Thursday, June 30, 2011

Teaching Jihad in Indonesian Prisons

A sweeping crackdown on terrorism in the past decade has spawned a new problem in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation: Militants in jail are recruiting new followers to their cause.

Prisons threaten to undermine the progress made against terrorism here since 2002, when nightclub bombings killed 202 people on the tourist island of Bali, many of them Australians and Americans.

The campaign has assumed global importance because of feared links between Southeast Asian terrorist groups and Al Qaeda. That possibility was underlined by the January arrest of Bali bombing suspect Umar Patek in Abbottabad, the same Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

The Associated Press was granted two days of unfettered access to Porong prison in early June by the chief warden, who wanted to show that changes were being made to limit the influence of jihadist inmates. While there were improvements, interviews with terrorists and other convicts show how openly the former still court some of the latter.

Porong is a huddle of low concrete buildings set on 40 acres (15 hectares) near Surabaya, the country’s second-biggest city. It is home to 27 terrorists — some of the 150 currently held in prisons across the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.

Block F is technically reserved for terrorists but also accommodates about 50 others because of overcrowding. The prison, designed to hold 1,000 inmates, has 1,327.

An elaborate green garden flourishes in the thick heat. Bearded terrorists tend ducks, and fish splash in small ponds. Some militants play sports with other inmates, while others read the Koran or teach Islam to ordinary prisoners.

“We only explain what they should know about jihad,” said Syamsuddin, who is serving a life sentence for his role in a gun attack on a karaoke club in Ambon that killed two Christians in 2005. “It’s up to them whether to accept it or not.”

Syamsuddin was trained in bomb-making by alleged Al Qaeda terrorist Omar al-Farouq during Muslim-Christian conflict in Ambon between 1999 and 2002.

Muhammad Syarif Tarabubun, a former police officer, was sentenced to 15 years for his role in the same attack. He laughed easily and smiled broadly as he explained his extremist views. He said he plans to join a jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq or Lebanon after his likely early release in 2013 for good behavior.

“The death of Osama bin Laden will not ruin our spirit for jihad,” he said. “We do it not for a figure. We do it for God’s blessing.”

Radicalization is common in Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s overcrowded prisons, where thousands of terrorists and insurgents mix freely with others, according to a 15-country study by the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence.

In the US, Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, managed to send inflammatory messages from his prison cell to followers in Egypt. There is debate over whether and how far Islamic radicals are infiltrating U.S. prisons.

One exception may be Saudi Arabia, which is fending off radicalization in prisons through an unusually well-funded and comprehensive program. Its “golden handcuffs” approach of finding wives for captured terrorists and enmeshing them in a web of personal, financial, religious and professional obligations once released is regarded as pioneering.

In Indonesia, experts say, some radicals finish their sentences with an even greater commitment to deadly jihad. Of 120 arrested and 25 killed in raids since February 2010, some 26 had previously been in prison for terrorist acts, according to the International Crisis Group, which researches deadly conflict.

Sidney Jones, one of the group’s Southeast Asia terrorism experts, calls Indonesia’s prisons the weakest link in the counterterrorism effort. “It’s going to undermine everything that the police are doing to break up these networks,” she said.

Porong prison, though immaculately clean and far from grim, has ceilings that leak copiously during the rainy season and swarms of mosquitoes at night. Inmates are allowed out of their gray windowless cells from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Within Block F, a small shop is a favorite gathering place.

Nearby, nine men wearing traditional Muslim shirts sit on a floor listening intently to a religious lesson by Maulana Yusuf Wibisono, who stockpiled explosives for a 2004 suicide bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta that killed 10 people.

These men, part of the ordinary prison population, diligently copy what Wibisono writes on a small white board.

“It’s still too early to invite them for jihad,” said the 42-year-old terrorist. He is the former leader of the East Java military wing of Jemaah Islamiyah, the group behind the 2002 Bali bombing. “To change their way of life is more important.”

Many are in awe of the terrorists’ piety and dangerous reputations. Militants also get extra food and other goods, both from supporters and through police attempts at rehabilitation, adding to their sway in prison. Often bearded and clad in robes, sarongs or ankle pants, they stand out from the other inmates.

“Don’t judge them as bad guys,” said Frans Sandi, who is serving 13 years for murdering his wife. He is a regular at Wisibono’s religious instruction. “They are even able to turn bad guys into good.”

He is now well versed in the Koran, fasts and never misses the call to pray five times day — things he had never done in the past.

His budding faith is seen by terrorists as a necessary step toward accepting their extremist version of Islam. While his good behavior and piety may earn him an early release, his debt to the radicals could one day see him used as a terrorist enabler.

“These men understand that wider support for their activities is crucial to the longevity of their movement,” says “Jihadists in Jail,” a report released in May by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “That’s why they continue their dakwah [religious outreach]å in prison to ensure they can recruit new members and that their own zeal for militant jihad isn’t diminished.”

Radical preachers, too, have played a role in recruiting behind bars.

In Sukamiskin prison, cleric Aman Abdurrahman won over three students arrested for a hazing death. They were re-arrested last year during a raid on a terror training camp in Aceh province.

Another firebrand cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, was sentenced recently to 15 years for supporting the Aceh camp. Experts say the imprisonment of Bashir, who co-founded Jemaah Islamiyah, is unlikely to stop him from providing crucial spiritual sanction for terrorism.

Though there have been several more attacks since the Bali bombings, none has been anywhere near as deadly. Analysts credit a crackdown that has netted nearly 700 militants since 2000, including police killings of several key leaders.

But Indonesia, where more than 100 million still live in poverty, lacks the resources to mount a comprehensive program to persuade convicted terrorists to renounce violence. And dozens of Jemaah Islamiyah members are due for release in the coming three years.

“In the absence of a really concerted program, ... you are going to see most of them going back to their networks for the simple reason that those networks are based on family ties,” said Carl Ungerer, author of the Jihadists in Jail report.

Nur Achmad, the chief warden at Porong, said he was shocked when he took over late last year to see regular inmates moving freely in and out of Block F. Some had changed their appearance, lengthening their hair and beards in imitation of the militants.

“I have to stop this,” Achmad said. “I don’t want them spreading radicalism to other inmates.”

Prisoners from other blocks are now restricted from entering Block F. Those in the block are allowed to study Islam with the militants but under tighter supervision, including what kind of instruction can be given. Closed-circuit television cameras have been installed.

The extremists have protested Achmad’s changes in letters to the police and the justice and human rights ministries. He also received threatening text messages, warning him that his daily routine and family’s whereabouts were known, and that a network outside the prison could harm him.

Government officials acknowledge that reforming radicals isn’t easy. “This program has so far not yielded optimum results,” said Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency.

Sometimes the best that can be achieved is a shaky commitment not to wage jihad at home - potentially exporting the problem abroad.

For Slamet Widodo, sentenced to five years for his role in a 2003 bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12, violent jihad remains an obligation as long as Muslims suffer injustice.

“But now we know Indonesia is not a proper place for the field of jihad,” said Widodo, a veteran of al-Qaida military training in the early 1990s in Afghanistan.

He is looking further afield while occasionally attending government-run deradicalization sessions.

“If there is a chance to jihad abroad, I would go,” he said. “Why not?”

Associated Press
By Niniek Karmini

Bombings Pick up in Burma

Some hit close to home, in the government's new capital of Naypyidaw

Burma, despite supposedly being under the tight control of an overwhelming military that has cracked down brutally on opposition demonstrations, has become the scene of a growing number of bombings against the regime from rebel forces in recent weeks.

The latest occurred Wednesday when a powerful bomb exploded in the key Pegu Region town of Taungoo, the base of the Burmese government's Southern Regional Military Command headquarters, while a second exploded in Mon State and two buses were set ablaze. While no casualties were reported in the Taungoo blast, the bomb tore a hole in the front of a municipal building, witnesses said.

“The blast made a huge hole in front of the hall,” a local physician said of the Taungoo blast. “Shortly after the blast, security forces came to view the site and blocked access to the area.”

The bombings follow three others that hit major northern cities including the new capital that the ruling junta built for itself at Naypyidaw, 320 km north of the old colonial capital of Rangoon, as well as a spate of other attacks. The Naypyidaw blast injured three people and destroyed a house. The other bombs were reported in Mandalay, where a vehicle was destroyed, and in the city of Pyn Oo Lwin, 670 km north of Rangoon.

The New Light of Myanmar, considered to be a mouthpiece for the Burmese government, accused three Shan men of responsibility for the series of bomb blasts although no one has yet been arrested.

“Sai Kyaw Myint Oo, Sai Hsam and Sai Aik rented houses and bought a cheap car without a license with the intention of detonating bombs in Naypyidaw, Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin simultaneously,” the newspaper said. “In doing so, they spent 4.74 million kyat [US $5,600] on house rentals and 6 million kyat on the car—a total of over 10 million kyat. Their aim was to cause death and panic among the public. They left the car in front of a crowded Mandalay Zaycho Market apartment; then detonated the bomb.”

