IT was exactly 50 years ago that the Konfrontasi officially ended when both Indonesia and Malaysia signed and ratified a peace agreement on Aug 11, 1966. The Konfrontasi was an undeclared war or “small war” fought between Malaysia and Indonesia.
It started when Malaysia, consisting of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore, was formed on Sept 16, 1963. Indonesia under President Sukarno was vehemently against the formation of Malaysia which he deemed a British grand strategy to contain Indonesia’s geopolitical aspirations in the region.
He launched a ganyang Malaysia or “crush Malaysia” campaign, at first by political, economic and propaganda means.
When these failed, he launched military attacks against Malaysia.
Indonesian military forces then conducted small cross border raids in Sarawak and Sabah from Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) through the porous mountainous and jungle borders there.
This was slowly but effectively countered by the Malaysian security forces aided by British Commonwealth forces.
The failure of the Indonesian cross-border raids frustrated Sukarno and prompted him in mid-1964 to open a second front in Peninsular Malaysia to divert the attention of the Commonwealth and Malaysian security forces.
Indonesian commandos launched amphibious raids on the coastal areas of Johor and Singapore and later parachuted para-commandos into Peninsular Malaysia to conduct subversion and sabotage attacks.
All of these operations were foiled and the Indonesians were mostly killed or captured by Malaysian and Commonwealth security forces. Meanwhile, Indonesian military forces continued to attempt cross-border attacks in Sabah and Sarawak but were continuously disrupted by track-and-ambush operations.
Indonesia had also used international propaganda to degrade Malaysia and initially gained the trust of the Afro-Asian states, at that point an important group of mostly ex-colonial newly independent states.
Malaysia countered Indonesia’s claims by conducting a whirlwind of diplomatic visits between 1964 and 1965 led by the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Abdul Razak and Singapore’s Chief Minister Lee Kuan Yew, which explained properly Malaysia’s formation and eventually managed to obtain recognition from almost all of these Afro-Asian states.
The Konfrontasi lasted until 1966, when Indonesia under its new leader Suharto, suffering serious military setbacks and without much international support for its cause, decided to explore diplomatic options in ending the small war.
Both Indonesia and Malaysia had peace talks leading to the final conclusion of the undeclared war with the signing of a peace treaty. Malaysian and Commonwealth security forces saw 114 men killed (a quarter of them Malaysians) while the Indonesian military forces had close to 600 men killed during Konfrontasi.
Amid the current local divisive political rhetoric on the confused meaning and importance of Malaysia Day being played up by a few politicians, we should all be reminded that the formation of Malaysia did not come easy. It was made on the altar of blood and sacrifices by men and women who fought to ensure that the sovereignty of our nation prevailed during those precarious early days.
Perhaps, the history of the Konfrontasi has not been popularly disseminated which has led to the current perception that Malaysia’s formation was an easy and insignificant affair.
How many youngsters, if you ask them on the street today, know about the Konfrontasi?
The military triumph of Malaysia’s security forces (then still at its infancy) in this undeclared war should be commemorated too.
It is only fair to all those men and women who served in the security forces and fought during Malaysia’s first “war” to be given their solemn honour, and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our future.
DR ADAM LEONG KOK WEY
Faculty of Defence Studies and Management
National Defence University of Malaysia