Colombo, November 19 (newsin.asia): The appointment of the “tough as nails” Major General (retired) Kamal Gunaratne as Secretary to the Ministry of Defense, is a clear indication that the newly elected Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is dead serious about ensuring Sri Lanka’s security.
The majority Sinhalese, who backed Gotabaya to the hilt in the November 16 election, have been living under the apprehension that the island nation is under threat from Jehadi terrorism, albeit nascent. Sections of the majority community are also apprehensive about the possibility of a revival of Tamil extremism, given the voting pattern in the just concluded election.
The Tamils had voted massively for Sajith Premadasa because they felt that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is an Sinhala extremist. They feared that they would not get even the minimal constitutional concessions that Sajith had promised in his manifesto. Gotabaya had not mentioned devolution of power, let alone increasing devolution or promising power-sharing at the Center as Sajith did.
At the inaugural ceremony in Anuradhapura on Monday, Gotabaya regretted that the Tamils and Muslims had not responded to his invitation to join his all-inclusive national movement for peace and prosperity. His repeated statement that he is the President of all Sri Lankans and not just a section of them, had fallen on deaf ears in the Tamil and Muslims areas.
It is feared that there could be a sharpening of the Sinhala-Tamil conflict, aided and abetted by interested Western powers. This could foment Tamil extremism which was thought to have been crushed in Mulliwaikkal in May 2009.
The appointment of a security expert and war veteran like Gen.Kamal Gunaratne is a departure from the past when the Defense Secretaries were civilians. The outgoing Secretary Gen.Shantha Kottegoda, was an exception. But he was appointed only because his civilian predecessor and the police chief, had miserably failed to act on advance actionable intelligence provided by India about the possibility of a Jehadi attack in April 2019. Only after the April 21 multiple suicide attacks that the Lankan Establishment realized the value of acting on intelligence cooperation and taking follow up action quickly.
Field commander Gen.Gunaratne, who led the 53 Division during the critical last stage of the war, not only knows the value of intelligence but also the need to coordinate different inputs and take appropriate action. He is known as a soldier who would follow orders to the letter. As such, he would be a very reliable Defense Secretary from the point of view of his boss, Defense Minister cum President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
As a close associate of Gotbaya Rajapaksa and as a fellow member of “Viyathmaga” an organization of intellectuals and professionals set up by Gotabaya, Gen.Gunaratne shares the latter’s views on ethnic and other national issues.
In an interview given to Shanika Sriyananda of Daily FT in September 2016 following the release of his book: Road to Nandikadal, Gunaratne said: “If a situation is created, the LTTE will make a comeback because the LTTE ideology is still alive. I don’t think that the Tamil political leaders will be satisfied with judicial, land and police powers, as the agenda of the Tamil National Alliance is Eelam and nothing else.”
“If the situations are not handled properly, the LTTE can make a comeback, as over 12,400 ex-combatants are living in society. Though they have undergone a comprehensive rehabilitation program, that doesn’t mean that they are 100 percent transformed into civilians,” he added.
In his first hand account, Gen.Gunaratne had said that the Sri Lankan forces had done their job with ruthlessness, which United National Party stalwart and the then Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera described as a dossier of the military personnel’s crimes from the early 1980 onwards.
According to an AFP story, the book talks of the army setting fire to homes of Tamil civilians, killing innocent civilians and plundering valuables of homes under the guise of cordon-and-search operations. Samaraweera described the book as a “betrayal” of the Sri Lankan military.
But then that was war and as Mao Tse Tung said: “War is not a tea party”. There is no war in which such incidents do not happen. Moreover, both sides committed atrocities and it would be unethical to single out one side for bashing. Further, the enemy that the Sri Lankan forces were facing for 30 years was described by the US officially, as the world’s deadliest terrorist outfit which had also pioneered the belt bomb and had initiated suicide bombings which are causing havoc all over the world.
According to Gen.Gunaratne, the LTTE had, at its height, not less than 200 volunteer suicide cadres, many of them girls.
Gen.Gunaratne also said that Prabhakaran had raised a very efficient and committed force which was led in the field by excellent commanders like Balraj, Soosai, Theepan and Karuna. The top order had also fought to the last. Prabhakaran never wavered in his aim or the execution of his plans and would patiently wait for the right moment to strike, the Lankan General added.