So, I got into work today (a bit late as usual) and the news stories hit me like a ton of bricks. Well, not a ton, more like two or three – enough to make a dent in a decent sized aluminium blancmange.
First up, the CID has arrested former Air Force Squadron Leader Nishantha Gajanayake in connection with the abductions in Colombo, and a top CID official has told the Daily Mirror that Gajanayake is the mastermind behind all of it. Apparently, they’ve got “enough evidence”.
Wow. That was fast. The shit hits the international fan on human rights less than two weeks ago and they arrest this man within 14 days of all that. Well done CID. I mean, clearly, they couldn’t have known about the evidence before, despite being really concerned about the abductions. Strange though that UNP MP Lakshman Seneviratne had to mention Gajanayake’s name in parliament, along with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s, before an arrest happened. I wonder how old Lakshman knew three weeks ago, when even the CID seems to have found out only now. Hmmm. Anyway, good job they did something.
The other more important news story that caught my eye had a headline that screamed, “India Shaken as Vibrating Condom Penetrates Market”. Genius. Apparently, sex toys are banned in the land of the Kama Sutra (don’t get me started on this) and there is controversy as to whether the vibrating condom in question is a sex toy or a contraceptive. Much like many of the critical commentators on this blog, the critics of Hindustan Latex seem to be having trouble understanding that something does not need to be either exclusively one thing or another; it could very well be both, or neither. Gray is a colour too. So, is grey, for that matter. Nevertheless, I can’t help hoping that some of the mentally-challenged who’ve been buzzing around Ravana like blue-bottles on a Blue Label use these contraceptive sex toys to prevent further dispersion of the stupid gene in the Sri Lankan population.
Talking about the stupid gene, in The Nation, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa seems to have defended himself excellently by giving a very good interview, which I am attaching below. I suggest everybody reads it in full. The man communicates his points pretty clearly, and I appreciate some of what he is trying to say, especially with regard to the importance of troop morale. Nevertheless, he still seems a little bit hazy about the difference between an abduction and a covert operation.
SECDEF speaks to The Nation
Last modified on: 6/20/2007 11:47:17 AM MoD
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in a wide-ranging interview with The Nation, spoke about many issues, including the government’s security strategy, the importance of defeating the LTTE militarily, abductions and his views on the UN and EU. Asserting that his job was to militarily weaken the LTTE, he said politicians would then take over,
start a political process, and provide a political package and political solution. He also addressed the charges made against him in parliament by UNP MP Lakshman Seneviratne, and stated he was not involved in politics. He emphasised his only concern was “fighting terrorism.”
Following is the interview: “The only way out for us is to weaken the LTTE militarily and convince it that it should sit and talk and try to negotiate. That is what everybody is trying to achieve. Prabhakaran, through various tactics, wants to put pressure on the government again and again, hoping that the government would give in, and he is trying to take the upper hand
“No one should do anything to demoralise the forces. We are very concerned about this. If you demoralise the troops, you should remember that the troops will pay with their lives. When you demoralise a soldier, he will not face the enemy with confidence. This is why everybody, including politicians and media practitioners, must be careful not to
demoralise the soldiers for petty gain”
Q: How would you distinguish between the military campaign being conducted now and that of previous Eelam wars?
A: The biggest difference I see here is that the President is handing down the security strategy to his officials, but the military strategy is a matter for the armed forces. I have given this freedom to the forces. Working out the military strategy is completely dependent on the chief of defence staff and the commanders of the three forces.
Immediately after the President was elected, we did a complete study of the situation and worked out a strategy. I can assure you, there are no politics involved in the military strategy. We have given the military complete independence. Handling of the forces is done by the tri-force commanders and we have achieved good results. For the first time we have three commanders who as junior officers were involved in almost all the previous operations.
Take for instance the Army Commander. Even as a senior captain, he was commanding a company and was involved in major operations. From the very junior level he was involved in military strategy, whereas most previous commanders got involved in operations at a very late stage, when they reached a senior level in the military structure.
For instance, the present Army Commander has commandeered a company, battalions, brigades, and a division and was in charge of security forces in the north.
