The killing of Rev. Fr. Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith has shocked the civilised world beyond measure. The 40-year-old priest was well known in Mannar for his selfless service to the displaced and orphans as the co-ordinator of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in that district. He was on his way to an orphanage in an LTTE-held area carrying relief on Wednesday at the time of the deadly blast.
The government lost no time in blaming the killing on the LTTE, which in turn held the deep penetration units of the army responsible for the attack. While anything is possible in the prevailing culture of impunity, the question is whether the army would have sent its long rangers on so risky a mission to target a priest who was no threat to the military.
It may be argued that the long rangers may have mistaken the vehicle carrying Rev. Fr. Packiyaranjith for one belonging to the LTTE. But, it is doubtful whether the long rangers would have ventured into the LTTE-held terrain without sufficient intelligence to hide behind bushes and target vehicles that go past them at random. They cannot afford to act haphazardly like a bunch of irate undergraduates who derive sadistic pleasure by pelting stones at passing vehicles during university protests. Long range operations take months of planning and intelligence gathering and if the Special Forces that conduct them are not capable of separating a priest from a Tiger, they might as well be disbanded.
If we are to go by the LTTE`s version of the killing, then the outfit has become weaker than ever before with the army being able not only to infiltrate its terrain but also take potshots at ordinary vehicles. What has become of the LTTE`s intelligence wing? Has it gone haywire? Or, is Pottu Amman on holiday?
The government, which says the LTTE killed the priest, has stopped short of substantiating its allegations. Why does it think the LTTE killed him? The LTTE won`t harm a priest of Fr. Packiyaranjith`s calibre just for nothing.
However, if we are to go by the logic of the human rights groups that blamed the armed forces for the massacre of the humanitarian workers in Muttur on the grounds that, at the time of the incident, the area was under the military control, then the blame for the killing at issue should be laid at the LTTE`s door as the blast occurred in an `uncleared` area. On the other hand, the LTTE has already killed a large number of Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim religious dignitaries and could, therefore, be considered capable of eliminating anyone it considers an impediment to its goal. The priests have taken a tough stand on the LTTE`s child recruitment, as evident from the manner in which the priests of the Madhu Church keep the Tigers at bay. However, whether the LTTE had any reason to target Fr. Packiyaranjith is in question.
Then who actually killed the priest? Nobody seems to know the answer. Therein lies the real danger of the `claymore culture` where a heinous crime gets reduced to a Passive Voice sentence like `Rev. Fr. Packiyaranjith was killed in a claymore mine attack` with no mention of the `subject` (the perpetrator).
The LTTE not only pioneered the claymore culture but outsourced the use of destructive mines to its hirelings thus aggravating the situation further. The outfit has claimed that claymore mine attacks on the armed forces are being carried out by Tamil civilians out of frustration, in an abominable bid to direct the wrath of the military towards the populace and trigger a backlash. The proliferation of those easy-to-handle deadly devices is such that the day may not be far off when the Colombo underworld, too, acquires them.
The real tragedy is that we were without anyone to stop the LTTE in its tracks when it began its claymore spree, in a country which is never short of peace makers and conflict resolution experts. All religious leaders, human rights groups, the international community and peace activists remained tight-lipped, letting the wind be sown, and we are now collectively reaping the whirlwind! Had they made a meaningful intervention after Prabhakaran promised war in his heroes` day address in 2005?or at least after he captured the Mavil Aru anicut?the country could have been prevented from reverting to war and the claymore culture taking root. The mine attacks on the armed forces began a few days after Prabhakran`s vow to resume hostilities. The good men were silent and it is only too natural that evil has flourished.
There is a deluge of statements condemning Fr. Packiyaranjith`s killing. In a week or two, as is our experience, the crime is likely to be forgotten. That might happen even sooner should some other disaster happen?absit omen! The Muttur massacre is being investigated because of the public outcry and the relentless campaigning by the human rights groups who deserve credit for that.
A similar probe is called for into Fr. Packiyaranjith`s killing as well. Since the LTTE blames the army for the blast that killed him, it should be more than willing to have it probed. If the army had no involvement in the crime, then the government should offer an investigation and invite foreign experts so that the probe will be independent.
The Church, which suffered the full blast of Wednesday`s explosion and lost a precious priest who had lived for the poor hapless people, must demand an impartial investigation.
That will be the best way to honour Rev. Fr. Packiyaranjith posthumously.