RIP Karpal Singh

Karpal killed in accident near Kampar
By Radzi Razak and Susan Loone

Veteran opposition MP and lawyer Karpal Singh was killed in an accident near Kampar in Perak this morning.

His long-time personal assistant Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu, 39, was also killed.

Karpal’s son Ram Karpal and the driver were believed to be injured in the accident which occurred at 1.10am near 301.6km northbound marker along the the North-South Highway.

Malaysiakini learnt that Karpal and his son, who is also a lawyer, were heading north for a court case later today.

Contacted later, an Ipoh police spokesperson told Malaysiakini that it is believed the MPV collided with a lorry which switched lanes without indication.

Karpal’s other son and Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo (left) told The Star that his father had died on the spot.

“My brother Ram is slightly injured but we are trying to get through to him,” he added when the daily contacted him at 3.30am.

According to a police statement later, Ram and driver of the ill-fated car, C Selvam, were not injured. However, Karpal’s Indonesian maid suffered severe injuries and she is warded at Ipoh’s Hospital Permaisuri Bainun.

The driver of the lorry involved in the road accident that killed Bukit Gelugor MP Karpal Singh this morning has tested positive for drugs.

The driver of the lorry involved in the road accident that killed Bukit Gelugor MP Karpal Singh this morning has tested positive for drugs.

The driver of the lorry, which was hit behind by Karpal’s car, and its three passengers escaped without injury.

The police said the MPV carrying Karpal and four others hit the slow moving lorry at a hilly stretch of the highway.

The five-tonne lorry was carrying a load of cement, steel and mosaic tiles.

Karpal, 74, was involved in a previous car accident in 2005 where he was paralysed and wheelchair-bound.

The vocal politician graduated from University of Singapore and started his law practice before running for Parliament in 1978.

His long tenure as Jelutong MP and fiery speeches in the Dewan Rakyat earned him the moniker “Tiger of Jelutong”.

Karpal had recently relinquished his post as DAP chairperson pending the disposal of his appeal against a sedition charge.

Last month, the High Court found him guilty of uttering seditious words against the Sultan of Perak at the height of the constitutional crisis in 2009.

PM offers condolences


Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak conveyed his condolences via Twitter.

“I have just landed at Ankara when I heard the news that YB Karpal Singh died in a road accident. My condolences to the family,” read the premier’s tweet.

May his family be brave and steadfast in this trying times. Malaysia has lost another fighter for the people.

May his family be brave and steadfast in this trying times. Malaysia has lost another fighter for the people.

Other netizens also expressed condolences and shock over Karpal’s passing.

“Shocked and sad news! DAP chairman Karpal Singh passed away in accident tonight. Malaysia has lost a truly patriotic son,” wrote Taiping MP Nga Kor Ming.

“Our dear Mr Karpal is no longer with us… I just can’t accept it…,” said Kulai MP Teo Nie Ching.

The bodies of the two deceased, Karpal and Michael, arrived at the Ipoh general hospital at 7.20am.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng (right) and his deputy Mohd Rashid Hasnon, and former Perak menteri besar Nizar Jamaluddin were there.

They conveyed their condolences to Karpal’s sons Gobind and Jagdeep. Karpal’s wife was seen crying, while a relative tried to prevent photos from being taken. The bodies were sent for post-mortem.

BN's Langkawi MP Nawawi Ahmad and also the Chairman of KTMB posted an insensitive collage which he made light of the death of Bukit Gelugor MP Karpal Singh, claiming that it was “not serious”. He however deleted the posting after it became viral.

BN’s Langkawi MP Nawawi Ahmad and also the Chairman of KTMB posted an insensitive collage which he made light of the death of Bukit Gelugor MP Karpal Singh, claiming that it was “not serious”. He however deleted the posting after it became viral.

Gobind said that the family expects the post-mortem to finish at 10.30am, after which they will bring the body back to their family home in Penang by 1pm.

He added that he was informed about the accident at 2.15am, and together with his wife, rushed to the scene. Gobind and his mother, Gurmit Kaur, managed to see Karpal’s body.

The funeral for the veteran politician is expected to be either on Saturday evening or Sunday morning, he added.

“Mr Karpal has family and friends overseas and we are waiting for them to return for his funeral,” he said.

“His body will be kept in our ‎family home along Jalan Utama (Penang),” he added.

Gobind said Ram, who sustained slight bruises, is well.

He also thanked all well-wishers for their support and requested the public to give the grieving family some privacy.

“We will be keeping everyone informed with regular updates,” he added.

At about 8.30am, a man believed to be Karpal’s driver, Selvam, was seen approaching the forensic department in the hospital. He was sobbing but was taken away by several people from the scene.

It is learnt that Karpal’s body will be cremated at the Sikh cremation hall at 11am on Sunday.

The DAP has lost an upstanding and outstanding leader, the nation lost a brilliant legal mind and the rakyat a fearless “tiger” with an indomitable spirit who stood up for the poor, weak defenceless and dispossesed.

The DAP has lost an upstanding and outstanding leader, the nation lost a brilliant legal mind and the rakyat a fearless “tiger” with an indomitable spirit who stood up for the poor, weak defenceless and dispossesed.

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M Gates

February 5, 2014


Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Robert M Gates – Review

by Dan Roberts, The Observer, 2 February, 2014

Republican Robert M Gates’s account of his years in the Bush and Obama administrations is sometimes catty yet full of insights

Obama and GatesIn a town blighted by partisan rancour, Robert Gates’s memoir of his time as secretary of defence under both George W Bush and Barack Obama has largely been read as a political morality play: a sober warning of what goes wrong when you mix tribes.

Despite a reputation as someone able to rise above party squabbles, the elder statesman once nicknamed Yoda by White House staff has ended up embarrassing a trusting Democratic Administration with a surprisingly un-Jedi-like account of his time as a Republican behind enemy lines.

However, there is more to this book than catty, if entertaining, swipes at Washington’s great and good; readers outside the beltway will come away from reading Duty with a more meaningful insight into the world’s military capital. Indeed, for anyone trying to understand how America’s most liberal president in decades could allow drone assassinations, Guántanamo Bay and NSA surveillance to continue largely unchecked during his time in office, this memoir has a very different moral to that seized upon by DC’s self-obsessed pundits. Though not a dominant driver of such controversial policies, Gates reveals himself as an emblem of the continuity that sustains this increasingly militarised country regardless of who is in the Oval Office.

Since joining the CIA in 1968, Gates served six other presidents before he was put in charge of the Pentagon’s 3 million employees and $700bn budget by Bush the younger at the recommendation of his father. And although there is more warmth to the book’s early chapters chronicling the last days of that dynasty’s reign in office, this consummate company man makes clear that Obama’s decision to reassure security hawks by retaining him was a lot less of a shock to the system than everyone assumed at the time.

“Although Obama, to my mind, is a liberal Democrat and I consider myself a moderately conservative Republican, for the first two years, on national security matters we largely saw eye to eye… as loath as partisans on both sides were (and are) to admit it,” writes Gates.

“I’m no peacenik,” he fondly quotes Obama telling him. “My staying in place would show foreigners that US resolve would be undiminished.”

The book’s much-publicised attacks on Obama’s senior advisers do reveal some differences of style between the two administrations. Vice-president Joe Biden incurs the most wrath for opposing the military’s proposed troop surge in Afghanistan. “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” says Gates.

Former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and current UN ambassador Samantha Power come under fire, too, blamed for opening up a “poisonous” “chasm” between the White House and the Pentagon over everything from gay rights in the military to intervention in Syria. And Obama is politely criticised for adding to the mistrust by failing to act like he really enjoyed continuing to pour troops into America’s disastrous foreign wars. “As I sat there, I thought: the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” recalls Gates of one planning meeting.

History may ultimately judge Obama’s reticence more favourably than the military’s reluctance to admit defeat, but the brass nonetheless succeeded in persuading the president of the need for the troop surge. Gates also convinced Obama to retain another Bush-era spook, current director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who infamously went on to lie to Congress over the extent of NSA mass surveillance on Americans.

The detailed fights to protect defence spending and clear disdain for civilian politicians makeRGates Book-Duty clear that the Pentagon remained in safe hands throughout Gates’s four-and-a-half years in office. But Duty is not the memoir of a neocon warmonger. Gates writes intelligently and candidly of the anxieties of sending men to die and makes clear he largely disliked his “deployment to the Washington combat zone”.

Some sections detailing military deployment negotiations will prove as dry as Afghan dust to anyone not wearing green, but overall the book is a rewarding read and a rare insight into the ongoing capture of the Obama administration by Washington’s security establishment.

Western Education is not bereft of Ethical and Moral Values

December 11, 2013

Western Education is NOT bereft of Ethical and Moral Values

By Terence Netto@

COMMENT: In a much-awaited speech on the reform of higher education 220px-Anwar_Ibrahim-editedin Muslim societies, Anwar Ibrahim disagreed with the popular notion among Muslims that Western education is devoid of an ethical and moral dimension.

Anwar said this notion, widely disseminated in Islamic intellectual circles, has been a hindrance to the development of Muslims, particularly in the scientific and technical spheres.

“… [T]here is a general perception among the discourse of many Muslim scholars that Western education and philosophy is secular and bereft of an ethical and moral dimension. To my mind, this is unfounded,” declared Anwar in a keynote address to a symposium organised by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Washington DC on Monday.

Malaysia’s parliamentary opposition leader, highly regarded abroad than at home for his intellection, observed that the misperception of Western education as ethically vacant was also shared by intellectuals in the West.

He said seminal Western thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith were concerned to base their philosophies on a moral core, but that Smith, in particular, “the icon of ‘capitalism’, has been seriously misread”. Anwar argued that the “moral sentiments” that were an integral part of Smith’s economic propositions were “not at loggerheads with Islamic percepts”.

He likened Smith’s concern for morality in economics with Islamic thinker Ismail Faruqi’s conception of a good economy as the expression of Islam’s spirituality.

FaruqiTo Faruqi, “the economy of the ummah and its good health are the essence of Islam, just as Islam’s spirituality is inexistent without just economic action.”

Anwar held that the Islamic percept ‘inna al din al mu’amalah’ (religion is indeed Man’s treatment of his fellows) made it imperative for Man to “order human life so as to make it actualise the pattern intended for it by its Creator”.

He said Muslim societies would not be productive if it they do not “emerge from the exercise of finding fault” with Western systems. Quoting from a host of Islamic philosophers ranging from the 11th century’s Al Ghazali to the 20th century’s Naguib Al-Attas, Anwar made the point that education in Muslim societies must “proceed on the basis of rationality”.

He defined rationalism the way Faruqi conceived it as not “the priority of reason over revelation but the rejection of any ultimate contradiction between them”.

