Notes to the people For a Paradigm Shift in National Security
Posted on April 25th, 2019

By Sumanasiri Liyanage Courtesy Ceylon Today

Even at the time of writing this piece, blood stains at the Katuwapitiya church, Negombo that is just a kilometre away from my house might not have dried off. In the next a few days, we may be able to witness the funeral processions of our neighbours who were killed in the brutal and cowardly attack on Easter Sunday. Hope and pray the people who were injured badly but fortunately survived would recover soon. For nearly two and a half decades prior to 19 May 2009, Sri Lankans lived in fear and uncertainty without knowing what would happen to them and their loved ones. This was common to all Sri Lankans of course in a different degree irrespective of where they lived – North or South. Having heard this sad news with shock and dismay the first question that for sure would come to anyone’s mind is Will Sri Lanka go back once again, to a prolonged period of terror?” Peace that usually prevails on Easter Sunday was disrupted by a brutal attack not only in Negombo but in eight places. Even the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) with a larger military mechanism in their heydays were not able to execute simultaneous attacks in a large number of places. Hence, surmising returning back to the prolonged days of terror is absolutely understandable. The targets of the perpetrators were three prominent churches in the heart of Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa and three five-star hotels in Colombo. The eight attacks left 350 dead and about 500 injured. A massive number! A powerful organisation with an extended network is absolutely essential to execute an attack of such a massive scale. And the victims of the attacks were ordinary women and men, not the State or a rival militant organisation. It has also been reported that in some places the attacks were executed by suicide bombers. To convince someone to go, kill and die, an organisation should be able to provide a strong dose of extremism or drug or both.  


Two Questions


Who executed these cowardly, cruel and inhumane attacks? Whey did they do it? What was the motivation that led them to engage in such a barbaric action? Of course, a layman like me may not be able to answer these complex and difficult questions. Nevertheless, we all need quick answers. In case, when authorities fail to provide reasonable answers to these questions it is natural for people to come out with their own answers based not on facts that are distant from them but on surmises that may oftentimes be incorrect. The State Minister of Defence has revealed that seven persons who are allegedly involved in this attack were arrested. 

Although there has been no conclusive and firm evidence, all fingers appear to have been directed towards a little-known militant organisation that pretends itself as the sole protectors of Islam. Muslim religious leaders informed the Government sometime ago that this organisation, in the name of Islam, was planning a terror attack.


On the basis of this inconclusive identification of the culprit, the second question that is to be posed refers to the motivation behind the attack. Why do they target innocent Catholics knowing that they would flock together to their parish church to show their devotion on Easter Sunday? In the last forty years, Muslims were made victims of inhumane attacks in Jaffna, Mawanella, Mutur, Beruwala, Digana and many other places. 

However, there was no evidence that the Catholic population was behind these attacks or participated in them. Catholics played a neutral role in these Tamil-Muslim and Sihala-Muslim tussles. Did Sri Lanka become one of the links of the New Zealand, Notre Dame Chain, in the clash of civilisations”? Still I have no clue why Sri Lanka has become such an immediate link in the chain.


Towards a New Security Paradigm


As far as national security is concerned, it is imperative to review even briefly the security implications of these attacks because people are worried about whether this marks a beginning of a new period of terror. It was reported that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said that the Government was aware of information regarding a possible attack and that adequate precautions were not taken to prevent the attack.” These reprehensible and disgraceful revelations by the country’s Prime Minister show that the Government is not at all concerned with the security of the people. In another country, the Prime Minister would have resigned from his post for the total disregard for national security. Similarly, Minister Harin Fernando told the press that he was warned by his father not to attend the Easter Sunday sermon. Had he shared this information with his fellow Christians, many of the fatalities would have been avoided. He also tweeted some documents that proved the Government’s prior knowledge of the attacks. Could this be related to the ongoing tussle between the President and the Prime Minister? Are the two fighting with each other for individual political gain at the cost of innocent lives? Even if it was the case, the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers cannot easily wash their hands off the matter and they like the President are equally responsible for what has happened. Government’s total negligence of and disregard for peoples’ security poses an issue of paramount importance.


What is meant by national security? What weightage was given in it to the security of the ordinary people, like who attended the Easter Sunday sermon? Two tentative conclusions can be made. In the last four odd years national security appears to have been neglected partly because of the Government’s pro-Western foreign policy articulated primarily by Minister Mangala Samaraweera.  It is unbelievable that a country that had developed a very strong intelligence network has failed to know about the presence and the operation of an extremist militant organisation that was capable of conducting simultaneous attacks in the country killing more than 200 people. As one of my friends in the University of Colombo told me, the so-called Yahapalana Government had rejected and abhorred everything that come with adjective, ‘national’ except in the case of the National Government. Secondly, in the name of national security, security is being provided to President, ex-Presidents, Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and other politicians. Money was over-subscribed to back up vehicles, bullet proof vehicles and helicopters. Hence, even when the Prime Minister was aware of the attacks that were targeted at ordinary folks, no preventive actions were taken owing to the fact that peoples’ security is not a major concern.


Therefore, we need a system in which not the security of politicians but the security of the common people be given a priority. This means a paradigm shift in national security. Only such change can resolve the issue of peoples’ security. Can we expect such paradigm shift from the Government that represents and stands for elites and elites only?
The writer is a retired teacher of Political Economy.

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