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An (Apparent) military coup in Sri Lanka – Part Three

“Political circles, already being alerted, rather erroneously on several occasions since the military victory against the Tamil Tigers about a possible coup d'état feared that their worst predictions have come true on October 15, as battle hardened troops from operational areas were brought to Colombo.”

Read Previous Parts: Part One | Part Two

Written By Day

'There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers’- Napoleon

(December 01, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Politicking and Boot-licking: Service officers do know what they are required do while in uniform with regard to politics. The very first thing they get on their first day as a cadet is a book of Orders, which let him or her know Dos and Don’ts. I will put down the relevant couple of orders, just for starters, “Ignorance is NOT taken as an Excuse’ and ‘You will NOT discuss Politics or Women’. We must never forget that when we are in uniform we are soldiers of ‘all faiths’, ‘hue and color’ and ‘ethnicities and nationalities’. Gone are the days a nation’s military was confined to its own territory to ward off or thwart internal or external aggression or enemies. Nowadays a nation’s military is an expeditionary military, or is more often than not deployed on peace-keeping missions. That is why soldiers are required to be color-blind, religion and ethnicity -neutral, well-behaved and disciplined. But if one is observant or inquisitive he can trace the political connections of top brass or their dabbling in politics and political back channels.

The behavior of some of the top brass in the Tri-services, STF and police are shameless and disgraceful in this regard. Some do it very openly and shamelessly to influence the Administration for a military appointment for a highest post or/and a top civilian and diplomatic appointment after retirement or while in service, and others do it covertly using back channels. I can give you a by name list if one wishes but my attempt here is to discuss the issues rather than naming the names. If one reads the print and electronic media she/he will come to know what they did and have done and who they have been or are.

The acts of political curry favouring can range from singing Hosannas to rulers and their coteries to bending or changing rules to accommodate a service candidate who is otherwise illegible. In the case of the service candidate he or she is extra-ordinarily groomed, given so much audio-visual exposure that is uncalled-for and well taken care of when it comes to cushy appointments, pilot slots, and overseas courses. I do not think countrymen have any issue with, even though she/he is a daughter /son of an all powerful, a celebrity, or a top brass, as long as he or she merits that sort of right royal treatment. Let me give you an example, sometime back entire military Intakes were sent overseas (Pakistan and Bangladesh) for their training.

There was a cadet (later this officer deserted the military and fled to UK and married another ESL teacher, whom he knew and who used to teach English to service members in Sri Lanka) who was a relative of a service commander. His Intake was slated for training in Pakistan. Unfortunately he was relegated to the next Intake because he came down with hepatitis. Guess what, that Intake which was slated to go to Pakistan was not sent because the relative in question did not belong to that Intake anymore. In lighter note, imagine the fury, frustration and disappointment of those cadets’ girl friends that may have wanted or expected a nice Pakistani rug! When the top brass dabble in politics what would rank and file do for survival other than do the boot licking or getting their selves involved in dirty politics! This bad and sad situation has permeated the tri-services. It is apt to remember what Napoleon said “There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers”.

Advances in Miniature Electronics: advances in miniature electronics devices such as digital camera and cell phones, wide use of internet or cyber space for e-mail, news, views or propaganda has lessened the chances so much for a successful military coup by staged by Sri Lanka Army or military because of the divide, fractured, clannish nature of the Sri Lankan Security Forces. When the United States invaded Panama in 1989, in a mission codenamed Operation Just Cause that was supposed to be a smooth sailing, the US military suffered 23 Killed-in-Action and 325 Wounded-in-Action. It was later found out that there happened to be more 150 military security breaches. Guess what the main cause for that was? Some of the Hispanic soldiers in the military, instead of being reticent, casually and innocuously told their wives that they were going to Panama; the wives in turn told their girlfriends likewise the chain of information leak started resulting in more deaths and casualties! That was telecommunications about 20 years ago! Imagine it, now!

There is a famous saying in South Asian militaries i.e. Always be Wary of Your 2IC! (Second-in-Command), as she/he is constantly eying to be in your seat by hook or crook with the least possible delay! Therefore they use what is available or at his disposal to track you wherever you are or whatever you do. That is when the miniature electronics I described above come in very handy for those 2ICs! They get around the clock updates on the grapevine too. I firmly believe this much ado about nothing military coup, a non-event, rather the storm in a teacup caused recently was a product of that kind of ‘tracking mechanism in place’! It is, now, believed that coup rumours were fuelled by arrival of about 2000 soldiers from the operational area into Colombo by busloads to participate in the Army tattoo, the military extravaganza organized to mark the 60th anniversary of the Sri Lankan Army and handled by General SF himself in his capacity as the CDS. Political circles, already being alerted, rather erroneously on several occasions since the military victory against the Tamil Tigers about a possible coup d'état feared that their worst predictions have come true on October 15, as battle hardened troops from operational areas were brought to Colombo. A friend who happened to be at the felicitation ceremony by old boys of a college told me that he also felt it in the air. As a soldier I understand it perfectly, that sort of ambience just after a long sought military victory against a formidable and ruthless enemy. In such a moment our adrenaline flow is high and our reactions and reflexes are so fast and on the spur, and tend to give the citizenry the erroneous impression that we are high-handed. In that situation only psychiatrists or mental health professional will better understand the combat soldiers. The ‘docs’ will tell you that the soldiers need to go through ‘Decompression and Reintegration Training’ upon redeployment from an active combat zone for the mental and physical health of soldiers themselves, family members and citizen alike, before doing anything else!

