The Fonseka saga: A day before he tendered his resignation, Gen. Sarath Fonseka met the president over lunch after the National Security Council meeting, the first meeting between the two after Fonseka returned from the United States. (There had been an invitation from the president for Fonseka on his arrival, but Fonseka could not make it due to ‘jetlag’ as claimed by his confidantes)
Permission to retire with immediate effect
At the meeting on Wednesday, the president queried Fonseka about his grievances, to which the latter had replied it was too late for these concerns to be remedied. The president was nonplused, but, a Fonseka confidante ruled out rumours that the meeting was tense. In fact, it was cordial, though uneasy, he said.
On Thursday, Gen Fonseka attended the reception of the Burmese military dictator who arrived here on a four day visit. That is probably his last official appointment in his present capacity. Back in his office, he sent his letter of resignation to President’s Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, who confirmed to media that he was in receipt of the letter. On Friday, the government’s Information Department reported quoting Weeratunga, that Gen Fonseka had been “granted permission to retire with immediate effect.” A source close to Fonseka confirmed that the general was informed officially that his resignation was accepted last evening.
The president was earlier on record that he would immediately accept the resignation of his CDS if the latter resigns in order to contest the presidential election.
On record, Fonseka was noncommittal about his political ambitions. He told the press on Thursday that he would decide on his political future once he handed over his uniform. But, in private, those in his inner circle confide that the general would run for the presidency as the common candidate. His candidacy is now a consensus in the newly formed opposition alliance. In fact, the JVP’s support to a common candidate is conditional on Fonseka’s candidature.
The outgoing chief of defence staff, who is set to embark on an ambitious political journey had a taste of the villainy of Sri Lankan politics when he visited the Kelaniya temple on Thursday. After tendering resignation, that was his first political act. In the temple, he was confronted by Mervyn Silva and his henchmen, who jeered at the general and shouted “without the president the war would not have been won”.
So much for a general who was touted as a hero not so long ago by the same circles.
True that not everybody — not confined to the ruling party — is impressed with Fonseka’s forthcoming political entry. Some military officers I spoke to cautioned such a bid would see divided loyalties within the army.
Such concerns have their merit, though that alone could not negate the constitutional right of the out-going chief of defence staff to run for the highest office in the country.
However, the government’s latest measures to tackle Fonseka’s challenge would have their toll.
Govt fights back
Maj Gen Parakrama Pannipittiya who had been suspended by Gen Fonseka over disciplinary charges and was arrested by police for his alleged involvement in treasure hunting-charges which were later dropped — has been reinstated in the regular force in the army on the very day Fonseka tendered his resignation. According to military sources, Maj Gen Pannipitiya would be appointed as the chief of staff of the army.
However, some others are enthusiastic of the general’s political entry. A Facebook campaign site for Fonseka, even before he announces his candidature is fast gaining popularity.
One such fan drew a parallel between Fonseka and Charles de Gaulle, A second world war veteran and the first president of the fifth French republic. De Gaulle when pressed by his advisors to arrest Jean-Paul Sartre, leading protests against de Gaulle’s heavy handedness in governance is reported to have famously said “ Sartre is France, “ turning down the proposal. It is my contention that such a comparison to Sri Lanka where dissenting voices are crushed and labelled as traitors is out of context.
However, paradoxically enough, it is Fonseka who has raised the issue. “The peace dividend the whole country expected at the conclusion of the war has yet to materialize. The economic hardships faced by the people have increased while waste and corruption have reached endemic proportions; media freedom and other democratic rights continue to be curtailed.”
He has gone further to highlight the plight of the IDPs kept under squalid conditions and suggested that they be sent to their relatives until the de-mining activities are completed.
He has earlier said in private that the army under his command brought the people from the warzone of VellamulliVaikkal to safety — with no harm done, he said —- and that neither he, nor the army could be responsible for the conditions under which the IDPs are currently held.
Whether such concerns are genuine or mere political gimmick, we leave for readers to decide.
It is, however, interesting that Gen Fonseka, considered to be a hardliner is airing concerns, which have already been raised by the civil rights activists, who have immediately been branded as traitors.
Fonseka highlights “corruption” which has “reached endemic proportions.” Even those who disbelieve Fonseka’s liberal credentials, agree that he is a capable fighter against corruption. He has cleaned up the army during his near four year tenure. In that respect, one could make a parallel between him and another four star general, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, (SBY) who was a few months back elected to his second term as the president of Indonesia. SBY, whose son-in law was arrested by Indonesia’s powerful anti corruption bureau is touted for leading a dispassionate drive against corruption endemic in the world’s largest Muslim nation.
Fonseka’s is a challenge which came upon the ruling establishment and has rattled the Rajapaksa regime. The president’s announcement made on Wednesday to stop forthwith of closing of roads in order to enable VIP movements could not have been a co-incident. The government has also set a deadline, i. e. January to resettle 80 per cent of IDPs and to complete the entire resettlement process by March next year.