The report said the individuals, described as “culprits,” had rented houses in Naypyidaw and Pyin Oo Lwin, according to testimonies given by various neighbors. However, the chairman of the Burma Lawyers’ Council, Thein Oo, called the report a direct insult, not only to the three men, but also their families, and their nationality.

“They can’t use the word ‘culprit’ because they haven’t arrested anyone yet,” Thein Oo said. “We have to recognize that nobody is guilty before they are charged by a court. The authorities must use the word ‘suspects’ for them, just as the international community is doing.” He described the accusation as a political move due to a recent surge in the conflict in northern Shan State between government forces and the Shan rebels.

Whenever there is an incident such as a bomb explosion in Burma, the government and the authorities usually accuse ethnic armed groups through the state-owned media, observers say.

Because it is a Southern Regional Military Command base, Taungoo is a strategic town situated en route to Naypyidaw in the north and another key town in Pegu Region, Prome, to the west. It is also on the road east towards Karani State’s Loikaw and Karen State’s Than Daung. On June 18, an unknown group of armed men launched a rocket propelled grenade attack on a hydropower project only 14 miles from Taungoo.
The Mon State bomb exploded behind the township authority office in the town of Thanbyuzayat at 12:30am on Wednesday morning.

“It was only one bomb and did not cause any causalities or damage,” a resident told The Irrawaddy by phone on Wednesday. But the bomb blast was not the only recent trouble to have occurred in Mon State. Local sources revealed that an unknown armed group also torched two buses at Thar Yar Aye village between Thanbyuzayat and Lamine townships.

The buses were set afire at around 9 am on Wednesday, according to an eyewitness who was a passenger on one of the buses.

“They stopped around 20 buses at the same time and set fire to two of them. They took away six people—some of whom were bus drivers,” he said. “I did not dare to look at their faces and don't know why they shot the buses and burned them.”

These latest bomb attacks come soon after the National League for Democracy revealed that their leader Aung San Suu Kyi had planned travel outside of former capital Rangoon this week, but has since postponed visiting regional areas until July. The government has warned the National League for Democracy not to become too active politically.
Regarding Friday's three explosions in upper Burma, the state media has accused three men with ethnic Shan names of being the bombers. “Sai Kyaw Myint Oo, Sai Hsam and Sai Aik rented houses and bought a cheap car without a license with the intention of detonating bombs in Naypyidaw, Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin simultaneously,” The New Light of Myanmar said.

Yet another bomb exploded on May 17 aboard a Rangoon-Mandalay train, killing two people and injuring nine others. In that explosion, the government blamed the Karen National Union. It alleged that three Karen explosive experts paid a youth to put the bomb on the train.

Portions of this article appeared in The Irrawaddy, with which Asia Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement

Written by Lawi Weng and Wai Moe, The Irrawaddy

Hong Kong's Autonomy Crumbles

Government sounds the retreat on major policy issues

Hong Kong's autonomy is crumbling by the day as bumbling by an inept and unelected government has invited mainland interference. On June 28 the government announced two major policy retreats, partly it seems in the hope of reducing turnout at ant-government rallies planned for July 1, a holiday that commemorates the end of British colonial rule in 1997.

But these retreats came not as the result of a response to public opinion or the views of experts but to the views of Beijing's Liaison Office in the territory, an offshoot of central government's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. In one case the U-turn followed just a day after the Liaison Office publicly indicated a need for a change in a proposed law. The second followed less public pressure from the same source. The government of Chief Executive Donald Tsang thus compounded its policy errors by being seen to be simply a cipher, incapable of making its own decision without prompting from Beijing.

The first case concerned a proposal to change the electoral law to end by-elections for Legislative Council seats so that if any legislator resigned, died or retired his place would be filled by the next closest loser in his constituency. This proposal was itself using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It followed the resignation last year of several pro-democracy legislators who wanted to use the subsequent bye-election, in which they all stood, as a de facto referendum on political reform. This was a minor embarrassment to the government but scarcely a warranted clumsy and controversial response.

The proposed change in the law resulted in a barrage of objections including from the Bar Council and Law Society, representing the two branches of the legal profession, as well as from pro-democracy groups who generally enjoy popular support. But the government refused to budge and was, as ever, loyally supported by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) the Communist party's local surrogate.

However, when word came from the Liaison Office that the row was damaging harmony, the government and the DAB jumped to attention. An amendment was rolled out which, it was hoped, would silence the critics. There would still be no by-election but the seat would go to the next candidate from the same party on the list.

This is not likely to end the matter as it is argued that by-elections are a proper part of the system and anyway there are not necessarily other party members on the list for a particular constituency. It may face legal challenges. However, the issue may go quiet for a while – at least until after July 1.

The second U-turn involved a restriction on the access of mainland mothers-to-be to Hong Kong hospitals. The government has announced an annual quota of 34,000, of which only 3,400 would be at public hospitals. There is wide local support for some limits given the overcrowding of maternity wards. Mainland wives account for about 40 percent of all births in Hong Kong. But there is also sympathy for the mainland wives of Hong Kong residents who would be affected by the quota as well as "maternity tourists" who give birth there either because of the medical standards, or because of the right of abode for all locally born people, or both. Now the government is to make some as yet unspecified relaxation of the system for the mainland wives of Hong Kong residents.

While seeming to make a reasonable response to modify an overly rigid rule, the government stands accused of responding not to local feelings but to the Liaison Office, which is supposed to keep its nose out of local issues. In the maternity quotas case, the Liaison Office might have some claim to be looking after mainlanders interests. But it has no business at all interfering on the bye-election issue.

It is part of Beijing's dilemma over Hong Kong. It wants weak leaders who will do as they are told. But it then finds that they prove so unpopular that it feels it has to publicly intervene to change the territory's policy. This it did in 2003 when it forced the ouster first of the Secretary for Security Regina Ip for raising public ire to a fever pitch over a proposed law on sedition, and then in 2005 when it removed amiable but incompetent Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, replacing him with lifetime bureaucrat Donald Tsang.

But Tsang's administration has been particularly inept over the past few months and has a long record of being indecisive. Screw-ups and U-turns have probably ended the chances of chief secretary for administration, billionaire princeling Henry Tang, from succeeding Tsang whose term ends next year. But they also show up Beijing's problem in finding someone who is both competent and respected in Hong Kong and who can be seen locally to stand up for its interests without being seen as difficult for Beijing to tolerate.

Meanwhile legal autonomy also ebbed recently with a narrow decision by the Court of Final Appeal to refer to the National Peoples' Congress the issue of whether Hong Kong courts have jurisdiction in a commercial case involving a sovereign state, in this case the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under Hong Kong British legal precedent, sovereign immunity does not apply in such cases while China does not concede any limit to sovereignty. The NPC is almost certain to rule that Hong Kong does not have jurisdiction. (It doesn't help Hong Kong that a mainland state company would also be loser if the claim against the Congo succeeded).

The case did involve complex legal questions but the Hong Kong government has itself partly to blame for the erosion of local autonomy which resulted. Instead of leaving the case entirely to the concerned parties, the government in deference to Beijing argued before the Court of Final Appeal against Hong Kong's jurisdictional right. That may well have swung the matter, which was decided on a 3-2 majority verdict.

But no one can accuse Beijing of going out of its way to interfere. Sometimes it appears that way simply because senior Hong Kong officials want to impress it with displays of "patriotism" by being "more Catholic than the Pope". Other times, like now, it stems from exasperation at the incompetence of out-of-touch officials. Hong Kong's problems are lack of leadership and a dysfunctional political system, not overt interference. Asia Sentinel

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The myth of the Indonesian population boom

In the Global Competitiveness Report recently released by the World Economic Forum, Indonesian competitiveness has made a significant improvement. According to the report, Indonesia ranks 44th among 139 countries, leaping by 10 places since 2005, the strongest progress among G20 member countries.

The report states that “Indonesia now compares favorably with the BRICS, with the notable exception of China (27th). Indonesia precedes India (51st), South Africa (54th), Brazil (59th) and Russia (63rd)”.

A common indicator among the BRICS is their large population, and the report cites that among other indicators of social and economic improvement, Indonesia’s huge population and its growing middle class have helped improve its competitiveness remarkably.

The World Bank estimates that every year 7 million Indonesians join the middle income group.

The BRICS, along with much of the rest of the world, have seen a rapid expansion in population over the past half century.

More than 3 billion people currently reside in the BRIC nations, more than double the number in 1960, accounting for approximately 45 percent of the world’s total population.

However, BRICs’ aggregate population growth is set to slow in the years ahead, according to the most recent revision of the UN population projections. These long-range projections provide a good directional sense of future population trends.

Over the next 50 years, only India’s population will continue to expand, nearing 1.7 billion people by 2060.

Brazil’s population is expected to remain stable in the next 25-35 years, while China’s population will start to decline within the next two decades. Russia’s population has been shrinking, from 148.5 million in 1995 to 143 million today.

