Wise move by Army Chief | Daily News

Wise move by Army Chief

Army Commander Lt.Gen. Mahesh Senanayake has instructed his troops not to entertain former army officers, opportunistic politicians and certain civil society activists into army camps or participate in events organised by such individuals and groups. Issuing a memo to military officers in charge of army camps, the Commander said certain opportunistic politicians, former army officers and civil society activists were criticizing the government’s reconciliation mechanism and the role the army played therein. They also praise the LTTE and are attempting to destroy the goodwill the people have towards the government and the army. The media had revealed who these elements were, the Army Chief noted.

It is not clear who the politicians or civil society activists that were targeted by the Army Chief, who, according to him, were engaged in poisoning the minds of the army personnel. However, there is no doubt who the ex-military officers the Commander had in mind. Currently, the likes of retired army officers Major General Kamal Gunaratne and Rtd. Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera are displaying open hostility towards the government and is critical of its reconciliation efforts and the alleged witch-hunt carried out against former military officers, now jailed in connection with criminal offenses. It is not clear if these two officers visited army camps to sow hatred towards the government and condemn its reconciliation efforts. But they could easily get their agents to do so. One recalls that during the 2005 Presidential election campaign Wimal Weerawansa was visiting military camps in the North to urge their inmates to vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa. A similar attempt could not be ruled out in this instance as well, what with major elections just one and half years away, with the duo getting their agents to politically influence the army.

Already some of these ex-military men are thick in the campaign to elect Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as the country’s next President, openly addressing meetings of the Viy(p)ath Maga and Eliya, in the presence of the former Defence Secretary. In the process, provocative statements are made against the reconciliation efforts of the government- one of the above mentioned duo even authoring a book giving an account of his own heroism on the battle front but also railing against the government’s alleged surrender to the Tamil diaspora.

Needless to say, politicization of the military is a dangerous game that could have dire consequences for the country. Up until 2015 retired military officers kept away from politics. The advent of veterans on the political stage is a new phenomenon in this country. Perhaps, they have been influenced by Gotabhaya who may have fought alongside some of these men who are now assisting his campaign.

In any event, ex-military officers trying to politically influence soldiers cannot be condoned. In this country, since Independence, the military has all along been apolitical, unlike in countries such as Pakistan where the military still has a stake in the political establishment and coups not far from the surface.

Be that as it may, the government should be alert to this whole exercise and take the strongest possible action against those attempting to brainwash the army. The neutral stand taken by the military establishment should be preserved at all costs. The army, as a unit, has never known to take sides, politically speaking. It is well known that former Military Commander Daya Ratnayake was one of those opposed to the alleged plot by the Rajapaksas to remain in power by force, on election night. President Premadasa had no hesitation in appointing Denzil Kobbekaduwa, Army Commander, at a crucial stage of the Eelam war despite the latter’s kinship to Sirima Bandaranaike. This is because of the confidence the leaders of this country had in the Army’s neutrality, at all times.

Like Lt. General Senanayake said, the Army is playing a not inconsiderable role is fostering reconciliation. The recent emotional scenes in the North at the leave taking of a military officer in charge of the rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres, spoke volumes of the extent of the fence mending that has taken place. Nothing should be made to get in the way of this rapport that is being built by the two sidestep- military officers, whatever had been their heroism on the battlefield in the past, should not meddle in this process.

Army camps should also be made a no go zone for politicians. Attempts, certainly, would be made by politicos, playing the communal card, to influence the army to vote for one of their kind. The army is and has always been neutral, as already mentioned, and any attempt to change the status quo should not be condoned. By the same token, the army should also not be used to do the bidding of politicians. We say this because for the first time, the army were used to rig elections when Anurudhdha Ratwatte unleashed soldiers in Wayamba for mass stuffing of ballot boxes, marking a black day for the military. Hopefully, the army, which has endeared itself much to the public, would not blot its copy book, ever again, in similar fashion. 

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