'Present crisis is the result of our collective inability to see need for national unity'

Gen. Kalupahana shares his thoughts on recent events


Devinda Kalupahana

by Ruwan S. Hulugalle

Major General Devinda Kalupahana, RSP, USP, psc, SLAC was the former GOC, 3 Division; GOC, 2 Division; Director Operations, General Staff and Commandant, Sri Lanka Military Academy. In 2002 he became the Commissioner of Reconciliation tasked to develop the National Action Plan to integrate Sri Lanka’s many communities, primarily Sinhalese, Tamils, Christians, and Muslims, into a unified Sri Lankan nation. Ultimately the plan was never implemented due to a shakeup in government in 2004. Given years of reflection, and with consideration of recent events, General Kalupahana shares his thoughts.

Q: What inspired you to join the army in 1966?

My inspiration came from the order and discipline within the army and the role of leadership and team work that was evident.

Q: What was the most challenging battle you served in during the LTTE terrorist war?

We are talking of a 30-year period in which the toughest battle was to win over the people. The natural tendency OF an army is to make the enemy priority one. However, in ‘Internal Wars’ winning over the people is No. 1 and the enemy No. 2. Whenever the political leadership displayed such wisdom, the enemy capitulated.

Nelson Mandela, after 25 years in prison, famously said ,‘ As I walked out of the door to the gates that would lead to my freedom I knew that if I did not leave my hatred and bitterness behind, I would still be in prison.’ In ‘Internal Wars’ the troops too need to focus on winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the people. The children, of some of these very people, at times confront the troops in the battle field. Mature troops are quite capable of ‘doing a Mandela’ and gaining their Trust. Once this trust is won, information flows freely from the people about terrorist activities. We saw this in operation recently when the Muslim people themselves, provided information on the extremists among them to the Armed Forces and Police.

Q: With the help of religious communities, intellectuals, and citizens you formulated a National Action Plan for Reconciliation which unfortunately wasn’t implemented. Would you mind summarizing the major findings of the plan?

The plan focused on National Integration. The key components of integration were defined as Emotional, Social, Intellectual and Operational Integration. This is a classic model used to ensure alignment with a Vision. Our Vision as a Nation was on the lines of ‘Unity in Diversity.’

Emotional Integration involved the need for members of a neighbourhood to feel they truly belong to the neighbourhood.

During the tense atmosphere that prevailed post Easter Sunday, in my own neighbourhood, the police came in the night to check on our Muslim neighbours. A Sinhalese lady down the lane immediately intervened and accompanied the policemen to our Muslim neighbours to comfort them, at a time they needed such comforting the most. This is emotional Integration of the members in a neighbourhood or village, who stand tall in ensuring that no member feels alienated. The lady, mind you still in her night dress, did one better and offered the policemen, who were stressed out, some refreshment.

Social Integration is about inter community harmony. The leaders of a community need to initiate programmes to integrate people who may be divided due to political, ethnic, religious differences. I recall a project handled by a young Sociologist, at the height of the Eelam war, to integrate a community in the East with a community in the South. Around 30 families of Community A, were hosted over a three-day period by the members of Community B in their homes. The men of the guest community integrated with the men of the host community, attending to chores that men usually handle. The women found cuisine a common topic and had much fun preparing ambul thial and thosa. The children of course had plenty to keep them occupied. The young boys were on the beach, enjoying beach games oblivious to the fact that some of the youngsters were former LTTE cadres. At the end of the three days when it was time to part, tears began to flow freely.

With respect to Intellectual Integration, the crying need is to convince the man in Dondra Head or Point Pedro or Kattankudy to feel that they are all Sri Lankans First, Always and Every time! We see this in certain societies where all citizens are on an equal footing, irrespective of any socio economic disparities that may exist. A black American President, a Muslim President of India are cases in point. Sri Lanka too has had South Indians as Kings of the Kandyan Kingdom.

Much of this work is long term and needs to commence with the schools. In Singapore, the curriculum includes religious inter actions through visits by say Chinese Buddhist children to Indian Hindu Kovils. I presume that these inter actions extend to all religions and give the children a holistic mindset thus contributing to Intellectual Integration. Today, one never hears of racial or religious riots in Singapore!

Operational Integration is self-explanatory. We need an independent body, above party politics with astute leaders who will ensure that the implementation of the National Plan is not compromised to cater to stakeholder agendas. The National Plan needs to be endorsed by the Opposition and implemented by the Chief Executive, transcending Party Politics. One of the key reasons for the ‘war’ in the North to drag on for 30 years was the lack of consensus, between the Government and Opposition, on the manner in which the war should be conducted. This resulted in erratic changes in policy, every five years, leaving the troops in the field, exasperated. Had there been a clear policy, the war would have ended much earlier. Let us not repeat this mistake in our efforts at National Unity.

