DEFENCE Minister Mohamad Sabu’s recent announcement to scuttle the operations of the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP) is to be lauded. The Saudi-backed centre, launched in late 2017, was to have occupied premises in Putrajaya and be funded by both the governments of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.
From the very beginning of its establishment, the KSCIP has sparked much debate among counter-terrorism experts in Malaysia. Firstly, Malaysia already has a Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter Terrorism (SEARCCT) housed in the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
SEARCCT was established as a hub for capacity building programmes on counter terrorism and a research facility to counter terrorist narratives. Funded by the United States, Australia and many of the developed countries, it was intended to serve the whole of South-East Asia. Why then would Malaysia want to duplicate counter-terrorism efforts by establishing a competing centre in the form of the KSCIP?
Secondly, the establishment of the KSCIP brought with it the pejorative connotation that terrorist activities could only be found in the Muslim world. While it is true that Islam has had to bear the brunt of the perception of Islamic-terrorism, compounding the idea by having the Muslim world exclusively deal with it is not an image that Malaysia should be proud to project.
Furthermore, grounding the KSCIP in Malaysia only tarnishes the image of this country as a progressive, non-aligned and neutral country within the swirl of religious and extremist propaganda.
In the international community, image and standing is everything. Malaysia can and should support diplomatic efforts to counter terror worldwide, but we should not be a party to a coalition that strategically or physically helps the destruction of a fellow Muslim state, or any other state for that matter.
Since 2015, the Saudi-led coalition has waged a war against the Houthi rebels of Yemen, after the Houthi rebels captured the capital Sana’a with the backing of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Houthis are Shias who have had some success in fighting the al-Qaeda and ISIL in Yemen, and should therefore be assisted in this war against terror. Yet, because the Houthis are Shias, the Saudis want them out of Yemen. So it becomes a war of three sides, with the Saudis and al-Qaeda fighting the Houthis.
All this is beside the point, however. The fact is that it is this Saudi-led coalition that has led to the famine affecting almost 17 million people, and the death of 50,000 children. In the three years of the war, there has been no eradication of terrorists in Yemen and the only clear result is a humanitarian catastrophe beyond any we could have imagined.
Air strikes have hit homes, hospitals, markets and public places. The latest air strike injured and killed 29 innocent schoolchildren who were returning from a picnic. More than three million Yemenis have been displaced, and many more are homeless in their own shelled-out country.
The coalition that was meant to end the war has only aggravated it. Coalition member countries were last year in danger of being cited by the United Nations for crimes against humanity for their part in Yemen. The coalition itself is made up of several countries including Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and Senegal. While it is not clear what the extent of Malaysia’s involvement in the coalition is, it is said that we are there to “help the evacuation process of Malaysians”, an excuse that holds no water three years into the war, and with no evacuations recorded.
Malaysian boots are on the ground, and if Mohamad Sabu has his way, they should be coming home soon – if they are not home already. Malaysia has no business putting its valuable military forces in a conflict area where the only game is a political-leverage game, and where lives are unnecessarily at stake because the big boys want to play.
The attacks should stop, and they should stop now. How many times have we heard the slogan “never again”? Have we not learned from the mistakes of Rwanda, Bosnia or Syria?
If the international community does not have the willpower to effect the cry for “never again”, then Malaysia should at least not be a party to the carnage. We should leverage on that which we do best – engage.
This year, at the United Nations General Assembly, why not assume that role Malaysia has always been good at – to initiate a meaningful dialogue cutting across the religious and power-play undertones to bring some measure of peace to those now suffering?
It is a role that we can again assume if we are not beholden to any one power.
DATUK DR FAUZIAH MOHD TAIB
Former ambassador to the Netherlands and Fiji Islands