Take a close inward look before blaming others
Blame is the name of the game. Not in the least unusual in Sri Lanka's political landscape, blaming one's political rivals or those who voice a dissenting view are the main targets of official ire. This is a diversionary tactic that is intended to focus public attention on all but the failings of government and its unthinking cohorts.
The LTTE's attack on the principal base of the Sri Lankan air force is yet another example, if indeed such illustrations are necessary any more, of this classic tangential style of governance eagerly and mindlessly supported by its collective media. The result is that the country's president, himself a usually fair-minded, quietly capable person with no pretensions whatsoever to intellectual skulduggery, is often caught in a cleft stick with little room for manoeuvre.
When others seize any opportunity to push through agendas and views that he might not necessarily share or leave him little opportunity for a nuanced approach, he becomes boxed in and is compelled to hold on to the same linear stance unless he publicly breaks ranks with some of his ministers or those around him.
In the immediate aftermath of the LTTE's air strike Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle sharing the stage with media minister Priyadharshana Yapa at a foreign media conference claimed that those who raised the recent hue and cry alleging corruption in the purchase of MIG aircraft were partly, if not largely, responsible for the LTTE attempt against the air force.
The BBC correspondent sarcastically asked whether besides the former ministers Sripathy Sooriarachchi and Mangala Samaraweera who Fernandopulle alluded to, anybody else was to blame.
Whether the sarcasm was lost on the minister or whether he was lost for words I don't know but surely nothing could have been sillier than this forced correlation between the two.
Perhaps Fernandopulle only reads the government-run Newspapers and so picked up this ludicrous argument from there.
On Monday March 28, the Daily News ran a story headlined "LTTE fails to target MIG aircrafts" with a strap line saying "Disgruntled elements information helps terrorists."
One comes to expect linguistic aberrations these days not only in editorials but news stories. The LTTE did not fail to target the MIGS as the newspaper claims. The MIGs were indeed the target that is why the LTTE carried out this attack as implied in later LTTE comments. The LTTE did target the MIGS but failed to hit them.
But that is a case of linguistic carelessness. The real issue is with the subsequent comment made by an unnamed "senior military official" who is quoted as saying that "the information provided by certain elements on the newly acquired MIGs also had helped the LTTE to target the ground aircrafts (sic)".
What the "senior military official" fails to explain is how the so-called information helped the LTTE to target the aircraft.
News media reports of the allegations made by Sooriarachchi and Samaraweera relate to the manner in which the MIGs were bought and the price paid for them. They refer to the deal.
How such allegations which had nothing whatsoever to do with the capability of these jets could have helped the LTTE to launch an air attack on grounded aircraft is surely one of the non sequitur of our time.
Not only is this so-called senior military official parading his ignorance in public but also engaging in political remarks that are surely outside and beyond his remit.
Fortunately for Sri Lanka and for the man himself, his name has not been disclosed. In any event such inane remarks that could only come from the mouths of babes must surely be the joke among Colombo's military attaches and other knowledgeable persons.
One does not have to be a military expert to realise how ludicrous the remark is, particularly as he describes the disclosure of that information a "treacherous act."
Since when has our military been permitted to engage in making political statements and judgements?
The Sri Lankan public and the world outside might legitimately ask themselves whether this is an attempt to divert attention from the inadequacies and the failings of the military establishment itself, particularly the air force on this occasion.
At the risk of being called an LTTE supporter/sympathiser, traitor and other epithets that are readily available in any reliable dictionary of abuse and are often resorted to by those who wish to hide what is inside their cupboards, one needs to ask what defence officials and the military did all these years after it was made public that the LTTE had a nascent air capability.
Any researcher who goes into the archives of The Sunday Times would find a news report I wrote from London three years or more ago on the LTTE's growing air assets. I had attended the launch of the annual publication "Military Balance" by the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). On going through the chapters devoted to non-state actors I discovered a reference to the LTTE's developing air capability which at the time included, according to IISS, a Robinson R-44 helicopter and two light aircraft.
