Sunday, June 30, 2013

Indonesian Officials, Teens and Polygamy

As conservative Islam rises, polygamy flourishes

Luthfi Hasan Ishaaq, the ex-chairman of Indonesia's Islamist-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) is currently on trial for corruption involving receipt of bribes in exchange for issuing higher beef import quotas though the agriculture ministry, which the party controls.

Luthfi also has been accused of funnelling billions of rupiah to his three wives in order to launder money he received in bribes. He says his youngest was already 18 when he married her last year while she was still attending vocational school. The 51-year old Luthfi has 15 children from his marriages, presumably most from his first two wives.

PKS, which fancies itself an upholder of religious virtue, has been rocked by the twin graft scandals, first the beef and then revelation of Luthfi's secret girl-wife and corresponding abuse of power and privilege. Even the original bribery case was mired in sex because an aide to the PKS leader was arrested in the company of a college co-ed he had paid for sex in a luxury Jakarta hotel. Rumor has it that the co-ed has been a frequent companion of many senior PKS figures.

Many men marry extra wives secretly, making exact figures on polygamous marriages hard to determine. Polygamy was legalized in 1974 under Marriage Law No. 1. Men may take up to four wives but women may not take extra husbands.

Polygamy was, however, discouraged and restricted until the end of the reign of Suharto, when Islamic organisations demanded lifts on prohibitions of Islamic practices. In 2000 after pressure from the Muslim Unity Organisation (Persis), the prohibition on public servants having more than one wife was annulled.

Polygamy is permissible under Islam, and also justified by it. Across Islamic parties, the practice is common even though it is frowned upon by large swathes of Indonesian society. Other PKS officials with multiple wives are Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring, and party officials Didin Amaruddin, Anis Matta and Zulkieflimansyah.

In 2009, the Indonesian Women's Solidarity group released a list of polygamous politicians just before the parliamentary and presidential elections and it briefly flared as a campaign issue. However these politicians remain buoyant in their political aspirations, with newly appointed PKS Chairman Anis Matta public about his two wives and soon-to-be 10 children.

In a climate of increasing Islamization of the public sphere and a simultaneous expansion of an educated middle class, polygamy has both its ardent supporters and indignant detractors. "There is no such thing as a polygamous marriage that benefits women," said National Commission on Violence against Women member Andy Yentriyani.

The behavior of PKS, the largest of the country's Islamic parties, leaves Indonesia's human rights and development objectives sorely impoverished. Not only does corruption perpetuate unequal social and economic relations, senior PKS officials send messages that represent impractical and unsustainable family units and broader social economic relations.

A recent Jakarta Globe story quoted Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi as stating that Indonesia's family planning programs had failed, as the 2014 Millennium Development Goals target of 2.1 births per woman was still at 2.6 in 2012. Yet polygamists demonstrate that they are above efforts to decrease excessive births, especially polygamists whose wealth indemnifies them from the concerns of the rural poor who strain to provide resources for large families.

More worryingly, Nafsiah said that child marriages are increasing, which adds to higher maternal mortality rates due to immature reproductive organs.

"Currently, instances of early marriage are increasing, and teenagers under 20 years old are sexually active," she said.

Indonesia's mortality rate is 17,520 cases per year, or two people per hour. Sudibyo Alimoeso, acting chief of the Family Planning Board (BKKBN), also said child marriage is a contributing factor to the number.

However the failures of the family planning board are illustrated by poorly-focused programs such as a counseling campaign to provide more information about the risks of childbirth for sexually immature women, which was only introduced in non-Islamic schools.

In order to address the problem of child marriage, maternal mortality, poverty, and gender inequality, clearly religio-cultural sources such as Islam, should not be ignored, and with it the unequal patriarchal social relations it produces.

Rather than seeing such issues as sites for the formation and contest of masculinity, these behaviors have real consequences for society and for females. Luthfi and Co, with their penchant for teenagers and numerous offspring, perpetuate a cycle of inequality that results in poverty, the entrapment of women to their fertility and dependence on their husbands. This is primarily a problem for developing countries, and those in prominent political positions inadvertently exemplify detrimental traditions that stall women's progress.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes child marriage as a complex and longstanding practice, rooted deeply in gender inequality, tradition and poverty.

"Social pressures within a community can lead families to wed young children. For example, some cultures believe marrying girls before they reach puberty will bring blessings on families. Some societies believe that early marriage will protect young girls from sexual attacks and violence and see it as a way to insure that their daughter will not become pregnant out of wedlock and bring dishonor to the family."

