In February 2010, this is what I stated in my risk column for the Business Times: “Defeating of terrorism in Sri Lanka should never be a logical or practical rationale for relaxation of our precautions – locally or globally. The terror against localities is no longer launched only by naïve, low tech, amateurish, rough- faced, [...]

Business Times

‘BOMBS IN TOWN’ – 5 Lessons


In February 2010, this is what I stated in my risk column for the Business Times: “Defeating of terrorism in Sri Lanka should never be a logical or practical rationale for relaxation of our precautions – locally or globally. The terror against localities is no longer launched only by naïve, low tech, amateurish, rough- faced, detectable, primitive and confronting terrorists. The future of terrorism belongs to borderless, scientific and well deceptive strategists.”

Much water has peacefully flown under the bridge for 10 years since then, and out of the blue, hell broke-loose in the morning of Easter Sunday on April 21, 2019.

Just 20 minutes of synchronized mayhem that banged three premier hotels in the heart of Colombo and three Christian churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa jolted the nation, shocked the region and the world on that holy day.

All in all, nine explosions that killed over 360 people including about 40 foreigners, around 45 kids, hundreds of worshippers, three Police officers and injured over 500 people within a span of a few hours is a hard-to-digest phenomenon on any scale. The post-tragedy tremors seem to continue in diverse forms even as I write this educational column.

While it is the mission of the detectives to solve the puzzles behind the urban explosions that seemingly bears the hallmarks of ethno-religious terrorism, the sensible approach for us is to contemplate on the disturbed landscape – and learn from the tragedy in a futuristic perspective.

Lesson 1 – Sustain the Safeguards:

There is always a first day for any insurgency, any terrorism, any war to splash-out. Like a deadly volcano waiting to burst, the day prior has often been a calm one. That is probably one reason why the great ancient warrior Sun Tzu’s stated that ‘In peace, prepare for war!!’

Let’s get on an inward odyssey and do some soul searching; deep within we all know that we let our guard down, merely because the ambiance was peaceful. We hardly realized that it is this same peace that offers freedom for terrorist outfits to initiate their ‘passive-phase planning’ unsuspectingly.

We surely have self-assuring explanations that the emergency law was defunct, the need for sober international relations, the necessity for ensuring human rights, creating investor and entrepreneur-friendly ambiance and so on. These are all good things. Yet, the snow-balling price we have already paid appears colossal.

Look diligently. We at homes dropped our guard. Lanes dropped the guard. Cities dropped the guard. Corporates dropped the guard. Hotels dropped the guard. National administrators dropped the guard. The defence apparatus was placed on ‘at ease’ mode. The list goes on. Which terrorist outfit wouldn’t exploit such a setting?

Lesson 2 – Intelligence, Intelligence, Intelligence!!:

Close your eyes for a moment – you now are nothing but blind. Then why wonder when your enemy taps your shoulder from behind or slaps your face in front without you realising so in advance? When we suddenly jolt-up to the realities, it sadly is way too late.

Thus, whether it is full scale war, poor peace (or even in tranquility) – intelligence manoeuvres – both overt and covert at its best motion is a must – and never ever be compromised or put under dilemma and dilution.

Police and military intelligence is delicate but a surest facade of protection of any country and any government. No sensible nation or a far-sighted government should reduce its own defences because such transitory follies cause irreversible long-lasting damage to a nation as a whole.

On the value of military intelligence, ‘Ways of Seeing’ author John Berger once said that: “To think strategically, one has to imagine oneself in the enemy’s place. If one cannot do this, it is impossible to foresee, to take by surprise, to outflank. Misinterpreting the enemy can lead to defeat. This is how empires fall.”

Lesson 3 – Peace is the Profit:

‘Do we need to keep reminding ourselves that we had a war some time ago?’

This was a repeatedly chanted mantra of the metro romanticism while easily forgetting the price we all had to pay for the peace, devaluing and sometimes ridiculing the ‘blood-sweat-flesh-and tears’ factor of the nation’s collective sacrifices for three decades.

They conveniently overlooked that – just 10 years ago – how this island nation struggled with the loss of GDP, loss of opportunity, lack of off-shore investments, crashing of the leisure and tourism sphere, titanic war expenses, damage recovery funding, tensed-up times, overall psycho-socio damage, country brand downturn; and above all, the enormous loss of precious lives on account of the war that some merrily demanded us to forget.

We surely need to forget the unpleasant dynamics of war and march on, but we must remember the priceless lessons it taught us for the simple fact that creating paths for another war out of ignorance and indifference is our biggest loss – and conserving hard-earned peace is our biggest profit!!

Lesson 4 – Cage the Dangers First:

If you got biting dogs at home, the sensible thing to do is to cage them before getting the visitors in.

In a sense, off-shore investors are like our visitors. So are the top-dollar tourists and travellers. When they land here and find out what’s exquisitely illustrated in the brochure has a contrasting negative variance on ground, what then is our meekly explanation to them?

We can do millions and billions worth of country branding drives across the globe, which still is icing on the cake, but never the cake itself.

No amount of cute icing on the cake will bring us the desired results when the cake underneath is dreadfully rotten. All our rose-tinted narrations get exposed sooner in the test of actuality, unless we put our house in order before inviting the visitors in.

Therefore, those in places of authority need to act on realism without getting carried away on flimsy optimism which not only deceives ourselves, but also deceives our guests. Thus, identifying the priorities – and exploring the ways and means to set the backdrop right first – becomes our urgency.

Lesson 5 – Never be Unprepared:

Yes, it wasn’t raining when Noah built the arc. That’s being prudent in the moment and seeing into the forthcoming endangerments.

Nevertheless, the inconvenient truth is that almost everyone dropped the vigilance. Some were under-prepared. Many were unprepared. Others didn’t even know what preparation is. It then is only natural to be taken by ‘absolute surprise’.

We as a nation or as an individual cannot afford another war for certain. It therefore is everyone’s prime responsibility to awaken the vigil status and security benchmark beyond the face-value at our accountability zones. The date – time – place – mode and the magnitude of devastation are decisions of the terrorists. What’s within our control is to block the corridor of their opportunities.

In this game of snakes and ladders, we have to be lucky always, but the terrorists have to be lucky only once. Challenging, yet we shouldn’t back-off at all.

Allianz Chief Risk Officer Tom Wilson vividly said that ‘Risk management is a culture, not a cult. It works if everyone lives it, not if it is practiced by a few high priests’. Thus, no solo-effort can do the magic for all, unless we get together and ‘DO’ it mutually and passionately.

Terrorism is not something that we can keep downplaying – or handled easily when it gets upscale. This is where ‘nipping in the bud’ essentially punches the wisdom for us to learn and re-learn. We all need to contribute our very best in making a culture of proper vigil, gathering authentic intelligence and creating steadfast security gearshifts as a countrywide effort with mass partaking at all levels.

The supreme art of war is to dismantle the emerging terrorism well before battlefield fighting – and that is the utmost obligation of the moment that we owe for the generations to come.

Alarm bells are loud and clear! Are we listening – and most precisely – are we acting upon??


(The author is an ex-Army officer wounded in battle, a foremost enterprise risk management specialist and a corporate risk trainer who serves as the CEO of Strategic Risk Solutions. He can be reached via email on or via web 

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