Anwar acknowledged that the rationalist strain in the interpretive process (ijtihad) left its exponents vulnerable to the charge of espousing secular thinking.

The pursuit of Knowledge

From the time of Muhammad Abduh, the 19th century Egyptian thinkerMuhammad Abduh famed for pushing for the modernisation of Islamic education, Anwar said that Islamic modernists had to combat the suspicion of attempting to “introduce secularism through the back door of ijtihad” but that this allegation was misconceived.

“On the contrary, what Abduh did was to subject the moral and epistemological premises of secular modernity to scrutiny and he came to the conclusion that Islam’s modernity was both non-Western and non-secular,” said Anwar.

In his oration, Anwar did not explain how Islam’s modernity could be both non-Western and non-secular. Neither did he expatiate on “Islamisation of knowledge” which he said would immunise Muslims from the excesses of the liberalist mindset that would lead to the placing of reason above revelation.

He seemed surer, though, of his thesis that current approaches to the Islamisation of knowledge in Muslim societies tended to place a preponderance of focus on the social sciences, whereas he said it was in the technological and scientific disciplines that Muslims were lagging behind non-Muslim communities and where the quest for knowledge, therefore, needed greater emphasis.

Anwar reminded that the ‘Bayt-a-Hikmahof’ (Golden Age of Islam) gave birth to not only philosophers but also to eminent scientists. He attributed this to the holistic pursuit of knowledge that he credited to the Quranic injunction on the use of the intellectual faculty.

He said the “Quran enjoins the use of reason as provided by the senses, and the truth grounded on revelation”. He concurred with Faruqi that Islam was ‘the religion of world-affirmation par excellence’.”

Outsource the Altantuya Case to Us, says DAP Legal Bureau

August 25, 2013

DAP Legal Bureau to The Attorney-General: Outsource the Altantuya Case to Us (08-24-13)

The DAP legal bureau today offered its services to prosecutors in the high-profile murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu, suggesting that an overworked Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) may have led to the acquittal of two former Policemen previously convicted of the killing.

The shocking outcome of the Altantuya murder appeal in the Court of Appeal has the effect of bringing further and total disrepute to the Malaysian criminal justice system.

The shocking outcome of the Altantuya murder appeal in the Court of Appeal has the effect of bringing further and total disrepute to the Malaysian criminal justice system.

This comes as Segambut MP and bureau member Lim Lip Eng lodged a police report in Jinjang here over the Court of Appeal’s decision to free ex-police commandos Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar of their conviction in 2009 of the gruesome murder.

“Give DAP legal bureau the fiat (authorisation order), we will make sure the correct person is prosecuted and convicted,” Lim said in a statement here. Lim said the bureau was offering its help to the AG-C due to the high-profile nature of the case.

“Maybe the AGC is short-handed. We just want to offer our help; together we can solve the case,” he said.

Take a leaf from Appointment of Shafee in Sodomy II

He pointed out that the move was permissible by law, citing the recent appointment of lawyer Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah as public prosecutor in the appeal against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II acquittal.

Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah as public prosecutor in the appeal against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II acquittal.

Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah as public prosecutor in the appeal against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II acquittal.

Muhammad Shafee was given the authority by the Attorney-General to lead the prosecution team in its appeal against Anwar’s acquittal on a charge of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

Anwar’s defence team, however, filed a motion in the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya yesterday to disqualify the appointment.Earlier today, PKR’s R. Sivarasa criticised the Court of Appeal over the two former policemen’s acquittal, saying it should have ordered a retrial instead.

The Subang MP stressed that the appellate court was empowered to do so, especially when there were a number of key witnesses who were not called during the High Court trial that led to the duo’s conviction in 2009.

“There is ample power under the law in section 60 of the Courts Judicature Act 1964 to order a retrial which is regularly done in appeals,” Sivarasa said.

Acquitted instead of Retrial

In a decision that stirred controversy yesterday, a three-man panel of the appellate court unanimously allowed Azilah and Sirul’s appeal.

Azilah and Sirul, both formerly with the Police’s Special Action Unit (UTK), had been found guilty in 2009 of the murder of Altantuya in Mukim Bukit Raja in Klang between 10pm on October 19, 2006 and 1am on October 20, 2006.

The Mongolian model’s murder trial had been surrounded by political intrigue due to links drawn from the personalities involved in the case.

Azilah and Sirul had been part of a security detail for then-Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak while Abdul Razak Baginda, who was charged with and later acquitted of abetting the duo, was a former adviser to Najib.

During the course of their trial, it was revealed that Altantuya was shot and her body blown-up with explosives in a jungle clearing on the night of October 19.

The duo had been charged under section 149 of the Penal Code, which carries the mandatory death sentence upon conviction.

Sirul and Azilah were both released from Tapah Prison yesterday after the Court of Appeal overturned the decision.


The Passing of Hussain Najadi

July 30, 2013

MY COMMENT: It is with great sadness I learned of the passing of Hussain Najadi who I knew since the 1970s when he was the Founder-Managing Director of Arab-Malaysian Bank. After the sale of Arab-Malaysian Bank, Hussain returned to Bahrain, the country of his birth and spent 15 years in a gaol. He has written his memoirs entitled The Sea and The Hills: The Life of Hussain Najadi. It is an autobiography on Oil, Politics, and Justice. In it he reflected on his life and the events that led to his incarceration in a bahraini prison for 15 years.

Najadi and his memoirsThe late Barry Wain, who is the author of The Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir in Turbulent Times, wrote:

“…Hussain Najadi’s philosophy, which he called ‘ the golden triangle’, was to harness Western technology, management, know-how, and machinery with Asian natural resources and labour and Arab capital. Arab-Malaysian became the first to pump petrodollars into East Asia,channelling all its non-Malaysian currency funding through its branch in Bahrain. Most of the bank’s  foreign business was done in member countries of the fledging Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with Mr. Najadi declaring himself ‘ a great believer in regionalism’.

If anyone expected Hussain Najadi to be apologetic about Ara-Malaysian’s early success and defensive about the swirling gossip, some of it personal, they did  understand him and his style. Exuding the supreme confidence that irritated his critics, he announced his intention to become the leader of wholesale and corporate banking in Malaysia in five years, a target he reached in two years (of the bank’s founding). He then lifted his sights to be the biggest with five years, a goal he achieved this time with fours year to spare…”, Introduction to The Sea and The Hills

“This book”, Hussain wrote,” is an affirmation of belief in life’s purpose, of a spirit of adventure, and of unbridled optimism. The dramatic arc of my story rises in success, surely, but cannot be said to crash in tragedy; the setbacks I have faced have fed my further growth as wave feeds energy to wave…The holistic moral of any man’s life story–and I have no doubt each man has own lesson to learn–is best appreciated when seen from a distance, with benefit  of time and perspective. Only then is the landscape laid out in its full beauty: the hills and valleys, the glittering sea on the horizon..” Hussain Najadi’s spirit of adventure, vision and entrepreneurship, and faith in humanity deserve our admiration, most certainly mine.

I saw Hussain at the ASEAN Leadership Forum, organised by ASLI/CPSS at the Sunway Hotel and Resort on July 18, 2013. I told him that I had read his memoirs with great interest. I was particularly pleased that he was able to explain his imprisonment in Bahrain. He told me that we ought to meet for lunch after Puasa so that he could give me an autographed copy of The Sea and The Hills. As fate would have it, this lunch will not happen.

He is survived by a son, Pascal Najadi, who is a very successful banker himself. To Pascal and his family, my wife Dr. Kamsiah and I extend our heartfelt condolences on the passing of Hussain Najadi under very tragic circumstances.  Al-Fatihah.

I still wonder if our streets, our homes and our communities are safe. It is no longer a matter of perception as Najib and his former Home Affairs Minister Hishamuddin Hussein seem to have us believe. I also wonder what the newly minted IGP, Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar is doing about fighting crime. And Idris Jala must stop spinning on this issue.–Din Merican

Hussain Najadi, Founder of Arab-Malaysian Bank killed (07-29-13)

Arab-Malaysian Bank founder Hussain Ahmad Najadi was gunned down in Kuala Lumpur today, Police said. Kuala Lumpur Deputy CID Chief Khairi Ahrasa told Bernama the couple was attacked from behind by two assailants.

The attack took place in a car park near the Kuan Yin Temple on Lorong Ceylon at 2pm. Hussain was with his wife at the time. Hussain, 75, was shot twice on the torso while his wife, 49, was shot on the arm and leg. He succumbed to his injuries while his seriously injured wife has been warded.

Khairi said preliminary investigations suggested that three men aged between 35 and 40 years were waiting for Hussain outside the temple.

The former banker and financier was said to have met a friend at the temple to discuss business matters. “The suspects escaped in a taxi. The motive is yet to be established but it is believed to be related to business,” Khairi said.

A witness told the national news agency that he heard more than five shots being fired.  Hussain is an Iranian with permanent residency status.

Son expressed shock

Pascal NajadiMeanwhile, his son Pascal Najadi has expressed shock over the murder of his father.”I was shocked upon hearing about the killing in Kuala Lumpur, which was carried out in broad daylight,” he told Bernama in a telephone interview from Europe.

Pascal, who holds dual Swiss and British citizenship, urged the Malaysian authorities to do their utmost to apprehend the culprits involved in the killing of his father and bring them to justice.

Pascal, 45, who is also a banker, said the irony was that his father was murdered in Malaysia, a country for which he had so much affection, having called it home for more than four decades. He said he came to know about the killing, a few hours after it took place and that he was also informed by the MalaysianPolice.

Hussain founded Arab Malaysian Banking Group in 1975 before it changed hands in 1982, to what is known as Arab Malaysian Bank or Ambank.

Shooting in Penang

In Nibong Tebal tonight, a man was shot on his right thigh by unknown assailants while driving in a car with his friend along Jalan Mengkuang, near Bukit Mertajam.

According to Bernama, Penang CID chief SAC Mazlan Kesah said  the victim, aged 30, was with his friend in a car during the 8.30pm incident.

“Initial investigations revealed that the victim was from Jalan Mengkuang and the two were heading to the Butterworth-Kulim Expressway (BKE). When he stopped at a traffic light, two men on a motorcycle came close to the car and one of them fired at the victim, hitting his right thigh,” Mazlan said at the Seberang Perai Selatan police headquarters tonight.

He said the victim, who had a number of criminal records, was rushed to the Kulim Hospital for treatment while his friend was not hurt. “We are investigating the motive for the shooting,” Mazlan said.

State of Current Affairs in Wisma Putra

June 12, 2013

MY COMMENT: Criticisms and constructive proposals by ex-Malaysian diplomats (Dato’ Deva Ridzam and others) on the  current state of Wisma Putra have not produced any positive change in the performance of the Ministry. What we get are knee-jerk responses from the Ministry (the one below is the most recent) when it is criticized. In stead of taking some initiative to reimage itself and improve public perception, Wisma goes on the defensive. The truth be told. The Secretary-General and his staff have little influence on the making of foreign policy of the Najib administration. Now, whose fault is that?

