By Julia Suryakusuma
January 11, 2017
How can you be neighbours if you are over 5,800 kilometres apart? If you consider the Indian Ocean to be a connector (rather than a divider) and you happen to be Indonesia and Pakistan, that is how.
This is what Maj. Gen. (ret.) Mahmud Ali Durrani implied in the talk he gave on Jan. 6, at an event hosted by the Foreign Policy Community Indonesia (FPCI). Pretty imaginative, right?
Old generals don’t fade, they give talks. And having served in the military for 37 years, as Pakistan’s national security adviser, as ambassador to the US, and the author of several books on security issues, he has a lot under his belt to share with others.
And perhaps Durrani believes in the Indonesian saying, Jauh di mata, dekat di hati (literally meaning “far from sight, close to the heart”) when he mentions Indonesia and Pakistan’s closeness. Not in terms of geographical proximity obviously, but in so many other ways.
Indonesia is the largest Muslim populated country in the world (over 260 million, 88 percent Muslims), and Pakistan is the second largest (population 193 million, 97 percent Muslims). Both countries are members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Developing 8 Countries.
In a 2012 BBC World Service global poll, Pakistan was ranked as the second-most negatively viewed country in the world (after Iran). However, the same poll conducted in 2014 revealed that 40 percent of Indonesians viewed Pakistan positively, with 31 percent expressing a negative view. Nevertheless, it still makes Indonesia the country with the most positive perception of Pakistan in the world. There are also historical ties: Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, encouraged Muslim soldiers serving in the British Indian Army to help free Indonesia of the Dutch colonialists.
Reading the news, it’s not hard to understand that the world sees Pakistan as being a hotbed of terrorism. But when I visited Pakistan twice in 2013, I found a beautiful country with friendly charming people. Pakistan has a lot going for it — just Google “Interesting facts about Pakistan — and you will be amazed (see also “Pakistan: A nation cursed, a nation blessed”, The Jakarta Post, Feb. 20, 2013)!
Durrani’s talk was a geo-strategic update of South Asia, focusing on Pakistan’s neighbours and the US, which obviously has important implications not just for the region but also for the world and global terrorism.
I couldn’t help, however, thinking of the similarities between the development of socio-religious identity in Indonesia, which has become increasingly similar to Pakistan, especially recently. Sectarianism and the politics of identity in Pakistan and other South Asian nations like Bangladesh, are very pronounced. Cases of violence triggered by accusations of blasphemy and the radicalization of Islamic extremism have occurred much earlier in these two countries, e.g. the Bangladeshi blogger who was killed for allegedly insulting Islam. The most famous ongoing case at the moment of course is that of Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, incumbent governor of Jakarta currently on trial for alleged blasphemy (see “Politicization of religion: Believe, but don’t fight about it!”, the Post, Nov. 30, 2016).
During the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) between 2004 and 2014, there were already fears of the “Pakistanisation of Indonesia”, meaning, Indonesia’s Muslim community, which has become increasingly polarized after what is famously known as the 212 demonstration of Muslim extremists against Ahok. Basically, they didn’t care if Ahok is guilty or not. Being a Chinese-Christian is blasphemy enough. Ouch!
So we need to learn from Pakistan, or more precisely, to avoid falling into the religious traps Pakistan has fallen into.
Believe it or not, Pakistan was not founded as an Islamic state and in the beginning the Muslim majority was only 83 percent. Like in Indonesia, there were the supporters of keeping Pakistan secular, and also those who wanted an Islamic state. It’s true that in 1956, the state adopted the name “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” declaring Islam as the official religion, but they did not take any further measures to adopt Islamic law.
Up to 1971, the country’s military leaders (who decide what goes on politically in Pakistan) continued a secularist tradition and repressed much of Islamic activism. It was under Gen. Zia-ul-Haq that Islamization occurred, causing him to be called “the person most responsible for turning Pakistan into a global centre for political Islam”.
In a way, Pakistan became a victim of its decision to use Islam as the basis for the state. Obviously the fault lies not in Islam as such, but in the interpretation of Islam, which is fraught with political interests. The fatwas issued are often used to clobber those who disagree with them, or simply, minorities — including women.
Pakistan is also a victim of the geopolitics of the global cold war and the West’s manipulation of Islam for its nefarious designs. Many of us are familiar with how the US used Afghanistan for their proxy war against the Soviets, training the Mujahideen, who eventually morphed into the Taliban, which Durrani also spoke about.
The West created their Frankenstein (i.e. the revival of radical Islam), and are now blaming all Muslims for the mess they created? Get real.
It was also during the war in Afghanistan that 350 of Indonesia’s militants from Darul Islam (before it split into Jamaah Islamiyah, JI) were involved in military training in Pakistan. When they returned, they were the ones involved in terrorism in Indonesia since the Bali bombings in 2002, and the Marriott Hotel bombing in 2009. They also trained locals in Ambon and Poso (1998-2001) during the sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians, respectively in 19992002 and 1998-2001.
When the Islamic State (IS) group declared itself a caliphate, some Indonesian students in Pakistan, especially those in the JI network (due to their parents being members of JI), departed for Syria and became members of the Katibah Nusantara (KN) meaning Katibah Archipelago. Who are they? None less than the Southeast Asian military unit within IS. They are composed mainly of Malay-speaking individuals and received notoriety as the perpetrators of the 2016 Jakarta attacks. Scary or what?
Radical Islam manifests itself in the “overt world”, like in the case of Ahok, and in the “covert world”, like ISIS. Together they are like two strands when twisted together become the rope that strangles our democratic liberties and rights.
As Durrani said in his talk, “your cousin is your potential enemy”. Geo-politics are like family feuds, but terrorism is also a family affair — of the deadliest kind.