Malaysia And Osama Bin Laden

How interlinked, as the United States insists, is Malaysia and the bin Laden terrorist network? Malaysia is one of 20 Muslim countries whose seamen are not allowed ashore when their ships dock in US ports. It is a slight enough for the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, to bring the devil's wrath on the US government. He has not. Instead, he cajoles and tries to smoothtalk Washington into lifting the ban. But Malaysia has paid host to groups Washington now insists is linked to Osama bin Laden or his terrorist network or to other diverse groups.

When Malaysia wants to be a significant voice in the Muslim world, she must support the voice of the Muslim diaspora and its hurt and fear. Malaysia sent Malaysians to fight in Afghanistan to unseat the Soviet Union, backingn one or more of the mujahideen groups in the anti-Soviet coalition. When Moscow was, these groups maintained their loyalties to the factions they backed. One of this is the Taleban. It encouraged Malaysian Muslims to study in the madrasahs of Pakistan, more than 25,000 of them, funded with Saudi money, providing the cannon fodder for the Taleban movement.

It is into this mess that Malaysia is now hoist on her own petard. The bin Laden family has extensive investments here. It was the Arab partner in the disastrous Kerpen tiger-fishing project, which when it failed gave PAS the political edge it did not have in Kedah. This conglomerate did some of the infrastructure work of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, eventually RM900 million worth. While Osama bin Laden is not part of the family group, blood is thicker than water; so it is not realistic to assume the family has disowned him altogether.

When Osama bin Laden invested in Malaysia, he was not the political ogre he is today; but the RM1.5 billion he has in a Malaysian bank could not have been without the knowledge of the banking and political authorities. If I know it, it is more than likely others know it too. There are persistent rumours he attempted to buy a house, that he had been here and that he had wanted to base himself here before he moved on elsewhere. His name appears often enough in the Mindanao problem.

The National Front (BN) government, to demonise PAS, took this issue of terrorist training, to extremes. TV3 and NTV7 juxtaposed the World Trade Centre and Pentagon bombings with the activities of the Kumpulan Militan Malaysia aka Kumpulan Mujahideen Malaysia. Now no such claims are made. Washington has put the squeeze on Malaysia. Washington, not satisfied with Dr Mahathir's initial tepid response, made him write a letter to President Bush offering Malaysia's bases and airspace to American forces en route to destroy Afghanistan. The BN government cannot now accuse PAS without mud on its face.

When the government raised the spectre of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism within Malaysia, Malaysia fell into Washington hands. Kuala Lumpur cannot now deny it, not when several people had been detained and incarcerated under the Internal Security Act. And as a political weapon against PAS, Islamic terrorist activity cannot hold. Even amongst UMNO members, Osama bin Laden is not the ogre the world depicts him as. He acquires the status of a latter day Saladin, and he operates, as a British newspaper wrote, as Genghis Khan, in a secretive system in which he alone knows what the ultimate aim is and how it would be carried out.

It is therefore impossible to say what other tentacles he has in this country. He was allowed to invest here at a time when it was respectable to do so. He was after all once Washington's darling, as President Saddam Hussein of Iraq was. Dr Mahathir is forced to agree to whatever Washington has in mind. He is off Washington's radar screens, he still wants that invitation to tea and scones at the White House, and now he is caught in the nutcracker wielded by the different policy and security bodies of the United States government. He now has to beat the terrorist drum to show he is no body's whipping boy.

MGG Pillai