The Prime Minister apparently relies a coterie of advisors in his PARLIMEN / ANIFAH AMAN / KIMANISoffice to develop new initiatives on the foreign policy front. Most of the initiatives have come from the Prime Minister himself.

It is well known that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anifah Aman, has neither passion nor the requisite background for the job. He prefers to focus on domestic politics in Sabah. 

Furthermore, the Prime Minister knows that Wisma Putra is no longer what it used to be. Unless serious reform is undertaken, Wisma Putra will continue to punch below its weight.  As a result, the Prime Minister relies a coterie of advisors in his office including his special envoy Tan Sri Kamil Jaafar to develop new initiatives on the foreign policy front.Din Merican

State of Current Affairs in Wisma Putra

by Megawati Zulfakar (06-07-13)@

Professional direction in the Foreign Ministry is a far cry from the golden years of Malaysian diplomacy.

Wisma PutraSEVENTEEN years. That’s how long it took for Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar to release his memoirs after retiring as Wisma Putra’s Secretary-General.

It is definitely well worth the wait.Even more memorable when one of his good friends, Malacca Governor Tun Khalil Yaacob launched the book. His former boss, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, also attended the event.

Kamil's MemoirsIn Growing Up With The Nation, Kamil wrote about his childhood years in Kulim, going to school in Bukit Mertajam and Kuala Kangsar and eventually continuing his studies at University of Malaya.

It was during his years at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar that he formed a strong bond with a few friends including Malaysia’s former permanent representative to the United Nations Tan Sri Razali Ismail and Tun Khalil.

After graduating in the 60s from the University of Malaya and much persuasion from Razali, Kamil joined the External Affairs Ministry, then led by Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie.

Kamil gave a glimpse of the legendary Ghazali’s legendary “whipping” – his description of the on-the-spot training. Ghazali was known for striking fear among his officers and even journalists then.

His first serious brush with the law (you need to read the book) got him his first posting abroad – Thailand – where he witnessed the peace treaty between Malaysia and Indonesia in 1966 after the “Konfrantasi” years.

The young Kamil described the actual signing of the treaty as almost banal with everybody crammed in a small room to witness the event. Only brief statements were made.

With Malaysia undergoing peaceful separation with Singapore a year earlier, the fledgling country started to be more aware of its own national interests and concerns in the conduct of international relations and diplomacy.

Malaysian diplomacy moved from anti communist, pro-Western stance to one that was more neutral and non-aligned.

It is a memoir that will take readers on a journey through time to Bosnia Herzegovina, North Korea and growth of ASEAN among others. One interesting chapter is when Kamil spoke of working with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Wisma Putra’s Secretary-General for more than seven years.

Dr Mahathir’s deep involvement in foreign policy kept the Ministry virtually on its toes all-year round. This was the beginning of Malaysia’s growing diplomatic profile and that bred confidence, even among diplomatic officers.

Kamil may have physically left Wisma Putra but he is still aware of the goings-on in the Ministry.“That is why I am saddened when I now hear disturbing stories of our diplomats’ lack of professional direction. And worse, I also hear stories of a hiatus between political and professional leadership,” he wrote in the book’s preface.

It is pertinent to note that Kamil has retired as Secretary-General for nearly 20 years. He still compares Wisma Putra with days gone by.But then again he is not alone.

Keen observers also lament the lack of intellectual thought and strategic KSU, Wisma Putraplanning in formulating sound foreign policy. Serving diplomats, however, lay the blame on previous administrations for the structural problems facing the Ministry now.

“True, those were the golden years but for us in the ministry now, we question their failure to plan for the future of the Ministry especially on human resources development. We are inheriting the problems as a result of lack of foresight by previous leaderships.

“During Dr Mahathir’s time we were opening up missions everywhere that we faced an acute shortage of personnel when not enough hiring was done.

“When we keep on posting officers overseas, we can hardly spare people to keep up with the increasing workload and send people for training.We are really stretching our human resources, and with whatever limited annual allocation Wisma Putra gets, how do you improve on quality? Politicians come and go but professionals stay on.”

Another diplomat said while Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak provided clear political direction for foreign policy, the problem lies with the lack of quality professionals to implement and see it to fruition.

“The world 20 years ago was different, Dr Mahathir could get away with almost anything. The world today is much more complicated that you have to make adjustments.

“There is diffusion of power between China and the United States. You have to manage this carefully. During Dr Mahathir’s time, getting foreign investments was a lot easier but now getting FDIs is much more competitive,” he added.

He admitted though that a little bit of tweaking can be done to improve the way things are done.

“Maybe we should have regular pre- and post-Cabinet meetings or we do not take too much time to make decisions. Perhaps the media too should be better informed on the latest developments on issues Malaysia is involved in,” said the officer.

Among the media fraternity, Wisma Putra is well known as an unfriendly Ministry. Said a Putrajaya-based senior correspondent: “Of course we have been receiving statements via e-mail from the Ministry, but who are these people behind the e-mails.

“Do they bother contacting us? Maybe their standards are too high. Officials from other ministries will call us for a follow-up but not this Ministry.If it is difficult for us to get in touch with the officers to check on news breaks, what more the Minister. Maybe their term for being friendly is when they invite us for ‘buka puasa’ and open house events.”

Officials from other agencies also question when diplomats do go for postings, how much value do they put in their work including interacting with other Malaysian agencies.

There has been talk about closing some missions but it remains just that. A little change in how the Ministry does things will do good for Wisma Putra and its officers. Otherwise, it is just a matter of time before the whole country suffers in the realm of international relations and global affairs.

Mergawati can be reached at


June 12, 2013

Wisma Putra at the Forefront–Response

THE Ministry of Foreign Affairs refers to Mergawati Zulfakar’s article “State of current affairs in Wisma Putra” (The Star, June 7). We appreciate her interest on the Ministry’s development and evolution over the years in advancing and protecting Malaysia’s interests internationally.

The Ministry certainly takes pride in the specific era of the Ministry’s history characterised by Mergawati as the “golden years of Malaysian diplomacy”. Those are the years when Malaysia faces specific external challenges which warranted approaches that befits the era.

Whilst the fundamental principles of Malaysia’s foreign policy remain the same, Malaysia’s diplomacy continues to be built and expanded in responding to the dynamic and evolution of national interests as we move toward attaining a developed nation status.

As advancing Malaysia’s interests abroad is not static and diplomatic approaches changes or evolved over the years, the ministry is constantly undergoing transformation in its diplomatic approaches to address the shifting global environment, changing geopolitical realities, managing issues, and identifying opportunities for Malaysia.

At the same time, the ministry’s international priorities also move in tandem with the nation’s objective to attain Vision 2020 and driven by the various government transformation programmes.

In characterising certain era in the history of Wisma Putra as the “golden years of Malaysian diplomacy” we unfairly overlooked the sacrifices and contributions of many others.

Beyond the so-called “golden years” asserted by Mergawati, there are many other accomplishments of Wisma Putra such as non-permanent membership of Malaysia to the United Nations Security Council, Chairmanship of the Non-Align-ment Movement, Chairmanship of Organisation of Islamic Conference, Chairmanship of ASEAN and the Presidency of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, just to name a few.

Under the Prime Minister’s stewardship, Malaysia’s foreign policy orientation continues to make tremendous leaps forward. Malaysia’s relation with China is advancing at a rapid phase.

The annual bilateral consultations (renamed Strategic Consultation in 2010) reflect the growing importance of Malaysia-China relations. Both countries are also adhering to the letter and spirit of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South-East Asia which continues the peace and stability that benefits China and the South-East Asian region.

New initiatives, under the foreign policy umbrella was also introduced. Among them, the Global Movement of the Moderates (GMM), where Wisma Putra has been at the forefront since its inception.

GMM was expounded by the Prime Minister at prestigious platforms including Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, East-West Centre, the Asia-Europe Meeting, the ASEAN Summit and the Com­monwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

The GMM which was adopted by the 20th Asean Summit in Phnom Penh will be promoted within the ASEAN member states to achieve global peace.

At the same time, the recognition that Malaysia’s received as the facilitator in the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front successful conclusion of the framework peace agreement has further increased Malaysia’s credibility in the international fora.

Wisma Putra has always maintained good and friendly relations with the media. We always strive to share with the media prompt and accurate information.

However, accuracy and content of the information requires verification and thought as these issues and events transcends our borders as well as taking into account the scope of our bilateral relations with the relevant countries. It should not be misinterpreted then as lacking of communication between Wisma Putra and the media.

The Ministry has been and will always be resilient in advancing Malaysia’s abroad using approaches that are appropriate and required to effectively achieve Malaysia’s foreign policy and interests internationally with the available resources it has.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Putrajaya

Moulding a new breed of Foreign Service Officers

May 27, 2013

Moulding a new breed of Foreign Service Officers

Balan Mosesby Balan Moses (05-26-13)

GETTING THE JOB DONE: Nation can use services of veteran diplomatic practitioners schooled in unconventional diplomacy

IT was a veritable who’s who of the old diplomatic crowd that gathered last Wednesday to celebrate one of their own who had literally written the book on the kind of diplomacy that they were weaned on and went on to be master of.

The school of unconventional diplomacy of yore was amply and ably represented at the launching of Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar’s memoirs — Growing up the Nation — with many really using it as an excuse to meet the crowd that they were most comfortable with.

The banquet hall at the hotel in downtown Kuala Lumpur was almost bursting at the seams as seasoned hands crowded the limited space to share notes from the past, catch up on the latest on the diplomatic grapevine or just shoot the breeze with some of the same ilk.

Deva RidzamThat they were made of almost the same cloth could be seen from their vintage with the likes of Tan Sri Albert Tallala, K.T. Ratnam, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, Datuk Khor Eng Hee, Datuk Tan Koon San, Datuk Syed Ariff Fadzillah, Datuk Deva Mohd Ridzam (left), Datuk Abdul Majid Khan and Datuk S. Thanarajasingam present to support Kamil, their compatriot and comrade in arms.

Also present was former Prime Minister, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose career profile was laced with years of hands-on diplomatic experience that eventually held him in good stead as foreign minister. His presence at the august gathering was also courtesy of the fact that he and Kamil went back many years to their youth and later in the diplomatic service.

It was obvious to me, and others there, that these men and women had many 170px-Khalil_Yaakobtales to tell which would never see print or even be heard because they did things their way, often the unconventional way, which would be frowned upon by the contemporary set of diplomats.