According to the WHO, child marriage is increasingly recognized as a violation of the rights of girls for significant reasons: It ends education, blocking any opportunity to gain vocational and life skills. It exposes girls to the risks of too-early pregnancy, child bearing, and motherhood before they are physically and psychologically ready. It increases their risk of intimate partner sexual violence and HIV infection.

Backwards ways of thinking about women, very young women included, the institutionalization through marriage of women's commodification in sexual relationships, the care and maintenance by multiple females of a central male patriarch, and even the benefit of multiple wives as vessels for the disbursement of illicit funds, are perpetuated and legitimised by officials like those in PKS.

(Lauren Gumbs is a human rights student at Curtin University in Perth and holds a masters degree in Communications. She resides in East Java.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Malaysia Ends Operation to Flush Out Philippine Gunmen

Malaysian soldiers move into Kampung Tanduo, where troops stormed the camp of an armed Filipino group, in Lahad Datu, Sabah state March 7, 2013, in this picture provided by Malaysia’s Ministry of Defene. (Reuters Photo/Malaysia’s Ministry of Defense/Handout)

Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian authorities Saturday announced that an operation to flush out armed Filipino militants from an eastern state was over, four months after the intruders landed on Borneo island sparking a security crisis.

More than 200 armed followers of a self-styled sultan from the southern Philippines landed in the state of Sabah in February, reviving a centuries-old land claim by the long-defunct Sulu sultanate.
Fighting between the militants and security forces — deemed Malaysia’s worst security crisis in recent years — killed at least 68 Filipinos and 10 Malaysian security personnel.

Musa Aman, chief minister of Sabah state, was quoted by The Star online as saying the operation to chase scattered militant remnants and their sympathisers who were in hiding had ended.
But a security zone has been set up with troops permanently stationed along the coastline where the gunmen landed — previously known for its lawlessness and lax border control.

For centuries, people have moved back and forth across the porous sea border separating Sabah and the adjacent southern Philippines.

The security breach aroused heated sentiments on both sides with many Malaysians outraged over the incursion, while the Philippines came under pressure to protect its citizens’ lives.
Scores of Filipinos captured as part of the operation have been charged in Malaysian courts, including with terrorism-related offenses. Agence France-Presse

Pakistan-Trying the general

UNTIL a few days ago, the received wisdom on the fate of Pervez Musharraf was that Pakistan’s newly elected government would never dare prosecute the former coup leader for past misdeeds. True, prime minister Nawaz Sharif might wish to take revenge against the swaggering general who kicked him out of power in 1999 and sent him into eight years of exile. Mr Sharif, who made his political debut under a military dictator in the 1980s, also has the zeal of a convert when it comes to taming a military establishment that has meddled in state affairs throughout Pakistan’s history. Still, many thought it was simply inconceivable that the generals would tolerate one of their own being humiliated by a civilian court. One diplomat thought that a typically “Pakistani solution” would be found, perhaps using the failing health of Mr Musharraf’s elderly mother as an excuse to let him out of the country.

So there was much surprise when Mr Sharif rose in parliament on June 24th to announce the government would try Mr Musharraf for high treason. Only the government can initiate a trial for high treason. A special court must be established to try such cases. And the crime can result in the death penalty. He was responding to the Supreme Court which had been pestering his government since it took office over its stance on Mr Musharraf.

Since his ill-advised return in March from self-imposed exile to contest elections, which he was subsequently banned from doing, Mr Musharraf has been waylaid by three private prosecution attempts, including one that concentrated on his alleged involvement in the killing of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister in 2007. There chances of these being successful were remote. Not so a high treason charge. It’s an “open and shut case,” according to Salman Raja, a constitutional lawyer, and many others in his profession. They argue that Mr Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule and suspension of the constitution in November 2007 amounts to treason, not least as the Supreme Court has already given a ruling to that effect.

