Home » News

Sarath Fonseka, Allegations And Some Thoughts…

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 21 March 2010 09:00 No Comment]

The trials and travails of Sarath Fonseka, ex commander of the army and unsuccessful candidate at the presidential election this January, seems the stuff of Greek tragedy, if the rather sorry scene here bears such comparisons ever.

Without doubt Sarath Fonseka was a capable commander of an army which was finally able to overcome the deadly terrorists of the LTTE after a struggle which lasted nearly 30 years in all. Latterly, the perceived fighting power of the LTTE combined with its astute handling of politics both locally as well as internationally, posed such a challenge to this vulnerable nation that there weren’t that many left who thought that it could be destroyed militarily. Sarath Fonseka who became commander in 2005 was one of those few who had no doubts about that possibility.

But now, after the dust has settled on the battlefield, such an outcome seems to have been, not only possible but inevitable. The army greatly outnumbered the enemy while also commanding much greater resources. The only missing ingredient was a determined prosecution of the war at a political level. It is a truism that this finally came from the Mahinda Rajapaksa government for which this nation has to be, and is grateful as shown so clearly from the results at the January presidential election.

In other words, the defence forces always had the capability to administer a coup de grace to the LTTE, if only the political leadership did their part. Of course, political dynamics are never static, and such a stand was not always as simple as it sounds. By 2005 international winds were blowing strongly against terroristic movements such as the LTTE. But that does not mean that our former governments were obliged to dance to the tune of the LTTE prior to that. A clever politician should not only read but also manipulate the situation to achieve his goals. The fact is, until the ascendency of Mahinda Rajapaksa we did not have a politician who was equal to the wily strategies of the LTTE.

All that apart, just about a year ago, when all of Sri Lanka gave a huge collective cheer at the hard fought victory over its implacable enemy, few stood taller than Sarath Fonseka, the commander of its victorious army. Obviously brave, battle-scarred and tough talking, to most Fonseka appeared to be the nation’s answer to its deadliest internal foe.

In the euphoria of that victory, few were inclined to subject the various battles of the ‘Eelam’ war to an objective study. Even today we do not have dispassionate  military research or writing on the strategies, tactics, relative  fire power or even the casualties sustained by either side in these battles. Typically we have let the whole saga be shrouded in a mist of legend, emotion and gossip. Often the role played by one or few individuals, in a huge military effort involving hundreds of thousands, is insignificant in relation to the final outcome. But when heroes are created by an obliging media, in the ill-informed minds of the multitude, the collective effort of an army is relegated to an insignificant corner.

Even the most ardent pacifist will find it hard to challenge the axiom that war sometimes becomes a necessary evil.  In the Second World War the allies had to wage a relentless struggle to rid the world of Nazism. On a much smaller scale we too had to wage war to rid this country of the LTTE.  But militarism can never be a long term option for us and for that matter for any nation. In fact most nations believe that in today’s context, the possibility of an external threat is minimal and have therefore opted for drastically down-sized armies.

For example, countries like Canada and New Zealand, despite being rich countries, have realised that maintaining large standing armies is unproductive. Geographically a real threat to Canada can only come from its super power neighbour the United States, a possibility almost comical to envisage. Also the political and economic stability these countries have attained make the prospect of an internal insurrection very remote, thus further reducing the need to maintain such forces.  The decision to keep thousands of young men in an essentially uneconomical activity such as soldiering or as body guards or security guards is something policy makers have to consider anxiously.

Soon after the elimination of the LTTE, Sarath Fonseka declared that the army should be further expanded. Now that the war was over the soldier was out of his depth in a world of hard economic realities. By marching into areas unfamiliar the decorated soldier set in motion the process that led to his present predicament, a sad situation considering all the glory he was accorded only a few months ago.

In looking at the General’s present troubles it is relevant to note that in the minds of the average person our entire system is loaded in favour of those in power. Many of those presently enjoying the fruits of power were one time victims of the same system which grinds the opposition ruthlessly. The kind of objective systems that compelled President Nixon out of office on grounds of unacceptable conduct, forced  Bill Clinton to face a grueling investigation by the  FBI on the Monica Lewinsky saga and more recently caused Gordon Brown to repay some allowances he had obtained without justification earlier, are sadly absent in this country.

This is perhaps one of our biggest failings as a nation. Particularly, we appear to lack the temperament, culture and the idealism which are necessary to develop independent systems. Everything here is subject to the needs of the political power at the top for the time. This applies even at the level of an insignificant sporting body. All that matters is victory in the unseemly dog fight which is our politics.

But having said that, we must still look at the various allegations made against the General objectively. He is a person who held the highest office in our army. Needless to say all our public institutions including the army, are creations of the legislature, funded by the tax payers and have to work within a legal framework. If an officer strays outside of the legal framework he cannot be considered worthy of that service.

One of the most serious allegations against the General pertains to the assaults and murder of certain journalists. Those who hold high public office in a democracy must expect public criticism. Doubtlessly sometimes such criticism is not only unfair but perhaps even motivated by political malice. In a situation where a soldier is facing life threatening situations in the battlefield, he may feel the sting of domestic criticism more keenly and might even be persuaded that certain critics are in the pay of the enemy.

To command an army fighting in the name of democracy, in such challenging situations, men are needed of high moral caliber. Such an army cannot resort to the methods of terrorists, however hard pushed. In the north no journalist could have attacked Prabhakaran and lived to tell the tale. Surely in the south we cannot accept the same situation.

The motorcycle squad that carried out the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge acted with the kind of confidence that can only come from an assurance that there would be no interference with their actions. The suburban area of Colombo, where the crime was committed, was covered with several security establishments.

Young men do not join the army to become assassins. There is a huge difference between fighting for one’s country and shooting unarmed civilians. The same goes for illegal abductions and assaults that have visited many journalists in recent times. These are not acceptable actions on the part of people employed by the state.

[Full Coverage]

(For updates you can share with your friends, follow TNN on Facebook, Twitter and Google+)

Comments are closed.