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A fools' paradise

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has, in an interview with the Strait Times, called former Army Commander and presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka a fool who should have known better than to venture into politics. We beg to differ. We think the much decorated soldier who led the Sri Lankan army to victory in a fierce war on terror is not a fool but he made a fool of himself by falling for the wiles of some bankrupt politicians who wanted to save their skin.

Gen. Fonseka's biggest mistake, as President Rajapaksa has pointed out, is that he failed to realise politics was a different ball game. Having led a regimented life as a military man, he may have expected politicians also to behave like his troops and deliver. When a commander barks out an order for his army to stand to attention, all the troops fall in line without exception. But, such compliance is a rarity in politics. He also turned a blind eye to the fact that the army's success in war had been due to a team effort rather than his own and in politics he would have to take on his team mates who had been instrumental in winning the war. He naively opted for forging an alliance with a group of failed politicians who even lacked courage to contest the presidential election. Most of all, he overestimated himself and underestimated his contender, President Rajapaksa. That proved to be a terrible political miscalculation.

The government pampered Gen. Fonseka and pandered to his whims and fancies. His freedom knew no bounds. He looked down upon the other armed forces and even went to the extent of heaping insult on the then Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda at every turn for reasons known only to himself.

Gen. Fonseka was allowed to ride rough shod over anyone other than the President and his cabal. The government may have tolerated him the way it did as it was wary of antagonising him at a time the war was raging. It also erred very badly by fielding disabled military personnel at Provincial Council elections and thereby sending the wrong signals to the serving military officers with political ambitions and big egos to nurse. The government may have done so in good faith but that was evidently the wrong way to show gratitude to war heroes in a highly militarised environment. When disabled soldiers win elections, it is only natural that the able-bodied generals nearing retirement age or on extensions in service want to try their luck in politics.

The JVP and UNP leaders found themselves in the same predicament as the proverbial fox which fell into a well and could not clamber out of it. That cunning animal lured a thirsty goat looking for water into the well and escaped by leaping upon its back. The JVP and the UNP did something similar to Gen. Fonseka. The rest is history.

Gen. Fonseka's arrest and detention are matters that must be left to the judiciary but what should the government do now? It ought to realise that political power must be kept out of generals' reach. In a war, forces disproportionate to the real threat are usually unleashed, however abominable that practice may be. Now that the war is over, it is time for demilitarisation. Ideally, there are two places where the military should be kept––at the battle front and in the barracks.

Above all, for the wellbeing of democracy, the Opposition should desist from contracting politico-military hit men in a bid to grab power and, similarly, destroying the Opposition must not be the government's raison d'être.

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