Come Thursday (April 21) and it will be the second anniversary of that terrible, probably avoidable Easter Sunday bombing that shook the country, rocked the country’s intelligence gathering apparatus and accelerated the ouster of the political leadership of the time. The Cardinal is blowing hot and cold on the entire issue. On the one hand, [...]


Easter attacks: Anniversary mired in conundrums


Come Thursday (April 21) and it will be the second anniversary of that terrible, probably avoidable Easter Sunday bombing that shook the country, rocked the country’s intelligence gathering apparatus and accelerated the ouster of the political leadership of the time.

The Cardinal is blowing hot and cold on the entire issue. On the one hand, he is, in true Christian spirit, preaching the gospel of forgiveness and mercy to the perpetrators of this dastardly crime; on the other, he is all fire and brimstone, demanding what he calls “justice” for the victims. What he means by the latter is imposing severe punishment not only on the mastermind(s) behind those coordinated attacks on churches and hotels (who are still ‘in the realm of the unknown’), but also prosecuting those whose negligence allowed the attacks to happen.

The Attorney General is under pressure from the Church, which detractors of these ‘pressure tactics’ call ‘Catholic Action’ (from the lexicon of the botched coup attempt of 1962). The AG’s office is expected to wade through reams of evidence from multiple agencies and a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to indict persons, among whom is a former President.

Proponents of the outspoken Cardinal publicly voicing his displeasure at the slow pace of investigations and prosecutions would, however, argue that sans this pressure, it is quite possible that this public posturing from all quarters would be ‘much ado about nothing’, just another file that would gather dust like so many other cases.

The Government is in a quandary. It seized the opportunity presented by virtual happenstance as far as it was concerned in April 2019 to bring National Security into the forefront of its campaign agenda and to have the sitting Government ejected from office for its miserable failure to avoid the Easter Sunday bombings of that year. Government leaders promised the Church speedy redress. Now they find the political leadership of the time (the then President) seated in their ranks as coalition partner. Furthermore, it has now transpired that the leader of the gang of suicide bombers who blew themselves up that fateful day had been on their payroll (for different reasons though).

Additionally, geo-politics has the Government in a tangle in meeting Opposition grilling on how come an external spy agency seemingly knew of the bombers’ every move, but left gaps in passing crucial information just when it mattered most and could have made a difference.

No doubt, there was a yawning gap in the local intelligence services. Clearly, political interference had crept into the intelligence gathering system with political leaders giving higher priority to their own agendas rather than the security of the state.

There is also a massive trust deficiency in regional information sharing cooperation between South Asia’s intelligence agencies. This is because some of these agencies are themselves involved, at the behest of their respective Governments, in meddling in the internal affairs of their neighbouring countries in their own ‘national interest’.

Outward displays of bonhomie, solidarity and good neighbourliness are just sugar coatings for cloak and dagger espionage and triggering means of destabilisation. Undercurrents prevail, and issues like cross-border terrorism, religious and ideological extremism, narcotics smuggling and the like get downplayed or are pushed to back-burners due to geo-political considerations. No one knows for sure who is friend or foe.

For the victims’ families and the injured, the anniversary is an unbearably painful reminder of the tragic loss they have to live with. The anguish lingers and the suffering is clouded in the fog of a political circus on display.

Avoiding a Covid third wave

Defenders of the Government are claiming that other issues like the sugar scam, the coconut oil scam, or the high price of coconuts and rice, and the humble vegetables, the rape of the forests etc., are being highlighted simply because the Government has successfully brought the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging the entire world, under control.

In comparison to the new surge of the virus in India, Europe and the United States, the numbers in Sri Lanka may look relatively small, but it is too early to claim victory. After the first wave last year, there were similar boasts that Sri Lanka was an example to the world — the same way it defeated terrorism, only to see a more virulent second wave that drastically increased the number of cases detected and the fatalities from 13 at the beginning of October 2020 to more than 600 now.

The Government’s decidedly more organised anti-pandemic campaign of the early part of 2020 has been all but abandoned. The lockdowns have been replaced by calls to the public to act “more responsibly”. The easing of those stringent controls of last year to open up a strangulated economy has led to a form of escapism by the populace best seen in the multitudes who took advantage of the long Avurudu holidays to travel around the country, many discarding the health guidelines. The one saving grace was that most wore masks. They threw a lifeline to the beleaguered hoteliers who waved them into their hallowed portals in the absence of foreign tourists.

Being an island-nation without porous land borders has been an advantage in the control of importing the virus from other countries. It is one major headache less. However, the opening up of the country to foreign tourists, especially from countries where the virus is raging with new waves and variants is a matter of serious concern.

India last week announced that its citizens can travel in ‘air bubbles’ to countries like Sri Lanka, but this measure was not reciprocal. Given the dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases in India these weeks, not many Sri Lankans would want to risk travel to that country anyway, but the question is why these decisions are not reciprocal.

The vaccination programme in Sri Lanka, meanwhile, has gone haywire with the abject politicisation of the state regulator, the NMRA (National Medicine Regulatory Authority). The Chinese vaccine Sinopharm has been bulldozed through the NMRA gatekeepers, the watchdog of the nation’s health (pharmaceutical) system.

The Government is courting disaster by adopting a political approach to what is essentially a technical issue, especially at a time when at least some segments of the fight against COVID-19 are giving the red alert of a third wave to come. The lessons of the outbreak of the devastating second wave in October last year must at least be learnt. To state the obvious, we cannot afford a third wave.


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