The commanders are well versed in the operational side, they know the enemy point of view, they know their men very well and have worked with them and they read the battles well because of their previous experience. We are allowing them to use their capabilities and experience effectively, without any interference. We achieved better results this time because of these aspects. If you look at the operations so far, it is very clear that we have had better results than ever before. For example, if you take the east, never before have we captured so many weapons from the enemy. We have had military successes previously, but this time we have been able to recover artillery guns, mortars, weapons and explosives from these operations and in addition, there have been scores of LTTE casualties.
In the last three moths alone, we recovered more than 70 LTTE bodies and handed over to the SLMM. We see quite a lot of LTTEers surrendering. This is a marked difference from previous times. These things happened because of better organisation, better tactics and better leadership. More than all this, we suffered less.
Many officers tell me that we have not lost our tanks, our men, or our aircraft. We see better commitment from the troops. Their morale is very high. Many reasons could be attributed to this. Maintaining the morale of the troops is imperative. After all, this is a battle between minds; your mind and that of the enemy.
If the morale of your soldiers is high, they think better, they react better, their decisions are better, and the results would, of course, be better. This is one factor the government is very concerned about and we have taken many steps to enhance the morale of the forces.
No one should do anything to demoralise the forces. We are very concerned about this. You might have seen ourcriticism of the media and various others. This is with a very good reason. If you demoralise the troops, you should remember that the troops will pay with their lives.
When you demoralise a soldier, he will not face the enemy with confidence. When his morale is high, he is confident when facing the enemy. This is why everybody, including politicians and media practitioners, must be careful not to demoralise the soldiers for petty gain.
Q: From what you say, it is the government that provided the leadership and at the same time gave the military the freedom to handle the war. But in the case of the LTTE, whether we like it or not, Velupillai Prabhakaran is responsible for the overall LTTE strategy – whether it be military, political or even economical vis-…-vis the country. What is your view on this?
A: Even in the LTTE, Prabhakaran placed Karuna in charge of the military, Soosai in charge of the Sea Tigers, and Pottu Amman handled intelligence. The political leader gives the leadership; you give the proper strategy to the military. What I am saying is that you should not interfere with them when implementing that strategy.
For example, a political leader would not know military tactics. There is a big difference. The overall military strategy should be laid down. That is the prerogative of the political leadership. The President as the Commander-in-Chief has given clear directions but the management of the operations and the employment of tactics at ground level should be
handled by the military.
Q: The LTTE has virtually forced the government into increasing military expenditure, and thereby pushed the government into an economic crisis, This is also the part of the LTTE strategy. How do you respond to this?
A: That does not mean that the government can breach the security of the country. It is the responsibility of the President to safeguard the country. You cannot allow a terrorist group to hold the country at ransom and divide the country. That is why a President was elected and given a mandate to safeguard the integrity of the country.
I don’t think we are spending colossal sums on defence in comparison to most countries. If we could spend less on defence and more on development, it would be beneficial to the country. But simultaneously, with the recent developments throughout the world, there are concerns about the security of each state and it is imperative that one is ready with a very professional military to face the threats and challenges posed by various unruly elements.
Terrorists, world over, are ruthless. They don’t discriminate. They not only force any administration to increase military expenditure, they also cause havoc and destruction economically and otherwise, bringing about economic ruin and forcing international agencies to increase risk allowances and insurance premiums in strategic places.
Under these circumstances we cannot relax our security; we cannot sacrifice the security of the whole country. That is the responsibility of the government; and without the country, there won’t be anything left. The country should come first.
Q: The LTTE has an overall strategy. While it is militarily engaging the forces, it is also looking at possibilities to pressurise the administration politically and internationally. The LTTE is looking at how it could best achieve its target of creating a separate state and woo international support to obtain recognition. Do you think this is happening at the moment as far as Sri Lanka is concerned, with many countries harshly criticising Sri Lanka as a first step towards this?
A: Are you asking whether they can get a separate state by other means?
Q: Militarily on one side and on the other side politically, where they are threatening Sri Lanka with isolation, as a second step?
