Accountability and security go hand in hand. As Sri Lanka continues to reel from the Easter Sunday attacks, the public are demanding answers and they want their political representatives to either step up and discharge their responsibilities or hand them over to someone who can do the job.
Admissions of colossal security lapses have been made by both sides of the political divide. President Maithripala Sirisena in his first address to the nation since the devastating attacks on Sunday conceded there were intelligence failures and stated that there were no indications that the National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ) organisation was planning or capable of such a large and well-coordinated attack. The President went on to say that he was not updated on crucial intelligence that reportedly came from India of imminent attacks. Both Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene have said they were not kept informed and were not allowed to attend the National Security Council (NSC) briefings.
In the same speech President Sirisena promised to make major changes at top levels of the Defence and Police establishments within 24 hours. But the deadline came and went with only a “request” from the President to Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando and Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara to resign. In an unprecedented situation of such incomparable importance, the President should not be making statements that he does not follow up on. This is not the time to make false promises and misleading statements.
Millions of people are terrified for their lives and hundreds more are grieving loss of loved ones. Sri Lanka’s citizens are facing the traumatic reality of taking their lives in their hands every time they step out of their homes. People go to work because they have no other choice and search operations clearing entire townships are a daily occurrence. A normal sight such as a parked vehicle, which no one would have looked at twice before Sunday, has become a fraught activity. Politicians need to understand the seriousness of this situation and act accordingly. From the side of the United National Party (UNP) there is the need for clear information to be given to the public in a timely manner so there is a clear picture of what happened and public confidence can be restored to at least some extent.
There is no doubt that intelligence agencies need to be given intense training and resources, legal space, and coordination power at unprecedented level to be able to face the new challenge facing Sri Lanka. Basic tinkering with them will not be sufficient. There has to be a sustained, long-term program that will be carried out by successive governments to promote the security of Sri Lanka.
As the Government itself has admitted, Sri Lanka now has to transition from tackling home-grown terrorism such as the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) to global terror with layered complexities that are truly mindboggling. Even within the country the fact that the Government initially identified the NTJ and now believes a splinter group may also have been involved is an indication of how massive the challenge will be to combat terrorism threats effectively. A possible link with Islamic State is perhaps the most frightening development since the actual attacks on Sunday. The need for the political leadership to get itself in order cannot be overstated in this situation.