The government says it will not try Mr Musharraf for the violence done to the constitution in 1999 when he seized power in a coup, possibly because his takeover was subsequently ratified by Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, currently the Chief Justice. These days things are less cordial between Mr Musharraf and Mr Chaudhry, one of the primary targets of the 2007 emergency.
The country’s main parties have all fallen into line in support of a trial. But if the legal wrangling grinds on, as seems likely, past the time of Mr Chaudhry’s retirement in December there may be an opportunity for the government to back away from prosecuting Mr Musharraf. That may prove welcome. There is a risk of the trial expanding to encompass people who currently hold leading positions in the army. Whatever his feelings towards the military, Mr Sharif needs them in the fight against Pakistan’s ever bolder militants: on June 10th foreign tourists were murdered in an isolated camp in the usually peaceful northern mountains. Banyan for The Economist

Challenges to ASEAN as an Indo-Pacific security connector

Southeast Asia is emerging in global strategic thinking as a key region

Not only is Southeast Asia pivotal for its close geographical proximity to China, but it also occupies a strategic position connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Southeast Asia could even serve as the geographic centre of the emerging Indo-Pacific system. From an energy security point of view, the Indian Ocean is a crucial transport lane between the Middle East and North Africa’s vast for oil and gas supplies to the center of global growth in the Asia Pacific. As such, regional powers are busily working to increase their influence among the ASEAN countries.

Then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched the 2013 Defence White Paper in May. Many analysts focused on the paper’s significance for Australia–US–China relations, saying that Australia is now taking a more conciliatory approach to the rise of China. But an often overlooked point of importance is that the White Paper emphasises the significance of Southeast Asia’s stability and peace to Australian strategic posture. While we cannot deny the fact that China is still the key to Australia’s defence strategy, there is certainly a paradigm shift of Australian defence posture that sees a growing importance of Southeast Asia.

India too has expressed a renewed interest in Southeast Asia. For instance, during last year’s ASEAN–India Commemorative Summit India agreed to upgrade the 2003 ASEAN–India Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism. India is also investigating the possibility for more bilateral security arrangements with Southeast Asian nations, including through the visit of the Indian Defence Minister A K Antony to Myanmar in January this year.
The United States is also actively approaching Southeast Asia by strengthening its regional military deployments and advancing political and economic relationships.

China, by contrast, is heavily constrained in its intention to advance military cooperation with Southeast Asian due to its disputes with several ASEAN nations over territories in the South China Sea. Nevertheless, China is consistently seeking military-to-military relations in vacuums left by other powers. For instance, China has cooperated with Laos, Myanmar and Thailand to jointly patrol the Mekong River in order to cut down cross-border crime.

In managing security relations with Southeast Asia and in order to shape Indo-Pacific security architecture, regional powers have so far embraced ASEAN-led institutions such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit, and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus. ASEAN has been praised for its commitment to multilateralism under which dialogue and confidence building have become core principles, and the ASEAN-led institutions have provided a positive foundation for regional security cooperation. On the other hand, it is unclear whether ASEAN-led institutions will continue to satisfy the interests of non-ASEAN powers as well as protect interests of ASEAN nations in the future.

Beyond the potential for dissatisfaction among non-ASEAN powers, ASEAN member states themselves present an obstacle to sustaining ASEAN’s centrality. There are at least three issues that need to be seriously addressed. First, ASEAN’s credibility to lead the building of an Indo-Pacific region is weakened by disunity among ASEAN members. The diverse and contrasting positions among the ASEAN states means that the political gravitation of security arrangements risks being dominated by the non-ASEAN powers rather than being led by ASEAN.
Second, existing ASEAN institutions have resulted in varying interpretations and approaches toward political-security issues. Specifically, the system of rotating ASEAN’s chairmanship and its secretary-generalship weakens policy consistency and institutional resolve to deal with particular challenges. For instance, in responding to recent conflicts in Myanmar in which many Muslim Rohingya were killed in the last few months little effort was made by the new secretary-general to contribute to conflict resolution. This is in contrast to the previous secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan who proactively warned Naypyidaw about the dangers of ethnic violence, including proposing tripartite talks between ASEAN, the United Nations and Myanmar. 

Moreover, current chair Brunei Darussalam has made no initiative to address armed wars between the Malaysian government and loyalists of the Sulu Sultanate in Sabah state. In dealing with security issues, ASEAN is excessively dependent on the initiative of the country occupying the chairmanship or the individual secretary-general, rather than structured and binding procedures.

Third, there is the risk of a security dilemma emerging within ASEAN. Feeling insecure about both other ASEAN countries and non-ASEAN powers’ commitments to security alliances, ASEAN nations have been improving their military capabilities. Indonesia, for instance, plans to buy more than a dozen Sukhoi fighter jets and has already secured a contract for 130 Leopard 2 tanks. At the same time, in 2013, Thailand has allocated 5.7 billion US dollars to national defense, a 7 per cent increase from the previous year. As such there is an urgent need for ASEAN to mitigate the risk of a regional arms race.