While there is no mention at all in the report on the challenge for Indonesia to address its growing population, some sectors in government and the community believe a high population growth will endanger Indonesia’s future economic performance.

Indonesia’s population during the period from 2000 to 2010 grew at least 3.5 million births per year and in the next five years will exceed 250 million people.

Many have quickly put the blame on the poor and low-income groups with large families as the culprit for the uncontrolled population growth, which in turn results in an increase in poverty and triggers various social, economic, security, ecological and public health problems.

Responses in the media to the birth of so many babies every year in this country have been awesome; it has the pitch of fear, the modality of warning and the timbre of impending doomsday.

They have certainly stirred many minds and steered such minds to “obvious” conclusions: the pills, the condoms and the birth control.

The Indonesian population pre-sents a challenge to economic performance. People have to be fed, clothed, housed, schooled and later employed. Can the Indonesian economy provide enough for all? Can the poor afford to pay for all those basic needs?

A million babies a year means many things to many people. To pessimists it means only more schools that have to be built, more mouths that have to be fed and obviously more people that have to crowd into the limited space we have. This is the materialistic outlook that many of us in Indonesia have believed in for so long.

There is nothing wrong with these diviners with their sad vision of the future, except that one gets a very uneasy feeling over their disregard for the past.

At a time when the United States has gone past a GNP of US$1 trillion per year, with a population of more than 200 million, one should not miss staring at its record: Its income rose the fastest at a time when its population was rising most rapidly. It was also the 20th century that saw the US population multiply by six times when its economy flew off to its own stratospheric levels.

Indonesia is going to repeat history although on a slightly different level. Indonesia has just passed a half trillion dollars of GNP level and is projected to reach the $1 trillion mark in the not too distant future.

With the current population of more than 230 million, one should not miss to notice the rapid increase of its income when its population continues to rise, and to expect the same will happen when its population rises rapidly as experienced by many countries soon after they reached a $3,000 per capita income mark.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently outlined a “master plan” to lift the country’s growth rate to a level on par with emerging-market superstars like China and India by boosting investment and lowering government barriers to growth.

The plan will push annual economic growth in the world’s fourth-most populous country to between 8 and 9 percent.

But this will only be a dream if Indonesian population growth rate is kept further below the healthy rate of 2.1 percent per annum, just like what Brazil, China and Russia, which have started to experience a “demographic winter” that makes their population become old before becoming rich.

We will fail to see that 3.5 million newly born babies every year are actually the hope for the future.

Indeed, many factors could explain the impressive economic record of industrialized economies like the US; one being the improved productivity and innovative capacity of their people due to higher quality of education.

The countries that have since grown to be rich no doubt faced the same problems that vex us today. They had schools to build, more food to produce and had to crowd themselves into cities. But all these were made possible precisely because income was rising faster than the population.

Economic performance had won, is winning and has good prospects of continuing to win in the future; in fact a growing population provides a strong hope for these prospects — provided we keep our resolve to keep on going and growing.

By Stefan S. Handoyo, senior business economist and expert on business ethics and corporate governance.

The Chinese Communist Party's 90th Birthday

Why the party could be its own worst enemy

As the Chinese Communist Party marks its 90th birthday on July 1 with fanfare and self-congratulatory rhetoric, it is also pulling out all the stops to defuse unprecedented challenges to the party’s supremacy.

Since a series of “color revolutions” swept the Middle East and North Africa earlier this year, state-security units have gone into overdrive, detaining hundreds of dissidents, public intellectuals, NGO activists and human rights lawyers.

While the leadership under President Hu Jintao seems convinced that “hostile anti-China forces” presumably led by the US are trying to subvert the country, the prime threat to the CCP’s proverbial “long reign and perennial stability” doesn’t come from any Western conspiracy.

Given the central government’s wealth – it holds US$3 trillion in foreign-exchange reserves – an economic crisis precipitated by factors such as the bursting of the real-estate bubble is unlikely to derail the regime. And the party’s labyrinthine control apparatus is probably viable enough to prevent the estimated 180,000 cases of riots and disturbances a year from throwing the party out of power.

The party’s worst enemy is itself, or more preciously, its fast-declining ability to effectively manage the affairs of 1.4 billion people. Despite its bloated bureaucracy, Beijing has been unable to tackle age-old malaises ranging from contaminated foodstuffs and a deteriorating environment to endemic corruption. And it is the CCP’s worsening problem-solving capabilities that will likely prove its undoing.

A few examples suffice to illustrate this conundrum. While Chinese consumers have for more than two decades been hit by fake food, liquor, medicines and other sub-standard and dangerous merchandises, the government should have taken the milk-powder scandal of 2008 as a wake-up call.

Six babies were killed and hundreds of thousands of infants poisoned after consuming melamine-tainted milk powder. Yet despite the government’s vow to clamp down on unscrupulous manufacturers, the situation keeps growing worse. Flooding the market these few years have been sulfur-steamed ginseng, plaster tofu, dyed bread, salted duck eggs containing carcinogenic chemicals, artificial honey, donkey-hide gelatin, and cooking oil that has been “recycled” from used oil and lard scooped up from the gutters. And to top it all: contaminated dairy products, this time milk that has been “enriched” by hydrolyzed leather, returned with a vengeance this spring.

Then there is the government’s failure since the start of the reform era 33 years ago to do anything about environmental and ecological degradation. Some 25 percent of China’s land area has succumbed to desertification. A “worst-in-50-years” drought hit five downstream provinces of the Yangtze River in the spring. The recent protests in Inner Mongolia were caused by allegations that Mongolia’s once-pristine grasslands had been systemically polluted by Han Chinese-dominated mining and industrial companies.

Pollutants from coal mines, factories, and other sources have been responsible for an upsurge of cancer, now the nation’s No. 1 killer. It doesn’t help that the government has done nothing to stop cigarette smoking. A recent report said that by 2030, 3.5 million Chinese could die each year from smoking-related diseases, compared with 1.2 million casualties in 2005.

Consider also Beijing’s failure to do anything about “land grab,” which is a major cause of protests and riots in China. For more than a decade, residents in urban and rural areas have been intimidated by greedy developers – who are often in cahoots with corrupt officials – to vacate their domiciles in return for puny payoffs.

The government waited until early this year to lay down rules forbidding land expropriation or at least guaranteeing sufficient compensation for forced-out residents. The recent attempt by suicide-bomber Qian Mingqi – whose house had been confiscated by the authorities ten years ago – to vent his frustration by blowing up two government buildings in Jiangxi Province, however, shows there isn’t much trust in these belated regulations.

What is behind this administrative dysfunction of humongous proportions? On the surface, it seems a mere case of bureaucratic buck-passing. For example, one reason why pollution has gone unchecked is that the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) lacks the clout to enforce relevant regulations. MEP Minister Zhou Shengxian has the same party and government ranking – and in several cases, is more junior to – provincial and municipal party secretaries and governors. The latter do not feel duty-bound to carry out Environmental Ministry edicts.

Yet the establishment of a high-powered unit may not be the solution. Early last year, the central government set up an inter-departmental National Food Safety Commission to ensure what the domestic media call “dining-table safety.” The NFSC is headed by First Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who is also a member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee. The profusion of food scandals the past year, however, shows the Commission is not doing its job properly.

The crux of the problem, then, lies deeper than administrative inefficiency. Firstly, the Party doesn’t learn from its mistakes. One need not mention the leadership’s notorious refusal to acknowledge that fiascos ranging from the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) to the Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 were policy failures of the highest magnitude.

Much worse is the fact that victims of these man-made disasters have been subject to relentless harassment. They range from the Tiananmen Mothers – parents of the victims of the June 4 massacre – to Zhao Lianhe, the activist who has sought compensation for the victims of the melamine-tainted milk. Meanwhile, petitioners, a reference to citizens with grievances who want to seek help from central-level departments, have been locked away by police or even set upon by thugs.

More significantly, party authorities from the central to local levels are regarded as reluctant to tackle socio-economic ills and injustices because they are in league with the perpetrators.

Given that profits from land sales and taxation from real-estate transactions make up more than half of the income of regional administrations, collusion between government officials and property developers is widespread. This explains why the land-grab phenomenon will not go away any time soon.

The same factors lie behind environmental woes. There is well-documented evidence to show that polluters have greased the pawns of officials at both the central and local levels. Yet corruption can hardly be eradicated if it originates within the CCP, which is the sole power center in the country.

This is despite the fact that China has an extraordinarily large number of party and government departments dedicated to fighting corruption. Graft-busters include the CCP Central Commission on Disciplinary Inspection, which is headed by Standing Committee member He Guoqiang; the Ministry of Supervision; and Anti-Corruption Bureaus within the Procuratorates (or Prosecutor’s Offices).

In the name of preserving stability – and the CCP’s “perennial ruling-party status” – Beijing has mothballed political reforms that could be the only answer to China’s quandary.