In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Richard Kone, Professor of History and Adjunct Professor of Peace, War, and Defence at the University of North Carolina argues why Gen Stanly Mc Crystal should not resign even if his Afghan war plan is not accepted by the Obama Administration. (Mc Crystal has demanded 40,000 more troops be sent to Afghanistan)
Kone’s article titled, “Always salute, never resign,” though, by coincident tackles what is becoming an inexorable issue in the military relations with its civilian superiors in the Sri Lankan context. Kone in his thesis argues that an officer who threatens to — or does — resign over a policy decision commits a political act. He or she is publicly disputing the judgment of civilian leaders and violating the principle of civilian control over the military, a basic precept of military professionalism.
But, this is not the consensus on this much disputed issue. The military historian John S D Eisenhower, son of President Dwight Eisenhower in an Op-ed article in the New York Times argued that officers have an obligation to resign if they are unable to carry out the commander in chief’s policies.
Civilian control of the military is a tenet in a military-civilian relationship. Yet on what grounds a senior official could give up command responsibilities, when his principles or judgment are in disagreement with that of the civilian leadership, is wide open to debate.
Gen Sarath Fonseka, chief of defence staff could have weighed his loyalties to the commander in chief and his differences with the Rajapaksa administration at length, before he tendered his resignation on Thursday.
But, how thought-out his decision may be, it is unlikely to be impervious to political manipulation, by both the government and the opposition.
The Burmese parallel
His letter which is now a public secret is a pointer to the simmering differences between President Rajapaksa who is also commander in chief under the Constitution and his senior most serving military officer. Fonseka’s much publicized letter of resignation, reproduced on this page, would likely widen the rift.
It is fair enough to suggest that some of the issues raised in Gen Fonseka’s letter of resignation, such as the president’s refusal to expand a peace time army, with the initial proposal being to expand numbers up to 300,000 has its own political, military and economic rationale. Though military Keynesians, most notably a much arguable thesis by the Belgian Defence Economist, Emile Benoit have argued that military spending has a net positive effect on economic growth-and functions as an economic stimulus — such claims are largely disputed.
What is also disregarded in this line of argument is the extreme effect of militarization such measures could have in society. President Rajapaksa is alleged to have said, as quoted by Fonseka that “ no further recruitment would be necessary” and “a strong public opinion is in the making” stating that “the country is in possession of a too powerful army.” What had not been mentioned, though, is another parallel drawn to stifle the further expansion of the army. The top political leaders shared words of caution in private that Sri Lanka would become a Burma.
Also, a military coup in Honduras, which ousted the pro Chavez leader in Honduras, Manuel Zelaya was given prominence in the state run Daily News. More than Honduras, the Burmese parallel could have struck a chord in this majority Buddhist country. A cabal of military despots who ruled the only other Theravada Buddhist nation since 1962 has ruined which was once Asia’s rice bowl, crushed democratic oppositions and plundered the country’s wealth through a disastrous scheme of Burmese socialism. But, paradoxically enough, the leader of the Burmese Military Junta, Gen Than Shwe arrived in Colombo on a four day visit on the very day Gen Fonseka tendered his resignation.
That tells so much about Sri Lanka’s international relations — and its growing alliance with the world wide pariah states. Such concerns, definitely, deserve further discussion.
However, the visit by the Burmese Junta leader, the last remaining military dictatorship in Asia, barring megalomaniac North Korean leader – who reportedly likes East European porn — belies Rajapaksa’s resolve for electoral democracy, let alone liberal democracy. Like it or not, Mahinda Rajapaksa still rides high on a populist wave. In the absence of data, how his popularity is being affected by the Fonseka factor can not be gauged. However, Fonseka’s entry would open a new chapter in Sri Lankan politics – though he is not the first military commander to enter politics, he would be the first one to run for presidency. His entry has altered the framework of what was not so long ago a one horse race for the presidency.
What is however, important for the sake of electoral democracy in this country is that the government give him a fair playing field for his electioneering, which include, but is not limited to addressing his security concerns. That is the least, the Rajapaksa administration could do for its former army chief who won the war for the regime.
.His Excellency the President
Through the Secretary,
Ministry of Defence,
Public Security, Law and Order
12 November 2009
REQUEST TO RETIRE FROM THE REGULAR FORCE OF THE SRI LANKA ARMY
1. I, General G S C Fonseka RWP RSP VSV USP rcds psc presently serving as the Chief of Defence Staff, was enlisted to the Ceylon Army on 05th Feb 1970 and was commissioned on the 01st June 1971. On the 6th Dec 2005 due to the trust and confident placed on me, Your Excellency was kind enough to promote me to the rank of Lieutenant General and appoint me as the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army in an era when the Country was embroiled with the menace of a bloody terrorism and was in a stalemate state after having toiled for a solution politically or otherwise for over 25 years without a success.
