The military came under mention a second time when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe addressed former and current senior military personnel on the future orientation of the country’s armed forces and urged them to be open to broad international co-operation so that global and national security are complementary and not contradictory.
On the one hand, the Prime Minister argued that the armed forces must be appreciated and nurtured in their role as protectors of the security and integrity of the country.
At the same time, the Premier held out the prospects of an international role for the Sri Lankan military in serving in humanitarian relief operations and also in multi-lateral initiatives for regional security such as the on-going battle against piracy and terrorism in different parts of the Indian Ocean.
For too long has the Sri Lankan military been the tool of political potentates either to enforce their corrupt rule or as a brute force substitute for the political resolution of major social problems like the ethnic conflict and rural poverty and marginalisation.
For the first time, the country has in power both major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP, which, in the past have similarly misused the security forces in this manner. That both parties now share in government is perhaps the harbinger for a more rational deployment of military resources for social peace and stability rather than political or ethnic aggrandisement.
At the same time, the bold steps being taken to de-militarise governance and administration in the northern and eastern regions – without compromising on military presence and security – are also laying the foundation for building social trust among communities. These are all essential ingredients for building a genuine peace in the country that guarantees long term stability which, in turn, is the basis for sustainable prosperity.
CORRUPTION AND NATIONAL SECURITY
The country’s military came under mention on two unrelated occasions last week. One, in the incident involving an armed forces trooper of the former President’s special bodyguard who was detected on the periphery of the personal security ring around President Maithripala Sirisena at a rural public event in the deep South recently. An inquiry is currently under way to learn why this military officer, armed with a pistol, had been present at that location.
To the average reader, this mingling of bodyguards of the former and incumbent heads of state may seem innocuous – until one ventures into the murky world of clashing political factions and ruthless power play.
The higher the stakes – especially in terms of political and personal survival – the greater the length to which cabals and cliques will go to eliminate perceived threats to themselves.
‘National security’, then, is not only about the external threat to a country and society but also the internal threat to the general social weal and public interest by small, non-representative, groups within the society that attack and undermine the public interest for their narrow, selfish purposes. As this country has learned to its bloody cost, once interest groups – big or small – resort to violent action to achieve their ends, the degree of violence is not measured by need for damage control but by the need to inflict maximum damage for maximum results.
Hence, the waves of killings and ‘disappearances’ and counter-killings and ‘disappearances’ by numerous clashing interest groups – both non-State and State-related. While large insurgent movements resorted to bloody massacres, State forces countered with equally desperate, if misguided, bloody offensives. And within the power structures, rival groups have resorted to secret assassinations and counter assassinations over recent decades, little of which has ever been investigated and perpetrators prosecuted.
In a country that has experienced such un-controlled violence and impunity, it is incumbent on the national security authorities to be doubly vigilant to guard the officers of state who have been elected by the citizenry to govern.
The current political context of a clean-up of government and public administration being led by the new governing coalition predicates such vigilance against any threat by elements affected by this clean-up.
Those miscreants now under threat are not only from the political class but, also, elements of the business class and bureaucracy who exploited the politicians’ corrupt practices and benefited from them.
While some miscreants flee the country, others lacking such options or, determined to defeat the initiatives for justice, may seek more dangerous options. While the top politicos may not stoop to such barbarity, there are always lesser mortals, henchmen and camp-followers, who may not be as restrained. Desperate elements will then search for loopholes in institutions and unguarded moments in security to wreak havoc to stymie justice and escape retribution.
Just as much as the country’s military and police remained steadfast in support of the national democratic institutions at the conclusion of the last presidential elections, it is incumbent on them to sustain this vigilance and extend maximum security to the machinery of government and its officers.
There must be perfect clarity as to where their loyalties must lie; how their professional mandate directs them to fulfil their national duty to the nation, over and above the personal interests of any individual, however exalted that individual may be.
Ultimately, the armed forces and police in a country are committed to guarding the sovereignty of the people and must, therefore, resist all encroachments of that sovereignty from within and without.