A: We must tackle that in an intelligent manner. But the first thing we must do is to defeat the LTTE militarily. That is very important because that is what history has shown us. How many presidents and how many leaders have gone through this? You have to learn from past experiences, you have to understand Prabhakaran’s mindset; that he is a
rigid person. He has never said that he would agree to anything other than a separate state. He has misled all our leaders and at the same time, he has taken foreign leaders for a ride as well.
You see, we have to understand this, but that does not mean we have to shut them out. We have to keep our doors open for negotiations and a political settlement. What I am saying here is we have to understand what Prabhakaran has done all this time. Whenever diplomatic pressure is put on the LTTE, it uses these other means to put the government in a difficult position and therefore it is very important to understand the LTTE psyche and act wisely rather than succumbing to LTTE strategy.
For instance, whenever the government exerts pressure on the LTTE militarily, Prabhakaran exploits the human rights issue. The political parties in the opposition and the international community should keep their eyes and ears open to this phenomenon and analyse the situation without allowing Prabhakaran to go through this cycle repeatedly.
The only way out for us is to weaken the LTTE militarily and convince it that it should sit and talk and try to negotiate.That is what everybody is trying to achieve. Prabhakaran, through various tactics, wants to put pressure on the government again and again, hoping that the government would give in, and he is trying to take the upper hand militarily.
Q: You said recently it would take at least three years to finish the LTTE. Is it practical to give such a timeframe?
A: I cannot immediately say whether it would take two years or three years as you have to see how it goes on the ground.
Q: The question is whether it is reasonable to give a timeframe?
A: It is not reasonable to give a timeframe. I may have said it may take two years or three years and somebody would have quoted that. The real fact is that you cannot give a definite timeframe. But you have to have some idea of how it works. Look at the east, now we have wrested control of the area, but that is not the aim.
What we have to see is how we could extend our writ over the area and bring it under a proper law and order situation where there could be development. Thereafter you can put the political framework into operation. It is only then that you could say it is over. These things take a long time. You have to hold elections and start development, it is only then that you can say you are in full control.
Q: By when do you hope to hold elections?
A: That is a political decision on which I cannot comment.
Q: The opposition has charged that the troops are stretched. An important principle in British warfare is to concentrate one’s own forces and keep the enemy separated and contained in different places. But while the east was cleared, the LTTE has concentrated its forces in the Wanni. What is your stance?
A: This is not correct. Since the LTTE was earlier scattered all over Trincomalee, Trincomalee North, Batticaloa, and Vavuniya, the troops were equally stretched. The commanders have adjusted their troops tactfully. You have to adopt different tactics. For the Wanni, the commanders have to come up with different tactics and adopt them accordingly.
They are already doing it and they have the confidence that they can do that. Of course, there are easy targets and difficult ones. It is the professionalism and the ability of the forces to take it up.
I am confident that our troops are capable of doing that. I have no doubt, knowing their capabilities and their readiness and their morale. I always speak to the commander or the security forces commanders and even to junior level commanders. No one should have any doubts about it. They are confident. Then no one else should have doubts
Q: Tactics and operational plans seem to be excellent, but overall, do we have a strategic plan vis-…-vis the north and east to defeat the Tigers?
A: Yes, of course. There are others who don’t look at the overall picture and they keep shouting. That is why I say, look at the complete picture. When a plane drops a bomb, they panic. They don’t look at the overall situation. The forces are taking the upper hand day by day, militarily. They control the east, they control the north and they are
doing well in the Wanni. They are going well, according to a plan.
You have to look at the overall plan. This is a terrorist group that has been fighting for 30 years with a very good network, procurement network, weapons, etc. You are fighting a terrorist group that has been in existence for 30 odd years.
Q: You said you are doing well in the Wanni, but it was only last week that there was a major debacle in the Wanni, west of Omanthai. What is your stance?
A: It was not a debacle. We gained ground again. It is not our intention in the Wanni to gain ground. There also we inflicted more casualties to the LTTE. This is why I said don’t take instances where you cannot count the number of casualties. I don’t know why you call it a debacle. We caused more casualties and even their leaders were killed.
