Air terror and comedy of error
Not since that fateful Easter Sunday in World War 11 - April 5, 1942, has Sri Lanka been bombed by air as happened last Sunday night. The LTTE, pushed to the brink in the Eastern Province by advancing Security Forces, made maximum use of the element of surprise to stage a dramatic strike using only the available moonlight to guide them on their mission.
That two four-seater single-engine light aircraft could drop four bombs on the Air Force base at Katunayake says much about the state of preparedness of the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF).
The excuses trotted out by some of the Government's Cabinet Ministers in the wake of the attack were so pathetic that it would have been better had they just kept mum. True to form, they came out with the most outlandish suggestions -- that the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement was to blame for all this; that it was because sections of the media and a disgruntled ex-Minister spilt the beans on the money transactions that have taken place recently in the purchase of MiG jets, and arguably the most ridiculous -- that at least this time (unlike in 2001), the air base was not, mercifully, infiltrated on the ground!
This is akin to the current joke in India, where the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is being blamed for the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 because otherwise, Bangladesh would not have beaten India at the World Cup.
The facts are something else.
An Air Wing of the LTTE was conceived way back in the 1990s (during the PA Administration). Building an LTTE airstrip started in 2003 under cover of the CFA (during a UNP Administration); it was completed in 2004 (under a UPFA Administration); and the first intelligence reports of the acquisition of aircraft came in 2005 (under a PA Administration).
Scoring cheap political points is, therefore, an exercise in futility, for all are equally culpable of neglect and ineptitude. As far as this Government is concerned, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Services have been from its party for the past 14 years.
This newspaper carries today ample evidence that the SLAF was well aware of the acquisition of aircraft by the LTTE - and we record today the repeated warnings made by this newspaper and the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar to his Government, to foreign Governments and their representatives in Colombo, pleading for action against the rise of an illegal LTTE Air Wing.
To his President Chandrika Kumaratunga he wrote on March 26, 2005 -- so chillingly ironic -- that it was two years ago to the very date of the air raid -- quoting "reliable information" that the LTTE had procured three aircraft and was in the process of shipping them to our eastern coast from the port of Jakarta.
Mr. Kadirgamar was then clearly running into a rough patch with the President, quietly being side-lined by the elements who had got close to her and succeeded in portraying him as a hardliner opposed to negotiating with the LTTE. This was furthest from the truth, but his sense of duty towards his nation made him write two years ago to his President, by then once again the Minister of Defence, with an almost heart-rending plea, "You might wish to take further action as you think fit".
All that is history...and that lone voice has now been stilled. All we hear today is a cacophony of voices making nonsensical statements without addressing the issue at hand.
The fact that not a single country -- not India, not the US, not Britain, not Australia, not Japan -- has condemned the LTTE air attack is something worth thinking about. Their silence is a virtual justification for the attack. These are the nations in the howling from every forum about the war on terror. The UN Secretary General called for a halt to "air raids" -- a classic double-speak in diplomatic language asking the Government also to stop air raids. There was no specific condemnation of a guerrilla air attack.
The UN Secretary General must go read UN Security Council Resolutions 1371 (2001) and 1566 (2004), resolutions that condemn all acts of terrorism "irrespective of their motivation" whenever and by whomsoever committed, to familiarize himself with what that world body's role is in combating terrorism. Compare all this with the hullabaloo after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.A.
One swallow does not a summer make -- likewise, one air raid over Colombo does not signal the end of the war. It is only a new beginning, and the Government might as well face up to all the realities, combating a deadly guerrilla organization, in what it seems to firmly believe is the final solution to the war on terror in Sri Lanka.