One of the best examples, from a non-political field in recent times of effective Operational Integration was the manner in which our cricket team won the World Cup. Emotional Integration was assured when a world class spinner, coming from an ethnic minority was strongly defended by his skipper against severe odds. Social Integration is the equivalent of good team work in sports. Players of different educational, social and economic backgrounds, some elitist some rural, blended into a well-knit team. Intellectual Integration came in the form of the inspiration by the Leadership, to bring a historic victory to the country with honour. The celebrations that followed the victory, reflected the unity of our citizens in Dondra Head, Point Pedro or Kattankudy. We all felt as One Nation.

Q: What role do you think citizens have to play in the national integration process?

Perhaps 70 % of the implementation is in the hands of the citizens. The role of the government to educate the citizens on their responsibility for implementation, primarily in the aspects of emotional and social integration. Intellectual integration could be a delicate subject, handled best by an ‘implementing think tank’ commissioned by the government. Operational integration is clearly the responsibility of the government employing a multi stake holder mechanism.

Q: What do you think was the greatest failing of the state in battling extremism post-2009? 

A: The greatest triumph by any state in battling terrorism is their ability to successfully orchestrate the implementation of Strategic Plans on what are called the Three T’s i.e. Trust (Reconciliation), Tummy (Economics) and (absence of) Tension. These were the classic ingredients that emerged from the extremist threat faced by Malaysia in the 1950s and 60s. The relative stability of multi ethnic Malaysia we see today, is primarily due to the effective implementation of the Three T’s.

The greatest failings of the State post 2009 are centered round the absence of a Strategic Plan to implement the Three T’s. The mere fact that the ‘war’ ended in 2009 does not preclude the formulation of a Strategic Plan, endorsed by the opposition, for future implementation. The country in the past faced two ‘powder keg’ scenarios in the form of Sinhala and Tamil extremism. Now we have three and there is no room for more!

Full authority for implementation of all threeT’s must be vested in one single authority. This authority should be absolute and the responsibility for implementation, which goes with it, should also be absolute.

Q: Do you have any recommendations about how to address the country’s present crisis of integration?

The present crisis is a result of our collective inability to see the need for National Unity. We need to explore more innovative methods to make National Unity possible.

Today, it is scientifically established that humans are operating only at 5% of the true potential of our conscious mind. 95% of our true potential lies within the sub conscious mind and our system of education has failed to tap the 95%.

To address our present crisis we need to have more people like the lady in my neighborhood, who showed initiative in a potentially ugly situation. Sri Lanka is moving from one crisis to another because we lack people who can mindfully react to developing situations.

The UK government has invested to study the benefits of Mindfulness in the classroom. This is as a sequel to decades of grassroots work to bring Mindfulness to school children across the UK. Over 5000 teachers have been trained to launch a programme in thousands of schools across the UK to teach mindfulness. An All Party Parliamentary Group on Mindfulness is already operational in the UK.

Q: Do you have any advice to future generations of Sri Lankans?

The advice I could offer is called ‘Asking for Forgiveness’ or Khamapana in Pali. It is a practice amongst the Buddhist clergy, at the end of the day, to ask for forgiveness from their Superior monk for any offences committed by way of the three doors of body, speech and mind viz. ‘Okasa dvarattayena katam sabbam aparadam khamatha me bhante’ . The beauty is that the Superior monk says ‘I forgive you, you should forgive me! (Khamami khamitabbam) and the Juniors in turn forgive the Superior monk by saying ‘With consent, I forgive you, Venerable Sir! (Okasa khamami bhante).

When we learn to forgive one another for our lapses we display the true purpose of our consciousness, which is to rise above mundane issues and Search for the Truth. Such a Search will definitely lead one to discover the answer to that question which has bedeviled human beings for millennia: "Who Am I?"

We may need to spend some time in prison, as Mandela did, to discover the "Magic Formula" that he dished out to the world! Perhaps, he practised mindfulness in the silence of his prison cell or it came naturally to him. Enjoying a clear 62% in his first election, Mandela chose to form a government for National Unity with his white adversary F.W de Klerk as his first deputy and Thabo Mbeki as his second deputy, in the Government of National Unity. In keeping with the wisdom of the Buddha let us recall his famous words ‘Hatred Never Ceases by Hatred, By Love alone Will it Cease.’ And in that spirit let us even at this late stage, as we recover from the Easter Sunday massacre, learn to Forgiveour Adversaries and Unite. Whither Sri Lanka?

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