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Editorial

Whose hand was it?

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Thursday 28th January, 2021

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI), probing the Easter Sunday carnage, has reportedly wound up its sittings. The last witness to testify before it was former CID Director Shanie Abeysekera. He neither rejected nor confirmed the claim made by others that there was an invisible hand behind the Easter Sunday carnage (2019). His statement on the issue smacked of gobbledygook. Several key witnesses who gave evidence before him, however, clearly stated that there had been a hidden hand behind the terror strikes. Among them are former President Maithripala Sirisena, SLMC leader and SJB MP Rauff Hakeem and former CID SDIG Ravi Seneviratne.

It does not require deductive or inductive or abductive reasoning as such, or special investigative skills to arrive at the conclusion that there was an invisible hand behind the National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ) and its ‘leader’, Zahran. It has now been established that the NTJ planned a second wave of terror, stockpiled arms and explosives and trained a large number of cadres. It would not have made such preparations painstakingly for a few rounds of attack. If Zahran had been the real mastermind of the terror strikes, he would not have chosen to die in the first wave of terror, leaving his outfit rudderless. He led the Easter attacks from the front, boosting the morale of his suicide cadres possibly because he was confident that someone else he had reposed his trust in would ensure the continuation of the NTJ’s terror project. Thankfully, no sooner had the Easter Sunday bombings occurred than the military cracked down on the NTJ, and the swiftness of the counterterror operations apparently preempted the second wave. However, not all trained NTJ cadres have been captured. The possibility of the terrorist rump launching attacks cannot be ruled out. The success of operations to neutralise NTJ terror once and for all hinges on the country’s ability to identify Zahran’s handler.

It is doubtful whether the people are waiting for the PCoI report to know whose lapses helped the NTJ carry out the Easter Sunday attacks with ease. This, they are already aware of, as can be seen from the results of the last presidential and parliamentary elections. The yahapalana leaders and their lackeys in uniform emasculated the state intelligence agencies and ignored repeated warnings of terror attacks. The blame for security lapses that enabled the NTJ to strike at will should be apportioned to the then President Sirisena as well; he would have faced the same fate as UNP Ranil Wickremesinghe at the last general election if he had not closed ranks with the SLPP. People usually do not base their judgments on the findings and/or recommendations of presidential commissions of inquiry or even rulings in court cases for that matter. The PCoI, which probed the Treasury bond scams, did not even name some culprits, but the people have relegated them to the political dustbin.

It is too early to say whether the PCoI, which probed the Easter Sunday carnage, dug deep enough to ascertain who actually masterminded the NTJ attacks. We have to wait until its report is submitted to the President. Many are the questions that have gone unanswered. We hope the PCoI report will provide answers thereto: why did the NTJ use two bombers for the suicide attacks at Shangri-La, Colombo? One of them was Zahran himself. He could have got the other bomber to take some other target. Why didn’t he do so? Did his handler seek to send any message to the world through the Shangri-La attack? If so, what was it? Was Zahran duped into communicating with and taking orders from a fake ISIS created by a powerful spy agency? Is there any truth in the media reports that the police were denied access to a luxury hotel room, where explosive detection canines led them to, following the Easter Sunday bombings?



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Editorial

Praying for justice

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Tuesday 9th March, 2021

The Black Sunday protest was a huge success. Thankfully, some politicians who sought to make political capital out of the event failed in their endeavour. It became a people’s agitation campaign led by religious dignitaries. Their message was loud and clear; they are deeply disappointed at the outcome of the presidential commission probe into the Easter Sunday terror attacks. The government had better heed their voice and act accordingly instead of trying to take cover behind the flawed presidential commission report, which says so little in so many words.

It was heartening to see many members of other religious communities standing shoulder to shoulder with the Catholics, on Sunday, and calling for justice. Unity is the best form of defence against terrorism. People must sink their differences, religious, ethnic, political or otherwise, and unite against all acts of terrorism. The victims of terror must be reassured and helped rebuild their lives. If only religious leaders and members of the public had come out in a similar manner and protested against LTTE terror attacks on places of worship and members of the clergy.

The LTTE massacred 146 Buddhist devotees at Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (1985), 37 novice Buddhist monks at Arantalawa (1987), 147 Muslims praying in the Kaththankudi mosque (1990), 109 Muslims attending prayers in the Palliyagodella mosque (1991), and 17 Buddhist devotees at Sri Dalada Maligawa (1998), which suffered extensive damage when the LTTE exploded a truck bomb. There were many other terror attacks on civilians, but those crimes went unpunished.