One of their own — Tun Khalil Yaacob (right), the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Malacca, erstwhile diplomat and good buddy of Kamil from the Malay College Kuala Kangsar — was given the honour of launching the book which he did with panache as he delved into a common past with friends like Kamil and Razali who went on to etch their names in the annals of Malaysian history.

Khalil was spot on as he lamented the paucity of books by retired diplomats as opposed to books by greying politicians.

Surely, the reason for the absence of books by diplomats could be the fact that they were “complicit” to many things in the heady days of diplomacy in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s when one may have had to think outside the box in a mission thousands of kilometres away from Wisma Putra in tackling issues.

Kamil JaafarCertainly that was the way Kamil (left) operated as he played diplomatic legerdemain with the bureaucracy in his ministry and in the civil administration to get things done fast and efficiently to protect the interests of Malaysia and Malaysians abroad.

He was a master in unconventional diplomacy by his own tacit admission in his book, never looking back as he blazed new trails on the international circuit with “collusion” from former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who gave him as much rope as he wanted on specific tasks.

As Secretary-General in 1989 (after 27 years in the foreign service) and until his retirement in 1996, he can be presumed to have given the same amount of latitude to his subordinates in the Foreign Ministry in getting the job done to protect Malaysia’s interests at home and abroad.

Razali (right), in his extempore address made with the abandon of a man who has Raz2seen and said it all, touched on the fact that Kamil had the “effrontery and impudence to write this book”.

The former Malaysian permanent representative to the United Nations  said Kamil had done very well as a diplomat in dealing with his political master (read Dr Mahathir)  who gave him free rein “as long as nothing went wrong”.

I am told that this has not quite been the situation for some time as politicians sought to supersede the career diplomat in crafting the foreign policy of the state, something that would not have gone down well with people like Kamil who knew the craft inside out and were not influenced by politics.

Much has been written about the average diplomat of today who are unable to match the language skills of the likes of Kamil or Razali who could mesmerise English-speaking audiences with their adroit use of language complete with nuanced interjections.

Language skills notwithstanding, the relatively free hand that the executive gave to the diplomatic service is perhaps a thing of the past, never to be enjoyed again by the foreign service. This is what even former political leaders like Dr Mahathir have decried as they mourned the loss of multi-talented diplomats who used a mélange of diplomatic skills, personal charisma, national aspirations and that “x” factor that seems to be in short supply today to further the interests of the nation abroad.

It is still not too late today to use our veteran diplomatic practitioners schooled in the ways of unconventional diplomacy to mould a new breed of Malaysian foreign service officers who can deal with the real world in tested and proven ways of the past.

Malaysia’s Top Diplomat Kamil tells his story

May 21, 2013

Malaysia’s Top Diplomat Kamil tells his story

“The life of a diplomat and foreign policy maker can be pretty much routine and humdrum during the best of times. However, there is no lack of excitement and thrills.”–Ambassador Kamil Jaafar.

In the Preface to his memoirs, Growing Up with  the Nation,  Special Envoy of the Prime Minister and  former Secretary General to Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Kamil Jaafar says “[T]he subject of this book will be a personal, subjective account of my life and career as a diplomat. It is my intention to try to explain the decision-making process preceding the policy formulations of Malaysia’s approach to a number of specific international issues as well as Malaysia’s understanding of regional priorities.” (Preface, xii).

Kamil's MemoirsHe has been able to discuss in depth with insight and eloquence issues like the formation of ASEAN, bilateral relations with Indonesia and the Philippines over the formation of Malaysia and the Sabah claim and Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew, the Cambodian conflict in the context of the Vietnam War, Malaysia’s engagement with China following the historic visit to the PRC by our Second Prime Minister Tun Haji Abdul Razak in 1974 (see pic below), the civil wars in Somalia and Sudan, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Malaysia’s role in the Middle East  especially over the Palestine Question receives good coverage in his memoirs.

Tun Razak visit China in 1974Ambassador Kamil also discussed territorial disputes that continue plagued our region. His account of his years in Japan as our Ambassador makes a very interesting read from my perspective. I recall my meeting with him in Tokyo over dinner and he told me that he admired the Japanese people and their rich culture, work ethics, and proud history. He handled the Japanese well and for that he should be congratulated. He is without doubt an excellent representative of our country to Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, China,Japan, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Nations.

In dealing with complex issues and difficult problems throughout his 34-year career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he  showed lots of patience and tact, using excellent interpersonal and negotiating skills, and bringing into play his breadth of knowledge and well rounded education in history and politics he had at the University of Malaya,coupled with his hands-on training in diplomacy and international relations in Wisma Putra under the stewardship of then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs, (Tun) Ghazali Shafie.

On his former boss, Ambassador Kamil had this to say”…It is generally recognised that the Ghazali Shafieearly batches of the Malaysian Foreign Service were the product of Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie’s moulding. His aggressive and inquisitive stye, coupled his quick temper, put a fear in our young hearts. Those who survived the full blast of his temper when thing went wrong were later transformed into a dedicated and professional core of officers that would serve the country right into the 21st century.

Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie made great demands on us all and once you learned to face the challenge you begin to appreciate  and value his style of on-the-spot training, even when it felt like a whipping. Yes, he whipped us into shape…” (p.31)

The Postscript to his memoirs merits carefully reading because it contains invaluable pointers on the conduct of Malaysia’s foreign policy. Ambassador  Paramjit S. Sahai, former High Commissioner of India to Malaysia (1996-2000), who wrote the Introduction to Growing Up with the Nation noted:

” ‘Postscript’ is couched in highly philosophical tones. Even though Tan Sri Kamil claims that he would try to avoid forcing Malaysia’s foreign policy into any theoretical mould, be it described as ‘predictive, scientific or deductive’ he is not unmindful of the challenges coming from global governance, trans-nationalism, power politics versus issue politics. He unhesitatingly states that it would not be in Malaysia’s national interest to ‘compartmentalise our practice of diplomacy into being Islamic and non-Islamic’ as Malaysia’s existence ‘is founded on cultural pluralism and social justice, built upon communal tolerance and individual dignity’. Prima facie, it has to be ‘based on the need to protect, defend and promote its national interests’ while ensuring that ‘communitarianism and normative values form part of that world’”

The memoirs is a candid and heart rending story of a boy from Kulim-Bukit Mertajam, North Malaysia who was privileged to have have an excellent education from school ( Bukit Mertajam High School and Malay College Kuala Kangsar) and University of Malaya. That boy blossomed into an impressive Malaysia’s top diplomat and Special Envoy of the Prime Minister. I recommend Growing Up with a Nation as an excellent read on Malaysia’s Foreign Policy.–Din Merican

NOTE:  The launch of Growing Up with the Nation by HE Tun Datuk Seri Mohd. Khalil bin Yaacob, Governor of Malacca, will be at the Hotel Impiana, Jalan Pinang, Kuala Lumpur on May 22, 2013 at 4.30 pm

Kamil Jaafar–The Diplomat Extraordinaire of My Generation

May 19, 2013

Kamil Jaafar–The Diplomat Extraordinaire of My Generation

COMMENT: Kamil Jaafar (he insists that I forget the “Tan Sri” 170px-Khalil_Yaakobbit when I address him) was my senior at MU and Wisma Putra (I joined the Foreign Service in 1963 when Tun Ghazalie Shafie was the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs) and housemate together with Tun Mohd Khalil Yaccob, the present Governor of Malacca (right) and a host of other foreign  service colleagues at No 272, Jalan Brickfields/Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Kuala Lumpur in the heart of Little India.

Despite his many achievements as Malaysia’s top career diplomat, the First Among Equals, Kamil remains the simple and kind man that I knew when we first met at Bukit Mertajam railway station when we took the train to MU at Kuala Lumpur. Of course, he was not really that nice on the train!

Razali IsmailHe and another Kedahan, (Tan Sri) Razali Ismail (left), who was President, United Nations General Assembly in 1996-1997, ragged me throughout the night.  But I suppose the ragging brought us together to this day.

I promised Kamil that I will review his book, Growing Up with the Nation after it is launched by our respected friend, the Governor of Malacca on May 22, 2013 at 4.30 pm at Hotel Impiana, Jalan Pinang, Kuala Lumpur. My wife Dr Kamsiah and I will be there and hope you will join us at the launch.–Din Merican.

The Tiger of Wisma Putra still has his bite

by Balan Moses@

RESPECTED AND REVERED: After 51 years of diplomatic service, the imposing former Secretary-General has stories to tell

Kamil JaafarTHE giant who greets me at the door of his spacious condominium unit in the upmarket Jalan U Thant suburb of Kuala Lumpur is wearing a wide smile, inimical really,  on the diplomat extraordinaire never known more than three decades in harness to smile.

He might have smirked, but that was par for the course, fitting the carefully cultivated image of the uncaring senior civil servant, who tolerated subordinates (and superiors), only as long as their actions and professional philosophy were in consonance with his.

But if anyone is looking to read about a Tan Sri Ahmad Kamil Jaafar, who ran roughshod over everyone, was vengeful and worked only for his glory, nothing is further from the truth as “I never harmed anyone and I never kept anything in my heart”.

“If you did well, you were promoted and gained my trust and respect. If you did not see things the way I did (in the larger interest of the nation) and fumbled, you were on your own,” he says a little past midway into the interview for this column on his memoirs — Growing Up With the Nation — to be launched on Wednesday (May 22, 2013).

“Of course, I even scolded ambassadors (and a few others in various capacities) at airports and other places, with many afraid to even talk to me after that,” the 76-year-old says, admitting that his temper sometimes got the better of him.

But again, I get the feeling that even those episodes were crafted to fuel the image of the hard-boiled bureaucraft who did not suffer fools gladly, when he was actually just a man on a personal mission to serve his country to the best of his abilities using the manpower available.

The smile for me this morning is part of a countenance reserved for friends and people that Kamil likes, a compliment for a story I wrote nine years ago in my column “Diplomatic Dealings” about him that he fancied.

The breezy welcome from the former number one diplomat at Wisma Putra, more famous for his scowls and penetrating gaze than the expansive countenance he is wearing today, is courtesy of the fact that he will be baring all about his 51 years in diplomatic service (the last 17 years or so on national service as special envoy to the Prime minister) at Hotel Impiana in three days’ time.

The 189cm-tall Kamil, a little thicker around the waist, more jowl than cheek and slightly slower in movement than in 2004, is in his element, casting a commanding eye over all he surveys at home. It is not very much unlike the towering presence he had at Wisma Putra as secretary-general, frightening lesser beings into acquiescence with a look that told you where you stood in his esteem.

Kamil is almost curt on the phone in his baritone that has lost a little of the boom it held in years past, but is still respected enough to be listened to carefully by his wife, Lena Hultgren Kamil, son, Tariq, daughter, Yuhanis, a wide range of friends and acquaintances.