In a recent speech in Washington, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa proposed the idea of an ‘Indo-Pacific Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation’ in order to advance trust and communication in the region. This is a timely idea as all nations in the Indo-Pacific region heavily need to build further trust in order to foster a sustainable regional peace and stability. Still, it will be a great challenge given the wide geographical scope and the increasingly fluid, unpredictable and complex nature of geopolitical rivalries among nations today. In this current age of uncertain geopolitical change, if ASEAN is to maintain its centrality to the regional cooperation and building process and avoid becoming the object of great power competition, ASEAN member states must find a way to act more cohesively and effectively.

Awidya Santikajaya is a PhD candidate at the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy, College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University. 
This piece was originally published in The Jakarta Post. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pakistan’s new prime minister shows extremism wins elections

The outgoing Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) coalition was inept and corrupt, and failed to revive Pakistan’s economy. It was also perceived as too close to the United States and rather secular (not Islamic enough). This provided adequate justification for the Taliban to bomb many PPP election rallies and kill numerous officials from the PPP and its allies.

PML-N’s support base comprises the Pakistani lower-middle class, small traders and big business. In contrast, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan, the poster boy of the Western media, is supported by young, educated people from the upper-middle class. The PTI, which was unrepresented in the last parliament, will be the third-largest party this time around, with 35-plus seats.

PML-N’s and PTI’s success is due to their links with extremist Islamist groups and the extent to which anti-Americanism has permeated every strata of Pakistani society. It is no coincidence that Imran Khan’s PTI, a one-man band since its inception in 1996, won most of its seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and has formed the provincial government there. Khyber Paktunkhwa is a Taliban stronghold and borders Afghanistan. The PTI could only form government there with the tacit support of Islamist extremists.

About 95 per cent of the seats won by PML-N are from Punjab, a province that is fast radicalising under the influence of Wahhabism, a stern Islamic sect noted for its extreme conservatism. Punjab is the main recruiting ground for most of Pakistan’s major terrorist outfits.
In the campaign, both Imran and Sharif argued US drones facilitated and lent fuel to Pakistan’s Islamic insurgency. It is true the country has lost many lives to war, but Sharif and Khan fail to mention the role Pakistan has played over the last four decades in fuelling Islamist militants: almost all Pakistan’s terrorist groups have been created, trained, financed and sheltered by the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) — the military’s intelligence arm.
Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other terrorist groups were created by General Hamid Gul, who headed the ISI when General Zia ul-Haq was in power. It is widely believed that General Gul still wields enormous influence on these groups; he is also reported to be very close to Imran Khan. The Sharif family, meanwhile, have supported terrorists and provided state funds to such organisations for years. Nawaz’s brother Shahbaz is chief minister of Punjab; Wikileaks revealed his administration tipped off Lashkar-e-Taiba about impending UN sanctions — allowing it to clean out its bank accounts before being raided. Shahbaz’s own budget figures released in 2010, show he gave nearly US$1.2 million to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a charity front of Lashkar-e-Taiba. And the Shahbaz government has released many suspected terrorists from jail, including Malik Ishaq, a founder of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is closely allied to al-Qaeda and a major player in domestic terrorism.

With the election of Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s already shaky commitment to fight terrorism is likely to weaken further. Even mainstream Muslim sects like the Shias may face greater persecution, as Wahhabis do not consider certain sects, like the Ahmadiyyas, to be Muslims.
Religious parties have traditionally supported the Sharif brothers because they support the introduction of Sharia laws. Despite its strong majority, PML-N has invited Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam to join the government. This new coalition partner is a hard line, conservative, pro-Sharia, Islamist party with close links with the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood, and arguably some links with al-Qaeda.

Nawaz Sharif’s election will make the fight against militant Islamists and the dissemination of secular liberal values more difficult. It may also lead to greater Taliban influence in Pakistan and instability in Afghanistan.

But the United States and its Western allies have three things on their side. First, the Pakistani army sees the fight against domestic terrorism as its own. Second, Pakistan’s economy is mired in a debt trap, and China is reluctant to help. Before Sharif can introduce any meaningful economic reform, he will need to negotiate a loan from the IMF. Third, Sharif needs to introduce some tax-collecting measures as part of any economic reform package. Most eligible people do not pay any tax: making them start will dent Sharif’s popularity. With challenges confronting Nawaz Sharif on economic, internal security and many other fronts, in order to stabilise his administration, he needs allies who wield considerable influence on the international stage and have deep pockets.

Dr Vidya Sharma is an advisor on country risk management and inter-country joint ventures.