United we win! | Daily News


United we win!

A secured nation, a prosperous country

Independence. The word basically means freedom. That is what Sri Lankans gained on February 4, 1948, exactly 72 years ago. It has certainly not been a smooth journey all the way – we have experienced youth insurgencies, a war in the North-East, economic difficulties, political upheavals, natural disasters and a myriad of other problems along the way.

However, this does not mean that we have not reaped the benefits of progress. We have made vast strides in fields such as health and education, for instance. We now have expressways and new railway lines and a world class telecom system. Colombo is rapidly turning into a South Asian financial hub, helmed by the Port City project.

It is in this backdrop that we are celebrating the 72nd anniversary of Independence, under the theme “A Secured Nation, A Prosperous Country”. This theme reminds us that a prosperous country cannot be established with security for the people. The country must first be secured against all internal and external threats before it can lay a firm foundation for prosperity.

War effort

Focus has shifted sharply to national security after the tragic events of April 21, 2019. But the first major challenge to the nation’s security came from the LTTE’s armed campaign for a separate state from 1982 onwards. It would take 30 years (and a heavy death toll) for this conflict to end. The Political guidance for ending the conflict was provided by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with present President and then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa playing a pivotal role in the war effort.

As Defence Secretary, he rendered a yeoman service to boost the Security Forces and make them some of the best fighting forces in the world. Working with the Forces commanders, he devised war winning strategies.

It was no secret that the attention to national security slipped gradually as a sense of peace dawned. This was to be expected, but post-2015, even the rudimentary defence mechanisms were not implemented and there was a total lapse in security measures that would bring drastic consequences in the form of the Easter Sunday attacks. Terrorism had again raised its head in Sri Lanka, albeit in a different form. The result, however, was almost the same – the needless destruction of lives and property for vague aims.

The attacks exposed a gaping vacuum in our security and intelligence apparatus, which had been neglected by the previous regime. Foreign and local intelligence agencies had warned of an impending terror attack in Colombo, but the warnings went unheeded at the top political levels. Sri Lankans, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation, felt totally insecure.

There was a collective realization among the populace that Sri Lanka should have a leadership that gives priority to national security and defence. After all, if better security and intelligence measures were in place and if the intelligence warnings were heeded, this tragedy could have been prevented.

Intimate knowledge of defence matters

The election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as President has helped revitalize the defence, intelligence and security apparatus. After all, as a former military officer and later as Defence Secretary, he has an intimate knowledge of defence matters and requirements. He also straddled both military and civilian worlds as a former military officer and then a civil servant, which meant he could consider military matters from a civilian perspective as well.

Making his very first speech as President at the sacred precincts of the Ruwanweli Maha Seya in Anuradhapura, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa stated that national security would be a priority for his administration.

The President elaborated on this in his Policy Statement delivered in Parliament on January 3 this year. “In our policy, National Security occupies the foremost place. We have already taken steps to strengthen the national security apparatus. Talented officers have been given appropriate responsibilities again. We have taken steps to ensure proper coordination between the Armed Forces and the Police, who are collectively responsible for maintaining national security.

The network of national intelligence agencies has been reorganized and strengthened. We will take all necessary steps to make our motherland a safe country free of terrorism, extremism, underworld activities, theft and robbery, extortionists, the drug menace, disruptors of public order, and the abuse of women and children.”

Today, intelligence is not only about tracking local and transnational terrorist movements such as ISIS. There are so many other threats that we need to keep an eye on – international narcotics and gun running, human smuggling and trafficking, online hate speech and hate preaching, underworld crime, money laundering, white collar (financial) crime, hacking, online identity theft, cybercrimes, child porn and online exploitation networks are among the other issues. This covers a vast array of issues and we should have a top-notch intelligence team to assess and track these. It is also important to monitor social media for potentially incendiary material that cause public disorder or disharmony.

Meeting future challenges

The Political guidance for ending the conflict was provided by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, with present President and then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa playing a pivotal role in the war effort.

There will also be a greater role for the Police and the STF in tackling organized underworld crime and other vices such as illicit liquor, illegal gambling and malpractices, bribery and corruption. Another big challenge is how the Tri Forces should be mobilized in peacetime, now that April 21 is firmly behind us. The challenge is to ensure that such an act of terrorism never occurs on Sri Lankan soil again. There is a two-pronged strategy to meet this challenge – ramping up the intelligence gathering network and enhancing physical security.

Quite apart from maintaining security per se, there are many other endeavours that the Armed Forces are engaged in. The Army plays an invaluable role in clearing up the last few remaining landmine hit areas in the country. It is also engaged in an anti-dengue drive and a beach clean-up drive. The other two Forces (Navy and Air Force) are engaged in similar ventures that serve the public.

Knowledge Century

It is also important for our Police and Armed Forces personnel to gain advanced education in the “Knowledge Century” replete with many new technologies ranging from Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Autonomous Vehicles, Robotics, the Internet of Things, Biotechnology, 3-D Printing, and Automation. The General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University which was established under the Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy Act No. 68 of 1981 with the aim of producing highly qualified Tri-Forces officers will be playing a major role in this regard.

In 2009, the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa elevated this into a University. The establishment of the Medical Faculty, registration of local and foreign cadet officers, introduction of Postgraduate degrees for research and development activities, establishment of the Southern University in Suriyawewa and the construction of a state-of-the-art hospital were some of his achievements vis-à-vis a Kotelawala Defence University. The General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University should strive to be an exemplary higher educational institution not just in Sri Lanka, but in the region as well.

Defence is a vast subject that requires a thorough grounding and knowledge of conflicts past and present as well as the latest trends in security and intelligence gathering. This is why it is necessary to have a long-term vision for the country’s national security, one that will hopefully not change drastically despite any changes in the political landscape. It should be a long-lasting blueprint that serves the country’s interests locally and globally.

In today’s world, Defence and security cannot be considered in isolation. We will have to work with many other nations in intelligence gathering on terror movements and narcotics running, for example. This is why it is important to have strong defence links with our neighboring countries and other friendly countries. There should also be a reset of our foreign policy priorities strictly in accordance with the Non-Aligned Policy that Sri Lanka practiced some time ago.

But security has other shades of meaning too. Food security is important as the population increases. It is thus vital to modernize our agriculture, to increase yields and to achieve self-sufficiency in rice, milk and other foods. If we can grow most foods here, many imports can be reduced or even eliminated, thereby saving huge amounts of foreign exchange. That will lead to monetary security.It is also necessary to have energy security and independence.

Right now we are heading into an energy crisis. Hence, the authorities have drawn attention to starting several new power generation projects, with a special emphasis on the renewables sector, mainly wind and solar. We should strive for at least a 50:50 conventional:renewables energy mix by 2030. We need an educated and skilled workforce to ensure a secure country. Education thus becomes a pivotal factor in producing a skilled workforce. There must be an emphasis on finding education and work opportunities for the nearly 150,000 students who are left out of the formal State university system every year. We have to address the issue of the mismatch between university courses and job market requirements.

Finally, we cannot have security and prosperity without unity. It is time that we shed all our racial, religious, political and other differences for the betterment of the country. The sooner we evolve a national identity and call ourselves Sri Lankans from the bottom of our hearts, the better. A true Sri Lankan identity is essential to achieve prosperity.

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