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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #75

Chapter 11: Learning From Our Successes

Defeat of Communist Terrorists

Long before Malaysia signed that peace treaty with the outlawed Malaysian Communist Party (MCP) in 1989, the insurgency (and communism as an ideology) was a spent force. The mighty Soviet empire, like the Berlin Wall, was already crumbling. Even Red China was paying only lip service to communism’s ideals.

The peace treaty was nothing more than a magnanimous gesture on the part of Prime Minister Mahathir in giving the MCP leader Chin Peng and his emaciated and rapidly decimating followers a chance at collective face-saving, an important Asian tradition.

It was significant that Malaysia was able to defeat the communists, for at about the same time in neighboring South Vietnam the Americans were being humiliated by a ragtag bunch of pajama-clad communist peasants.

While Robert McNamara and his band of “bright boys” at the Pentagon were consumed with “body counts” as their measure of progress in their war against the communists, Malaysian commanders were concerned with making sure that their troops were not being senselessly killed in ambushes or direct battles with the terrorists, or that innocent civilians were not needlessly caught in the crossfire.

The Malaysian commander who successfully prosecuted the war, Major-General Mahmud Sulaiman, went out of his way to make sure that those communists were given every chance to surrender and escape from being killed. His rationale, somewhat counterintuitive but proved brilliantly effective in the end, was that once these terrorists had a “lucky” escape, they would thank their blessed fate and would then mend their ways.

The General’s guiding principle was simple: In fighting terrorists, first create no new ones. He and his civilian superiors, principally Prime Minister Mahathir, did not subscribe to the thinking that once a communist terrorist always a communist terrorist, or that the only good communist terrorist was a dead one. The General saw immense propaganda value in former terrorists who were now alive, repentant, and leading full productive lives.

General Mahmud likened the war against terrorists to getting rid of rats. Killing and poisoning the critters would not do it; they reproduce prolifically. Besides, those toxic chemicals could haunt us in the end by poisoning our pets and ourselves. Retrieving rotting rats from hidden crevices could also be problematic. Clear the garbage and get rid of the debris, and you would go a long way towards solving the problem.

Malaysia treated its struggle against the communists less as a military exercise and more as a psychological battle for the minds and hearts of the people. Progress was measured not in body counts or number of enemies captured rather in lessening the sympathy the insurgents would command with the populace, and shifting the people’s allegiance away from them and towards the government.

Malaysia’s victory holds important lessons for the world, in particular America in its current battle against Al Qaeda terrorists. Malaysia too would do well to remember these important lessons as it meets future challenges from Muslim and other extremists within its midst.

Elsewhere, brilliant strategists like Major-General Mahmud Sulaiman would be amply recognized if not adulated. General Collin Powel who successfully executed the First Gulf War against Iraq went on to be State Secretary. He commanded premium fees on the lecture circuit, and his memoirs sold by the millions. Today few Malaysians, citizens and leaders alike, remember Major-General Mahmud Sulaiman. Then Prime Minister Hussein Onn bypassed the General to be the nation’s Chief of Armed Services, so the General subsequently resigned.

It was sad that Malay leaders like Hussein Onn did not recognize the General’s talent even after it was so dramatically demonstrated. It took a foreigner to recognize, and recognized early, the potential genius in Mahmud Sulaiman. General Templar, Britain’s High Commissioner to Malaysia (top colonial officer), picked young Mahmud back in the 1950s to be sent to Sandhurst. Yet another reason for Malaysia to be grateful to Templar!

I wonder what would happen to a young Mahmud had he been born today. Lamentably, it is a recurring theme that I revisit often, of Malaysia and specifically the Malay community and its leaders not recognizing and nurturing talent within its midst.

Looking back to the successful strategy against the communists, it now seemed easy and obvious. Not so then. Thus we now belittle those earlier struggles precisely because there were no heroic battles or the equivalent of Hamburger Hill to remind today’s generations of the pivotal decisions that were being made by their leaders then.

As a consequence, today we have attempts at revising history, as exemplified by the recent publication of Chin Peng’s memoirs written with the help of two British leftist writers.1 Fortunately that book flopped in the marketplace, despite the tireless flogging by its publisher. I am glad that Malaysians are not interested in the self-serving accounts of a murderer. I am forever grateful that Malaysia was led by the Tunku and not by thugs like Chin Peng. If we can believe his account, Chin Peng is claiming the mantle of leadership for the independence movement. Such delusion! Nothing could erase the fact that he killed and maimed many innocent lives.

Chin Peng is now trying to use the court system to seek his return to Malaysia. Imagine an outlaw belatedly having faith in the court system! If he should succeed, he should be prosecuted for the crimes he committed. There is no statute of limitation for murder and other heinous crimes. His victims too should seek civil remedies in the courts for the damages this cold-blooded terrorist had inflicted upon them and their loved ones.

Next: Economic Growth with Equity


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a bit disingenuous on your part to say, “It was significant that Malaysia was able to defeat the communists, for at about the same time in neighboring South Vietnam the Americans were being humiliated by a ragtag bunch of pajama-clad communist peasants.” The document signed between the MCP and the Malaysian government was not a document of surrender but a termination of hostilities on the 2nd Dec 1989. The Vietnam war ended in January of 1975.There is 14 year gap!

9:22 PM  

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