Open letter to President, Gotabhaya and Fonseka

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Almost everyone pauses from their day to day chores to reminisce about things we can be thankful for in our lives. I am thankful to be surrounded by the love of my wife, our son and many friends and relatives. I am thankful to America for giving me a place to live as a free man with the opportunity to be whomever I want to be. I am thankful to our President, Barack Obama, for leading us and to our past President, George W. Bush, for helping Sri Lanka, my country of birth in her battle against terrorism.

I am thankful and grateful to all three of you, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka. Everyone in Sri Lanka who does not enjoy random killing, bloodshed, mayhem and wanton destruction of life and property will be with me offering thanks to all three of you. Together, the three of you have done so much in so short a period of time, that I wonder as I write whether it is morally right to ask you for one more favour.

Let me address the President first. Your crowning achievement is giving political leadership to end terrorism. You were wise to adopt President George W. Bush’s bedrock policy – "Do not negotiate with a terrorist." Your predecessors who lacked your integrity and your visceral fortitude ignored Bush’s policy and opted to negotiate either through fear, for political gain, financial gain or all three. From the very beginning, your vision was clear –rid the country of terrorism. To reach this goal you took the first important step by choosing the right men to do the job. Your predecessor, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, in the last days of her administration was about to discard the best military leader of the land, General Sarath Fonseka, merely to please the LTTE and INGOs. Your election came just in time for Sri Lanka, for you knew who the best man was. Your appointment of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka to lead the armed forces was the single most important decision that helped Sri Lanka to restore her territorial integrity lost under the stewardship of Junius Richard Jayewardene nearly thirty long years ago. The correctness of your decision was validated by the LTTE itself when it attempted to assassinate the two men of your choice.

Your foreign policy record is no less impressive. The men you chose to lead the foreign office and the UN built bridges with nonwestern powers all over the world, to defeat a western sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Commission. This was the first time western powers were so soundly defeated in the UN. The way you dealt with the British, French and Norwegian foreign ministers is a source of pride to your citizens. With your brother Gotabhaya, you had the courage to tell these dignitaries politely but firmly to mind their own business and go home. No other leader handled western NGOs better and more firmly than you.

Now it is my turn to address the Defence Secretary. Dear Sir, thank you for heading a defence establishment free of corruption after many, many years. Your not being tempted to indulge in graft and amass a fortune inspired every man and woman in the armed forces, from the General to the foot soldier. Thank you for choosing the best man to do the job, General Fonseka. As they did to Kumaratunga, the LTTE may have threatened you, and the NGOs may have tempted you, undaunted, you made the best choice for the country. If you had been corrupt and lacking in the desire to free your country from terrorism, you could have easily let General Fonseka retire and elevated another incompetent and perhaps corrupt officer to lead the army, and enrich yourself in the process. To your eternal credit, you put the country before your family and yourself. Previous presidents, lacking your courage, vision and integrity, never gave great soldiers like Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Wijaya Wimalaratne and Janaka Perera, a chance. They were prematurely removed from the battlefield by political leaders who lacked your integrity and selflessness and not surprisingly, victory eluded them. The LTTE knew your integrity and your determination will someday be a serious obstacle to their objectives and hence their decision to assassinate you. Luckily for Sri Lanka you escaped. If you look at the people either killed or targeted by the LTTE, you can’t find a single crook.

Last but not least, Dear General, your resolve and singleness of purpose coupled with your military skills won the war. This, no one can deny. When your men won Thoppigala, it is said that the Indian military establishment was very surprised, for it had lost to the same enemy on the same battle field, 25 years ago. Lieutenant General Satish Nambiar, a highly decorated Indian Army officer described you thus; "Fonseka displayed the qualities of a great military leader nations are blessed with from time to time." Of course the Leader of the Opposition, Ranil Wickremesinghe dismissed it as a hollow victory in a meaningless jungle battle, for a rock outcropping, but serious students of military strategy and the rest of the nation understood and saluted you in admiration and gratitude. During the last days of the war you not only had to fight a war, but also to protect a large civilian population and minimize collateral damage. I am sure you will never forget, it was the Defence Secretary and the President who gave you the opportunity to use your skills at a critical time for you to fulfil your historic destiny.

If history had stopped sometime in September 2009, a chronicle to be complied in the future like Mahavamsa would have described all three of you in most glowing terms. The legacies of the Rajapaksas and Fonseka would have stood untarnished and almost unparalleled in the annals of Sri Lanka’s long history. But human nature is such that happy endings often come only in the movies. One of the greatest military strategists, Sir Winston Churchill wrote in his retirement, "Those who can win a war well can rarely make good peace and those who could make a good peace would never have won the war." Fear, suspicions and paranoia not found in any one of you during the war suddenly surfaced in peace. Tragically you proved Churchill’s words 50 years later.