Senior cadres including National People’s Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo recently reiterated that China would never adopt “Western institutions” such as multi-party politics, the tripartite division of power, the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, and freedom of the press.

Yet without proper checks and balances as well as media scrutiny, socio-political ailments will only fester – and tear asunder China’s already tenuous social fabric.

As the CCP celebrates an important watershed in its history, its top cadres may want to ask themselves whether their single-minded crusade to monopolize power at all costs may not be the surest guarantee that its days in power are numbered. By Willy Lam

Singapore Quiets the South China Sea

The island republic reacts sharply to China's claims to the entire body of water

The South China Sea, roiled by competing claims to the Spratly and other islands, should be in for a period of relative quiet following recent encounters, demonstrations and diplomatic exchanges. However the events of recent weeks and months will leave a lasting mark on the perceptions and attitudes of all the players, particularly those in Southeast Asia.

Of the most recent developments, perhaps the most significant but least noticed in the international media was Singapore's sharp reaction to the activities of a Chinese maritime patrol vessel, the Haixun-31. Singapore has no island claims in that sea and has generally tried to keep on good terms with China despite its key importance to US military capability in the region.

However it does have a very obvious interest in freedom of navigation as a trading and shipping hub. Indeed Singapore's veteran diplomat and lawyer Tommy Koh was president of the 1980-82 conference that resulted in the UN Convention on Law of the Sea, which laid down rules for determining sea boundaries, navigation and sea resources and seabed rights. China ratified this treaty, which came into force in 1994, in 2006, but opted out of its disputes procedure. The United States signed it but Congress has yet to ratify it.

Singapore was angered by the docking of the Haixun 31 in Singapore on June 19 after a journey which took it through the South China Sea and hence through most of the disputed waters and close to some of the disputed islands and rocks. It had been presented to Singapore as the friendly and long-arranged port visit by a non-military vessel. In practice it was no such thing as China's own media itself proclaimed. The People's Daily, official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said the vessel was carrying out checks on "oil rigs, stationary ships' operations in constructions and surveys…and will conduct checks on foreign ships navigating, anchored and operating in Chinese waters".

In other words the Haixun was set up for just the kind of Chinese harassment of exploration work and fishing activities off their coasts of which Vietnam and the Philippines have been bitterly complaining.

Singapore not only reiterated its own interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea but called on China to "clarify its claims with more precision as the current ambiguity as to their extent has caused serious concerns in the international maritime community."

Of course China has no intention of such clarification beyond a general assertion to all islands, rocks and banks in the sea and a vague demarcation line which comes close to the coasts of the adjacent littoral states, well within the 200 miles Exclusive Economic Zones to which they say they are supposedly entitled under the law.

The Haixun voyage thus appears to have backfired on China and forced Singapore into a more openly adversarial posture.

Likewise China's actions have forced the United States to respond to Philippine requests that it reaffirm its commitment to that nation's defense. The US has always taken the position that it is neutral on South China Sea claims and as former colonial ruler had never claimed the Spratlys (which were claimed by the French as part of Vietnam). However Philippine annoyance at what many saw as the US's distancing itself from its former possession combined with pressure on President Benigno S.Aquino III to be seen to respond to repeated Chinese harassment pushed the US to sound more supportive. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed "we are determined and committed to supporting the defense of the Philippines" and promised US help to modernize the pitiful Philippine navy and improve its intelligence capability in its waters. The two countries have also launched a small joint naval exercise involving two US missile destroyers.

Meanwhile China and Vietnam have decided to cool things for the moment. After weeks of acrimony and more, they managed a high level meeting on June 26 between Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo and Vietnamese deputy Foreign Minister Ho Xuan So, at which they promised to resolve territorial disputes peacefully and in accordance with the Declaration of Conduct on the South China Sea disputes agreed between ASEAN members and China in 2002 – though China insists that the matters are all bilateral and do not involve ASEAN itself. Both sides agreed to "strengthen public opinion to prevent words and actions" from exacerbating the situation. Hence one can expect, for now, a cessation of Chinese harassment of Vietnam's exploration activities and an end to the officially tolerated, if not sponsored, anti-China demonstrations in Vietnam.

But nothing will now stop naval buildups by all parties, an extension of US naval cooperation to Vietnam and the strengthening of US ties with other littoral states including Indonesia and Singapore which lie just outside Chinese claimed areas but too close for comfort. By Philip Bowring

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thailand's Fickle Democracy

There is little doubt that Thais like the idea of democracy. They have been fighting for it on and off since 1932, when absolute monarchy was overthrown.

Most Thais will vote on July 3 for the third time in six years. Campaigning is feverish, posters omnipresent and a raucous — though not entirely free — media offer endless news, comment and speculation. Even those Thais who dislike the results mostly shy away from openly opposing democracy.

Yet this election is about Thailand’s repeated failure to agree on what constitutes democracy and on how democracy fits with the older institutions — the monarchy, the military and the centralized bureaucracy. Those failures have been seen in the cycle of elections and coups that has repeated itself since the 1973 overthrow of the Thanom Kittikachorn dictatorship.

But two things are different that make this election especially important and also unlikely to resolve political tensions.

The first is the personality of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled prime minister deposed by a coup in 2006 who is fighting this election through a surrogate party, Pheu Thai, headed by his photogenic youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thailand has had several democratically elected prime ministers but none aimed for, let alone achieved, populist appeal. They got to the top through deal-making between parties. Thaksin, however, was an authentic populist who identified the potential power of the nation’s poorer classes and used his wealth and organizing ability to exploit it. Whether Thaksin was an authentic democrat is another matter.

The second is a broad generational change that manifests itself in different ways. Income and wealth gaps are wide and getting wider but there is no shortage of work; Thailand now relies on about three million foreign workers, mostly from Myanmar, to do its dirtiest jobs. Political awareness has increased thanks to education and the ubiquitous media creating a feeling among many Thais, particularly in the lower income groups, that they are not getting a fair share of the cake. Generational change also affects views of the role of the old institutions at a time when thoughts are on succession to the king, now 83.

For Thaksin’s defenders the problem has been the unwillingness of the military and monarchists to accept democracy: Thaksin was overthrown, the Constitution was changed, and many Thaksin supporters believe the judiciary was manipulated to oust two prime ministers. They see the incumbent prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party, as a front for conservative forces that want a veto over who is prime minister, and, as in Bangkok last spring, is willing to use violence against peaceful demonstrators.

The anti-Thaksin forces accuse him, with some reason, of abusing his power in office for personal and political gain, and undermining the institutions and checks and balances built into the 1997 constitution — then viewed as a democratic model. Less convincingly, Thaksin’s opponents also accuse him of fomenting antimonarchist sentiment and threatening economic stability through populist spending on low-cost health services and aid for farmers.

So the country has two choices. An Abhisit government that has proven competent but owes its existence to the military and is viewed by many to represent a self-interested elite, a choice that risks a backlash in the streets by backers of Thaksin. Or, a return to the Thaksin camp, a choice that risks a possible crackdown by the military.

This being Thailand some kind of deal is always possible, even one that allows for the eventual return and pardon of Thaksin. Money speaks loudly in Thai politics, and big business, though tending to be critical of Thaksin, is more concerned with avoiding political mayhem.

Given the passions that Thaksin arouses and that the king is no longer seen as peacemaker between factions, finding a liberal and democratic way forward will not be easy. Neither Thaksin nor his military and monarchist enemies are at ease with the freedoms, rules and compromises necessary for democratic politics. But most Thais are, which suggests that the election will neither resolve nor worsen the tensions arising from economic success and social change. By PHILIP BOWRING for International Herald Tribune

Germany and China-Mr Wen goes to Berlin

THE Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, is visiting three countries on his European tour this week. But his previous stops, in Hungary and Britain, were sideshows next to today’s visit to Germany. To this Mr Wen has brought 13 ministers (to meet their ten German counterparts). The two countries plan to sign 22 co-operation agreements and 14 economic deals. The meetings mark the start of permanent consultations, a relationship Germany has with just a handful of countries and that China has had until now with none. Before Mr Wen’s visit China issued a “white book” on its relations with Germany, its first such report on a European country.

It is a meeting of winners whose economic relationship is deepening by the day. Trade leaped nearly 40% in 2010 to €130 billion ($185 billion); that accounts for one-third of the European Union’s total trade with China. German companies have invested some €21 billion there. Investment flows the other way are small but growing, and Germany wants more. The widespread fear of Chinese economic might—as Charlemagne wrote yesterday, the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, is soon to issue a paper saying that China “is taking over Europe”—found little echo in Berlin as Mr Wen came to town.

The visit marks the final burial of the ill feeling that erupted four years ago when the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, had the temerity to receive the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of restive Tibet, in her office. One Chinese diplomat grumbled at the time that Mrs Merkel viewed China as a bigger version of communist East Germany, where she was born and raised.

