Sri Lanka for the past decade has been known as a peaceful place, a tourist destination. But, the Easter bombings last Sunday created a huge setback to the already fragile government in the country.
The game of pointing fingers and the shameful display of dysfunction within the current administrative set-up was quite evident as events unfolded in the island nation.
Let’s just call it what it is – a gargantuan intelligence failure by a fumbling political leadership that was caught napping. And when they woke up, no one knew about the “specific” intelligence provided by India on these terror attacks.
Despite all important organs of the government being informed about the imminent threat, President Maithripala Sirisena said he was unaware, Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe said he was not informed, and top ministers who were supposed to be part of the National Security Council complained of not having been kept “in the loop”.
In such a fractured political environment, how can a country be safe? Just as the country woke up to the rude shock of a terror attack against one minority community, the people felt let down by those whose duty it was to protect them.
Hours before the attack, there was specific intelligence regarding plans to attack churches by National Thowheeth Jama’ath, an Islamic group, during Easter service in churches, but the administration did nothing. The subsequent handling of the situation was as much a disaster as the incident itself.
All that President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the opposition and various top ministers were interested in was to hold a series of press conferences to explain what happened. However, none of them had any explanation why such intelligence was ignored.
The only active decision that the government took was to create a social media blackout for fear of provocation and a call for retribution.
For a country that dealt with the worst civil war in modern world history, a decade of calm has made Sri Lanka’s leadership lackadaisical and lazy while it should have made them sturdy to fight any future unrest and militancy.
Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, who finally stepped down, said he felt the intelligence assessments had not warranted a serious, full security response since the intelligence never indicated that it was going to be an attack of this magnitude.
Standard operating procedures were not followed, post attack operations have been sloppy to say the least and security forces have only found their feet back on the ground in a situation that requires immediate containment.
In 2017, the matter of growing jihadi extremism in the country was raised by Mahinda Rajapakse’s party in the parliament, to which the ruling dispensation said that the opposition was trying to spread disharmony. This was the level of incongruence among parties – that sanity had lost its relevance. Security should come above religion and ethnicity, no matter where that voice in the assembly comes from.
Ever since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were wiped out, the government in Colombo hasn’t done much to reconcile ethnic and religious minorities in the country. There are lessons to be learnt there as well where Buddhist supremacy is still tolerated, more so celebrated.
Democracy is a farce right now in Sri Lanka and infighting between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe has become cancerous. Any outcome of a sustained effort to root out the problem of terrorism will need absolute coordination between the forces and the political dispensation which is far from satisfactory today.