We have earned notoriety as a nation dependent on hindsight. We wait for the horse to bolt to close the stable door. Nay, we are in the habit of chasing after horses that bolt while keeping the stable door open.
We act in a similar manner in protecting VIPs. That Colombo teems with suicide bombers on the prowl is only too well known. But, instead of avoiding them, political leaders flirt with danger by venturing out on flimsy missions. They never learn and seem to be afflicted with the teach-us-if-you-can syndrome. All the victims of LTTE human bombs have perished, as they sought to play hide and seek with terrorists.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have realised at long last that the best antidote to suicide bombing is to deny terrorists an opportunity to strike. He has reportedly instructed all government leaders to stick to security advice and curtail public appearances, especially during the festive season. Had such measures been adopted much earlier, most of the strong leaders this country had could have been saved. The country’s loss has been the LTTE’s gain. Prabhakaran knows that with a government change, Sri Lanka’s national security policies undergo a sea change as in 1994 and 2001.
He benefited tremendously in 1993, when the assassination of President Premadasa led to a regime change the following year.
So, President Rajapaksa is right in having urged his colleagues to beware of assassination attempts. But, it behoves him to practise what he preaches to others. He is like the proverbial father crab that wanted his children to walk straight. He runs high security risks by opening flyovers and tunnels, which should be left to lesser minions. In waging war, at times, one has to emulate the enemy. The President ought to learn from Prabhakaran how to protect himself. Prabhakaran has survived the mighty Indian army and the Sri Lankan military because he takes precautions without exposing himself to danger unnecessarily. The Air Force is all out to target him but he has so far been safe. The success of fighting force hinges, inter alia, on the safety of its commander-in-chief. Should harm befall Prabhakaran, the LTTE will collapse like a pack of cards. Therefore he is determined not to leave room for that to happen.
It is not only the security of government leaders that the President should be concerned about. The Opposition politicians, too, need protection. It is unbecoming of a government to wait until the Opposition agitates to provide its leaders with adequate security. The predicament of SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem is a case in point. The fact that he resigned from his parliamentary seat to contest the Eastern Provincial Council election doesn’t mean that, as a result, there has been a corresponding decrease in security threats to him. It is a mistake to tie a political leader’s security to the posts he holds or to use it as a bludgeon against him. His security must be determined on the basis of an independent threat assessment.
The LTTE cannot hold out for ever in the Wanni. It is sure to buckle, before long, under the unprecedented military pressure being stepped up from different directions. When Prabhakaran finds himself low on ammunition and food with the army closing in, large scale desertions will begin marking the fall of his empire. There are already signs of that happening. Therefore, he will do his damnedest to find an escape route either through the human rights front or the political front. His human rights allies having failed to deliver the goods for him, he is very likely to concentrate on the political front. He won’t differentiate between the government and the Opposition in his endeavour. He is desperate to unsettle the state, be it at the expense of government politicians or Opposition bigwigs. The assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali, he knows, triggered a political tsunami which the then powerful Premadasa government couldn’t withstand. President Premadasa had made the mistake of stripping Lalith of his security in retaliation for an abortive impeachment motion the latter had masterminded two years back. Had Lalith been given proper security, the cataclysmic political events that shook the country in 1993 could have been avoided. This should serve as a lesson for the present-day politicians. By denying their rivals proper security, they are only inviting trouble.
People, too, have to share the blame for this sorry state of affairs. They don’t consider any public event complete unless it has the presence of a politician. Not even a simple ceremony at a place of religious worship gets held without a politician attending it. The Weliveriya marathon which cost the lives of Minister Fernandopulle and fourteen others had been given a great deal of advance publicity with the names of the VIPs to attend it and the time of commencement. What more does the LTTE need?
Restricting VIP movements has other benefits as well. That will help ease mayhem on public roads. VIPs have become a very big public nuisance. Whenever those potentates move about with armed escorts, other road users get shoved off roads. More often than not, motorists and commuters suffering in crowded buses are made to wait for ten to fifteen minutes at a stretch at busy intersections to make way for some VIPs. VIP movements have manifestly got on the public nerve. The presidential decree in question will also prevent the government from becoming more unpopular, if it is properly carried out.
But the problem is that politicians have a very short memory just like their electors. With the passage of time, they will be lulled into a false sense of complacency. Then, they will lower their guard exposing themselves and those around them to terrorists. Prabhakaran knows this and that is why he makes it a point to leave a considerable gap between two suicide attacks. He gives politicians ample time to forget an attack and then he strikes with devastating impact.
In fighting terrorism, protecting political leadership is half the battle!