The most striking similarity between the Sri Lanka cricket team and the national military, as we have pointed out in these columns previously, is that they fare extremely well over a long period of time and then falter at a crucial hurdle due to lapses, which are easily avoidable. Mahela and the boys lost on Saturday, dashing the hopes of their fans. Not all the deities, whose blessings cricket lovers invoked here in the run up to the grand finale, could help them win. The glorious uncertainties of the game cannot be discounted in assessing the performance of cricketers, but Sri Lanka could certainly have done much better and perhaps even managed to bag the coveted cup, had they played a bit more sensibly, without being unsettled unnecessarily.
However, we don`t intend to discuss cricket today. We only commend Mahela and the team for having made it to the finals and put up a good fight. Unfortunately, luck was on the side of the Aussies.
What is more worrisome than the defeat in Barbados is the latest LTTE sortie in Colombo. It is nothing but sheer luck that helped the country avert a major disaster. The LTTE failed to achieve its target, as the crude bombs it dropped didn`t have the intended impact. So, though Sri Lanka was not lucky cricket-wise, it was very lucky military-wise! Lady luck was not totally unfair by us! In a way, we are being rather unfair by having expected her to be on our side both in Barbados and Colombo, at the same time!
But, luck is the last thing that we must depend on in defending the country as national security is not a gamble. Success in a war against terrorism is contingent upon a country`s preparedness to counter threats effectively and efficiently. But, instead of proper planning and working out a strategy, the military is still groping in the dark, unable to at least locate the take-off points of the light aircraft concerned or spot them in mid air, let alone down them!
If the LTTE has become a formidable guerrilla outfit today, Prabhakran should, without claiming all the credit for it, apportion it to successive governments and blundering political leaders. They have always allowed the LTTE to acquire a new capability, without making a serious effort to neutralise it, thus enabling the outfit to take the initiative with devastating impact. Let`s look at the SLAF. It waited until several of its aircraft were destroyed with SAMs to go for anti-missile systems in the end. The Navy acquired sonar equipment only after having lost many of its vessels to the LTTE frogmen. The army waited until the outfit got MBRLs and used them with devastating effect on the military installations in the North including the sprawling Elephant Pass base, to place the order for the same capability!
That the LTTE had several aircraft in its possession was known to successive governments over the past several years. During the UNF government, the LTTE took delivery of a number of container loads of undeclared goods, some with the help of the Norwegians diplomats in Colombo. Many crates that they brought in through the Katunayake airport during peace talks overseas, without customs checks, could have contained anything. Under the present government, in the aftermath of the tsunami disaster, there was a free flow of containers from Colombo to Kilinochchi. Only Prabhakran and his sponsors may know what they carried! That was the time when an ultra light helicopter that had been brought in as tsunami relief was detected in Colombo. Is it surprising the LTTE has obtained light aircraft?
Having let the grass grow under their feet, today, the Opposition worthies appear to be highly thrilled by the LTTE air raids, which, they seem to think, will bring down the government and help them return to power. But, they won`t tell us what they are planning to do to the LTTE`s air capability, if they form a future government! UNP strongman John Amaratunga, who is a former Minister of Interior, said in public that the country could not battle terrorism. If the LTTE acquired a submarine, he said, it would wreak havoc on the Colombo Port! What is the solution proposed by his party? Is it total capitulation to the LTTE? Never mind the Opposition. What has been the government`s reaction to the threat? It is apparently all at sea, unable to figure out what on earth is going on in the air! Apart from frantically firing into the air from all possible locations even after the drone of the intruding aircraft fades away, thus triggering panic, it doesn`t seem to have devised a plan to effectively counter the threat.
True, terrorists are always capable of taking the initiative. Even mighty America was caught on the wrong foot in September, 2001. But, the only answer to terrorism is to get inside the minds of terrorists and anticipate their moves. That is how the UK thwarted an Al Quaeda attempt to blow up dozens of trans-Atlantic flights with liquid explosives some months ago. Terrorists, it is said, have to be lucky only once. This cannot be cited in justification of lapses on the part of those who are entrusted with dealing with them. If the terrorists have to be lucky only once, that exactly is the reason why others have to be vigilant all the time and take all precautions to keep them at bay.
As for the LTTE air raids, there have been proposals as to how the menace should be countered. They must be traced, dusted, discussed and drawn on in formulating a strategy to defend the country`s air space. Haphazard firing into the air is the least salutary way, however convenient it may be.
Most of all, the need is felt more than ever for the civilian airport to be separated from the military airbase without providing the LTTE with an excuse to target the former. There was a plan to do that earlier. What has become of it?