Utmost priority for National Security | Daily News

Utmost priority for National Security

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa outlined national security as his top priority during his election campaign. At the unveiling of his election manifesto at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre on October 25th, he said, “We see national security as a foremost obligation of the Government,” adding that Security Forces, Police and Civil Defence Personnel will be protected on his watch.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Policy statement, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour”, placed before the people at the Presidential Election, contains a national programme that was crafted during a period of nearly four years by incorporating his vision with the ideas and recommendations of national organisations.

During his inaugural speech in Parliament he assured that in his 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.

Proper intelligence network

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,” he said.

During the Good Governance regime, national security was totally disregarded or taken for granted, resulting in national security deteriorating to a sorry state where it was very easy for the IS extremists to carry out the Easter Sunday bombings despite the many warnings given by neighbouring India.

During an interview with the Daily News, Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. (Rtd) Kamal Gunaratne said, “President Rajapaksa having held the post of Defence Secretary during the war, and seen an end to the LTTE, he knows that if any Government considers national security as the primary goal above all others, that Government should ensure that there is a proper intelligence network.”

Expressing his views on the task of fortifying the intelligence network in the country, Gen. Kamal Gunaratne said, “the President too held the position as the Defence Secretary previously and with his wealth of experience, he advised me to gather all the intelligence bodies as soon as I assumed office, and that is exactly what I did when I assumed office.”

Decisive leader

International expert on terrorism and defence matters, Professor Rohan Gunaratne speaking to the Daily News on the country’s national security said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had revamped Sri Lanka’s security and intelligence networks. “Both the State Intelligence Service and the Directorate of Military Intelligence have been revamped and are led by competent leaders. A visionary, collective and a decisive leader, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has given the highest priority to national security. He has appointed his best and ablest men and women to staff security and intelligence portfolios,” Prof. Gunaratne noted.

He added that General Kamal Gunaratna, the Secretary of Defence, General Jagath Alwis, the Chief of National Intelligence and General Suresh Sally, Director, State Intelligence Service are goal-oriented leaders. “They are highly trained, competent, and proven warfighters. They will never neglect national security. No foreign terrorist fighter will ever return to Sri Lanka and remain undetected as long as Government security and intelligence personnel are alert and vigilant,” he said, adding that that is how it should be.

In the current period, Sri Lanka’s National Security is vital to Sri Lanka as there are many international pressures upon the country. These pressures sometimes appear to threaten Sri Lanka’s position as a sovereign entity in the global arena. These pressures could be categorised as juridical, economic or military in nature. However, no matter in what form these pressures are exerted, they threaten Sri Lanka’s national security and obstructs the development of the country. Therefore, it is imperative that Sri Lanka conducts itself in a manner that safeguards the country’s national security whilst acting in a manner that fits the state’s internal political structure.

Speaking to the Daily News regarding his views on national security of the country under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander and Acting Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva said that in his inaugural speech at Ruwanweli Seya the President had stated that his top priority would be national security. “He also said that he considers national security as a fundamental facet of the Government. So we will implement the national security mechanism that will free the country from terrorism, underworld activity, drug trafficking and violence against women and children and all types of crime.”

Explaining the action plan put in place by the President, the Army Commander said the President has basically reorganised the intelligence mechanisms by appointing and making changes to the intelligence services. “As for his vision, I believe his mission is not only tracking local and transnational terrorist movements, there are so many other threats that need continuous monitoring such as international narcotics and gun-running, human smuggling and drug smuggling, online hate speech and preaching, underworld crime, money laundering, white-collar crimes, hacking, online identity theft, cybercrimes and many more.”

Effective mechanisms

When it comes to national security, Lt. Gen. Silva said in the present context, national security not only entails the physical security of the country, but also the security of all other domains such as food security, security of education, food, energy, environment, cultural, etc. “So, we are focusing on all those things.

Especially, when we mobilise during peacetime, intelligence is most important and revamping of the intelligence networks has been done. Also, the President has already made the decision to mobilize the Armed Forces throughout the country to face any eventuality with the confidence in the military where we have produced results during the past year.”

Although it is a health issue with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Army has been involved from contact tracing to quarantine operations and treatment etc. “In the majority of such activities, the military has been involved and I believe it is because of the level of confidence that the President has in the military.”

“Then, the army is also involved in removing the remnants of the landmines in the North and also in the anti-dengue drive throughout the country. We are also involved in tasks such as beach clean-ups and similar ventures that serve the public.

The President has also appointed me as the head of the National Operation Centre for the Prevention of Covid, which is a testament that our mechanisms are effective,” he added.

Elaborating on how easy it has been to work with the President at the helm, Gen. Silva said that the President understands the important aspects of the country. “When the proposal came to establish a quarantine centre for those returning from Wuhan, it was the President who suggested that it should be established in Diyatalawa. He knew through his military experience that only the army would have the capability of setting up a quarantine centre within 48 hours and would have the capacity to handle it for 14 days with all the facilities and look after the returning students.”

Military morale

“Even when we attend the Security Council meeting each week, we find that as a senior military officer and a gentleman, the President understands what we mean the moment we start a sentence. That is very important and with his experience, it makes it easy for us to work with him on a very relaxed and happy environment,” he said, adding that the President has also built up the military morale to a very high position.

Even the establishing of the drone regiment is a clear indication of his understanding of what is required. In any situation, where it is difficult to reach instantly, these drones would play a vital role in the future. His decision making capability is mainly very quick as he is a military officer, the Army Commander said.

Similarly, the Sri Lanka Navy too has been assigned a national security component that is unique to them. Sri Lanka’s maritime borders far exceed its landmass and as such, the Navy has been tasked with a massive responsibility of safeguarding our waters, not only in terms of threats to national security militarily, but from the threat of drug smugglers, human traffickers and even poachers.

Hence, the President had instructed the Navy Commander Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne to take all measures to secure the country’s maritime borders. In addition, he had also instructed the Navy Commander to increase the Navy’s assets as required and increase the policing of our maritime zones.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa also intends to make full use of the Air Force in strengthening the country’s security, not only in our air space but to also enhance the AF capabilities to assist the Navy in the protection of the country’s maritime borders.

Speaking to the Daily News on the President’s vision for the Air Force, Commander Air Marshal Sudharshana Pathirana said that they are fortunate to have a person who is battle-hardened and who understands national security perfectly and had proven his capability while he was the Defence Secretary of this country.

Territorial integrity

“Many people, however, misunderstand national security as just the physical concept militarily. But, when you come to an apex you understand that military security is only one part of national security. There are many aspects to security such as food security, water, education, health etc. So, we are fortunate that we now have a president who understands the whole gamut of national security and not just one aspect of it.” No sooner president came to power he addressed all these issues, not just one aspect only, he said, adding that he is a proven leader and one who understands the whole system of national security and is capable of addressing all these aspects.

“On my part, as the new Air Force Commander, I understand that the Air Force has the power to control the third dimension of this country. We are tasked with protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country by air and to assist our other Forces and the police in maintaining national security. Hence, we are in the process of strengthening the Air Force in order to assist the other Forces in achieving the objectives of national security.”

This, he said, includes the UN missions, protecting the wildlife resources, sea and air borders and to maintain a safe environment from the skies.However, the task placed upon the President has not been fulfilled completely and he has a long road ahead. Having completed just one year of his term, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is certainly on the right track and it is our fervent wish that he leads this country towards a prosperous and safe future.