Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Terrorism: Gen.Sarath Fonseka - a brilliant professional, but professionalism alone does not make a good leader

B.RAMAN See also: www.southasiaanalysis.org

The Khalistani terrorism in India and the terrorism of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka are two unique instances in the history of terrorism where the State prevailed over the terrorists without conceding their demands.

2. The threat faced by Sri Lanka was more complex and difficult to handle than the threat faced by India. Sri Lanka was confronted with a ruthless mix of a full-blown insurgency seeking territorial control and terrorism seeking to intimidate the civil society. The Khalistani terrorism was a purely terrorist movement with no mix of an insurgency.

3. The situation, which Sri Lanka faced, was similar to that faced by the US and other NATO forces and the Afghan National Army in Afghanistan. They have not yet been able to find an effective answer to the complex mix of insurgent and terrorist tactics used by the Neo Taliban.

4. It goes to the credit of the counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism machinery of Sri Lanka that after having struggled against the LTTE for nearly 23 years till 2006, they were able to fashion an appropriate mix of tactics to prevail over the LTTE.

5. This mix had a number of components. The political component, which was handled by President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself, focussed on giving the security forces and the intelligence agencies the resources and capacities needed by them to prevail over the LTTE and at the same time, ensuring that the counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations of the security forces did not drive more Tamils into the arms of the LTTE.

6. The diplomatic component, which was handled by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, ensured the diplomatic isolation of the LTTE. In fact, it was the success of the Sri Lankan diplomacy in getting the LTTE declared as a terrorist organisation by the European Union countries and in persuading the US, the EU countries and the Governments in South-East Asia to act energetically against the flow of money and weapons to the LTTE, which laid the foundation for the ultimate success of the Army on the ground.

7. If Sri Lankan diplomacy had not acted as energetically as it did in getting the sources of weapons supply to the LTTE choked off, the LTTE might not have collapsed as completely as it did.

8. It also goes to the credit of Rajapaksa and his Foreign Office that they realised the importance of India in any effective strategy to defeat the LTTE. China and Pakistan might have supplied arms and ammunition to the SL security forces, but what really helped the security forces was the assistance rendered by the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and intelligence to their SL counterparts in ensuring that the LTTE was not able to smuggle in fresh stocks of weapons from abroad. Another contribution made by the Government of India was in the handling of any political fall-out in Tamil Nadu to prevent any backlash against the Sri Lankan operations in Indian territory.

9. It is the political and diplomatic handling of the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency campaign by Rajapaksa and his political aides such as his Foreign Minister and professional aides such as his brother Gothbaya Rajapaksa, who as the Defence Secretary was the Chief Co-ordinator, that paved the way for the ultimate success of the armed forces.

10. The Armed Forces fought bravely. The credit for working out a ground strategy, which will prevail against the LTTE, should go to Gen.Sarath Fonseka, the chief of the Army, who subsequently became the Chief of the Defence Staff after the victory over the LTTE. The victory of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces over the LTTE was even more remarkable than that of the Indian security forces over the Khalistani terrorists, who were as ruthless as the LTTE.

11. We were not able to neutralise the command and control and leadership of the Khalistani terrorists as completely as the Sri Lankan Armed Forces under the leadership of Fonseka were able to do in respect of the LTTE. In any history of counter-terrorism, the way the entire Sri Lankan counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency machinery under Rajapaksa fought against the LTTE and prevailed over it would form an important chapter.

12. In his newly-assumed post of the Chief of the Defence Staff, Fonseka would have been able to do a retrospective analysis of the entire evolution of the LTTE and the way different SL Governments had handled the threat in order to draw lessons for the future. Such an exercise would have been of immense benefit to his own country as well as to India and others who face similar problems.

13. instead of doing so, he has allowed his pique over perceived slights by the Government to get the better of him and has resigned from his post as the CDS after making a series of allegations against the Government. A perusal of his letter to Rajapaksa does not speak well of his intellectual maturity as an individual. He was a brilliant professional, but professionalism alone does not make a good leader.

14.Media reports say that he has developed political ambitions of contesting the next Presidential elections against Rajapaksa. He has every right to do so as a Sri Lankan citizen. Unfortunately, his letter to Rajapaksa does not bring out any latent political acumen in him. They only bring out his huge ego and his pique. The message which comes out of the letter is: " I am the super hero of the success against the LTTE. My role in the triumph has not been sufficiently recognised."

15. As one reads his letter, one's mind goes back to our triumph against Khalistani terrorism. The success was achieved when K.P.S.Gill was the Director-General of Police of Punjab. He has never projected himself as the super hero of the success. He is always the first to admit that the success of the Punjab Police under his leadership would not have been possible without the political leadership and guidance of Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister and Beant Singh as the Chief Minister of Punjab, without the team work put in by the police, the armed forces, the intelligence agencies and the Foreign Office and without the co-operation of foreign intelligence agencies which gave a lot of valuable intelligence.

16. Punjab is the most important of our successes against terrorism and insurgency, but not the only one. We have had other successes in Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Kashmir.The professionals--- whether from the Armed Forces, the police or the intelligence agencies--- who were instrumental in making those successes possible, did not go around projecting themselves as super heroes. They recognised the role of others and maintained their sense of balance.

17. By failing to maintain his sense of balance and by allowing his pique to get the better of him, Fonseka has only devalued himself. The political forces in Sri Lanka which are exploiting his pique as a stick to beat Rajapaksa with are playing an unwise game. They may end up by diluting the professionalism of the SL Army. (17-11-2009)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.

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