At present, protests are being held to pressure the government to identify a bunch of terrorists. This demand is nothing but fair. Those savages must be traced and made to pay for their sins. However, the identities of those who masterminded many terror attacks before 2009 were known; curiously, there was no national campaign as such to have them punished. Interestingly, the SJB notables are pressuring the government to expose the forces that were behind the Easter Sunday carnage. Their right to do so cannot be questioned, but the fact remains that all of them, save a few including Sajith Premadasa, did not call for action against the LTTE for civilian massacres and high-profile assassinations. Some SJB grandees who were in the UNP-led Opposition, during the war, even went all out to dislodge military operations against the LTTE; they strove to defeat budgets in Parliament and bring down the then Rajapaksa government in a desperate bid to scuttle the war effort. Had they succeeded in doing so, the LTTE would have survived and many more terror attacks like the Easter Sunday bombings would have happed during the last 12 years or so. One of them even declared in Parliament that any fool could fight a war and urged the then government to opt for negotiations with the LTTE!

Among those whose lapses helped the NTJ terrorists strike with ease are former President Maithripala Sirisena, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, former IGP Pujith Jayasundera and several key intelligence officers. The blame for serious security failures at issue should also be apportioned to those who were in the yahapalana Cabinet. But they will pose no danger to national security or public safety even if they manage to get off scot-free. But the masterminds of the Easter Sunday terror strikes remain a grave danger and hence the need to give priority to the task of tracing and dealing with them. The country will not be safe as long as they are at large. People who abhor terrorism expected the Easter Sunday PCoI to dig deep enough and expose those who were behind the bombings so that action could be taken against them and threats to national security neutralised. Therefore, it is only natural that the PCoI report has come as a huge disappointment for them.

Perhaps, the only way out is for the government to order another probe to find out who masterminded the Easter Sunday carnage and make use of the findings and the recommendations of the presidential commission probe to prosecute those who failed to prevent the terror attacks.

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Editorial

Villains as heroes

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Monday 8th March, 2021

Pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar have dug their heels in. Demonstrating remarkable resilience in the face of the military junta, they have urged the US to intervene to save their country from the clutches of the power-hungry Generals. Why they are making such desperate appeals is understandable; any port in a storm! But they would find themselves in a far bigger crisis if the US ever decided to make an intervention. The plight of the people of Libya, who enlisted US backing to get rid of their eccentric dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, serves as an example.

Human rights violations are a global phenomenon, which needs to be addressed. But the UN institution created for that purpose is ineffectual thanks to the servility of its officials and some meddlesome global powers. Today, the UNHRC has become a cat’s paw used by the western states to promote neocolonialism. Swayed by the geo-political interests of strategic alliances, it has become a playground for the world powers.

China sought to make light of the recent military coup in Myanmar by initially calling it a Cabinet reshuffle, of all things. Military takeovers in Pakistan did not matter to the US, at all, while Washington could use Islamabad to advance its geo-strategic agenda vis-à-vis India, which was not in the good books of Uncle Sam at the time. The US did not welcome the ouster of Shah’s repressive regime, in Iran, and backed evil military dictatorships to the hilt in several countries it considered its allies, Chile under General Pinochet being a case in point. Now, Washington is weeping buckets for the people of Myanmar! Had the Burmese Generals been pro-American, Washington would have had no qualms about defending them, and the human rights groups dependent on western funding would have chosen to ignore the coup.

The UK has taken upon itself the task of protecting human rights across the globe despite being one of the worst human rights violators in the world. One may recall that Britain expelled more than 10,000 people of the Chagos Islands between 1967 and 1973 for the US to build the Diego Garcia military base; it has refused to comply with a UN ruling that the displaced people’s right to return be respected. Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has gone on record as saying that the jurisdiction of the ICC will be invoked against Britian’s crimes against humanity. There is irrefutable evidence that Tony Blair, as the British PM, together with US President George W. Bush, carried out an illegal war in Iraq, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths. The Chilcot Report, too, has revealed that military action against Iraq was not justified, but no case has been filed against Blair or anyone else for war crimes in Iraq. The British Parliament has introduced an indemnity law to protect its military personnel against war crimes probes. Senior LTTE leader, Adele Balasingham, who brainwashed thousands of LTTE child combatants, turned them into human bombs, and thereby committed war crimes, is living comfortably in London; the UK pretends that she does not exist while insisting that war crimes must not go unpunished! Some British politicians are dependent LTTE activists for votes and funds to win elections. Thanks to diplomatic cables disclosed by Wikileaks, the world is aware that it was due to domestic political calculations and compulsions that, in 2009, the then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband remained intensely focused on Sri Lanka’s war and even rushed here in a bid to save Prabhakaran.

UNHRC chiefs have also compromised their credibility by being servile to the western bloc. A few years ago, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay succumbed to US pressure and withdrew a statement she had issued condemning human rights abuses in Bahrain, which is a close ally of the UK and the US. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, who once described missing UAE Princess Latifa as a ‘troubled young woman’ has now admitted that she was ‘horribly tricked’ by the victim’s family. Isn’t it possible that Robinson was tricked into issuing a strongly-worded statement on Sri Lanka as well? Incumbent UNHRC chief, Michelle Bachelet, has manifestly failed to act independently and impartially; she has prepared what can be described as a political report on Sri Lanka and blotted her copybook further in the process.

