|Uniting against terror
They say the terrorist only needs
to succeed once. A single attempt that strikes fear into the
hearts of the citizenry that runs far deeper than the ensuing
military losses. The aim of the terrorist is to create
insecurity, instill fear and besiege a populace. The military
gain is almost inconsequential. The resultant terror is the
greater measure of success.
Therefore, at midnight on Sunday, March 26, the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam succeeded.
The attack on the Katunayake Air Force base not only bears all
the potential for exponential economic fallout for Sri Lanka,
but turned a page in the war against the LTTE.
The Tigers have come of age. They may possess derelict and
outdated aircraft that have little or no fighting power against
the government owned supersonic jets, but the humiliating fact
of the matter is that the organisation’s ‘air force’ not only
attacked the high security base but went back home to the Wanni
to roost 40 minutes later.
The damage sustained is virtually non-existent, so say the
government. There was no harm caused to the international
airport or any tourist there, leaving the authorities to breathe
a sigh of relief. But succeed the LTTE did, and while it is
unlikely that they would attempt it again any time soon, they
returned to Wanni fully assured that they leave in their wake, a
frightened and insecure population.
And indeed, if the LTTE is now aerially empowered, that means
none of us are safe. The capital Colombo is now more vulnerable
than ever, parliament is at risk, the President is at risk and
to be sure, the ordinary citizen, going about his business in
the heart of the city stands at great risk.
In fact the attack on the air force base increased the
government’s defence burden a thousand times, upping the stakes
and leaving it to consider options that have hitherto remained
unchartered territory. The air force could till now, carry out
sorties on rebel targets without looking over its shoulder all
the time. Air power was till now, the state’s domain.
Since March 26, the equation has changed dramatically.
Art of War author and one of the greatest military strategists
of all time, Sun Tzu would say that the Sunday night attack on
the air base had a lesson to teach the government, the armed
forces and the general public – never underestimate your enemy.
For years the media has been harping on the LTTE’s development
of an air wing. There have been exposes and lengthy articles
about the manner in which the Tigers had imported aircraft parts
and smuggled them into their territory and sent their cadres
abroad for training. For some reason, all this reporting and
advanced warning had little or no impact on the forces’
preparedness for this eventuality.
It is time then, to gird up our loins for a battle like never
before. It is time to quit harping about ‘Tigers becoming
pussycats’ and certainly time to stop fighting a war in
wonderland. Our jubilation at the recent military gains may have
blinded us to the grim realities that have protracted this civil
war for more than two decades. The time has come to wake up and
smell the coffee.
For the government, the aerial bombardment of Katunayake has
been a massive loss of face. It is not however by any stretch of
the imagination a debacle. Proper damage control methods and
better planning for contingencies on the ground will go a long
way in neutralising the threat from the Tigers’ ‘air force’.
Fortunately, the forewarning of their capability came with
minimal losses; now is the time to maximise on that advantage.
It has to simultaneously take steps to ease the minds of its
people, who are now contemplating an existence with not only
ground attacks to be wary of but also being bombed to
smithereens in their beds at night by terrorist aircraft. The
fear psychosis created by the Katunayake will be the hardest
battle the government has to fight and it is one that cannot be
won by blacking out details of the attack or concealing the
truth. The government must treat its people as mature citizens,
capable of dealing with the truth, however brutal and ugly
reality may be. Concealment breeds suspicion and the people
deserve to know.
Instead, the government seems intent to play the blame game.
Within hours of the attack, Cabinet Spokesman Nimal Siripala De
Silva unblinkingly told media personnel that the attacks had
been carried out in planes the LTTE had acquired during the UNP
initiated ceasefire agreement. The statement was rich, but not
surprising, The Sri Lankan people have long since come to expect
its leaders to be reactive to emergency situations rather than
proactive, quick to pin blame and slow to introspect and take
steps to prevent similarly adverse situations. De Silva’s
comment came before an investigation had even commenced into the
incident, making it all the more obvious that all the government
was trying to gain from what is nothing less than a national
crisis, was political mileage.
The main opposition United National Party has been no less
lowly. Instead of reaching a hand of support out to the
government to assist in the current crisis, it has been quick to
condemn and eager to obtain maximum political gain from the
attack. In fact, to the sorrow of many Sri Lankans, the Green
camp has seemed almost jubilant about the turn of events,
believing no doubt that this attack on Katunayake, like its
predecessor in 2001, would hasten their ascent to power. The
opposition could not be more wrong. In mature democracies
worldwide, crisis and national tragedy have been a time for
political rivals to unite for the good of a nation. It is a time
to take off political blinkers and don nationalistic caps. There
are moments at which opposition parties must rejoice at the
plight of a government – this is not one of them. The only way
to defeat terrorism is by standing united and this is exactly
what Sri Lanka lacks.
Indeed, there is a tragedy greater than what occurred in
Katunayake last week. In fact, some might say it was greater
than the devastation of 2001. Our supreme tragedy is that our
leaders do not have ‘national’ in their lexicon; that they
cannot, no matter how dire the need, put the country first.