That is all forgotten, at least on the official level. In an apparent gesture of goodwill towards Europe, last week China released from detention Ai Weiwei, an artist, and Hu Jia, another dissident. Still, China continues to bridle at the attention paid by ordinary Germans to its human-rights abuses. In a bizarre column for Handelsblatt, a business newspaper, China's vice-foreign minister complained of “arrogant accusations” by the German press.

For their part, the Germans want to avoid making their relationship with China look too mercenary. “Intensive polit. & econ. relations with China are in Germ. interest, don’t rule out plain talk on human rights,” tweeted the government spokesman, Steffen Seibert. But neither country wants such issues to spoil the mood.

For the moment, interests matter more than values. The United States remains Germany’s most important ally, but on economic issues the world’s top two exporters increasingly speak the same language. Germany and China joined forces at last year’s G20 summit in Seoul to block an American proposal to cap current-account imbalances.

Long-running economic arguments may, slowly, be abating. Although China’s lax protection of intellectual-property rights remains an irritant, it is modelling its patent-protection standards on those of Germany rather than on the weaker practices of the United States, notes Michael Hüther of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.
Some tensions continue to fester. The EU, of which Germany is the weightiest member, still does not recognise China as a market economy, which exposes it to trade sanctions. A new dispute has flared up over the EU’s plans to tax carbon emissions on flights to and from Europe. China has threatened to boycott purchases of Airbus planes over the issue.

Yet Mr Wen and Mrs Merkel are unlikely to let such concerns get in the way of their burgeoning friendship. “Whatever global issue we have, China is part of the problem and part of the solution,” says Eberhard Sandschneider of the German Council on Foreign Relations. Along with its western allies, Germany wants Chinese help to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, restrain North Korea’s aggression, pacify Sudan (which is about to split up into two separate countries) and avert climate catastrophe. The EU’s failure to act coherently on foreign policy makes Germany by default China’s most important European partner.

The flurry of contacts and agreements between German and Chinese ministers touches on everything from hospital management to electric cars. The creation of a mechanism for such discussions is more important than the subject matter (even if Chinese ministers count for less than Communist party bosses). Such consultations have helped Germany and France through rough patches in their relationship, points out Mr Sandschneider. They mean that “you have to meet on a regular basis, whether you like it or not.” The Economist

Monday, June 27, 2011

Promise of autonomy for south Thailand

As Thais wait to vote in the July 3 general election, there is even more focus now on the troubled south, with both Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his rival, Yingluck Shinawatra, promising greater power to the three provinces

THE motorcycle bomb burned the 27-year-old woman so badly her father only recognised her by a tattoo. She lost half her face and an arm in the attack by shadowy Muslim separatists in Thailand's troubled deep south.

"The wound was awful. She must have suffered enormously," said her father, Athorn Buakwan, a Buddhist farmer, as he held a framed photograph of his daughter and recalled his frantic search for her on the afternoon she was killed and 17 others were wounded in a market in the capital of Yala province.

That Feb 21 attack is one of many illustrating the growing sophistication of a Muslim insurgency that has killed at least 4,500 people since 2004 in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, a region of dense jungles and rubber plantations just a few hours' drive from world-class beach resorts.

Contained within a far-flung fringe of Thailand, the conflict gets scant attention from international media. And yet the death toll it has brought over just seven years exceeds the casualties in Northern Ireland's three decades of troubles.

Now, as a security force of 60,000 struggles to contain the violence, Thailand's July 3 election is reviving a debate over how to end it. With no easy answers and more violence looking inevitable, the campaign is touching a taboo in Buddhist Thailand: more political power for its minority Muslims.

A central question is whether the provinces on Malaysia's doorstep -- Yala, Narathiwat and Pattani -- should be allowed greater autonomy, a sensitive issue in Thailand which annexed the region in 1909 when it was an independent Malay sultanate.

Successive governments have sought, with mixed results, to assimilate the population into the Thai Buddhist mainstream. About 94 per cent of its 1.7 million people are Muslim and about 80 per cent speak a Malay dialect as a first language, according to a survey last year by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation.

They chafe at the presence of Buddhist provincial governors appointed by the Interior Ministry in Bangkok and want more say in their own affairs.

"If you talk to people on all sides of the political divide, they recognise the need for decentralisation of power, but it is unspeakable," said Duncan McCargo, a professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds in England.

"Admitting you need to decentralise power in the south is to admit there is a problem with the legitimacy of the Thai state."

But the issue is making headlines. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva flew to Yala last Tuesday, promising more power to municipalities if his Democrat Party wins the election, a shift from past policies focused on economic and social development but not quite the semi-autonomy locals want.

After coming to power in 2008, he declared politics, not the army, would bring peace. But the unrelenting bloodshed, and the absence of a Muslim in his cabinet, could cost him votes.

After winning 11 of the region's 12 seats in a 2005 election, they took just five in the next polls in 2007. Locals say he will struggle to hold those.

His rival and national front-runner, Yingluck Shinawatra, a sister of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, said in Yala the previous week that she would turn the three provinces into a special administrative zone with one elected governor.

The proposal faced swift criticism from army chief Prayuth Chanocha, who was instrumental in the coup that toppled her brother. "Any action that may serve to undermine our strength or weaken state authority should be of concern," he said. "What is important is that Thais are Thais."

Not all Muslims embrace her idea, either. Fifty-one per cent of those surveyed by the Asia Foundation opposed folding the provinces into a single elected government. Most want elected governors in all three provinces.

Yingluck has another problem: her brother is blamed for fuelling the dramatic rise in violence from 2004. He dismantled a southern security body and replaced it with an abusive and heavy-handed force. But while in power from 2001 to 2006, he appointed a Muslim to a ministerial role, winning some support.

Former army chief Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, a prominent Muslim who oversaw the 2006 coup, has launched his own party, Matubhum, and predicts he will win at least eight seats -- enough to have influence in a possible coalition government.

He reckons he can solve the conflict within the year. His solution: a ministry that would tackle the unrest and direct election of governors in the three provinces.

The insurgency is becoming more tactical, better organised and more precise in its hits, experts say. In the first five months of this year, for instance, militants set off five car bombs, compared with just three over the whole of 2010.

The number of violent incidents, mostly gunfire and bombs, averaged about 70 a month from January to May, killing an average 41 people a month, up slightly from last year.

The insurgents' goals are murky but are believed to involve separatism or at least greater autonomy. However, Western diplomats believe only about half of the violence is insurgency-related, with the rest linked to the drug trade or organised crime.

Most experts believe attacks are organised by the Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) Coordinate, an offshoot of the Patani National Revolutionary Front, established in the 1960s to seek independence.

Another group, the Patani United Liberation Front (Pulo), publicly calls for a separatist state and claims to control much of the insurgency.

"I hope this election will bring a strong Thai government. For the past 10 years, it has been very weak governments which cannot make any decisions," said Kasturi Mahkota, foreign affairs chief of Pulo who lives in Sweden and has led talks with the Thai government on ending the fighting.

Amid the almost-daily violence, Muslims and Buddhists, who lived harmoniously together for generations, are increasingly drifting apart.

More Muslims have been killed than Buddhists in the insurgency because they are often targeted for working for the state or businesses tied to Buddhists, or for refusing to cooperate with insurgents. -- Reuters

Bombings make Jemaah Islamiyah presence felt across Philippines

The Asian-based terrorist cell Jemaah Islamiya (JI) is making its presence felt in the country through bombing operations

The spokesman of the Philippine Army 6th Infantry Division, Col. Prudencio Asto, disclosed Monday that the bombing incident that happened early morning in front of the provincial satellite auditing office in Kidapawan, North Cotabato was the handiwork of the members of local JI members.

The perpetrators, Asto said, were among those trained Muhammad Usman Basit of the JI special operations group who specialized in bomb making, especially improvised explosive device (IED).

“[Their motive] of course [is] to make havoc to the populace and inform that they are still around. They’re making their presence felt. This is the instruction of Usman to them,” he added.

Asto explained that he has no doubt Basit’s men were responsible for the bombing as shown by their style and frequency of execution and based on the evidence recovered that showed that an IED was used.

According to Asto, the group has no direct targets and just do it at random without really the intention to harm but only to show that they were still around and prove that they were successfully trained in bomb making.

He added that they have intensified their operations against the group by deploying more soldiers in populated areas and set-up additional checkpoints as the group is always on the move.

It was earlier reported that Basit, along with 11 other militants, was killed by an American drone attack in Pakistan. The US State Department has placed a $1million reward on his head.

But the military disputed it, saying that Basit is still alive and just hiding in Mindanao.

Police Senior Superintendent Cornelio Salinas, police chief of Kidapawan City, said there was no casualty during the explosion.

In his report to the PNP high command in Camp Crame, Salinas said the IED was devised from a 60millimeter mortar and was detonated through a cellphone.