2. During my command of 3 years and 7 months, the Sri Lanka Army managed to eradicate the terrorist movement having apprehended an unbelievable stock of arms and munitions and decisively defeating the LTTE and its murderous leadership. which Your Excellency is obviously aware of. I would not be exaggerating to state that I was instrumental in leading the Army to this historic victory, of course with Your Excellency’s political support, which helped to materialize this heroic action. Though the field commanders, men and all members of the Army worked towards this common goal, it is with my vision, command and leadership that this yeomen task was achieved.
3. I do appreciate the fact that the Country and Your Excellency did recognize my services which led to me being promoted to the first ever serving four star general to command the Army, nevertheless the courses of action which initiated subsequently greatly depressed me which I have enumerated in the Annex hereto.
4. Considering the facts mentioned in the Annex and more, which I am privy to withhold, I am compelled to believe that Your Excellency and the Government has lost your trust and faith bestowed upon me for reasons best known to Your Excellency. Hence as the senior most serving military officer in the Country with 40 years of service, such a situation does not warrant a continuation of my duties any longer, thereby I have the honour to request that I be permitted to terminate my services and retire from the Regular Force of the Army with effect from 01st December 2009.
5. Furthermore I have the honour to request that on retirement Your Excellency would be kind enough to grant me sufficient security which includes trained combat soldiers, a suitable vehicle with sufficient protection (Bullet proof) and escort vehicles for my conveyances due to the fact that I am considered as one of the highest priority targets by the LTTE, which they are yet capable of achieving. Also, I wish to bring to Your Excellency’s kind notice that over 100 men, six escort vehicles and a bullet proof vehicle have been placed at the convenience of the former Commander of the Navy, Admiral WKJ Karannagoda. I presume that such arrangements would be made available to me, considering the threat factor I am facing, which Your Excellency is well aware of.
6. I would also wish to quote an example in the case of the former Indian Chief of Army Staff General A S Vadiya, instrumental in leading the Indian Army in Operation Blue Star against the Sheiks at the Golden Temple, Amristar in 1984, was assassinated whilst on retirement in 1986 purely in revenge of his victories achieved. I do not wish to experience a similar incident as I have already sustained serious injuries after the attempt on my life by a suicide cadre of the LTTE. Thereby, I am compelled to entrust you with my security which is requested for life.
7. Furthermore, I would like to emphasis on a statement made by me during my tenure as the Commander of the Army. In that, I mentioned my dislike to be in command forever and also I would ensure that my successor would not be burden with the task of war fighting, which I abided with. Hence, as I have already overstayed my retirement date by 4 years, I wish to proceed on retirement without further delays.
8. Forwarded for Your Excellency’s kind consideration please.
I have the honour to be
G S C FONSEKA RWP RSP VSV USP rcds psc
Chief of Defence Staff
12 November 2009
FACTORS AFFECTING MY RETIREMENT FROM THE REGULAR FORCE OF THE ARMY
1. Various agencies misleading Your Excellency by stating a possible coup immediately after the victory over the LTTE which obviously led to a change of command in spite of my request to be in command until the Army celebrated its 60th Anniversary. This fear psychosis of a coup is well known among the defence circle.
2. Appointing an officer pending a disciplinary inquiry who performed duties only as a holding formation commander in the final battle as my successor, disregarding my recommendations to appoint Major General G A Chandrasiri as the Commander of the Army who was the then Chief of Staff and an officer with an exemplary service as the Security Forces Commander in Jaffna for over 3 years. This has already led to a deterioration of the high standards I was capable of introducing to the Army, to my bitter disappointment.
3. Appointing me as the Chief of Defence Staff, though a senior appointment to that of a service commander, with basically no authority, except for mere coordinating responsibilities in a manner which mislead the general public of the country and most members of the Armed Forces. In that the Secretary Defence pushing me to vacate the post of the Commander in just two weeks after the victory and Your Excellency insisting me to hand over duties in less than two months depriving me of my morel obligations in revamping the welfare and providing a sound administration to the men who fought a gallant battle.
4. Further, prior to my appointment I was mislead on the authority vested with the CDS. I was made to understand that the appointment carried more command responsibilities and authority than earlier, but subsequent to my appointment a letter by the Strategic Affairs Adviser to the Secretary Defence indicated that my appointment was purely to coordinate the services and not that of overall command. The letter is attached herewith for Your Excellency’s information. Such actions clearly defines Your Excellency’s and the Governments unwillingness to grant me with command responsibilities which leads to believe in a strong mistrust in me, which is most depressing after all what was performed to achieve war victory.