If there is an occasional observation of a seemingly lack of steel in his overt personality, I feel it is just another side to the multi-facetted life of the man touted as the most famous non-conventional diplomat that Malaysia has ever produced.

The cloak-and-dagger stuff of the spy (he refuses to be buttonholed in this genre) is still very much evident to me in the almost whispered requests to steer clear of issues “better less spoken about”.

This is vintage Kamil at its best, always putting the nation first as he had since he began serving the nation under founding Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1962 and continuing under five Prime Ministers, including Dato’ Seri Najib Razak (son of second Prime Minister Tun Razak Hussein, for whom he probably had the most personal affection for…”he was a very kind man”).

“This is my first and last book, Balan. Don’t expect to interview me on another book,” the tiger that roamed the corridors of Wisma Putra says in an almost threatening growl, sans a few of the proverbial “teeth” that gave him his bite in office.

Kamil beams as I ask him who will launch his book as the honour goes to old friend and bosom buddy of 56 years, Tun Mohd Khalil Yaacob, the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Malacca, one of four classmates (also prefects) at Malay College Kuala Kangsar, who wrote new chapters in the schools annals with their mischief.

“We did a lot of havoc like going to the prefects’ room and sneaking a few cigarettes. At night, we used to leave the school and go for packets of char kuey teow in town and come back before dawn. We also used to take laundry money from students under our charge, use it for a taxi to town to live it up before giving what was left to the dobi and telling him he will get the rest the next month,” he says, chuckling at the incident that occurred in the 1950s.

His four partners-in-crime rose to high office in different areas of calling; Khalil became the head of a state; Tan Sri Razali Ismail became Malaysian special envoy to the United Nations; Sallehuddin Alang joined the French Foreign Legion; while the late Dalil Awin became a senior executive here.

All these episodes find print in his memoirs, written in a style that could be termed “diplomatese”, in the sense that the memories are strong in their profundity, but are often played out in a style that lacks the colour and character of a true-blue novelist. But then, Kamil has never claimed to be a writer, admitting in his low-key manner that “I speak better than I write”.

I am convinced that the veracity of his stories, told in a frank, guileless and breathtaking manner, will embrace and captivate the reader to a great extent.

The man who has worked with Kings, Prime Ministers and Statesmen has vignettes for some of them in his book, that traces his genesis from a gangling kampung boy in Kedah to a respected and towering figure in international diplomacy.

“Tunku Abdul Rahman was almost like a father to me. He used to tell his wife, Sharifah Rodziah, that I looked like my father because of our height. I remember one night in Bangkok, when I had to physically dig up the remains of his younger brother as he wanted them to be reburied in Kedah.

“It was a terrible night, with heavy rain and thunder, almost like out of a ghost movie, and there I was, a middle-ranking diplomat in a Muslim cemetery in a Buddhist country, up to my arms and knees in mud.”

Tun Abdul Razak was also almost like a father to Kamil, constantly wanting him to take up a diplomatic position in London, which the latter gently demurred as he wanted to be at home to do national service here. On Tun Hussein Onn, he says the old soldier was made of the stuff of legends, with his razor-sharp ethics that were premised on the fact that “one must not do to others what you do not want others to do to you”.

Dr Mahathir.Kamil reminisces that Hussein (he always had a ruler and pen with him) took his own time with decisions, which sometimes did not work in consonance with the demands of a Foreign Ministry that worked around the clock. But his career truly took off under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, with whom he had a special chemistry based on a shared belief that Malaysians were no lesser beings than others, “especially whites, who sometimes thought we were second-class people”.

On Dr Mahathir, he says they worked extremely well in “unconventional diplomacy”, which fitted the former Prime Minister’s bill as both had the force of will, commitment and character to help the downtrodden in places like Bosnia and Kosovo.

“I became an arms runner of sorts when I helped arrange for delivery of weaponry to the Bosnians, who were at the mercy of Serbs around them. Dr Mahathir and I shared a personal commitment to the Bosnians that went beyond the pale of our jobs.”

Kamil may be getting on in age, but the sharpness that sometimes riled others at senior levels in government is still there.

“Wisma Putra committed a faux pas a little while ago in the case of Bahrain, where there was a disconnect between the reality and the advice given to the leader of the land (Najib). This would never had happened back then.”

There is more new ground touched upon as Kamil meanders into Malaysian politics, which he has always studiously steered clear off, but here again, his comments are in relation to foreign policy.

“The ground under our feet is shifting after what Malaysians collectively did at the recent general election.Our foreign policy is shaped on a multiracial, multilingual and multireligious character at home and represents the sociopolitical make-up of the nation.”

Kamil wants the powers-that-be to address the problem fast,  “with special attention paid to communitarian and normative values as these are important and at the core of our social fabric”. The former diplomatic craftsman also remembers people like Farah Aidid, the Somali strongman, who  gave him a walking stick which “he said had kept him alive for years, but you know that he died the month after giving me the souvenir”.

Kamil tries to laugh the deep laugh that rang through his office and that of his friends  (he has great memories of his late friend, historian and author, Dr Chandran Jeshurun)  years ago,  but is unable to do so, no thanks to a 50 per cent lung capacity,  courtesy of scores of Camel cigarettes for a major part of his life.

Dr Chandran Mohandas JeshurunIn Memory of Chandran“I never cry when giving speeches,  but I cried when delivering his eulogy,” says the characteristically unemotional  diplomat,  never known for asking for a quarter  and certainly giving none to no one of his childhood friends, fellow Malaysian visionary and noted historian.

Today, Kamil says the days of unconventional diplomacy are over and that he never bothered to pass on the tricks of the trade that he wrote the book on in his heydays between 1962 and 1989,  when he ruled the heap at Wisma Putra. The world at large, however, should never forget that the slightly bent (crouching) tiger still has much fire in his belly, a phenomenon  that Malaysians may witness (if he so decides to) at the launching of his book.

After all, he is still the Special Envoy to the Prime Minister and who knows what demands the nation may still make of the man who managed more delicate scenarios in foreign service than a hoard of diplomats across the board will ever handle in their lifetime.

Deepakism and 55 Shades of Spin

January 11, 2013

Deepakism and 55 Shades of Spin: The Wheels of Deception keeps on turning

by Mariam Mokhtar (01-07-13)@

Deepak JIf the carpetman Deepak Jaikishan has aspirations of changing career and writing books for a living, he should not give up his day job of flogging carpets too quickly.

For many weeks, he tried to enthrall the Malaysian public with stories of senior politicians and lawyers breaking the law, of underhand business tactics and broken promises, and the abuse of power by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his family. Sadly, his stories did not live up to expectations.

Shakespeare’s line, ‘All the world’s a stage’ suits Malaysians very well. All of us are acting our roles according to the script, but the identity of the author is not known, just yet.  The rakyat are the bit players, who appear happy that they are sharing the limelight with the stars. Some of us fail to realise that we are being sucked in by this great show.

If we are to be honest with ourselves, we should ignore this play and concentrate on the bigger picture.  We are so desperate to see the end of corrupt rule and the downfall of UMNO, Najib and his ‘self-styled First Lady’, Rosmah Mansor, that we wish Deepak’s spin will have a fairy-tale ending. It won’t.

The contents of the e-book ‘The Black Rose’ are neither earth-shattering nor revelatory. Much of what is written is already known. Deepak the carpetman is no saint. He is like a mercenary who plans an offensive only if the price is right. He told another online portal: “I cannot be bought. I am not for sale. I am priceless.” When his motives were questioned, he exposed his true colours.

Referring to the botched business deal relating to a Defence Ministry project which involvedWanita UMNO Selangor Chief RP Raja Ropiaah Raja Abdullah, a Wanita UMNO member who is close to Najib, Deepak said: “I think it’s unfair, it’s my land. I paid for it, I get a pittance and she gets the lion’s share. She got the appreciation (value) but I got nothing. I only got what I put in.”

Does the majority of the rakyat keep quiet because the deal involved UMNO, a woman, Najib’s close colleague or a Raja? Deepak made his exposé only because he was let down by equally greedy people. Even when he said he would reveal sensitive information, he has chosen to do it in installments, just like a soap opera.

Why trust a man who boasted, for weeks, about the publication of ‘The Black Rose’, then denied that he wrote the e-book with the same title? He said: “My version is completely different from this one, I have nothing to do with it.” So, where is Deepak’s e-book which he said would be published on January 2, 2013?

Why books?

Why do some Malaysians feel it necessary to publish the ‘truth’ in a book? The ‘self-styled First Lady’ wants to relate her version of Malaysian political back-stabbing in her biography. Deepak also said he would write a book after Rosmah’s book comes out.

He subsequently changed his mind and said he would publish a 26-page booklet, but publication of this book was eventually delayed and Deepak said he would then publish an e-book. Deepak blamed the delay on PKR’s Rafizi Ramli who had divulged details of jewellery allegedly being bought for Rosmah by Deepak.

People will ask, ‘Why books?’, as Malaysians are not known for being avid readers. Rosmah is probably doing it for prestige. Perhaps, she is trying to gauge the rakyat’s love for her, by their reaction at the pre-launch.

Is there a more sinister motive for Deepak’s series of installments? Are they a clever ploy to distract us from whatever UMNO has in store for the rakyat, in the last lap of the race to GE13?  In Malaysia, money talks. There are few men or women of integrity, and everyone has a price.

After 55 years of independence, UMNO has run into the buffers. It is facing an internal crisis and its political survival depends on the outcome of GE13. UMNO will cheat and bribe people. It has engineered acts of violence to intimidate the public.

So, is Deepak and his carpet-tales, a clever decoy to distract us for as long as possible? Will Malaysians ever learn to distinguish between drama and real life? Can Malaysians learn to take control of their lives?

Studies by the French have shown that men who are in need of attention will woo their conquests with gifts and sweet-talk them with things they want to hear.  Once these men have had their way with the women and achieved orgasm, the men will roll over and fall into a deep sleep.

Substitute the word ‘men’ with ‘UMNO’, ‘orgasm’ with ‘GE13′, ‘conquests’ with ‘rakyat’ and you’ll get the general idea: after the election, the rakyat, like some women, will be left frustrated and insecure.

The woman knows that one thing is certain. The same ritual will be repeated when the man wants more sex. That is what happens every five years, when UMNO wants to woo the rakyat.

50-shades-of-grey-matterThe fastest selling paperback in history, the erotic novel ‘50 Shades of Grey’ tells the sexual relationship of Christian Grey, a man with sado-masochistic tendencies, and his absolute control over the naïve student, Anastasia Steele.  The innocent Steele is mesmerised by the billionaire Grey, with the large ego. He seduces Steele and tells her that she will be happy under his power.

Malaysia’s story could be told in a novel called ‘55 Shades of Spin’. UMNO is the dominant, aggressive subjugator with many dark secrets, like Grey. UMNO has exercised absolute control over an impressionable and submissive rakyat, like the naïve Steele, for 55 years.