Perhaps, the only thing the Trump administration got right was its assessment of the UNHRC, which it called a cesspool of political bias. But, having pulled the US out of the cesspit, Washington continued to make other nations wallow in it, and the Biden government has plunged head first into it.

The UNHRC in the clutches of the worst human rights violators in the world, masquerading as champions of democracy, has faced a fate similar to that of Sri Lanka’s Police Narcotic Bureau, which has been infiltrated by criminals to further their interests. It looks as if human rights had to be protected against the UNHRC.

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Editorial

No quick fix

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That there is no quick fix to the globally raging Covid-19 pandemic is now all too clear. Countries worldwide seek to protect their populations as best as they could by inoculating them with vaccines hurriedly developed in some of the best scientific laboratories in the world. Billions of dollars have been poured into this research effort, thankfully marked by some significant successes, and the vaccination process is ongoing in most parts of the world including this small backwater called Sri Lanka. But the global supply of vaccine falls far short of demand and how this gap is to be bridged is a yet unanswered question.

However, it is very well known that untapped manufacturing capacity is available in many parts of the world. How such capacity can be harnessed to meet the crying need of humanity is not rocket science. The heart of the problem lies in the reluctance, nay unwillingness, of the world of commerce to share the research gains already made in an equitable manner and relax patents to enable maximum utilization of available manufacturing capacity, particularly in the Indian subcontinent, to break the back of if not significantly dent this problem that continues to confront mankind.

The global pharmaceutical industry, throughout its long history, has poured vast funds and resources, both material and human, to develop wide ranges of medicines to treat and protect living beings – human and animal – from the many illnesses that have always been a part of life. Many notable successes, ranging from penicillin to the various drugs and medicines that have defeated numerous scourges that have confronted humanity over the course of history, have marked this effort. It is well known that when new drugs are developed, their manufacturers recover the huge investments made in the research and development efforts to achieve the various outcomes, in pricing the various products they market. These are patent protected and such patents, most often ironclad, are zealously protected.

Unarguably, industry must be permitted to recover investments made in developing products and processes benefiting humanity. But this can, and often does, lead to profiteering and unjustifiable ripoffs of consumers. However that be, the immediate problem confronting the whole world is to find ways and means of relaxing the various patents and devices in force to maximize the production and availability of supplies of vaccines to fight the pandemic. It has been reported that the new head of the World Trade Organization has joined calls for pharmaceutical companies to share their coronavirus vaccine know-how and technology more broadly in the developing world. Whether this will happen or not, and the profit motive will remain the overriding consideration as has always happened in the past, remains to be seen.

The Associated. Press (AP), one of the world’s biggest news agencies, a non-profit organization owned by newspapers and broadcasters in the U.S., recently reported its findings in three continents that established pharmaceutical manufacturers could start producing hundreds of millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines at short notice if they only had the necessary blueprints and know-how to get started. But that knowledge belongs to the large pharmaceutical companies that have produced the first three vaccines authorized in many countries both in the developed and developing world including Sri Lanka. These vaccines now in use in countries that include Britain, the European Union, and the U.S. are products of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. Responses from the patent holders to requests to enable more broad based manufacture, are awaited.

The WHO which is supplying countries in need, including our own, with free vaccine to inoculate a proportion of their population, has called on manufacturers to share their know-bow to “dramatically increase global supply” to stop the virus before it mutates into deadlier forms. This issue must be obviously looked at from a non-commercial perspective. The vaccine was not developed utilizing only private resources. Billions of dollars of taxpayer funds, largely from the U.S. and European countries, were injected into the R&D efforts of pharmaceutical manufacturers to develop now patented vaccines. Such money came out of the pockets of ordinary people in some of the world’s richer countries. There is no debate that the benefits of such efforts must also be shared with people in poorer countries.

These vaccines were developed at unprecedented speed after the disease, first seen in China and thereafter in many parts of the globe, spread like wildfire worldwide. However, sharing the knowledge discovered has unfortunately not happened as speedily. Although contracts and licensing deals are being negotiated with producers on individual case-by-case basis on the logic that the intellectual property of the vaccine developers must be protected, manufacturing capacity worldwide is not being boosted at the needed pace. All over the world, the supply of coranavirus vaccines is falling short of demand. Much of the limited supplies that are available are going to rich countries. The AP report said that nearly 80 percent of the vaccine thus far administered had been used in just 10 countries. WHO is on record saying that more than 210 countries and territories with 2.5 billion people have not received a single shot by the end of last month.

The shortcomings in getting the urgently needed results of boosting the supply and distribution of the vaccine to parts of the world most in need have been highlighted ad infinitum. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS recently said that “what we are seeing today is a stampede, a survival of the fittest approach, where those with the deepest pockets, with the sharpest elbows, grabbing what is there and leaving others to die.” The AP report said that governments and health experts have offered two potential solutions to the vaccine shortage. One, supported by WHO is a ‘patent pool’ modeled on a platform set up to fight HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis. The other is is to suspend intellectual property rights during the pandemic. But no progress in either direction is visible.

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