Gen. Fonseka falls on his sword

“Wickremesinghe, of course, was trying to market Fonseka, a hated figure among the Tamils, as a force without power to do anything without his consent. But that is yet to be seen if and when Fonseka wins the presidency.”

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

(December 17, Melbourne, Sri Lanka Guardian) Gen. (retd) Sarath Fonseka thought he was hurling a deadly missile when he accused Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva of carrying out the orders of the Defence Secretary, in his absence, to eliminate the top LTTE leaders in Nanthi Kadal as they were coming out with white flags. But his missile hung in the air for a while and instead of hitting his opponents it swung violently and boomeranged on him, knocking him down and exposing him as a man not fit to wear the Sri Lankan Army uniform, it is sad to say.

It is not only the first biggest gaffe in his election campaign it is a crime committed against his own Army which he can never live down. He has kicked the Army which lifted him to the highest rank of a general. Yesterdays’ hero is acting like today’s Nero gone mad. The international repercussions reverberating round the world are a testimony to the irreparable damage he has done to the most professional Army of elite cadres that had won global respect for defeating the “invincible” Tamil Tiger terrorists.

Right now Gen. Fonseka is as confused as Velupillai Prabhakaran when he was on the run, retreating as fast he could, into Nanthi Kadal. On Sunday he accused one of his brilliant field commanders, Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva, without whom he could never have won the war, and on Monday he summons a press conference to retract and claim full responsibility for all what happened in the battlefield. This is a useless exercise which does not serve either him or the Army which he commanded because, whether he admits it or not, under the laws of “command responsibility” he has to bear the responsibility for all the acts of his men, irrespective of whether he was aware of it or not. So he has shot himself in the foot by opening his mouth.

Also consider his other contradiction. On Sunday he uses the anti-Sri Lankan media in the private sector to fire his volley targeting the government, particularly his friend, Gotabaya Rajapakse, who made him the Army Commander over his other rivals, and on Monday he files charges in the Supreme Court against the state media targeting him.

There is more. At Dharmasoka College, Ambalangoda he claimed responsibility for killing the Tamil Tiger leadership which advanced bearing white flags and in his Colombo flat he tells the Sunday Leader that he did not know what happened at Nanthi Kadal because he was in China. This again was contradicted by him earlier. In countering the charge that he was not in Sri Lanka during the last days of the battle, he had claimed proudly that he was in touch with his commanders wherever he was. Now, when he is caught with his white sarong down, he blames the government for exposing his nakedness.

Clearly the “Common Candidate” Sarath Fonseka in civvies is betraying the General who was in uniform. His split personality poses a serious problem to the public who sees the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in him as two ridiculous creatures clashing head-on with neither gaining any credibility. This is what happens when you lie with dogs at your feet: you get up with fleas in your brain.

He is treating not only the loyal officers who brought him and the nation glory with contempt but he also expects the people to follow him each time he switches sides, accuses anybody whom he likes, twists and turns according to his political ambitions and exposes himself as an unprincipled opportunist. If he thinks that the people will forgive him for betraying his own forces he got another think coming! Unfortunately, he is today looking more like the lily that has begun to fester!

The worst is his attack on Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva, one of the most committed, self-sacrificing, loyal field commanders who risked his life every step of the way, from the Rice Bowl in Mannar in the west to Nanthi Kadal in the eastern coast. I spent a night and the better part of the next morning with him reviewing the war effort led by him and he never said a word against his Army Commander. Just before writing this I reread the notes of my interview with him in June (after the war was over) and I note that every now and then he paused to emphasize his gratitude to the Army Commander for giving him all what he wanted and also for guiding him every step of the way to Nanthi Kadal.

And he carried out his commands to perfection. He said the communication lines with the Army Commander never failed. “He was talking to me all the time,” Shavendra told me. Once he was told to take a bund that was obstructing the advance of the Army. He was told to take it before 4 a.m. At 2.05 am Sarath rang him to find out where he was. Shavendra’s reply was: “I’m on top of the bund, Sir.” How can the Army Commander condemn his fellow-officer who had served him so loyally based on uncorroborated stories told by journalists?

Besides, if Gen. Fonseka was concerned about the killing of the Tiger leadership that came out from their hiding places with white flags did he hold an inquiry into it after the journalists told him about it? Did he ask for explanations from Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva as to what happened? Did he make any inquiries from his Intelligence Units to verify the stories of the journalists?

It is very sad – I repeat, very, very. sad -- to see Sarath reacting with such indecent vindictiveness against his comrades-in-arms. Yes, he has taken responsibility but the damage has been done. , Besides, that is irrelevant as pointed out earlier because the law has pinned him down, whether he likes it or not. He has insulted not only one of his best field commanders but the nation as well.

His retraction has come too late. Furthermore, he has still not apologized either to Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva or to the Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapakse. They are all a part of the same outfit. If he condemns one he condemns all including himself. In his haste to get even with Gotabaya Rajapakse he dragged in Maj-Gen. Silva. He wanted to impress that he was a good boy by pointing the finger at his own fellow-officers without realizing that, in doing so, he would be digging his own grave.