UMNO and the rakyat are locked in a violent relationship, with the rakyat being forced to obey the rules and surrender itself completely to Umno or face punishment.

It is time for the rakyat to take charge, to be the dominant partner and dictate the future of the country. We don’t need men spinning yarns to tell us what is right or wrong, nor do we want men and women who keep silent in the face of allegations of corruption and murder, whilst pretending everything is all right. Now, the rakyat must wise up and stop being raped by UMNO.

‘Joseph Anton: A Memoir,’ by Salman Rushdie by Donna Rifkind (10-12-12)

October 16, 2012

NY Times: On Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton

A Fictional Character

‘Joseph Anton: A Memoir,’ by Salman Rushdie

by Donna Rifkind (10-12-12)

Salman Rushdie’s memoir is many books in one book. It’s a personal story that takes place at the center of an international crisis: the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1989 denunciation of the author’s fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses,” as a work of blasphemy against Islam, and his call for Rushdie’s death.

It’s a portrait of the artist as a young man that describes his influences, obsessions and ambitions as well as his rise in the publishing world. It’s a record of his relocation from Bombay to London to New York, where he settled in 2000. It’s an intimate tale of fathers and sons, of the beginnings and ends of marriages, of friendships and betrayals.

At the same time, “Joseph Anton” is a large-scale spectacle of political and cultural conflicts during an era in which, Rushdie writes, “incompatible realities frequently collided with one another.” The death decree, or fatwa, would come to be seen by some as an early signal of a clash of absolutes that would lead up to 9/11 and into our tinderbox present — of the continuing struggle between religious belief in the immutable word of God on one hand and secular faith in the unconditional right of free speech on the other.

One unifying theme that emerges from this multilayered account is the concept of flight — though here that word assumes a double identity. Flight from the fatwa meant a “fretful, scuttling existence” in which the author, a 41-year-old British citizen, abandoned his home in the London neighborhood of Islington and dashed from one safe house to another around the United Kingdom. While Rushdie located and paid for these dozens of hide-outs himself, the British government provided him with nine years of round-the-clock protection by the “A” Squad of the Special Branch of the Metropolitan Police, who in turn answered to Britain’s intelligence services.

If flight meant forced departure, for Rushdie it also meant an insistence on certain freedoms. Most critically, he would not give up his literary life, his flights of fancy. Battling depression and writer’s block, he managed during this time to write a major novel, “The Moor’s Last Sigh,” along with a charming children’s book called “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” at his young son’s insistence. He collected a volume of short fiction (“East, West”) and another of essays (“Imaginary Homelands”). He wrote book reviews, poems and op-ed essays. Whether large or small, every completed piece of writing felt, to him, like “victory over the forces of darkness.”

Who shall have control over the story? Who has, who should have, the power not only to tell the stories with which, and within which, we all lived, but also to say in what manner those stories may be told?” Rushdie is right to pose the conflict over “The Satanic Verses” as a question not of ideology but of power and control. And he is right to claim his own story after many humiliating years of surrendering that story to other people, most of whom transformed it for their own purposes.

But the question of control is also a tricky issue in Rushdie’s own writing. His novels are giant winged contraptions, packed to capacity, hurtling across time and space, “pitting levity against gravity,” as he describes one of his airborne protagonists at the beginning of “The Satanic Verses.”

At their best, Rushdie’s imaginative machines attain lift and remain thrillingly aloft. At their worst, their centers cannot hold, and they spin into pieces. In “Joseph Anton,” which Rushdie has composed very much like a novel, both these scenarios come to pass. There are sections where the narrative soars, and more than a few in which it plummets.

One of the memoir’s novelistic approaches is its perspective, which shifts from the autobiographical “I” to “he.” It’s not as mannered a choice as it sounds in a narrative consumed, as much of Rushdie’s writing is, with the multiplicity of identity. “He was a new self now,” he realized after news of the fatwa reached him.

In fact he split into several selves: not just the Salman his friends and family knew but also a “Rushdie” reviled by screaming demonstrators in England and abroad, “an effigy, an absence, something less than human”; and reproached, too, by many unsympathetic compatriots in the Western press.

The sense of fracture was heightened when the Police insisted he invent an alias so he could write checks without being identified. He came up with “Joseph Anton,” the first names of two favorite writers, Conrad and Chekhov. Not lost on him was the peculiarity that a man who invented characters for a living had now “turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well.”

In early sections — among the best in the book — the author reveals that his actual surname was itself an invention. His father, a nonpracticing Muslim, changed his “fine old Delhi” name to Rushdie in homage to Ibn Rushd, the 12th-century Spanish-Arab polymath who wrote commentaries on the works of Aristotle and made a forceful case, 800 years before the uproar over “The Satanic Verses,” for rationalism over Islamic literalism.

Yet if his father’s “fearless skepticism” was his gift to young Salman and his three sisters, a dire home environment was his curse, for Anis Rushdie was so wrathful an alcoholic that Salman’s mother admitted she survived the marriage by developing a “forgettery” instead of a memory. In 1961, 13-year-old Salman was only too willing to leave his hometown, Bombay, for boarding school in England, where he was lonely and unpopular, and on to Cambridge, where, as a history student, he first learned about the “satanic verses,” a set of lines expunged from the Koran.

These absorbing coming-of-age passages are followed by equally engaging recollections of Rushdie’s London jobs as an advertising copywriter, where he developed his distinctive verbal bounciness. Those jingly effects and aphorisms pop up in the memoir as well (“Life was lived forward but was judged in reverse”).

And he vividly conveys the exhilaration he felt in the mid-1970s while dreaming up his first big success, “Midnight’s Children,” scene by scene, finding the tools and tone to tell his story: “India was not cool. It was hot. It was hot and overcrowded and vulgar and loud and it needed a language to match that and he would try to find that language.” Rushdie also comes across as tenderly devoted to his two sons, Zafar and Milan, and grateful to many of the individual police officers who guaranteed his and his family’s safety for nearly a ­decade.

If “Joseph Anton” builds up a lot of reader-friendly capital in these sections, it exhausts that capital rather too freely as the story continues. While the first days of the fatwa unfold grippingly, there’s a steep drop in momentum as the years drag on. Not even as talented a writer as Rushdie can avoid writing about tedium without becoming tedious himself. Clichés abound: “The house was beautiful but it felt like a gilded cage”; “What was he,” he wonders while contemplating moving to America after his ordeal is over, “but a huddled mass yearning to breathe free?”

As that last quotation suggests, Rushdie shows a cheerful willingness throughout the memoir to show off his less than dignified side. These scenes can be bleakly funny: when the police persuade him to wear a wig to avoid recognition in public, he tries it out on Sloane Street in London and is immediately the center of amused attention. “Look,” he hears a man say, “there’s that bastard Rushdie in a wig.” But there are occasions in which his goofiness grates and creates an uncomfortable dissonance in what is, after all, a sobering chronicle of state-sponsored terrorism that resulted in the murder of Rushdie’s Japanese translator and near-fatal attacks on his Italian translator and Norwegian publisher.

It’s of course lots of fun to read of the author’s unflagging bedazzlement at mingling with all kinds of celebrities, from Playboy bunnies to Heads of state, and in his access, post-fatwa, to every sort of party. (“Willie Nelson was there! And Matthew Modine!”) It’s fun also to render cheap sideline judgments during the many instances of score-settling here (particularly unflattering are Rushdie’s portrayals of his ex-wives Marianne Wiggins and Padma Lakshmi; his publishers at Penguin and Random House; and the former New Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb).

Are readers likely to remember mostly these juicy bits, and if so, how will that affect Rushdie’s literary legacy? “It was as a writer that he wanted to be defended, as a writer that he wanted to defend himself,” he eloquently states. But with “Joseph Anton,” is he risking becoming the kind of writer whose books are not so much read as skimmed for their potential provocations — a barbarism he’s fought against for nearly a quarter-century? Read all of “Joseph Anton,” then, for its lessons in how books are used, and whether they matter.

Donna Rifkind is writing a book about the screenwriter Salka Viertel and her Hollywood émigré salon.

A version of this review appeared in print on October 14, 2012, on page BR10 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: A Fictional Character.

Reflections of a World long gone

May 17, 2012

Reflections of a World long gone

By Karim Raslan (05-15-12)@

Lawyer and diplomat PG Lim shows us she is very much the original lady activist through her colourful memoirs, Kaleidoscope.

WE are not a nation of writers. Malaysians aren’t great diarists or memoirists. Indeed, our collective Malaysian story – our national narrative – has tended to lose out in terms of subtlety, intimacy and diversity precisely because of this weakness. However, the lawyer and diplomat PG (Phaik Gan) Lim’s memoirs Kaleidoscope provides us with a superb addition to the dominant and at times tiresome, national narrative.

The book also reminds us that history is an accumulation of different stories, perspectives and experiences and that we are diminished as a people if we disregard the diversity at the very core of what it is to be Malaysian.

PG’s account is elegantly written, insightful and deeply felt. In Kaleidoscope, PG reveals a hitherto unknown talent as a story-teller as she weaves the great events of the 20th Century with her own personal triumphs and failures.

It’s also been an eye-opening read for someone such as myself, who’s known PG for nearly 30 years. The book has made me realise that she’s very much the original lady activist – a forerunner to Irene Fernandes, Zainah Anwar and even Teresa Kok – principled, unflinching and always, always on the side of the dispossessed and down-trodden.

Moreover, PG’s shift from activism and opposition politics to national service (she was to be an Ambassador for over nine years in New York, Vienna and Bruxelles) underlines both the high regard with which the establishment viewed her as well as the less divisive nature of politics back in the 60s and 70s.

Indeed PG (along with Tan Sri Dr Aishah Ghani) was one of only two women on the National Consultative Council which was set up by the National Operations Council in the wake of the May 13 riots and the suspension of the Malaysian Parliament.

Born in 1915 in London, the daughter of a prominent Penang-based lawyer, Lim Cheng Ean, and a British Guyana medical student, Rosaline Hoalim, PG grew up amidst great wealth and an enormously supportive family.

She studied at the famous Light Street Convent School before pursuing a law degree in Girton College, Cambridge, in the late 1930s.

PG was to be shaped by both her mother’s independent, strong-willed nature as well as her father’s well-known civic-mindedness (he served on the Straits Settlement Legislative Council alongside Tan Cheng Lok and H.H. Abdoolcader).

Indeed PG’s large posse of over-achieving and good-looking brothers and sisters have left an inedible stamp on Malaysian public life.

Entering legal practice after the Second World War, PG went on to carve a name for herself as a fearless lawyer and a champion for labour rights, at a time when plantation workers in particular were very poorly treated.

