by Apsara Fonseka
I remember the day we finally ended the battle against terrorism. It was May 19th mid afternoon when my father got the call saying that the war is finally over and they have found the body of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, near the lagoons
I remember my father first calling the Defense Secretary and letting him know. Then he called the President to convey the good news. He then left for office to give the good news to all Sri Lankans. At once we could hear fire crackers all around the city. Everyone was celebrating victory in their own way with their own reasons. To me, it was a relief that at least my father’s life won’t be endangered anymore. For once, the whole country was together. This was a good feeling and I was glad I was in Sri Lanka to enjoy it and feel the glory of peace.
Although my memories of the victory days are clear, there are some memories that stay clearer than others. Like the day after LTTE leader’s body was found, I told my father, "you know, now that the job is done, they will not let you rehabilitate the army. They will kick you out of this position." His answer was, “these people are not like that. I asked them for a year and I think they will keep their word. They know there is much to be done after a war." I talked back by saying, “believe me, they do not care. At the most, they will give you 4 months."
Undoubtedly, two months after the war ended, the Presidential Secretary asked my father to give up his position within three days. Three days? Really? How can a person settle all job duties done for the past four years within three days?
However, the minute I heard the news, my first words to my father was, "I told you, they don’t care about rehabilitation or life after war for that matter." And for the first time after a long time, he and I, we both agreed.
Life has not been easy for us. I’m sure some people will say that we brought it on our selves. They are right. We did bring it on our selves. We brought it on because my father wanted to make a difference. Wanted to bring justice to the country and its people and wanted to stop corruption. So, they’re correct, it is our fault for having an honest, patriotic father who does not bend against corruption. But, honestly, does he or my family deserve any of this?
The biggest mistake he did was standing up for what he believed in. Is that wrong for a person to do so?
Would you not want to stand up for what you believe?
I get many e-mails asking me to apologies to the President. I think to myself, alright, what am I supposed to apologies for?
For standing up for what we believed in?
If I knew that running for presidency was even much riskier than fighting a war, then yes, I might have told my father to think twice. At least the terrorist did not come after family members. But, my father stood up for justice when a lot people wanted to but didn’t. And although it does bring us much pain than you can ever imagine, at least I’m able to be proud of my father for standing up for what he believes in.
I agree, ending the war was not a one man job. It is group effort. However, in any group, there are people who fund the necessities, people who architect the plan, people who work hard to achieve the goal and people who suffer and sacrifice for it.
Planning strategies to end a 30 year war is not easy. I’ve seen it being done night and day. And I’ve lived through it. It definitely has a lot to it. It is hard for a person who has been out of the army, say 15 to 20 years, to actually all of a sudden come to a position and be an architect. To be able to do this, you need to have experience, dedication, familiarity of the situation, the will power to never give up or let go of the vision. You need to be able to believe and never let go of what you believe in. There is no doubt in my mind that the government gave the backing to end the war. But, backing by itself is no use if there is no one actually to plan the job and do it. Face it, we’ve had the backing for many years, but we were lacking the tactical and strategic capabilities to do so.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with Maj. General Shavendra Silva at a dinner just after the victory. My sister and I were in the midst of thanking and congratulating the higher ranking officers for their efforts and hard work. As a daughter of an army officer, I was tremendously proud and felt blessed to be able to talk to each and every one of the war hardened heroes. They all had their own regrets and happiness to share. While some regretted the fact that they have not been able to spend enough time with their families, the others were proud of their achievements and was enjoying their hard work.
The thing I remembered most about Maj. General Shavindra Silva and my conversation is, when I congratulated him and said that we were proud of everything he has done, He said, "We just listened to your father and did the needful so no need to be thanking us." In my mind, I thought that was very humble and honest of him to say so. I had much respect towards his words. Although most of them after wards went on national television to disgrace my father and to give a bad impression about him at the presidential elections, a part of me still has some respect towards them as they did have a hand in bringing peace. And I would also always make the excuse for them and say, they had no other choice.
Like I said before, ending the war does not go to just one person. Like the Defense Secretary said in his letter to the media, he always gave the forces what was asked from him. This is definitely something to be thankful of. And I believe he did. But, by any means this does not mean that he was the mastermind behind the strategies. This does not mean that he was asked to be the architect. If by any chance he could have done it, why then change the Ex-Army commander Maj. Gen. Kottegoda when he clearly had two more years in the position? Why then bring my father to finish this war?
With all this said, I whole heartily believe that Defense Secretary knew to pick the right man, for the right job at the right time. He knew he wanted to end the war and he knew that my father would be the best man to achieve that goal. At the same token he also knew after the war Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasooriya would be the best commander to politicize the army and get it ready for elections. So, yes, I do believe that he did do the right thing by choosing the right man at the right time and it is because of this, that we are able to celebrate this war victory.
I spoke to my father in the morning today. He has a tendency to ask how I am although he is the one illegally detained. I said I’m alright and told him that I was listening to a person talk about her relationship problems and was thinking to myself that these things are not problems anymore compared to what we have gone through. His answer amazed me. He said, at least we are alive, we all have each other. Think about the people who have lost their sons, brothers and fathers?
We have not lost anything compared to them. Although these words embarrassed me as to my way of thinking, It showed me how blessed I am to have an honorable father as him. It showed me that this week, it’s not about politics. It’s not about the glory of the parades with thousands of soldiers. It’s not about talking bad about people and making someone’s life miserable. It’s about remembering the fallen and respecting the living hero’s.
Remembering how brave they fought for the country and how proudly they let go of their future for the sake of ours. It’s about honoring the heroes and doing what is right for their families. Although it is evident that my father, my family, several other brave officers and their families (who were sent on retirement) and many more patriots, who very well deserves to enjoy this glory may not get the opportunity and the pleasure of doing so, let us all remember our brave soldiers and their families who deserves our respect. Let us remember our true war heroes among the glory of parades and glamor. Let us remember the ones who "actually" did the job and sacrificed their tomorrow for ours.
Remembering all our heroes who fought for a better future,
On behalf of my family,