) in Beruwala, Maharagama, Trincomalee and Addalaichchenai be brought under the control and supervision of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Education Ministry.
On April 27, 2019, Sri Lanka Cricket called off an under-19 tour of the country by the Pakistan cricket team, scheduled to take place in May, saying “We didn’t want to take any chances”.
In the wake of the attacks thousands of Sri Lankans bought terrorism insurance. Islamic channel Peace TV, which is run by preacher and televangelist Zakir Naik was officially banned in the country by the main satellite cable operators Dialog TV, PEO TV and Lanka Broadband Network following the attacks even before the Governmental intervention.
The channel is also alleged for its hate speech and also accused to have been used by the Islamic State to brainwash the youngsters and was previously banned in India and Bangladesh.
Leaders of the country condemned the attacks: President Maithripala Sirisena said “I have given instructions to take very stern action against the persons who are responsible for this conspiracy”, the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said “I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today, Opposition Leader and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa called the attacks “absolutely barbaric” and said that the nation will stand united as one against “acts of terrorism”, and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera described the attacks as a “well co-ordinated attempt to create murder, mayhem and anarchy”.
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, His Eminence Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith said “It’s a very, very sad day for all of us. I wish therefore to express my deepest sorrow and sympathy I condemn to the utmost of my capacity this act that has caused so much death and suffering to the people.”
Following the attack, the Archbishop’s House in Colombo cancelled all Catholic Easter services planned for the evening of Easter Sunday.
Numerous world leaders expressed condolences and condemnation. President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani referred to the bombings as an act of genocide.
The Finlandia Hall in Helsinki illuminated in the colours of the Sri Lankan flag to express solidarity.
After the bombings, numerous buildings around the world were illuminated in Sri Lanka’s colours, some of which included the Flinders Street railway station in Melbourne, the Opera House in Sydney, the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, the Northern Spire Bridge and Penshaw Monument in Sunderland, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Emirates Palace, ADNOC Headquarters, Capital Gate and Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi, the City Hall in Tel Aviv, the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, and the Sky Tower in Auckland. The Eiffel Tower in Paris went dark as a memorial for the victims of the bombings.
The New York Stock Exchange paused for a moment of silence before the opening bell on the day after the attacks. Real Madrid CF also had a moment of silence before the La Liga match on the night of the attacks. Candlelight vigils were held and flags were also flown at half-mast around the world including in Pakistan, Canada, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.
ISIS CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY
In the meantime, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS or IS) group claimed responsibility for the bombings via its Amaq news portal.
“Those who carried out the attack that targeted the citizens of the coalition and Christians in Sri Lanka were Islamic State fighters,” the group said in a statement. In a later statement, the group gave the names of seven people, who it said were behind the “jihadist attack” that targeted Christians during their “blasphemous holiday”, referring to Easter. It also released a photo of eight men it said were behind the blasts.
SURVIVAL OF SRI LANKA AND WHERE ARE WE?
Survival of any nation on this planet depends on national security, economic capability, Diplomatic Capability, science and innovation capability, Information capability, strategic culture and finally political capability.
When political capability or the political leadership is weak, first and foremost national security will be threatened. Then it will hit the national economy. Followed by diplomacy, national science and innovation, national culture and information structure.
At present all the pillars of survival have been badly affected in our country. How did it happen? I believe, It is not that difficult for someone with common sense to understand where the real problem lies in our motherland?
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SRI LANKA
- Cooperate with other nations on intelligence sharing regarding counter terrorism. India’s intelligence was not acted on this time, and India has a lot of information to offer.
- Military intelligence which was degraded to be uplifted.
- Work with the Sri Lankan Muslim communities. The Government in power failed to prevent unruly assault on innocent Tamils, after 13 soldiers were ambushed and killed by terrorists in July 1983 in Jaffna, which served to increase support for the LTTE and strengthen the group.The Government should not make the same mistake with the Muslim population.
- End the political stalemate between the President and the Prime Minister when the nations two top officials are locked in open conflict, they can’t cooperate to ensure the safety of the citizens. Hold new elections without delay.
The writer is an international writer presently working as an international researcher.
By Deshakeerthi Lanka Puthra, Major General, Dr Boniface Perera (PhD)
This article originally appeared on dailymirror.lk