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MGG: A Political Football For UMNO
By M.G.G. Pillai

7/8/2001 7:05 am Tue

[Tangkapan anak TG Nik Aziz kerana berpengalaman tentera adalah tidak wajar kerana dia menentang komunis yang memang dimusuhi oleh Malaysia. Lagipun kerajaan merestui penglibatan sukarela sepertinya dulu. Mengapa sekarang itu dipandang tidak elok pula?

Dengan istilah mujahidin dan fundamentalis Islam, Mahathir mungkin mampu menggoda Bush untuk menemuinya. Tetapi itu belum tentu lagi berjaya kerana diplomat baru A.S. bukan sebarangan orangnya dan Bush amat berhati-hati kerana baru menerajui negara. Apa yang menarik FEER tidak menarik balikpun lapuran risiknya mengenai hasrat Mahathir menemui Bush. Bertemu dengan Mahathir yang baru sahaja berpeluk dengan Castro tentunya akan menjejaskan imej Bush dan mengundang kemarahan rakyat Amerika.

Mahathir kini menghadapi masalah reputasinya yang semakin memburuk di mata dunia. Kalaulah dia berjaya menemui Bush pun reputasinya tidak akan pulih semula. Ia sudah tercalar sejak Anwar dilebam, dipenjara dan kini menderita akibat sakit belakang yang teramat peritnya. Setiap kali keadaan Anwar disebut imej Mahathir semakin teruk tercela. Mahathir sudah semakin tiada kawan di saat dia amat memerlukannya kerana ekonomi negara sudah merana.
- Editor


06 August 01

A political football for UMNO

MGG Pillai

When Malaysian Muslims, mostly from PAS, volunteered to fight against the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s, Malaysian newspapers indeed welcomed it. But not only from PAS, others from UMNO and ABIM, the youth body, also volunteered. The government did not object, indeed suggested then it was part of a Muslim's duty to shed blood in a jihad in the name of Islam. Some did go, what they did we do not know, and returned to anonymity. What they did or do, we do not know.

One thing is certain: they underwent some military training; a guerrilla must know what to do with a rifle or a bazooka or how to throw a handgrenade. So, if they fought in Afghanistan, they knew how to use weapons. Are they involved in what the police accuse them of? We do not know. But the arrests come when UMNO and the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, is challenged as never before. It is seen by many not as a national seen as a national security threat but as a political move and ploy.

The deputy prime minister and home minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, says this group is a threat, the government would not have acted if it was not, did not discount further detentions. The deputy home minister, Zainal Abidin Zin, carries the refrain further: the police would act against any militant group irregardless of who is involved. Ten PAS members have been detained, one of whom is the 34-year-old son of the Kelantan mentri besar, Nik Aziz Nik Mat. There could be more.

So, when the Inspector-General of Police, Norian Mai, ever so casually said this group, called Malaysian Mujahidins, with its connotations of fundamentalist Islam on the country's doorstep, is out to create mayhem and worse, and involved in high-profile murders and robberies his men could not yet solve, it became a political football in UMNO's struggle for political legitimacy.

Deux et machina

When did the police realise this group was criminal and bloody? Like the Al-Maunah group, many of whose leaders are now on trial, the Malaysian Mujahidin does suggest a deux et machina to help the government and UMNO out of a political difficulty.

So, the detentions raise more questions than answers. PAS rightly dissociated itself from the violence the police blamed on it. If this is a violent group out to destabilise the country, the government come up with a full statement. Abdullah Badawi, even if he is unaware of the arrests until after the fact, as he insists of all ISA detentions, must have ordered them detained under the ISA and not charged them in court.

That the ISA is used raises doubts. If, as Norian Mai insists, it is involved in murders, violence and worse, they should be tried in the courts. If this police has a cast-iron case, as it should to allege all this, it must consign them to be the criminals they are, and not hide under the ISA, which in the nature of the extra-constitution law acts in secret. As in the Anwar Ibrahim affair, violence is frequently used -- in Anwar's case, by the IGP himself -- without anyone to answer for.

This is not to imply this group does not exist nor the political agenda the police claims it has. The timing is suspicious. Few believe the police version since it behaves confrontationally on the side of the government's political agenda and not by the rule of law. If it is as serious as it claims, it should have been in a more official channel, say Parliament, to announce it, and not as an aside at an irrelevant press conference , as now, after a function the deputy prime minister or IGP attended.

