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Politics: A Booming Industry
Who's behind the bombing of the Philippine embassy in Jakarta?

August 3, 2000
Web posted at 4:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 4:30 a.m. EDT

Asides : A few questions for Tung Chee-hwa

Officials, investigators and commentators puzzling over the Aug. 1 bomb attack in Jakarta on the residence of the Philippine ambassador have been quick to come up with suspects. Keen to dispel any suggestion of internal unrest, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid immediately blamed the attack on the Muslim separatist insurgency in the southern Philippines. He didn't cite any evidence, so he's probably just guessing., a Texas-based think-tank, issued its own analysis the day after the bombing, listing three possible perpetrators: Philippine Muslim insurgents themselves (they could have done it, but with great difficulty), Indonesian groups sympathizing or conspiring with the rebels, or a combined effort of both (commentary available online at

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Still, others suspect disgruntled elements of the Indonesian military, who are out to show that President Wahid is unable to govern effectively. The possible intended message: If an ASEAN ambassador isn't safe in Jakarta, who is? The Indonesian armed forces can then press for greater powers to crack down on lawlessness and political violence. At the same time, Wahid would have to condemn the attack -- a predictable move which could undermine the support he enjoys and needs from activist circles among Indonesian Muslims. Many of them sympathize with Philippine Islamic insurgents; they are also incensed over the Christian-Muslim clashes in the Maluku islands. Just as the main Philippine Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has called for a jihad or "holy war" against the Manila government, radical Indonesian Muslims are also campaigning for jihad against Christians in the Spice Islands.

What are governments to do in the face of an apparent escalation, if not internationalization, of domestic unrest? Stratfor predicts increased coordination among counter-insurgency agencies in affected countries, noting that Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines all face Muslim militants of one kind or another. That would certainly be needed, but it would also unfortunately play into the hands of radicals who precisely want to bring their local conflicts across national borders. For one thing, it would feed the ideological line that there is a global conspiracy against Islam, prodding rebels to join hands with and seek support from like-minded groups all over the world. Moreover, the complex coordination effort among different countries could take up so much effort, time and attention that the more important drive to address the domestic roots of rebellion is not given enough support.

And that is where counter-insurgency must still be focused, despite the high-profile distractions of hostage-taking, bomb attacks and massive military campaigns. So far, however, much government attention and many leadership pronouncements have been about quelling unrest and ethnic strife. Philippine President Joseph Estrada devoted more than half of his State of the Nation Address on July 31 to chest-thumping over the military's taking of Camp Abubakar, headquarters of the MILF. Wahid has intimated that Indonesia may consider accepting foreign logistical help in the Malukus, which may be a subtle warning to the armed forces that the U.N. could be called in if they don't get the situation under control. Elements of the Indonesian military have been accused of taking sides in the Christian-Muslim strife as well as stoking unrest in parts of Indonesia, to undermine Wahid's rule.

While enforcing peace is necessary, there needs to be more visible will and action to restart dialogue between contending groups and work toward addressing legitimate demands. In the Malukus, Jakarta should consider creating a high-powered task force of revered Christian and Muslim clerics to make contact with contending parties and explore truce and dialogue possibilities. Manila, meanwhile, should tone down the war rhetoric -- stuff like Estrada's "You don't baby a rebellion -- you crush it." Rather, it is time the government declare a unilateral ceasefire and call for a meeting with all peace-loving Muslims and representatives of rebel groups, including rebel leader-turned-autonomy governor Nur Misuari. Even if such a move fails to produce any break in hostilities, it would still demonstrate political will for peace and reconciliation, not a fight to the finish. The latter -- make no mistake about it -- can rapidly go global, what with the Internet and international media. Then there may well be no end to it.

A few questions for Tung Chee-hwa
Many in Hong Kong are disappointed that Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has declined to appear before an independent inquiry into allegations that his office tried to pressure the University of Hong Kong over political issues. He said that he had already denied any involvement in the alleged attempts to influence the university, so asking him more about the cases would only diminish the dignity of his office. In short, trust me. If you don't, then you're insulting me.

Clearly the CE is in the right here; people should be more trusting of the man. In that spirit, we urge that any questions to Mr. Tung be phrased with respect and confidence in his office, to wit:

1) Since we all know that you have done an excellent job as chief executive, you have no reason to try to influence approval surveys, do you?

2) Many people are jealous of your accomplishments, so they must be behind these allegations of interference -- isn't that right, sir?

3) China has reaffirmed its confidence in you and urged Hong Kong tycoons to support your government. Isn't that all that really counts for your continued rule, not public-opinion surveys?

4) Your aide Andrew Lo Cheung-on has said he never mentioned to you his discussions with the university over opinion surveys, so that gets you off the hook, right?

5) Having been a loyal servant of the people, shouldn't they show you more gratitude than the barely 20% approval rating in your most recent polls?

(Ooops, sorry about mentioning the rating, Your Chief Executiveness.)

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