Indonesia struggles to protect human rights

Though the demise of its authoritarian rule is now 13 years past, Indonesia still struggles to protect human rights, as the state repeatedly finds itself embroiled in criminal acts against its citizens, a report says.

A one-year review by the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), which wraps up in June, identified 30 incidents in which citizens were brutally tortured by the usual suspects, the police and the army, through interrogation and efforts to intimidate. Kontras asserts that the figure only represented the tip of the iceberg, as victims seldom have the courage or the means to report the abuses.

Within the first week of August 2010, serious human rights abuses happened in Ambon as the police — which included the Detachment 88 counterterrorism squad — arrested 23 citizens for alleged involvement in the South Maluku Republic (RMS) separatist movement.

From the arrests, Kontras identified at least 13 out of the 23 who were tortured by methods that included punching and kicking, being beaten with wooden blocks, suffocation and sexual abuse. The arrests were made without warrants and the suspects were not granted legal assistance during their detention. Kontras said what happened in Ambon was consistent with the characteristics of human rights abuses by the police during interrogation processes in most criminal investigations.

Kontras identified seven cases of human rights abuses committed by the military. An incident that attracted international attention was a YouTube video of two Papuans being tortured by military officers in October. The video shows a man holding a knife against the throat of another man who is almost completely naked and lying on the ground. In another scene, a man with a black bag on his head presses a glowing-hot bamboo stick against another man’s genitals. Three officers were later tried in a military court for the crime.

Kontras coordinator Haris Azhar argues that the practice of torture remains persistent among law enforcement officers because laws that prosecute torture by government officials are non-existent.

“It still happens because the government is not serious; there is no punishment for torture acts. Military and police officers who torture are just punished with disciplinary sanctions but there is no hard punishment for torture,” he said during the release of Kontras review on Saturday in conjunction with the commemoration of the UN’s international day in support of victims of torture.

Harris said Indonesia had no specific law stipulating criminal prosecution in accordance with the definition on torture as outlined in the United Nations Convention against Torture, which was ratified by the government in 1998.

“We urge the government — especially the Law and Human Rights Ministry — to design a bill to prevent torture and punish those who practice it. The criminalization of torture will be an important key and alternative measure because the deliberation of the amendment on the penal code has yet to be finished.” (rcf) The Jakarta Post

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW REPORT The Insurgency in Afghanistan’s Heartland

Kabul/Brussels, 27 June 2011: Collusion between insurgent elements and corrupt government officials in Kabul and the nearby provinces has increased, leading to a profusion of criminal networks in the Afghan heartland.

The Insurgency in Afghanistan’s Heartland, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, shows that despite efforts to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan’s south, stability in the centre has steadily eroded. Transcending the limits of its traditional Pashtun base, the Taliban is bolstering its influence in the central-eastern provinces by installing shadow governments and tapping into the vulnerabilities of a central government crippled by corruption and deeply dependent on a corrosive war economy.

“Although the number of major attacks in Kabul has recently declined, insurgent networks have been able to reinforce their gains in provinces and districts close to the city, launching smaller attacks on soft targets”, says Crisis Group Senior Analyst for Afghanistan, Candace Rondeaux. “Taliban attacks inside the capital are not aimed at controlling it physically but capturing it psychologically”.

Nearly a decade after the U.S.-led military intervention began, insecurity and the inflow of billions of dollars in international assistance has failed to strengthen significantly the state’s capacity to provide security or basic services. Instead, by progressively fusing the interests of political gatekeepers and insurgent commanders, it has provided new opportunities for criminals and insurgents to expand their influence inside the government. With nearly one fifth of the country’s population residing in Kabul and its surrounding provinces, the heartland is pivotal to the plan for Afghan forces to take over from international troops by the end of 2014. It appears doubtful that President Hamid Karzai’s government will be able to contain the threat and stabilise the country by then. Following the announcement by President Barack Obama on 22 June 2011 of U.S. plans to withdraw 33,000 troops by September 2012, the insurgency is likely to push harder to gain more ground before the final phase of the military drawdown.

Stabilisation and improving security beyond Kabul will depend on confronting corruption in the capital and outlying areas. This will require a comprehensive reassessment of current anti-corruption efforts, which so far have proven ineffective. Building capacity in the judicial sector while weeding out corruption is crucial for lasting reform.

More support is needed for Afghan agencies with the combined mandate of countering corruption, organised crime and terrorism financing such as the Special Investigations Unit, the Major Crimes Task Force, and the Financial Transactions Reports Analysis Centre of Afghanistan. A broad review of the policies and operational practices of the country’s national intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security will also be important to ensure against abuses of power that may further fuel the insurgency.

“With just three years left before the bulk of international forces withdraw, the window of opportunity to expand security outside Kabul is fast closing”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group Asia Program Director. “The fight against the insurgency can no longer be limited to the battlefield. It is time to recognise the real front in Kabul”.

BALI latest updates

Om Swastiastu the full report at

In local news there was a fatal bus crash in north Bali on June 18th claiming the life of a domestic traveler and injuring tens of others. Dead fish and changing watercolors at Lake Batur continue to baffle local scientists. And, "Bali Nine" member Australian Andrew Chan's appeal to have his death sentence commuted to life in prison fails before the Indonesian Supreme Court.

The BIZNET Bali International Triathlon was held Sunday, June 26th with a record number of participants. Read our coverage in this week's update.

The chairman of the ASITA committee focused on the Chinese market is hopping mad that the people behind the now-closed SAY LOVE BALI travel agency have not been put in jail. Find out why in our coverage. The Bali Consumer Protection Agency complains Bali taximeters need closer scrutiny to prevent visitors from being victimized while on holiday..

In development news: Bali's governor says Bali is too attractive to Indonesian job seekers, resulting in crowding and overpopulation. We have two articles on a Bali rail system, now promised to be up-and-running by 2014. There's information on beach erosion and some thoughtful comments from "Pak" Lolec and what Bali must do to regain its fading charms.

In aviation news, Garuda is appealing a court decision that found their in-flight magazine in the wrong in how it portrayed the Son of Indonesia's former president Soeharto in an article on a Pecatu entertainment complex.

We have a video clip from Jonas Thomassen – a Norwegian musical star who chose Bali and a Bali filmmaker for his new MTV video clip.

We also have news of a change of command at the Bali Culinary Professionals Association.

Looking ahead:
• On July 7th there is a special dinner at The Laguna Luxury Collection featuring Donnafugata Sicilian Wines.
• August 5 – 25 an exhibition of paintings by Davina Stephens at the Ganehsa Gallery at the Four Seasons Resort on Jimbaran Bay.

See the exciting video clip in this week's article on "Devdan – Treasures of the Archipelago" - the latest breathtaking theatrical show opening the Nusa Dua Theatre.

Om Çanti Çanti Çanti Om ...

J.M. Daniels - Bali Update
Bali Discovery Tours

Malaysian Arrests Are a Puzzle

Opposition party members arrested on allegations of seeking to overthrow the king

The arrest Sunday by Malaysian security forces of a Socialist Party member of parliament and 30 others for allegedly intending to wage war against the country’s Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or king, appears to be a throwback to 50 years ago when Communists still thronged the country’s jungles.

The arrest has opposition party members scratching their heads in confusion and attempting to discern what actually happened at a police checkpoint in Penang, where police said the party members had been found with subversive materials instigating an overthrow of the government.

Opposition figures said the 30 were on a campaign swing in the north of the country to seek to generate support for a bigger rally on July 9 that has police – and the ruling Barisan Nasional – much more clearly worried. Sources within the United Malays National Organization, the country’s biggest ethnic political party and the leader of the ruling Barisan Nasional, say that rally, by an organization called Bersih, or the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, an umbrella group encompassing 64 civil-society groups, has been hijacked by Pakatan Rakyat, the three-party opposition coalition made up principally of Parti Islam se-Malaysia, the Democratic Action Party and Parti Keadilan Rakyat, headed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

The Bersih rally’s organizers say they are not connected to any political parties. Although the July 9 rally has been declared illegal by the police, the organizers, headed by Ambiga Sreenevasan, the former president of the Bar Council, say they plan to march through the streets of Kuala Lumpur to deliver a petition to the Agong, whom Parti Sosialis supposedly wants to overthrow.

Adding to police concerns, the Malay nationalist NGO Perkasa, led by firebrand Ibrahim Ali, and the youth division of UMNO say they will hold counter-rallies, increasing the possibility of violent confrontation. Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has said that he wouldn’t rule out using the country’s strict Internal Security Act, which allows in effect for indefinite detention, on the organizers of the Bersih rally, but maintained that other laws will be used for now.

Indeed, the security establishment has considerable reason for concern even without the counter-rallies. A massive rally in Kuala Lumpur in November 2007 by led by Bersih brought 40,000 people to the streets in one of the biggest anti-government rallies Malaysia had seen to that point. It was a harbinger of the March, 2008 vote that cost the Barisan Nasional its two-thirds lock on Parliament and the leadership of five states.

