by Our Defence Affairs Editor
The measure of a man is what he does with power. – Plato
The concept of a state is a crucial component of modern society. A state is essentially a structure that is based on a chain of command. This chain of command is what provides the state with its ability to function, as it enables those in positions of power to issue commands that are then carried out by those below them in the hierarchy. The strength of this structure is therefore essential to the success of the state, and any weakness in the chain of command can ultimately lead to the state becoming fragile.
Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, many people do not understand the difference between the state and the government. The government is a temporary body that is elected by the people to govern the state for a certain period of time. Those who are elected are bound to fulfil the public aspirations, but in Sri Lanka, this relationship between the state and the government has become increasingly blurred.
This issue has been highlighted in the recent inquiry report into whether there was any lapse on the part of State Intelligence, Police, and the Armed Forces during the massive anti-government public protest on May 9th 2022 which eventually kicked out the elected president for the first time in history. Strangely, only 65 witnesses were summoned by the committee to have evidence on such a landmark incident. However, the report was issued by a committee comprising former tri-forces commanders and was headed by Sri Lanka’s first-ever Admiral of the Fleet, Wasantha Karannagoda. The 17-page report was first handed over to the President at the end of last year and was later submitted to the Appeal Court on February 23rd. However, the head of the committee, Karannagoda, made a strange move by submitting the report himself to the Appeal Court. Later, a selected number of pages were leaked to the media by an “unknown” party, but the essence of the report has yet to be made public. From what has been reported, the report openly alleges that the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) who was then the Army Commander, General Shavendra Silva, had abandoned his responsibilities, which had caused chaos during the protest. Instead of highlighting the overall shortcomings of the whole incident, the focus of the report has been directed towards CDS as the main target.
As mentioned above, this case study is an exemplary one that highlights the importance of understanding the difference between the state and the government. It also highlights the need for state workers to exercise their duties without taking political bias decisions. The state and the government have different functions, and it is crucial that those in positions of power understand this. The government may be temporary, but the state is a permanent fixture in society.
In addition to criticizing the behaviour of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the report also pointed out the behaviour of the Secretary of Defense. However, the Board’s handling of the legal procedures that should have been followed by law enforcement agencies during the public protest has been largely ignored. This has led to criticism of the report for singling out the Secretary of Defense, while largely ignoring the responsibilities of the Secretary to the Law and Order Ministry. It is the Inspector General of Police who should be responsible for requesting the Secretary of Law and Order to deploy the army with the authorization of the Secretary of Defense when the police are unable to handle the situation. We don’t understand how the inquiry board came to the conclusion that CDS has been empowered with such power. Therefore, the responsibilities of the Board should have been to investigate the nuances of the series of incidents without targeting selected individuals for whatever reasons.
When public outrage erupts against the government, it is the government’s responsibility to address the seriousness of the situation and punish the perpetrators who are responsible for plundering public assets. However, this inquiry report has been criticized for showing indifference to the wrongdoings of legislators within the government while attempting to silence and undermine the voices of the public. This is not only irrational, but it is also a sign of deliberate ignorance of the fundamentals of governance. Despite the report elaborating on the root causes behind the public outrage against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which was unfortunately hijacked by certain political parties later, the commission has pathetically tried to whitewash the injustices of those who first instigate the violence by humiliating the defence apparatus. This has led to further criticism of the report and the Board’s handling of the investigation.
The important issue that has arisen in relation to this inquiry report is the credibility of the report itself. The fact that the report was headed by a person who was arraigned by the court of law for allegedly abducting and killing 11 innocents for ransoms has raised serious questions about the report’s credibility. The person in question, Admiral of the Fleet Wasantha Karannagoda, was implicated in the abduction and killing of 11 young men during the final stages of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The case is still ongoing, and Admiral Karannagoda has been accused of interfering in the case and intimidating witnesses. Given this background, it is reasonable to question whether Admiral Karannagoda was the appropriate person to lead an investigation into the conduct of the state intelligence, police, and armed forces during the May 2022 public protest.
The fact that only selected pages of the report were leaked to the media has also raised further questions about the report’s credibility. Without access to the full report, it is difficult to determine whether the leaked pages accurately represent the findings of the inquiry. Furthermore, the leak of selected pages has created the impression that certain individuals or groups may be trying to manipulate the narrative to suit their own interests.
It’s possible that someone is scheming against CDS General Shavendra Silva by defaming him, especially since he has taken some controversial actions that have challenged the status quo. As Woodrow Wilson said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Silva’s actions, including his leadership during the final phase of the Sri Lankan Civil War and his involvement in various post-war initiatives, have made him a polarizing figure. While some may appreciate his efforts to bring about change, others may view his actions as threatening to their interests. Nevertheless, it’s important to evaluate any accusations against him objectively and without bias, to ensure that justice is served fairly and impartially.
As Jesus once said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” The holy words of the son of the Lord highlight the idea that none of us is without fault, and that we should approach others with humility and compassion, rather than judgement and condemnation. This sentiment is particularly relevant in the context of the inquiry report being discussed, which is facing questions of credibility and impartiality. While some may be quick to criticize and assign blame, it’s important to remember that none of us is perfect and that everyone is capable of making mistakes. Rather than casting stones, we should strive to approach this issue with a spirit of understanding and a desire to uncover the truth, without allowing political biases or personal agendas to cloud our judgement. Only by approaching this issue with humility and an open mind can we hope to achieve a fair and just outcome.