These earlier sections of the memoirs are the most illuminating and exciting. PG conjures up the rich, culturally intriguing milieu of Baba Nonya life in pre-War Penang, the uncertainty of the Japanese Occupation (not to mention the gutlessness and perfidy of the retreating British forces), as well as the exuberance of post-Independence life in Kuala Lumpur.

Along with the magisterial roll-out of history, PG also touches on her own personal disappointments. She’s unflinching in this regard as she recounts her two failed marriages: proof that successful women face multiple challenges.

PG never shied away from controversial or difficult cases, from Confrontation-era insurgents being threatened with the death penalty to trade unionists seeking better conditions for workers – there was no cause too big or too small for her.

Indeed, it’s interesting to compare the current trade union activism with the events of the 50s and 60s.

PG’s interests extended way beyond activism. She was a major stalwart of the Art’s Council which, in turn, became the nucleus of Malaysia’s National Art Gallery.

The book reflects her varied interests. She was a voracious reader, she fenced and punted in Cambridge, while also being an active supporter of the arts.

Kaleidoscope provides us with a view of a world that has long disappeared, of a Malaysia that was and could have been. It reminds us of a time when it was still possible to learn French and Latin in a Malaysian school. Of a time when Malaysia had a Labour Party and when the various races mingled without resentment or reserve.

This was a time when politicians behaved like gentlemen and honest debate was not seen as a form of treason.

Her life and writings are a firm rebuke to the gutter politics that Malaysian public life has descended to. As she writes at the conclusion of Kaleidoscope:

“I remember my father telling me, if you are right in the causes you champion, you should be fearless in pursuing them. I sometimes feel Malaysians are too timid to champion worthy causes. Technology now provides us all with greater opportunities to get our voices heard.”

PG Lim is a great Malaysian: bold, brilliant, principled and utterly human. Her story is an integral part of our national narrative. Read it.

Dr. UMNO breaks his silence on BERSIH3.0

May 3, 2012

Dr. UMNO breaks his silence on BERSIH3.0

by Terence Netto@

COMMENT After a period of quiet – a tell-tale sign he’s not sure what to make of the play – Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Monday ended his silence on BERSIH 3.0 with comments that show how deep in Josef Goebbels’ debt he often is.

The Nazi propaganda minister was an exponent of the “big lie”, a tactic that holds that the more brazen the lie you deploy the harder it is for the target to deny it.Just as the humanist is often baffled by the deliberate will to evil, so are the honest frequently befuddled by the bare-faced mendacity of others.

In remarks made at the launch of the Bahasa Malaysia version of his memoirs ‘A Doctor in the House’, Mahathir claimed that Bersih was out to foment revolution.

The former Premier has got things the wrong way round. For the sake of hypothesis, one would have to recap events of 25 years back, inserting BERSIH’s existence before the pivotal UMNO election of April 1987.

If, say, there was a polls reform advocacy group like BERSIH well before the UMNO election, the party would conceivably have prevented 13 illegal branches from participating in its internal polls that year, a move that led to a court case which saw the late Justice Harun Hashim declare UMNO illegal.

Historians may well look back on that sequence of events as having led to a revolution whose pivotal trigger was the removal of Salleh Abas in 1988 as the top judge of the country.

As consequence, the era of the imperial prime minister and of UMNO as hegemon began, a revolutionary reversion from what was the norm before – the Prime Minister as primus inter pares (first among equals) in Cabinet and the same status for UMNO within the ruling BN.

Collateral damage

A host of debilitating ills stemmed from the imperial premiership and UMNO’s hegemony: the judiciary was rendered compliant, and the civil service and police force became adjuncts of the UMNO President and Prime Minister of the country.

Collateral damage in the business sphere from these deviant developments saw the fortification of the politics-business nexus that has directly led to the plutocracy Malaysia has become.

Talk of the changes to the election process that BERSIH has for the past five years been espousing, how many must now be wishing that BERSIH had existed a long time ago for it conceivably would have prevented the revolution to Malaysia’s constitutional mores that issued from the participation of 13 illegal branches in UMNO’s elective exercise of 1987.

That event was the trigger for a cascade of deviant and corruptive effects on Malaysian politics. It would take a revolution to remove these effects from the body politic; so deeply have the viruses infected the national political bloodstream that mere transfusions would not suffice to rejuvenate it.

NONEConsider Mahathir’s argument, aired while expatiating on the issue of BERSIH last Monday, that the fact the Election Commission’s chief and deputy are members of UMNO do not render their status as impartial interlocutors untenable.

Mahathir argues the point of their membership’s dormancy as invalidating the claim that mere membership had rendered them inherently biased.

It is the sort of argument that would get you laughed out off any democratic saloon.But the argument is to be expected from someone who allowed the most corrosive deviation from judicial norms to occur on his watch as Prime Minister.

This was the decision to allow the Chief Judge of Malaya (Hamid Omar) to be on the panel of the impeachment proceedings against the Lord President (Salleh Abas) when an adverse finding against the latter meant that the former would be elevated to take his place in the judicial hierarchy. Something like that is simply not on in the canons of natural justice.

A Humpty Dumpty situation

It is said of Mahathir that he never encountered a rule he did not like; in the event he did, he simply changed it. When a predecessor of the current EC chief (also like the present one, a former secretary general of the Home Ministry) suggested to Premier Mahathir that some rules of the electoral process that favoured incumbents needed to be altered to become more even handed, he was given what was, knowing Mahathir, a typical reply.

The former EC head was told that just because a rule favoured the incumbents was no reason to change it. Never mind that a disposition of that sort is inherently autocratic; it is when it claims that the opposite tendency, which when long violated can rise to the protesting proportions that Bersih summoned last Saturday, is called dictatorial and revolutionary, we have arrived at the Humpty Dumpty situation.

Which is: “A word is anything I say it means.” It would take a revolution to put right a situation like that.

Crafting the state of Malaysia

April 25, 2012

Crafting the state of Malaysia

by Dr. A Murad Merican

I USUALLY begin my Malaysian Studies class on the two levels of approaches in conceiving the nation-state — the concrete and the abstract. Neither is unproblematic.

There are many instances of the name “Malaysia” used in books and other documents in the 1800s and 1900s before Malaysia became a nation. Generally, the meaning embraces insular Southeast Asia from Sumatra to the Philippines and the Malay Peninsula.

It is not every day that we find geographical space being defined and manoeuvred along numerous configurations — among others, ideology, colonial presence, ethnicity, language spoken and oral traditions, cultural practices and a collective memory. And it is not every day that one is provided with the opportunity to craft and make nation-states.

The birth of the nation, and especially as to its territorial configuration, needs to be continuously consumed, understood and celebrated. I found Ghazali Shafie’s Memoir on the Formation of Malaysia (1998) a pertinent text on the story of Malaysia. It is the story of the nation — through “the rare opportunity” as Ghazali put it — to participate directly in charting its course.

The young Ghazali, while a law student at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, between 1948 and 1951 began to think of a greater union comprising the states of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo. He chose to study ancient Welsh law with a view to comparing it with other legal systems.

We are reminded that before 1948, there was no country strictly called Malaya but a territory of nine sultanates as British Protectorates and three Straits Settlements as Crown Colonies. In reading the memoir, I tend to belabour the genesis of his thoughts and imagination — the junctures at which he crossed paths with destiny.

In Part One, titled “Genesis”, Ghazali projected his insights in the years before Malaysia, the nation-state. He recalled, “I had become acutely sensitive at that time to the fact that at least I had a country called Tanah Melayu or Malaya whereas before I was only a citizen of the state of Pahang.”

He was conscious that with the formation of the Federation of Malaya, “I had become a citizen of Malaya, a much bigger unit than Pahang”. He arrived in London in August 1948. There, he met Tunku Abdul Rahman and Abdul Razak Hussein (later Tun). They formed a fraternity for the independence of Malaya, “now that we had a country known as the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu since February 1948″.

“I could not erase the thought of a greater federation involving the 11 states of the Federation with Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo would be desirable and viable for the benefit of the people.”

The concept of this “togetherness”, as Ghazali described it, became almost an obsession. He recalled that “I could not suggest a name for it” but wrote in the Straits Times of the desirability of a commonwealth of Southeast Asia.

The origins of “Malaysia” is a subject for the history of ideas. Instrumental to Ghazali’s worldview was living through colonialism, and the people he met. Ghazali learnt that to the British Colonial Office, governing Malaya was extremely cumbersome, with many semi-independent states in the Malay Peninsula and the Borneo territories. The Malay rulers’ sovereignty was never diminished. There were treaty relations and “not a relationship based on one of conqueror-vanquished as upheld by the British judiciary”.

Ghazali had in mind to call such an association or federation of states the Federation of Malaysia, where the states joined in “partnership on a footing something like that which exists between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland”. He argued that “we are linked to the Borneo territories not only by proximity and close association, but also because the Borneo territories have the same types of culture and racial origins as Malayans”. He refuted suggestions that the Malaysia concept was an attempt to colonise.

Tun Muhammad Ghazali Shafie died on January 24, 2010. He was Minister of Home Affairs from 1973 to 1981, and Minister of Foreign affairs for three years from 1981. I first met Ghazali at Wisma Putra as a cadet journalist with Bernama in 1981. It was during a courtesy call by US Senator S.I. Hayakawa, who was a scholar of linguistics.

Ghazali’s Memoir should remain accessible to all. It went for a second printing in 2004. The problem is even the paperback version is not accessible. Such works should be reformatted and reduced in size, displayed in retail outlets. I suggest the publisher re-launch the memoir. In the memoir, “Malaysia” is not just a word, the name of a nation state or territory. It has lexical ramifications, meaning and contexts. It has semantics.


Plumbing for BERSIH at PG Lim’s Memoirs Launch

April 21, 2012

Plumbing for BERSIH at PG Lim’s Memoirs Launch in Penang

by Terence Netto (04-20-12) @

The occasion of the launch of the memoirs of legal luminary, PG Lim, provided a member of the steering committee of BERSIH to give a plug to one of the electoral reform pressure group’s demands – a longer campaign period for the general election.

NONEToh Kin Woon, in remarks made at the launch of ‘Kaleidoscope’ in Penang today, observed that Lim contested in the 1964 general election for the state constituency of Sentul in Selangor on a Labor Party ticket.

“The campaign period then was five weeks and BERSIH is only asking for three,” said the former Gerakan legislator and Penang state executive councillor.


Moved perhaps by the audience’s palpable surprise on being apprised of the length of the campaign period of an election that was held at the height of the Confrontation with Indonesia (1963-65), Toh could not resist the plug:

“That is why I urge you all to be at the sit-down protest that will be held on April 28 in Kuala Lumpur.”

Pleasant surprise segued into admiration when Toh listed the achievements of the Cambridge educated Lim, now 96, who broke several “glass ceilings” as one of the country’s first female political and social activists.