That rally turned central Kuala Lumpur into chaos as baton-wielding riot police used water cannon and tear gas to try and thwart an attempt by tens of thousands of marchers to deliver a petition to Malaysia’s king, asking for royal intervention in delivering electoral reform.

As the current Bersih rally has become closer to reality, the government has grown more concerned, warning that any violence would be met with force.

“The Bersih marches have been hijacked by opposition parties ahead of pending national elections in a bid to cause unrest while clamoring for electoral reform despite the elections that yielded huge gains for the opposition,” said a lawyer close to Umno. “Furthermore, elements of the outlawed communist Party of Malaya have reared their ugly head with the tacit backing from the DAP and the Bar Council, which is widely seen as engaging the ruling Umno Government to dilute its Malay privileges and national identity that places Islam as its official religion. How else to explain the arrests of 30 Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) activists in Penang late Saturday, apparently under section 122 of the Penal Code which arraigns rebellion against the king?”

The Penang deputy police chief, Abdul Rahim Jaafar said police seized 28 T-shirts, eight of which bore pictures of figures such as the long-dead Argentine revolutionary figure Che Guevara, from the 30 Parti Sosialis members. As a flock of critics pointed out, the Che T-shirts can be bought all over the night markets of Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

Although the Communists were defeated in 1960, the insurgency dragged on in the northern jungles on the Thai border until 1989, almost unnoticed by the bulk of Malaysians, who had got about the business of turning their country into a capitalist, exporting powerhouse that made Communism basically irrelevant. With the insurgency over for the past 22 years, the Communist Party remains outlawed and the party’s elderly longtime leader, Chin Peng, remains outside the country despite a plea to be allowed to come back so that he could die with his family.

Opposition figures including the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang ridiculed the arrests, saying on his blog that they were more an indication over the government’s “fret and fever” over the planned July 9 march that “has driven elements of our security establishment nuts.”

“The arrest and remand for seven days of 30 individuals (including two juveniles in their teens), apparently for having in their possession certain paraphernalia including T-shirts with images of former communist leaders, for waging war against the King is a reflection of such a clampdown,” he told the news website Malaysian Insider.

“By analogy, if one were to be at home wearing a Che Guevara (the Marxist revolutionary) T-shirt listening to a song attacking the institution of royalty by either The Smiths or The Sex Pistols, one faces a very real likelihood of being investigated for waging war against the King. This surely cannot be.”

“The Communist Party is an outlawed political organisation. It is unlawful to display and promote communist elements,” Abdul Rahim, the police official, told reporters. Among other things, he said, some of the Ts-shirts bore the emblem of what looked like the Barisan Nasional logo being cut with a pair of scissors, and the words Anti-Capitalism and Udahlah tu.. Bersaralah (That's enough, retire).

Other items confiscated included copies of the Sosialis Party organ in various languages along with 600 pamphlets advertising the Bersih rally. Some, Abdul Rahim said, contained “seditious content.”

Most of those arrested have been ordered held for seven days.
Asia Sentinel

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Exclusive: Indonesian Terrorist Leader’s Son Set To Take Reins

The man feared as the new face of terrorism finally enters the small room in central Java through a path his followers create as they shuffle back to let him through.
He is 30 minutes late. “He’s a very busy man,” explained a boy, barely 15, who had acted as a messenger, announcing my arrival and using the delay to practise his English and ask about Australia. He is talking about Abdul Rohim, the son of jailed Jemaah Islamiyah leader Abu Bakar Bashir, and the man now considered crown prince of the jihad movement.

Tall, charismatic and intelligent, Rohim is the mirror opposite of the frail, ranting Bashir. It is for this reason that analysts consider him one of the biggest threats in the violent jihad movement with the ability to far surpass the influence of his father. He is also apparently untouchable. Despite being an accused terrorist and the alleged point man between al-Qaida and South-East Asian terror groups, Rohim has remained out of reach of authorities. The 32-year-old is believed to have lived with September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheaikh Mohammed and is accused of being an active member of al-Qaida during the New York attacks, running a militant cell in Pakistan and serving as one of the terrorist group’s propaganda men in both Kandahar and Karachi.

When the allegations are put to him, it is the only time in the hour-long meeting that he breaks into English, throwing his head back and laughing: “They lie to you! If I’m connected to al-Qaida, they should have arrested me a long time ago, right?” Untilrecently, Rohim had been operating in the shadows but he agreed to be interviewed if the meeting took place in Ngruki, in central Java, at his father’s al-Mukmin school, the alma mater of a string of terrorists, including executed Bali bombers, brothers Mukhlas and Amrozi.

Above one of the rooms is a sign: “Death in the way of Allah is our highest aspiration.”

Nearby, two boys are sitting on their father’s lap, reading a book with pictures of Bashir on its cover. Rohim’s handshake is firm and he holds your gaze longer than is comfortable. It is a week since Bashir was jailed and he says Indonesian Muslims feel the anger of betrayal — by the Indonesian Government and by the West, including Australia.

“Australia represents the West and its allies, it’s very much anti-Islam,” he says.
“This sentiment was shown when John Howard campaigned fiercely against Abu Bakar Bashir, saying that he’s a terrorist and Indonesia was a hotbed for terrorists.
These were obvious efforts done by Australia to fight against Islam in Indonesia so we see Australia is no different to the West and its allies, particularly the United States. “From our understanding, based on the Koran, Allah (God) told us that infidels will always try to fight Muslims, trying to rip you from your religion.

Perhaps you’ll get a different version if you ask Australia about this, but we believe the Koran states that they will continue to fight us, trying to make us leave the Koran, to leave sharia, to leave Allah and the Prophet’s teachings. That’s information we received from our God.”

It is a battle Rohim believes will never end. But unlike his father, he says (at least publicly) that Christianity and Islam can co-exist if the rights of Muslims are respected. Australia could work towards this, he says, by introducing sharia courts.

“I think it’s a right that should be given by the Australian Government,” he says. With Bashir behind bars, Rohim is being seen as the anointed leader of a new generation of extremists, a man poised to take over from where his father left off.

But it is his past that has authorities worried and has him elevated on several terrorist watch lists. His accusers include notorious terrorist Hambali’s younger brother Gun-Gun Rusman Gunawan and convicted Australian terrorist Jack Roche, who claimed at his trial that Rohim had played an important role in Pakistan between 1999 and 2002 and had picked him up at the airport in Karachi and took him to meet Khalid.

Rohim denies all the allegations, saying his accusers were corrupt. But there is no denying his long-terms links to militants. He examined Amrozi and Muklas’ bodies after they were shot by firing squad, saying they were smiling and smelled of an “extraordinary perfume” that was not from the soap used to clean them. If the West thought the executions would extinguish the jihad, he says, they were wrong.

“Allah said that they (Christians) will continue to fight against you until the end of time,” he says. “We believe that it is them who do not believe in tolerance. The infidels have always caused disturbance against Muslims. Muslims believe that if we get attacked then we have to rise up for jihad. The resurgence of Islam for jihad is actually caused by the infidels, we didn’t start this uproar.” The West Australian Steve Pennells

The Peril of withdrawing Troops too early from Afghanistan

OBAMA has made good on his pledge to begin drawing down American forces in Afghanistan, but his stated strategy is unlikely to lead to a successful withdrawal.
Mr. Obama announced last week that 10,000 troops would come home by December and another 23,000 by next summer. By 2014, he confidently proclaimed, “the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.”

Administration hawks, largely in the military, are uneasy; they had wanted to go slower, so as to safeguard recent gains made against the Taliban. Administration doves, largely in the White House, are disappointed; they had wanted to pull back faster, seeing the killing of Osama bin Laden as an ideal opportunity to get out.
The president split the difference, suggesting that he was charting a “centered course.” But he has actually once again evaded the fundamental choice between accepting the costs of staying and the risks of leaving.

What he needs is a strategy for getting out without turning a retreat into a rout — and he would be wise to borrow one from the last American administration to extricate itself from a thankless, seemingly endless counterinsurgency in a remote and strategically marginal region. Mr. Obama should ask himself, in short: What would Nixon do?

Richard M. Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, tried to manage the risks of exiting the Vietnam War by masking their withdrawal with deliberate deception and aggressive covering fire. They almost succeeded — and if tried again in today’s more favorable environment, their strategy would most likely work.

The Nixonian approach has its costs: it would generate charges of lying, escalation and betrayal. And embracing it would require the president to display a deftness and a tough-mindedness he has rarely shown. But it could also provide the ticket home. Indeed, Mr. Obama’s best option is to repeat Mr. Nixon’s Vietnam endgame and hope for a different outcome — to get 1973, one might say, without having it followed by 1975.

It may seem crazy to regard the American withdrawal from Vietnam as anything but disastrous. Our local ally collapsed two years after signing a peace deal, our enemies triumphantly conquered the country we had fought for more than a decade to defend, and the image of panicked friends reaching in vain for the last helicopter out of Saigon remains seared into our national consciousness. But Mr. Nixon actually did a lot right in Vietnam, and his approach there was not the primary cause of the war’s ignominious end.