Venality and Playing Casino: It is no secret why the LTTE problem lasted almost three decades. If one wonders how the LTTE amassed such stocks of warlike materials, communications equipment and what have you the answer lies in the venality of some military officers (and government, public or private officials ) who happened to be either at the Operations Rooms, privy to sensitive information, at roadblocks, at harbor, or at the BIA etc. They were fooled either with sex, money, pleasure trips, or expensive gifts etc to clear their ‘cargo’ without an issue or a problem. Those venal military personnel manning roadblocks thought the cargo was just ‘sarees and sarongs’, ‘cement and timber’, TVs & refrigerators, dried fish and prawns etc was approved by some top brass by issuing valid ‘permits and letters of Authorization!. Still they did not have the presence of mind or the common sense to sense something was amiss, and to prod and probe further. For the rank and file when she or he saw the ‘permits and letters’ only thing that went through his or her mind was his job and poor family, not the lethal cargo that can wreak havoc in future! Thus some poor soldiers at roadblocks compromised national security that was ‘tacitly’ permitted by the permits and letters given by some top brass bankrolled by the LTTE!

With the casinos mushrooming all over Colombo in 90s the young officers in the military were innocuously lured to those joints to patronize for some free liquor, smokes, and sights of lots of cleavage! Then they started to ‘experiment’ with a little betting. The next thing you knew was that you were hooked and getting deeper and deeper in debt. So arrived the wealthy ‘businessmen’ a.k.a. LTTE sleeper cells in Colombo to pluck them out of debt but these young officer failed to understand and realize immediately the very subtle ‘Quid pro Quo’ (This for That). They fished the gullible officers, who were in a vicious circle of debt, one by one. If you ask the civil and military enforcement agencies who conducted inquiries of the culpable of officers they will corroborate what I said here. Or else just research in the media you will read how the corrupt military officers helped the assassination plans or suicide operations in the city and elsewhere in the south. Moreover you have already heard and read the multimillion scandals involving the defence purchases, be they personnel carriers, tanks, munitions, naval craft, or aircraft. For these rascals a MIG deal is NOT a BIG deal! For those scum on earth it was all about the ‘Benjamins’ and get rich while serving time, not the Motherland!

When one wakes up in the morning in Sri Lanka she or he will hear as headline news on the TV or radio or read in the news paper or on the Internet negative and disgusting news such as a school girl raped, a family hacked to death, thugs blocked entrance to temple, monks vandalized church, kick backs and bribe scandals, elections marred with violence, trade union strikes turned violent, IDPs still suffering in Manik Farm, and/or positive news such as an underworld figure bumped off, a nine year old saves five people from drowning, KP arrested in a sting operation, LTTE and top leadership wiped out, London stock exchange to run on Sri Lankan software, and sensational news such as Sinhalese policemen clubs an insane Tamil mercilessly to death, an Army truck runs over a Tamil school girl in Jaffna etc. I will tell for sure in our life time or in foreseeable future a Sri Lankan will not hear on the radio or TV or read in the print media or Internet about a military coup or a military take over as he wakes in the morning, at the sound of cock-a-doodle-d, with a cup of bed tea and a newspaper handed to him by his lovely and faithful wife, because of the reasons I described elsewhere. Regardless or irrespective of those reasons if one does fear a military coup in Sri Lanka only thing Sri Lankans have to do is to hope and pray for the perfect society described by Socrates, and follow the answer given by Plato for Socrates’ question "Who will guard the guardians?" or, "Who will protect us against the protectors?".. Socrates answered “We must tell the guardians (soldiers) a ‘noble’ lie’ (In politics a noble lie is a myth or untruth, often, but not invariably, of a religious nature, knowingly told by an elite to maintain social harmony, particularly the social position of that elite). The noble lie will assure them (soldiers) that they are better than those they serve and it is therefore their responsibility to guard and protect those lesser than themselves. We will instill in them distaste for power or privilege; they will rule because they believe it right, not because they desire it.”

-Sri Lanka Guardian

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