Legal doyenne

Toh remarked that Lim had deserted her class – she was born in London to wealthy parents (her father was from Penang and mother from British Guyana) who met while they were studying in Cambridge during the First World War – to make common cause with Malaya’s (and later Malaysia’s) working class.

NONELim represented people condemned to death for sedition and espoused the cause of trade unions fighting for better wages and working conditions.

Toh’s comments were not lost on an audience aware that the fast approaching general election is being viewed as a contest between the appropriative capitalism of BN and the social democracy of Pakatan Rakyat.

But the legal doyenne whose memoirs was being lauded confined herself, in a brief video that was shown of an pre-book launch interview she had given, to terse and playful remarks on the nature of the autobiographical art and of the life she had lived.

It was a reminder that levity is an aid to longevity.

No Higher Honour: Condoleezza Rice Looks Back

December 15, 2011

NYTIMES Sunday Book Review

No Higher Honour: Condoleezza Rice Looks Back

By Susan Chira
Published: December 9, 2011

They (Rice and Bush) were an unlikely pair: the cerebral A-student from a striving black family and the son of privilege who as a candidate for President couldn’t name Pakistan’s military ruler. But together they forged a vision of a muscular United States striking out on its own.

With “No Higher Honor,” Condoleezza Rice has written an exhaustive brief to acquit herself before the bar of history, which she hopes will be more forgiving than the caustic judgments of the present. Her power stemmed from the bond that runs through her book: the close, even adulatory relationship with George W. Bush, which prompted jealousy and derision from both Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

Rice is terse about what drew her to Bush: “I liked him. He was funny and irreverent but serious about policy.” The attraction was his moral certainty. Intellectuals and the Foggy Bottom striped-pants crowd may have mocked his impatience with nuance, but she saw that as standing for principle. “It was what I loved about George W. Bush as President,” she writes. “What was right mattered.”

Yet this very clarity and impatience set the stage for the Administration’s most reviled decisions, the ones she has written this book to defend. To plot a new course for a Bush Presidency even before the election, she had assembled a group that called itself the Vulcans. They were drawn largely from colleagues in the previous Bush Administration, and had witnessed the end of the cold war. But this lens — Eurocentric, informed by her specialty in Russia and fed by the triumphalism of a sole American superpower — arguably blinded her to problems the second President Bush would have to confront, like the very different dynamics of the Arab world and the cost of imperial overstretch.

The starting point for the new Administration was unilateralism, and evidence for its new course came early in the first term, when the White House rejected the Kyoto environmental protocol in a way Rice acknowledges was too highhanded and combative. “Mr. President,” she said, “this is going to color your foreign policy from the outset, and that’s a problem.”

And in the urgency that followed the attacks of 9/11, the conviction that the United States could not wait for slow-motion coalition-building hardened into pre-emptive action. The book’s few vivid scenes are largely of those early, fearful days: Rice looking at herself in the mirror and asking what she had missed before 9/11, or waiting to see if top officials had been exposed to deadly botulism. “I was shaken to my core,” she writes. The one and only time she raised her voice to Bush, she reports, is when she told him it wasn’t safe to return to Washington. This atmosphere, hard to summon now, framed the decisions on detention, “enhanced interrogation” and the invasion of Iraq.

Still, her defense of detention and interrogation is unconvincing; she does not grapple with the violations of civil liberties or the blow to American values, clinging instead to legal technicalities and the argument that the measures saved lives. Of the military tribunals, she maintains that she and other top national security officials weren’t shown the order the president signed authorizing them. “In that case I told the president that the White House counsel and the vice president’s office had not served him well.” In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled the tribunals unconstitutional.

Above all, Rice wrestles with Iraq. Stung by the charges that the Bush Administration lied about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, she says, “It is hard for many people now, knowing what subsequently occurred, to appreciate how compelling the overall intelligence case against Saddam appeared to be.” She also strives to recreate the fear among Bush officials that they were underestimating a serious threat to American security. Yet her sound bite from a Sunday talk show — “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” — now reverberates as one of the most hyperbolic claims of the Bush years.

Rice’s most puzzling argument is that the Administration was mistaken in releasing individual intelligence nuggets to the public, so that the case for war seemed to hang on specific assertions that were later proven wrong: the “16 words” in the State of the Union charging that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger is one example. But if those assertions about the threat from Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were empty, what was the rationale for the war?

Many of the worst mistakes of the war, Rice insists, were made by the Pentagon: too few troops to enforce order; disbanding the Iraqi Army; surreal official briefings, at increasing odds with the reality that foreign correspondents on the ground were seeing. (I talked daily with journalists who were risking their lives to get the story.) Indeed, she says, by 2006 she refused to cite the blizzard of deceptive military statistics claiming success. “I don’t believe them myself,” she told her chief of staff. Finally, her growing anguish over the course of the war culminated in a tense confrontation with Bush when she bluntly told him, “It’s failing.” His response was to ask her what policy she thought would work. “That was my moment of deepest despair about Iraq,” she writes. “I wasn’t sure that there was an answer to the president’s question.”

In their own books, Rumsfeld and Cheney lambasted Rice. It’s her turn now. She is more polite than they were, insisting throughout that their sharpening differences were about policy, not personality. But she skewers Rumsfeld as an arrogant man unsettled by the ascent and access to power of a woman who was once his junior. And she captures the swagger of Cheney by describing how he excluded her and Colin Powell from his 2003 celebration of the liberation of Iraq.

Yet her own blind spots are also apparent. She admits, for example, that she didn’t expect Iraqis to view Americans as occupiers, ignoring the history of Iraqi resistance to the British in the 1920s and the Arab sensitivity to any tinge of colonialism. Her Eurocentrism was an obvious handicap. And in a 766-page book that seems to include virtually every trip she ever made, she gives short shrift to the rapid deterioration in Afghanistan. She notes that President Hamid Karzai was often unrealistic and paranoid, but mentions none of the corruption and dysfunction that alienated Afghans and strengthened the Taliban. Similarly, she glances over the double-dealing that permitted Pakistan to receive billions in American aid while members of its security services were backing anti-American militants.

There were successes: a passionate commitment to Africa that produced programs to fight AIDS; development grants and pressure to reduce killings in Darfur; the disarming of Qaddafi (which she rightly points out deprived him of weapons of mass destruction he might have unleashed in the Arab Spring); a nuclear pact with India. Rice also seems eager to claim credit for sowing the seeds of the Arab Spring by, among other things, helping to establish “a fragile democratic pathway for Iraq” and encouraging democracy in Lebanon.

“No Higher Honor” really shows us two Condoleezza Rices: one, the impatient unilateralist who was national security adviser, the other the born-again diplomat who, as secretary of state, worked to repair some of the damage that had been done to American credibility by its unilateralism. “People were tired of us,” she told the President a few months before they left office. A humbling thought as history renders judgment.

Susan Chira,  Assistant Managing Editor for news at The Times, was foreign editor from 2004 through most of 2011.

A version of this review appeared in print on December 11, 2011, on page BR31 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: State Witness.

The Syed Husin Memoir: Ezam quit for Money

November 18, 2011

The Syed Husin Memoir: Ezam quit for Money

by Aidila Razak@

Quoting conversations from his lengthy political career, the much-anticipated memoir by former PKR Deputy President Syed Husin Ali lends credence to suspicions surrounding once-PKR Youth chief Ezam Mohd Noor’s defection.

In a chapter dubbed ‘Ezam’s excuse for leaving the party’, the veteran politician shared that Ezam had told him a month before his resignation that he was “broke” and “ashamed” for having to “live off his wife”.

According to Syed Husin, Ezam  had on May 13, 2007 told him that he was then “jobless and without any source of income”.

“I no longer earn US$3,000 a month as a director of a company in Indonesia as the company has closed down,” he was quoted as saying by Syed Husin.

“I have to look for opportunities to be appointed director for one or two companies. I can only do this if I can prove that I have left the party.”

The revelation, which the writer said was “absolutely unexpected”, came after Syed Husin asked Ezam about rumours that the latter had submitted a resignation letter to the Selangor PKR secretary.

“Doctor, I am quitting. Azmin (Ali) is no longer my enemy, (PKR de facto leader) Anwar (Ibrahim) is. Trust that I will do anything to destroy him,” Ezam purportedly said.

Syed Husin said Ezam’s “forthrightness” came as a “big shock”, and that he had sent a note to Anwar regarding the conversation, shortly after which the promising youth wing leader quit the party.

Narrating his reactions during the conversation with the now BN senator, Syed Husin said that he wondered if Ezam had been “bought by UMNO”.

“I remembered a letter sent to me by (activist) Hishammuddin Rais when he was behind bars,” he said, not mentioning the contents of the letter.

But while his matter-of-fact tone does not betray much about how he had felt over the incident, his views on Ezam indicate that the latter’s decision to quit had disappointed Syed Husin.

“I felt that Ezam had potential to play an important role in the party. It even crossed my mind that he could be promoted as a candidate for the deputy presidency,” he wrote.

Zul Noordin asked for RM60,000′

In a separate chapter, the memoir reveals how another former PKR man was said to have sought a cash payment from the party to quit his seat.

Kulim Bandar Baru parliamentarian Zulkifli Noordin, now Independent, was alleged to have asked for RM60,000 to vacate his seat in order to make way for Anwar to contest and get back into the Dewan Rakyat.

This was after Anwar’s ban from contesting elections, following his earlier conviction, was lifted on April 14, 2008. “(Zulkifli’s) win was challenged by the UMNO candidate who claimed that Zulkifli had not submitted his expenditure report.

“I was told Zulkifli (left) at first agreed to vacate his seat with the condition that he is paid by the party, word has it RM60,000, although I cannot ascertain the exact amount,” he wrote.

This, however, fell through as UMNO withdrew their election petition against Zulkifli, leading to the latter changing his mind about vacating his seat.

Zulkifli had months later criticised Anwar and the party, including on his blog “which was given much airtime by UMNO-owned media”. He was later sacked from PKR by the disciplinary committee.

Syed Husin said Zulkifli’s “slander” went into high gear later, “especially after he and another who had left the party, (Bayan Baru MP) Zahrain Mohd Hashim, were taken to the United States by the PM”. “According to Zulkifli, they had discussions with the PM every night,” he wrote.

Anwar later contested in Permatang Pauh after his wife and Party President Wan Azizah Wan Ismail stepped down to trigger a re-election.

“I know it wasn’t easy for Wan Azizah, as she liked being an MP. She often spoke about what had happened in Parliament in meetings,” he said. Wan Azizah’s decision, Syed Husin said, was an example of the sacrifices she makes for her husband.

Malaysiakini has contacted Ezam and Zulkifli and is awaiting their comments.