When the Soviet-backed administration was routed, and an Islamic govenment took over in Kabul, the infighting between the various Islamic factions led to a civil war in which the Talibans eventually won. On all sides were mujahidin from foreign countries, especially the Middle East, the intensity in part to it being a holy cause.

Dissatisfied and unemployed guerrillas

But the Taliban victory threatened to create uncertainties in the land of whence the mujaidin came from. Muslim nations in the Middle East would not allow the mujahidin amongst its citizens to return. A large group of potentially dissatisfied but well-trained and unemployed guerrillas can destabilise any society. So, they remain in the region, and India claims many killed in Kashmir were mujahidin from elsewhere continuing their cause to liberate this state for Islam.

Norian Mai is right when he said those who went to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the anti-Soviet forces were trained. In Malaysia, retired Malaysian soldiers resort to violence and robberies: many armed gangs are made up of these men. At one time, in the 1970s, the Malayan Communist Party engaged retired soldiers to fight for them, an act which forced the government to improve their pension schemes. So, the government's claims of a Malaysian mujahidin could not all be false. But it is curious Abdullah insists he would act only if it is serious. I would have thought that in national security, prevention is more important than the cure.

But did the government think through this? It should have followed the arrests immediately with a detailed White Paper explaining why it is dangerous and other post ipso facto justifications. What we have instead is senior ministers, including the deputy prime minister and home minister, stating the government's good intentions, that it would not act unless it was serious, that it would not arrest until it has proof.

All this is well and good. But it goes against the grain of Malaysia's international posture. The European Parliament wants Malaysia to stop the preventive detention, as under the ISA, of political opponents. The foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, and other cabinet ministers, decry conditions the US puts before President George W Bush would meet Dr Mahathir.

That he wants an invitation to the White House is not disputed. But when he would not meet the US ambassador for five years while he criticised Washington in international forums, and which intensified when the Clinton administration decried Malaysia's treatment of its former deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, bilateral relations cannot change because there is a new occupant in the White House.

The Mahathir and Anwar factor

It is doubtful he could see President Bush in Shanghai when APEC meets later this year. He would meet some Asian leaders, but from ASEAN, it would probably be four heads of government -- from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan -- and China. Dr Mahathir denies he wants to meet Bush, to make that even less of a chance of it.

A columnist in The Sunday Sun (05 August 01) said the Far Eastern Economic Review's report of Dr Mahathir wanting to meet Bush in Shanghai is false. He wanted more. He is, if his travel plans hold, due at the UN General Assembly. He needs this call on President Bush to show he is back in favour in the White House.

He is unlikely to get it. The Bush administration has its sights on Latin America, its Middle East policy is half-baked, its Asian worldview linked to China more than Japan, and it strays into Southeast Asia, it is to Singapore, its regional satrap in defence, and Indonesia.

So, it raises an interesting conundrum. Are the detentions to show the United States it is firm about fundamentalist Islam if it rears its head in Malaysia? Or to show that while it must, for political reasons, move towards a clear Islamic presence in his administration, it has no truck with fundamentalist Islam? Or are the detentions to c##k a snook at Western Europe and the United States to declare that it would do as it pleased, come hell or high water.

The Prime Minister is due in Germany, as present plans stand, where he would be queried on why he would not allow Anwar out for medical treatment. And why arrested all these people under the Internal Security Act. Indeed, he would face opposition wherever he goes in Europe or the United States.

So internal dissent is entwined with external relations. It should not be, but Malaysia makes use of external diversions to contain internal problems, not with panache but as a rabble rouser. Its attacks on the United States is misplaced. It should not have, not when the US has provided, during the Cold War, a nuclear umbrella and is its largest trading partner. Malaysia was so carried away by Dr Mahathir's rhetoric that it did not see which side its bread is buttered.

And this comes home to roost with a vengeance. So the arrests must be seen also as a deliberate attempt to damn its critics overseas and, pardoxically, mend bridges by saying it would be harsh on fundamentalist Islam. But it is not one, in present circumstances, that would earn Dr Mahathir credit. He must now decide if he should go to the UN General Assembly and to Shanghai for the APEC summit. If he does not meet President Bush at either, he must find other ways to assuage his reputation. That is why there is doubt about the claims about the Malaysian Mujahidin.

M.G.G. Pillai