What he has failed to realize is that he has fallen into a trap of his own making. He is now in the predictable situation of all men who betray their friends and join the enemies. When you join you former enemies to fight against your former friends you are in a situation where you are forced to condemn those who backed you earlier to be with the enemies who are making use of you. In the process you lose the prestige, the integrity, decency and the power, however limited, you had earlier. You invariably have to become the tool of your enemies because they have no other use for you.

This is precisely what Ranil Wickremesinghe intends doing to Sarath Fonseka. He said so candidly in Jaffna: “The opposition intends to use Sarath Fonseka only as a tool to eliminate Mahinda Rajapakse from the presidential post; people should not be afraid of him because he was an army commander,” Ranil Wicremasinghe, (sic) the leader of the opposition said Saturday night in Jaffna at a press meet held in ‘Yaa’lpaadi’ guest house, sources in Jaffna said. (TamilNet, Sunday, 13 December 2009, 08:18 GMT)

Wickremesinghe, of course, was trying to market Fonseka, a hated figure among the Tamils, as a force without power to do anything without his consent. But that is yet to be seen if and when Fonseka wins the presidency. Apart from his weak attempt to allay the fears of the Tamils Wickremesinghe is also taking a side swipe at the General to put him in his place.

This portends a conflict of interest which is going to blow up in time to come. Gen. Fonseka may lie low now until gets his hands on the levers of power. Once he is ensconced in the seat of power Wickremesinghe will have to follow the same path as Prabhakaran into Nanthi Kadal. Already, Wickremesinghe must be feeling the heat of Gen. Fonseka floundering in the unfamiliar territory of politics without a road map. Wickremesinghe’s asset is turning out to be a liability for which he may have to pay a heavy price on January 26th, 2010.

By behaving like a loose cannon Fonseka has come out as the most untrustworthy and unscrupulous colleague and commander. So how can he ask the people to elect him as their next Commander-in-Chief when he could not maintain the honour and dignity of an Army Commander? Can any member of the Security Forces trust him? Can the nation trust him? If he can betray his colleagues with accusations based on gossip how long will he take to betray the nation?

For the moment, let us forget that aspect of living up to the ideals of an officer and a gentleman. It was his duty as a fellow-human being to show some degree of gratitude to his comrade-in-arms. What Sarath did is a disgrace to the entire Sri Lankan Army. He has by his own bitterness and folly gone beyond the limits and taken away the better part of the gloss which he gained from the successes of field commanders like Shavendra Silva.

Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva is a quiet but tough soldier who has proved his worth by commanding the 58th Division which cleared the entire Western coast, captured A9 road and advanced eastward until he reached the eastern coast at break of dawn on April 21, 2008. He began his march from the Rice Bowl in Mannar on 27th September 2007 and never stopped until May 18th 2009 in Vellamulli Vaikkal in the eastern coast. One of the calculated tactics was not to give breathing space to the Tigers to recover or regroup. They were kept on the run all the time. The Tigers were hit from all sides simultaneously and they were running as fast as they could, not knowing how to stop the advancing forces.

The primary priority in the agenda of Maj-Gen Silva was to clear the western coast. To clear the western coast he had to capture and hold Mannar. This was the key point through which the Tigers infiltrated the south. His target was to go from Mannar to Ponneryn, 85 km north. That was also shortest point to India.

To consolidate his position in Mannar he had to capture the Rice Bowl ---9 km x 9 km wide open space occupied by the Tamil Tigers. They were entrenched with maximum forces. It was a killer terrain and difficult to advance. Shavendra’s forces inched their way by night as day time light made them sitting ducks for the Tigers. It took nine months to capture the Rice Bowl – the first big breakthrough.

After the capture of the Rice Bowl he began his march toward Pooneryn which was the turning point in the Vanni operation. When the Tigers lost Pooneryn they lost total control of Jaffna and the entire western coast.. From there he came down south to capture A 9 and then cut across to the east. There he met the other forces advancing from the south. That was the crowning glory of all the advancing forces: they all met in Vellamulli Vaikal beach on May 16, 2009.

After May 19, when the death of Prabhakaran was confirmed, the Army had to reorient itself to the emerging tasks of peace time. A peace time soldier plays a different role. 44-year old Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva, an old boy of St. Thomas’ Matale, was weighing his career options, the night I met him in his camp. He was thankful to his Army Commander, his men who stood by him, and the nation he defended so bravely. The last thing he would have expected at the time was to be let down by his Army Commander. One of Prabhakaran’s bullets going through his heart, I’m sure, would not have shocked him as the blow dealt by his Army Commander. He could have taken that bullet with equanimity but not the ungrateful cut of his Army Commander.

The nation is once again facing a trying time not because of the enemies but due to the betrayals of the so-called friends of the nation. With friends like Gen. Fonseka, who is now working with Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera and Somawansa Amerasinghe, what difference does Prabhakaran’s death make to the future of Sri Lanka? The enemies within are always more vicious than the enemies that lurk in the periphery.
-Sri Lanka Guardian