New Delhi: As Sri Lanka recovers from the decade’s deadliest attack, former Sri Lankan defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa has criticised the current government under President Maithripala Sirisena for focusing only on human rights and freedom, while leaving out national security from its scope.
In an exclusive interview with News18, Gotabaya, who is widely known to have played a key role in defeating the Tamil Tigers and ending the 26-year-old armed civil war in 2009, said the country was back to square one — the position it was in before the LTTE was eliminated.
“I’m really sad. I was so proud that we defeated the LTTE and we were able to bring in peace. It’s really painful and sad. Personally, I feel like it’s going back to square one,” he said.
On April 21, powerful explosions struck in quick succession at three hotels in capital city Colombo. The Cinnamon Grand was hit around 8:30 in the morning, followed by Shangri-La half an hour later. Three churches were also targeted: Colombo's historic St Anthony's Shrine, the St Sebastian's church in the town of Negombo — north of the capital — and the Zion Church in the east-coast town of Batticaloa. Later in the day, there were two more blasts, out of which one hit another hotel in Colombo. The former defence secretary drew parallels between the time that he defeated the LTTE and now.
“When something like this happens, it’s obvious that there is no stability. After great difficulty, dedication and sacrifices of the security forces, we defeated the LTTE. That is something that people, politicians and even international leaders thought was not possible. But we did it. In fact, we did not relax after that. We worked on resettlement, development and made sure that there was no threat to the stability that we had fought so hard to achieve,” said the brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He added that the incumbent’s focus on human rights only and completely ignoring intelligence is what the nail in the coffin was.
“They did not give priority to the national security and intelligence. When we say security, intelligence is very important. Especially in a country like Sri Lanka where we don’t have advanced technology like the ones in developed nations, say for example IDs, etc. We don’t have the technological capability to monitor people. In that case, people and human intelligence is very important. This government did not give due regard to military and intelligence. At one point, directory military intelligence was put in jail. Serving Chief of Defence staff was also put in jail,” he added.
When asked on what he thought about the ISIS’ hand in the attacks, the former Defence Secretary was sure that even the government did not know the answer to that, adding that the attacks on Sunday could not have happened overnight and that it required meticulous training and planning. He further said that the fact that people were being motivated to become suicide bombers and shrapnel made it quite evident that “things had gone too far and that it was not just any random organisation.”
Gotabaya was certain that the possibility of more such cells had a very high chance. “A single day to execute such attacks. These number of civilians dying in one single day within just a few hours is unlike what we have seen in the country. We had military casualties during the fight with LTTE but this is worrying. Quickly collecting more information to figure out the extent of the ISIS spread is what needs to be done. But then, there is a massive collapse of intelligence apparatus,” he said.
Further, Gotabaya raised questions on how motivated the intelligence officials would now be to work considering the “harassment” they faced under Sirisena.
Emphasising further on the importance of intelligence and the collapse of it in Sri Lanka, he added that there was no point of talking of human rights without a "proper intel in place to ensure that the freedom given to the citizens was not misused.”
“The government was talking about human rights. Look at what has happened. People are living in fear. They spoke of media freedom. Now, social media, an important means of communication is blocked. Emergency has been declared. And all this because there was a lapse on security. Without security and intelligence, there is nothing,” he said, adding that soon after the LTTE was defeated, he had ordered the intelligence agencies and officials to monitor radical groups and find out who was listening to whom.
“We had a system in place and they did a fantastic job. For human rights, freedom to media, individual freedom to be successful, you have to have a base. The base is security. Human rights and freedom are for good people not for bad people. If the terrorists are taking advantage of this freedom, then there has to be a way to monitor that and stop that,” he said.
The Sri Lankan government has said that there was lapse on the part of the intelligence agencies and that valuable input was ignored. The Prime Minister and the President both said that the intelligence was not shared with their respective offices.
“They are still playing politics. You can’t play politics over this. What you should be saying is that you will put security and intelligence right. They are trying to put blame on various people, including us, without any basis. They are trying to hoodwink the people. You can’t do that. I hope the present government do whatever it takes and correct their mistakes and move forward,” he said.