Elsewhere IISS listed two Tamil organisations as LTTE fronts. Others started taking an interest in the IISS publication "Military Balance", thereafter. Later I reported two years running, the IISS observation that the LTTE had possible links with al Qaeda which were then likely to be commercial links.
Colleague Iqbal Athas was the first to draw attention to the air strip that the LTTE was constructing in the northeast.
A look at back copies of Military Balance indicated that the IISS had in its 2000-2001 publication drawn attention to the LTTE's purchase of a Robinson R-44 Astrolight helicopter and two light aircraft.
It might be noted by those who are ever ready to blame others for one's own negligence and failings that this was before the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) was signed between the then government and the LTTE in February 2002.
It is of course true that in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami some international NGOs tried to bring in (smuggle is a more appropriate word I suppose) knocked down helicopters and possibly light aircraft. This is what was detected. What came in undetected in the name of humanitarian aid only the deities and those NGOs know.
It is also possible-nay probable - that during the CFA, LTTE arms shipments included knocked down aircraft.
What is disturbing is that the LTTE was not only able to fly over the air base, drop its payload and return, heaven only knows where, unchallenged, undetected and unscathed.
With all the information of the LTTE's burgeoning air wing available-and that obviously is why we sought help from India to install radar- surely it is a huge lapse on the part of those responsible for protecting our airspace and for the defence of vital installations that these aircraft were allowed to target the main air base and return without a by your leave. If it is true that information of one or two unidentified aircraft in the skies was passed on to relevant authorities in Colombo/Katunayake as claimed in some quarters, why was no attempt made to scramble our own air assets to intercept the plane or planes?
The story in Colombo is that our air force jets and helicopter gunships lack night vision capability which is probably why the intruders were not engaged, a factor that must surely be known to the LTTE, if correct.
The other disturbing factor is why the intruders were not picked up on radar. One argument is that they were flying below radar range, something which the Israeli air force did very successfully in the 1967 war by flying out into open sea and then turning in to engage their targets in Cairo at a time when the Egyptian air crews were at breakfast.
But the story doing the rounds in Colombo is that the air force radar given by the Indians had been switched off.
This seems to be buttressed by a story in the Indian Express which states that government sources had confirmed that the Indira 11 radar supplied by India and installed in the Katunayaka airbase "had been switched off at the time of the LTTE air attack at 0045 hours"
The story also says that the other Indian radar deployed by the forces in the east had been pulled south this year.
For seven years or more the LTTE has been trying to acquire or build small submarines or submersibles. In April 2000 Christy Reginald Lawrence, a Tamil resident in Norway, was arrested and charged in Phuket, Thailand when it was discovered that his boatyard had been engaged in trying to turnout the prototype of a submersible.
He was deported after the Norwegian government bailed him out.
More recently Dr. Murugesu Vineyagamoorthy, a medical practitioner in the UK was arrested by the FBI in the US for allegedly trying to purchase weapons and British submarine technology.
In 2004 the Rand Corporation, after a thorough study and interviews in Sri Lanka, reported that the LTTE have fabricated at least two types of submersibles, time activated explosive: a cylindrical bomb (roughly 60-90 centimetres in height) that can be suspended from a ship's propeller or rudder shaft and an improvised RDX slab that can be attached to a vessel's hull with a black glycerol mixture. There have been attempts to manufacture two-man submarines for releasing divers inside Sri Lankan harbours.Such information is available if our officials and others have the inclination and the intelligence to seek this out without simply sitting on their posteriors. For instance there were defence attaches posted to our London high commission for several years.
It seems incredible that they did not even think of perusing the IISS publications for useful information not only on the LTTE but on terrorist operations in general and their possible ramifications for us.
It seems the media has to do the job for them and also get blamed for doing the job.
Such is life. Others enjoy the perks while the media gets jerked.