Overall, in that whole incident, we achieved our aim in inflicting more casualties.
Q: What about the ammunition dump that was blasted?
A: Those things you have to accept. Unfortunately, a mortar bomb fell on this dump.
Q: But didn’t they advance and push the military back?
A: No. Now, the present positions of the FDLs are in front. We are 11 km in front of the present position. In this instance, certain troops operating in the front line came back. It is not a question of losing ground. The tactics here are different. We have inflicted casualties.
We are not interested in real estate in the Wanni. It is not practical. We have to weaken the LTTE and its strengths, cadres, assets, and bases. That is what we are doing in the Wanni. Without knowing the true picture and the plan of the commanders, most analysts do harm by failing to give the correct picture to the people.
Don’t think this is personal to the President or the Defence Secretary. It is not so. It is a problem facing the country. The country should support us to defeat terrorism.
Irrespective of which community one belongs to, the people have to support us to defeat terrorism and weaken the LTTE. Everybody has to keep that in mind. Irrespective of politics, or any other differences, the people must support us to win this war against terrorism and bring peace to the country.
Q: Recently the Army Commander himself said the military was not interested in taking the north, but efforts were being taken to weaken the LTTE to bring it to the negotiating table. Your views?
A: That is exactly what I said. What he meant was we are not interested in grabbing land, but intend to weaken them militarily. Our task is to weaken them. It is left to the politicians to bring them to the negotiating table.
Q: Do you justify a poor country like Sri Lanka spending more than US$ 75 million on purchasing five MiG 29s to bring the Tigers to the negotiating table?
A: How did you arrive at that figure?
Q: At the rate of 15 million dollars per MiG 29.
A: What we would finally buy will depend on the air force, according to their requirements. We need to have an interceptor, but the decision as to what type, depending on what is available in the world, and considerations like efficiency, conversions and the rest lie with the air force. They are the best people who could tell us exactly what their
requirements are, after a thorough evaluation.
Q: On the one hand, the military establishment and the government have had success in getting foreign governments to block funds to the LTTE from the Tamil diaspora. But the decision to send back Tamils to “their places of origin” from lodges has had an effect on the diaspora. Your comments?
A: This is because the whole exercise has been misinterpreted. Maybe we failed to get the correct picture across. In any event I don’t want to discuss the matter as it is before court and it is sub judice.
Q: India has shown concern over two issues – civilians caught in war-related violence and the rising number of IDPs. How has the military and the government fared in this respect?
A: Take the case of the IDPs first. I think everyone interested in this problem must visit the east and see for themselves how successfully, how professionally, and how efficiently we have handled the IDP issue. You cannot have 100 percent success but what is important is to look at the positive side of the whole exercise. We have done
extremely well and even the UNHCR has commended us.
We first tackled the problem in Vakarai. It was only yesterday (Thursday) that I visited Maha Oya to be briefed by the STF on the resettlement programme there. In Batticaloa they are doing it sector by sector. They have divided the area into four sectors and have already completed two, while the third is in progress. It has been very successful.
They don’t do it in an ad hoc manner. First they carry out the mine clearance and after a certificate from the UNHCR is received that it is safe to resettle, they begin that part of the operation. Over all, it has been very successful as it has been done in a professional manner. At least for the sake of the country, the media should give the correct
picture to the world.
Q: What about the issue of civilian casualties?
A: That too is an important factor. I have explained this in detail to the authorities there when I visited India recently.
They too are very happy about it. One of the concepts we adopted in the operations is to ensure zero civilian casualties. That does not mean that there isn’t a single civilian casualty. But when we plan at military level, at a practical level we have the concept of zero civilian casualties in mind. So during operations in Vakarai and even
Batticaloa, we had minimal civilian casualties.
I have explained this to the Indian authorities and they too were very happy about it. Even in future operations, this concept will be honoured. Even if we have to delay certain operations or give in, in certain places, it will be to uphold this concept.
Q: With regard to the IDPs, before the IDPs in the east have been resettled, nearly 17,500 people have been displaced in Mannar and Vavuniya. Your observations?
