Much is talked about the external factors behind the worst attacks on human lives experienced in Sri Lankan history within a single day. This search for understanding the external causes, the organizations and the individuals within, is amply justified.
However, that does not explain why it was possible to organise the attacks on that day. Preparations for further attacks have also been discovered in many parts of the country. The question is how was all that possible without the knowledge of the Government and its security apparatus?
An associated paradox is how prior intelligence input by Indian intelligence sources, (which is supposed to have revealed even the targets of the attacks and the individuals involved), did not provoke a security reaction. This could have prevented the attacks and saved the lives and the properties of those who have suffered severely.
In seeking an answer to this question it is worthwhile to reflect on where, under normal circumstances, such knowledge about an extremely dangerous situation would lead.
Under normal circumstances, whenever Authorities received such information from a foreign Government, it would have led to: immediate intimation of the information received to all relevant sources of the security apparatus including the Head of State, the Prime Minister and relevant ministers.
Further, the leaders of the Government would have shared this information with the leaders of the opposition and others. They, friends and the diplomatic community could have been useful in rebutting the attack.
The next stage would have been to gather all those leaders of the security apparatus together with the political leadership. They needed to map out a strategy to counteract the planned attack and subvert them long before these plans could have been carried out. This means that the strategic plan for such action would have been mapped out and all those who were to take part in that action would have been informed of what had to be done.
Naturally, the resources would also have been made available to the frontline actors and their leaders. Thus, clearing such obstacles to action by the way of the Law, should have been deeply reflected upon. The view was to remove such obstacles while strictly maintaining the framework of the Law and the authority of the State.
Associated with all this would have been the development of a communication strategy. All persons likely to be affected by the attacks are made aware of the threat. Then, suggestions could be surfaced while at the same time preventing the possibility of generating panic.
Other details of what could have been done would have flown from the considerations mentioned above. Essentially, what was required was a deeply involved political leadership. They could have led the thinking and practical arrangements with close cooperation with the leaders of the communities which were likely to be most affected. This should have included a direct contact with the leaders of the Muslim community themselves. They should have been required to utilize their authority in the community to demonstrate their determination to withstand violence and to preserve peace.
The list of the things that could have been done can be long. However, what is important to us is why none of these things happened. Instead the attackers had their way without any resistance on the part of the Government or the communities involved.
Unfortunately, the reasons as to why these things did not happen can easily be explained. It is simply due to careless and foolish experimentations within the country. The political system, justice system and the security apparatus itself have disengaged themselves from the possibility of making a thought-out strategy and the planning of ways to execute it.
Long before the fatal Easter Sunday, the country had created for itself a situation of chaos as against a situation of law and order. The entire Constitutional Experiment of 1978 was to dismantle the country’s fairly well-established political system composed of legal, judicial and security systems.
Let us compare for a moment how the country was able to prevent a coup in 1962 which was organized by some prominent leaders of the security apparatus itself. The information was leaked to the then Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimao Bhandarnayake and immediately, within hours, a well-coordinated plan was put into effect. Thus, the possibility of a military-police coup was prevented, because there was the internal vision and stamina to act when a serious threat was revealed.
What happened since 1978 was the undermining of the very capacity of the political, legal and security apparatus to act quickly and in a coordinated manner to withstand seriously planned attacks. The Asian Human Rights Commission has consistently pointed out that this degeneration of the country’s organized state structure has brought about a situation of chaos and anarchy. It is this situation that has thrown the country into a helpless situation. Innocent people, like those who attended religious ceremonies and tourists who have come to admire the natural beauty of the country, became victims of a most brutal, inhumane attack in which a large number of people lost their lives and loved ones.
After the attacks, many speeches were made by politicians stating that this problem will soon be wiped out and the country brought back to peace. However, this is mere wishful thinking or naivety. Given the chaotic nature of the political system which undermines parliamentary, legal, judicial and security apparatus with every other form of authority, even if one danger is thwarted, it is impossible to create a state of security for the people. Without a functioning legal and judicial system which controls the power of those who control the political power in the country, it is not possible to bring about a situation of stability, law and order and peace. A situation of tragedy for many people can be an opportunity for some to realise their most dangerous schemes. The world has seen this by way of utilisation of the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers which killed about 3000 people and shocked the world. It was later utilised by the George Bush and Dick Cheny leadership. It was to realise their dream of a unitary executive theory in practice and a greedy extension of their scheme by diverting attention to Iraq where rich oil fields lay.
The present danger and the reaction to it by the people would be a welcome opportunity for some. Opportunistic politicians could make schemes for coming to power and for utilising the chaotic situation caused by the 1978 Constitution–to do much worse in the future. Sri Lankans have seen how the Mothers’ Front, which came out as a resistance to the large scale disappearances of people, was utilised for opportunistic political reasons.
If the best of political theory is something to go by, the above-mentioned premise of the need for functioning government institutions upholding its due authority as a pre-condition for stability and peace, is well grounded.
What does this mean for the people in Sri Lanka? What does it mean in particular, for those who are thinking about ways to get out of this situation? It means they need to direct their reflections on the dysfunctionality created by the 1978 Constitution and its practice over 4 decades. These four decades were a period of profound, political darkness for Sri Lanka.
The collective effort, to take account of the weakness brought upon the nation, by careless political changes since 1978, should once again pre-occupy everyone who cares for their own future.