Editorial/Opinion

Search and destroy

It now transpires that what the country witnessed on Easter Sunday was only the tip of the iceberg. Two weeks of intensive investigations have revealed, besides the daily discovery of arms, ammunition, and bomb material from various parts of the country, the extent of the network of radicalised Islamist extremists operating in the country.
It has come as a shock to the defence establishment, the complex local and international network of the attackers who have been well funded through high-tech methods including cryptocurrency which is beneath the radar of conventional surveillance.
Besides this, Kattankudy, in the East, has sprung a shock of its own, becoming somewhat of a new Mullaitivu, which was ground zero for the now vanquished LTTE. It is beyond comprehension how this sleepy east coast town which lies to the south of Batticaloa transformed itself in to an Islamic militant hotspot right under the noses of the defence establishment.
The visual transformation of the town is so distinct that it is referred to as mini Saudi Arabia. Dotted with mosques and adorned with concrete pandals erected at entry points, the town bears all the hallmarks of a foreign hand at work. Yet no one thought it fit to monitor the goings on here until a traffic cop from Kalmunai had the courage to alert the authorities of the lurking danger. However, it is based on a tip-off from a Muslim cleric in the area that the main bomb factory was discovered and destroyed in Kattankudy.
The names of two prominent Muslim politicians have kept surfacing during investigations, including the controversial Islamic university that is taking shape in the guise of a registered company in Kattankudy. Yet, they seem to be the beneficiaries of a protective hand shielding them from proper investigation.
For 70 long years since independence, this country has suffered at the hands of its politicians. There have been at least three serious riots, two failed coups, two deadly insurrections, and a 30-year war all caused by the short-sighted, selfish actions of politicians from both sides of the political divide. After 10 years of peace, we now see the seeds being sown for a new conflict which unless nipped in the bud with all the might of the state, has the potential to be more deadly than the rest, given its international dimensions.
It is therefore absolutely necessary that the leaders of the two main political parties who between them hold the top two positions in the country at least now put their petty differences aside and work to protect the people of this country who have endured so much suffering for no fault of theirs.
This however, may be easier said than done considering the fact that the President, despite his failure to stop the Easter Sunday attacks, is continuing to belittle the need for a full-time minister of law and order. The UNP has been pushing for the appointment of Sarath Fonseka to the post for the past four months with little success. The President’s excuse for not doing so is that the appointment will have dire consequences without elaborating what the consequences would be.
What is clear is that the country has already faced dire consequences as a result of presidential inaction. If the President is not comfortable with Fonseka then someone else should be appointed to handle this vital subject on a full-time basis. It is inconceivable that a country that has a cabinet minister for everything under the sun does not have a dedicated minister for law and order at a time when national security is under serious threat.
It appears that one reason for the President’s insistence on keeping the post to himself is the successful war on drugs carried out by the STF for which he has claimed sole credit. Following the Easter Sunday attacks, the STF now has its hands full hunting down those on the run. As a result, the drug war seems to have been put on hold for the moment.
What is also worrying is the apparent disconnect between the defence establishment and political authority. It has now emerged that not only India but even Turkey had tipped off the local authorities about the arrival of a group of radical Islamic terrorists as far back as 2016 but these warnings had been brushed aside. It is clear from the scale and execution of the Easter Sunday attacks that they had been well planned over a period of time and had foreign input.
The safety and security of the people should override all other political considerations. This is guaranteed by the Constitution and cannot be compromised under any circumstances. The fact that even the most insignificant of ministers and MPs have been granted enhanced security while providing one policeman to guard each school with thousands of students, shows that the political authority in charge of public safety has not fully comprehended at the very least the Constitution of the country.
It won’t be long before people run out of patience with ineffective, incapable politicians whose only concern is self-preservation. The President and Prime Minister must read the writing on the wall and do the job they were entrusted to do by 6.2 million people who trusted in their ability to deliver.
The need of the hour is to put national security at the top of the agenda and provide effective leadership to the defence establishment. No effort must be spared to seek out and destroy every link that is connected to the Easter Sunday attacks. Sri Lanka needs peace for its economy to survive. By hitting tourism, the terrorists have hit a vital vein and if the bleeding is not stopped then the collapse of the economy is inevitable. The sooner the powers that be realise this fact, the better for the country and its long suffering people.
The silver lining in the dark cloud however is the palpable determination among the security forces to root out every vestige of terrorism in the country. The political establishment must ensure no stone is left unturned in rooting out this evil once and for all. Therefore, the key command until the mission is accomplished should remain, search and destroy.