Handle armed forces with respect
Posted on April 3rd, 2017
Sri Lankan military and intelligence services happen to be on the front pages recently, and by general reckoning such public brawling is not good news. These are the very essential services in any country for the fulfilment of international obligations and for national security and peace. It is not that the public should be in the dark, but news about these essential services can be about legislation, oversight, operations, culture and other processes, which enhance public knowledge because these are directed towards the effective functioning of the service. But what seems to be in the news is suggestive of the deterioration of trust in the service and its personnel. Given that the services should be embodiments of excellence and competence, derogatory comments made by politicians without proprietary protocol and guarded circumspection is bad news.
As outsiders, we assume that the services are bound by the principles of impartiality, professionalism, responsiveness and accountability, and these principles should be the binding link between the security services and the elected government. By the same token the elected government must also respond by respecting such decorum and not cross the line between governance and politics. What transpires in the news media these days makes anyone suspect that the military and intelligence services are used by incompetent politicians to politicize the services, absolve the sins of past conduct, and gain political advantage at their expense. The comments made by certain parliamentarians about the functioning of these services put our Parliamentary behaviour to shame more than the individuals so targeted. Not that we expect higher standards from our Parliamentarians, who by any universal yardstick seem demonstrably unsuited to inhabit such august assemblies. Regrettably though, they are what the voters have elected.
I cannot see what long term benefits will accrue to the security of our nation by the casual manner in which officials who were at the helm at the time occupying high office, sometimes direct allegations at the security and intelligence services. The competence and ethics of these officials must be brought into question. The sad part is that unlike in a proper inquiry, the allegations hurled under the cover of parliamentary privilege go unchallenged leaving a stain on the security services as a whole. These officers, on the other hand have no legal cover from the alleged charges, which if spoken elsewhere carry harsh punishment. The oft-repeated, casual perfunctory allegations compromise the apolitical accountability of the services. Some of the demands to arraign current and former officers leave us nothing but a feeling of deception about the relationship of the government with the services.
The politicization of security services carries enormous risks to any society. Ultimately, such action will decrease the capacity of the service to safeguard the nation when there are security challenges. Terrorism, illicit drugs, and separatism are lurking dangers to our nation and challenging the integrity of the military and security services decreases the morale of the services for swift response.
Our services have weathered political appointments at most times. The services have functioned to their maximum capacity when obsequious managers were appointed disregarding the normal procedures by previous regimes. But government misconduct has its limits. The services can buckle under pressure and such debasement will be costly both in terms of men and resources. There can be a time when the military and intelligence services will be tempted to put self interest ahead of public interest, and no government should face that predicament. At present, there are both legislative and moral codes which make dissent a last ditch response. If any government questions the relevance of the services by turning to outside sources to satisfy its needs, they will surely be mistaken. Loyalty is extremely important and even a low level of dissent in our services is treated with derision. Transgressors are treated as traitors regardless of the occasional intrusions of politics. The chance to influence superiors is done in ways that are not controversial or harmful to the morale of the services. Continuous haranguing of personnel has the tendency to incite the collective, and the mealy mouthed politicians have to be checked by the powers that be.