In late 1969, faced with increasing domestic pressure to end the war, the president and Mr. Kissinger settled on a strategy to reduce the American role in ground combat while fending off a South Vietnamese collapse. They sought to walk away from the war, get American prisoners back and avoid formally betraying an ally — something they believed would damage America’s reputation. They recognized that their approach would leave the South Vietnamese vulnerable following the American withdrawal, but considered that an acceptable price to pay for getting out.

They never said this last bit publicly, of course. But in private, they were more candid, as the White House tapes showed. During an August 1972 Oval Office chat, Mr. Nixon told Mr. Kissinger:

“Let’s be perfectly cold-blooded about it.... I look at the tide of history out there, South Vietnam probably is never gonna survive anyway.... [C]an we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now or two years from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam?”

Mr. Kissinger replied that American policy could remain viable if Saigon’s collapse “ looks as if it’s the result of South Vietnamese incompetence. If we now sell out in such a way that, say, in a three- to four-month period, we have pushed President Thieu over the brink.... it will worry everybody... So we’ve got to find some formula that holds the thing together a year or two, after which... no one will give a damn.”

By Gideon Rose editor of Foreign Affairs and author of “How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle.” IHT

Thailand's general election Lucky Yingluck

Even copying their opponent’s policies has done the ruling party little good
WITH little more than a week to go before polling day on July 3rd, it is clear that the opposition Pheu Thai (PT) party will win more seats than any other in Thailand’s 500-strong parliament. This will mark an extraordinary comeback for the unofficial leader of PT, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister ousted in a military coup in 2006 and now living in exile in Dubai as a fugitive from Thai justice. Some even predict that PT may win an outright majority, though a hung parliament looks more likely. But in Thai politics merely winning an election is not enough; whether PT gets to form a government is another matter entirely.

The surge of enthusiasm for PT owes a lot not only to Mr Thaksin’s enduring popularity among Thailand’s rural poor, but also to the dizzying rise of the official party leader, his younger sister Yingluck, who was unknown only a month or so ago. When Mr Thaksin picked her to lead PT into the election many dismissed it as a quixotic, even bizarre gesture. It turns out to have been a stroke of genius.

The 44-year-old businesswoman has never held or campaigned for political office before. Yet she behaves as if she has been doing it all her life and has completely wrong-footed her main opponent, Abhisit Vejjajiva, the prime minister and leader of the Democrat Party that heads the ruling coalition. At the start of the campaign the two rivals were just about even. It is mostly Ms Yingluck’s bravura campaigning that has opened up the gap. Mr Thaksin described his younger sister as his “clone”. In fact, she brings her own qualities and attributes to the campaign, drawing in people beyond the PT base.

A fresher face even than the relatively youthful 47-year-old Mr Abhisit, and a woman campaigning in the very male world of Thai politics, she has injected a buzz and excitement into the election. Her seasoned, pragmatic campaign managers have exploited her looks and easy-going nature to the full. She, for her part, has played the perfect candidate by sticking closely to her sound bites and smiling ceaselessly at the camera.

As to her policies (not that her adoring supporters care), she has promised to continue the populist economic programmes of her brother when he was prime minister from 2001 to 2006. She promises, for instance, to give free Tablet PCs to about 1m new schoolchildren and to raise the minimum wage. But, aware that triumph for Mr Thaksin’s party will undoubtedly rile those (such as the army) who got rid of him in a 2006 coup, she has struck a conciliatory tone. She vows that there will no revenge for the coup, and that she won’t rush into devising amnesties for Mr Thaksin. For all the enthusiasm of his “red shirt” supporters, he remains a divisive figure.

Even with the advantages of incumbency, the Democrat Party has floundered. Their rather bewildered campaign manager concedes that the timing of Ms Yingluck’s candidature, pretty much on the day the campaign began, was brilliant. She stole the headlines and has never looked back—and a month is just long enough to remain an exciting novelty while avoiding serious scrutiny. Some mutter that she could yet have to answer to charges of perjury arising from the sale of Mr Thaksin’s telecoms company five years ago, but that will have to wait until after July 3rd.

In contrast to the smiley-feely Ms Yingluck, Mr Abhisit and his deputy and finance minister, Korn Chatikavanij, are both Oxford-educated technocrats, less polished at working a crowd. Mr Abhisit has looked less stiff on the stump than in past elections, though it doesn’t come naturally. One recent afternoon, he walked the length of a market in Bangkok, shaking hands, posing for photos with vendors and residents, a yellow garland draped around his powder-blue shirt and windbreaker.

Supporters foisted gifts on him; cakes, flowers and the odd baby. He smiled—but it might as well have been a wince. Arriving at a community centre where former drug addicts had gathered on plastic chairs, he launched into a detailed analysis of why Mr Thaksin’s hardline policies against dealers did not work. He lost the audience’s attention.

It does not help that the Democrat Party has proposed a lot of similarly populist economic policies to PT’s. In the scramble for votes, especially among Mr Thaksin’s core constituency of poorer supporters, the Democrat Party—against its better instincts—has also made a lot of expensive promises. It is offering subsidies for rice farmers and its own version of a hike in the minimum wage. One academic commentator, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, has called this campaign the “race to the populist bottom”. Mr Korn has costed PT’s populism at a whopping 2.06 trillion baht ($68 billion) in the first year, but the Democrats aren’t doing so badly either.

These promises of largesse alienate their traditional supporters in business, nervous about having to pay for the new wages, and do Ms Yingluck no damage.

The minnows will decide

For all the focus on Mr Abhisit and Ms Yingluck, if neither wins an outright majority of seats, then it will (as usual) be Thailand’s smaller parties that play a decisive role in a hung parliament. None has any ideology; they will simply haggle for ministerial posts and local pork.

Bhumjaithai, a vehicle for Newin Chidchob, a banned politician and former Thaksin henchman, could come third, perhaps with 40 or so seats. The party says it will stick with the Democrats, its current partners, and is leery of PT. Another party, Chart Thai Pattana (CTP), is courting both main parties and may well join PT in a flash. Other parties lack the numbers but could add some ballast, particularly if PT is nervous about fraud cases that might disqualify MPs. One tiny party is led by a retired general, Sondhi Boonyaratglin, leader of the coup in 2006, and so an unlikely ally for Thaksinites. But there are no permanent enemies in Thai politics.

And then there is Mr Thaksin’s old foe, the powerful army. Besides staging the 2006 coup, it was instrumental behind the scenes in the formation of the present government. It has promised to stay in its barracks. But a close result and the ensuing horse-trading might tempt it to meddle again—especially if it looks as if Mr Thaksin is on his way back. The Economist

America's risky withdrawal from Afghanistan

An aggressive retreat

AS ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, America’s most senior military officer, confirmed to the House armed services committee on June 23rd, Barack Obama’s plan to cut troop levels in Afghanistan by 10,000 this year and by a further 20,000 or so by September 2011 is a more “aggressive” drawdown than he advised. It is a decision that inevitably adds a new element of risk to realising America’s (and NATO’s) declared objective, namely to create the conditions that will allow all combat operations to be handed over to Afghan national forces by 2014. It may also have inadvertently strengthened the Taliban's hand if and when the “talks about talks”, which are now being conducted through (unreliable) intermediaries, turn into the serious political negotiations that Mr Obama says he wants to take place.

The risk that the new American commander in Afghanistan, Marine General John Allen, will have to take is whether prematurely to start reducing his forces in the south and southwest (primarily Kandahar and Helmand), where huge progress has been made since Mr Obama first ordered the 33,000 troop surge in late-2009, or whether to put fewer resources into delivering the “clear, hold and build” strategy in the east than had previously been planned. He will have to choose between asking Afghan forces to take on much of the heavy lifting in the two most fought-over provinces before they are ready to do so (putting hard-won gains in jeopardy during next year’s fighting season) or accept that it may be impossible to clear out all the pockets of violent insurgency in the east before the 2014 deadline. Mr Obama might reply that generals always want more for longer, but as Admiral Mullen said, more force for more time would have been the safer option.

There may still be a little wriggle room over the precise phasing of the drawdown, however. The concern is that if Mr Obama sticks to his goal of fully unwinding the surge by September next year (well before November’s election), it may look to the Taliban like an open invitation to try and reverse their losses of the last two years. If, on the other hand, the larger part of next year’s 23,000 drawdown is postponed until the very end of 2012, the mission is likely to be in much better shape in 2013. What is critical is that space and time for training and mentoring Afghan army recruits is not dangerously telescoped. The aim is to reach a force of 375,000 by the end of 2012 from the current 300,000. Mr Obama would only have himself to blame if, for entirely domestic political reasons, he undermines the conditions for a security transition to Afghan national forces by 2014 that still looks just about doable. His rush for the exit could yet end up delaying the very thing his is hoping for. The Economist