A: The IDPs here are not due to military operations, which started only recently in the Wanni. These civilians are those escaping from LTTE conscription and harassment and not due to military operations. They are even escaping LTTE areas on the sly.
Q: UNP MP Lakshman Seneviratne in parliament named a police officer and a former air force officer in connection with a spate of abductions. You have also been dragged into this controversy. What is your stance?
A: I am not a politician and I don’t want to be dragged into this political debate. So far I have not done anything political. It is true enough that I am one of the President’s bothers, but I have not done anything to harass any UNP or JVP members or supporters. My only concern is fighting terrorism. It is very unfortunate that my name has been unnecessarily dragged into politics.
I have committed no crime. I have assisted the military and the police to face this terrorist threat, and that is the only crime I have committed. I have not committed any other crime. I don’t know why these people are attacking me. The LTTE tried to kill me. According to intelligence reports, I am the number one target of the LTTE and now I am becoming the target of politicians too, and I don’t know why. I am only assisting the military and police to tackle this menace. I know the public supports me. Through the calls I receive and in the letters and emails I get, the people urge me not to give up.
Q: How do you ensure transparency in military purchases?
A: I am a very honest person. My one aim is to eradicate corruption in the military. Some talk about corruption in procurement, but I have ensured transparency in military purchases. When procuring war-like material, I wanted to ensure the particular service (military) and the producers of equipment have direct contact and do not go through an
intermediary. To eliminate the third party, I have created a government agency under the Defence Ministry called Lanka Logistics and Technology Limited to play the part of the local agent.
The other important decision I have taken is to ensure that the particular service that wants equipment gets involved in the requisition, evaluation, price negotiation and selection without the involvement of others. I have not only ensured transparency but also that the correct procedure is adopted. I also ensure that these go before the technical
evaluation committees and the cabinet appointed tender boards. I have got the university academics involved in studying the equipment and making recommendations before purchasing.
Very unfair criticism and bogus and unfounded allegations have been made. I am only a board member and what I do is carefully monitor the whole process. If anyone can prove that I have taken even one red cent out of any of these deals, I will not only resign; I don’t even want to live. I am a very honourable person.
Anybody can inquire and conduct whatever investigations they wish. There should not be unfair allegations as there is a thing called karma and I believe in it. I am a very religious person.
Q: You criticised the United Nations and the European Union recently. Is that correct?
A: I am not blaming the UN. What I meant was the LTTE as a terrorist organisation has been in existence for some 30 years. And the LTTE tries to infiltrate all places through local recruitment and the UN has to be careful about this.
As for the EU, I have pointed out that they cannot try to treat us the same way as they treat the LTTE, which is a terrorist organisation. This is an elected government. A war against terror has been declared and they should try to help us to do this job. They should try to help the government eradicate the root cause. If there is a mistake, they
should not try to punish us unnecessarily but they could point out such shortcomings. They should not try to balance things by blaming the LTTE and then blame the government.
Q: But is the root cause of this problem only terrorism? What about the allegations of discrimination and the question of aspirations?
A: Militarily, you have to weaken the LTTE, and that is my job. The politicians would then take over to start a political process, provide a political package, and a political solution. But that is not my job.
Q: Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told the diplomatic community that he would rest his case as you have admitted to abductions in comments you made recently. What is your response?
A: What is unfair is what I have said is the covert. If you have read that article properly, it is said that the Defence Secretary said he was against abductions. Abductions and military operations are two different things. If somebody tries to equate military operations or intelligence operations to abductions, that is wrong. Abductions are done by
people who want to take advantage by ransoms and for personal benefit.
Q: But aren’t abductions taking place?
A: Yes it is happening. I am not denying it. That is why we are trying to stop it. That is wrong. I am not saying that they are covert operations. This is where Ranil has gone wrong. What I am saying is, when the military operations are conducted, if you compare them to abductions and say they are covert operations, it is wrong. I am not condoning abductions. What I am saying is, when the military conducts some intelligence operations and if you try to call them abductions, it is wrong. That is what I have said. The abductions done in Colombo for personal gain are wrong. If you read the interview, the interviewer himself has said the Defence Secretary has condemned these abductions.