This is why I want to ask you one last favour. DO NOT TARNISH YOUR LEGACY AND DO NOT SQUANDER THE HARD WON VICTORY. A victory won by the blood, sweat and tears of your brave foot soldiers.

The most damaging consequence of your quarrel is the blow it deals to the morale of the armed forces. In future, no military leader will fight a war to an end, and no political leader will pick up a competent military leader as President Mahinda Rajapaksa did when he appointed General Fonseka. War dragged on for over 25 years. Because past presidents lacking neither the vision nor courage picked up incompetent and often corrupt military leaders, perpetuating violence, loss of life and needless human suffering. Your disunity will encourage and produce weak and incompetent military and political leaders in the future.

Furthermore history is replete with disastrous consequences of disunity among victors. An often quoted case is that of the last king of Sinhale, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. Fuelled by fears and suspicions, he executed two Maha Adikarams, Pilimatalawe and Ehelepola. Within a few years the king lost his throne. That was almost 200 years ago. But we don’t have to go that far back in history. At a time when the LTTE was at the peak of its power, Velupillai Prabhakaran, a brave and dedicated warrior, in a rare moment of fear and suspicion, removed Vinayagamoorthi Muraltharan. That was the tipping point for the decline of LTTE power and its subsequent demise. Please do not ignore history, for it has an awful habit of repeating itself.

The battle is not really over. Danger is lurking out there. The Western powers will not forgive your audacity in eliminating the LTTE. The LTTE, understood the nature of centrist parties in the west. These parties such as the Democratic Party of the USA and the Labour Party of the UK, have neither an ideology, nor a vision. Winning is their only mission and fund raising is their only effort. Knowing this the LTTE funded them to the hilt. They cannot afford to lose a rich funding source like the LTTE. They will do their best to revive the LTTE. To do so, first they have to unseat you, one by one, which can be done easily if you are divided. You have decided to contest against each other. Whoever wins, it will only be a short lived pyrrhic victory. On the other hand the right wing parties in the west such as the Republicans in the USA and Conservatives in the UK are true to their ideology and principles, and will not compromise those for campaign funds. This is why during the time of President George W. Bush, Sri Lanka got valuable assistance in her fight against terrorism. Then the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) classified the LTTE as the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world. The LTTE’s ruthless tactics have inspired terrorist networks worldwide, including Al Queda in Iraq. Unfortunately, in both countries the right wing parties not friendly to LTTE terrorism are out of power.

It is also conceivable that the west harbours a veiled resentment towards the multi ethnic, multi religious countries of the east such as India and Sri Lanka practising democracy. May be they think only western countries are civilized enough to foster democratic societies. The history of universal adult franchise in India and Sri Lanka is longer than that of the United States. Even habeas corpus, a corner stone in a democracy is more alive in Sri Lanka than in the USA where terrorist suspects are detained indefinitely without trial.

These, however, are peculiarities of each country’s political systems. Sri Lanka cannot say those are good or bad. Rather its leaders both political and military should be united to face the enemy. May I ask President Mahinda Rajapaksa, out of the three, the oldest and the most powerful to be magnanimous and be the older brother (aiya) to the other two, particularly to General Fonseka and ask him in what position he wants to serve the country. I am asking you to do this because you are one of a kind. No other president before you could match your vision and courage. Then may I ask Sarath Fonseka to reciprocate to the President by asking for a position he desires. Dear General, even at this late stage you can come back.

It is easy for me to ask the three of you this favour. For you to do this will be painful . You are surrounded by lesser men who know how to stoke the fires of your fears, suspicions and other baser instincts. In the jungle when the lions fight, jackals hang around to take the spoils. The Jackals around you are not there for the love of you but to use you. They will do their best to obfuscate the big picture. Perhaps you should seek the counsel of the clergy, or even the JVP. They are a resourceful group, rich in ideas and high in principles, and deserve to be in government.

Imagine, many years later, your grand children reading the history of Sri Lanka. How proud they would be to turn the pages adorned with the untarnished legacies of the Rajapaksas and Fonsekas. Would you like to be remembered as Don Juan Dharmapala who surrendered the country to a western power or as Dutugemunu who liberated the country from foreign rule? The choice is yours. The time factor is critical. Napoleon Bonaparte said, "Opportunity comes, but once." Irrespective of your choice, I remain deeply grateful to all three of you for ending violence and bringing peace to the country of my birth.

Don Puswella
Los Angeles

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