5. During a subsequent Service Commanders Meeting, the Secretary Defence was bold enough to state an unethical and uncalled statement by mentioning that “if operational control of all three services is granted to the CDS it would be very dangerous”, which indeed was a loss of face to me in the presences of subordinate services commanders.
6. Your Excellency, you too made a statement at the very first security council soon after the 18th of May 09 when the battled was declared over, “that no further recruitment would be necessary” and “a strong public opinion is in the making stating that the Country is in possession of a too powerful army.” It was surprising to hear such a comment from Your Excellency in spite of your repeated praise and boast of the war victory. I personally felt that Your Excellency has commenced mistrusting your own loyal Army which attained the unimaginable victory just a week ago. You again repeated the same statement even after I handed over the command. Over these comments I felt disgusted as we even insulted those who made the supreme sacrifice by such comments.
7. The present Army Commander immediately on assuming duties commenced transferring senior officers who immensely contributed to the war effort during my command tenure including those junior officers working with my wife at the Seva Vanitha Army Branch which was clearly to challenge the loyalty of officers and most discouraging to the officer corps of the Army, with a wrong signal being transmitted on my authority.
8. With a pain of mind it was noted that the same Army which gained victory for the Nation was suspected of staging a coupe and thereby alerting the Government of India once again on the 15th of October 2009, unnecessarily placing the Indian Troops on high alert. This action did tarnish the image and reputation gained by the Sri Lanka Army as a competent and professional organization who was capable of defeating a terrorist group after the Malayan Emergency, in the eyes of the World. This suspicion would have been due to the loyalty of the Sri Lanka Army towards me as its past Commander who led the Army to the historic victory.
9. During my absences from the Country (23 Oct 2009 to 5 Nov 2009) being on overseas leave, the Army Headquarters was bold enough to change the security personnel deployed at the AHQ Main Entrance and the Ministry of Defence emphasizing the withdrawal of the Sinha Regiment troops who were attached to me, as you are aware is my parent regiment and supplementing them with other regimental personnel. The Sinha Regiment troops were good enough to provide security to the Ministry of Defence for 4 years and it is surprising to note how the combat efficiency of the said troops supposed to have dropped overnight as per Secretary Defence’s opinion. Further the Sinha Regiment troops numbering a mere 4, non combatants, deployed for vehicle checking duties at the AHQ Main Entrance, were replaced by 14 armed Armoured Corps personnel, whilst a further two platoons were brought in to prevent the 4 non combat Sinha Regiment personnel performing duties, creating a mockery to the general public including to some foreign missions. This clearly indicates a questionable loyalty of troops good enough for duties for over four years purely due to the fact that the troops were from my Regiment. This also indirectly reflects mistrust on me or an indication that the persons concern wish to keep a tab on my movements and visitors to my HQ/residence which is a clear display of suspicion created on me.
10. Further on instructions of the Secretary Defence, troops from the Gajaba Regiment was brought in to the MOD complex which indicated a divide loyalty within the Army and reasons to believe that the Army now being politicized. This is being encouraged by the Army Commander too who thinks that the Armoured Corp troops should over power Sinha Regiment troops.
11. Instigating malicious and detrimental news items and rumors by interested parties including several senior government politicians which led to identify me as a traitor in spite of my personal contribution of the government to change the history of our country.
12. During my absence from the Country, an acting CDS or an officer to overlook duties was not appointed which indicates that the much spoken appointment of the CDS is unimportant to the Government and the National Security Council. If the appointment was of significant important as stated by most, it should have been imperative to appoint somebody to oversee the duties and thereby I am convinced that I have being granted with an unimportant appointment in spite of all the work done.
13. It is with sadness that I note that the ordinary Army which I toiled to transform into a highly professional outfit is now loosing its way. Increased desertions, lack of enthusiasm to enlist (A drop in enlistment rate by 50% is recorded), disciplinary problems on advocating divided commands indicates an unprofessional organization in the offing. During the last two months the members deserted are higher than the recruitment.
14.The plight of the IDPs is also a point of great concern to me. Thousands of valiant soldiers sacrificed their valuable lives to liberate these unfortunate civilians from the brutality and tyranny of the LTTE in order that they could live in an environment of freedom and democracy. Yet, today many of them are continuing to live in appalling conditions due to the lack of proper planning on the part of the government and the IDPs who have friends and relatives elsewhere in the country must be given the choice to live with them until proper demining has been done in their areas.
15.Your Excellency’s government has yet to win the peace in spite of the fact that the Army under my leadership won the war. There is no clear policy to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, which will surely ruin the victory, attained paving the way for yet another uprising in the future.
16. The peace dividend the whole country expected at the conclusion of the war has yet to materialize. The economic hardships faced by the people have increased while waste and corruption have reached endemic proportions; media freedom and other democratic rights continue to be curtailed. The many sacrifices the army made to end the war would not have been in vain, if we can usher in a new era of peace and prosperity to our motherland.