Sabah (Lahat Datu) invasion by the self-proclaimed Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu on February 9th 2013 has entered its second week, without any clear sign that a solution is on the horizon. A rough estimate of between 100 to 500 heavily armed men entered Lahat Datu, a mere 30-minutes away, without any trouble. From what seems like a Mr Bean comedy whereby these highly trained army announced they had come to enforce the sultan’s ancient claim to Sabah, it now has turn into a nightmare for the Malaysian and Philippine government. The invasion has since spread to Semporna and Kunak.
The invasion was not taken seriously initially. Even Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, cousin to PM Najib Razak, joked that the members of the Sulu intruders were malnourished, old, wear sarong and slipers so he concluded they were not terrorists and far from dangerous, despite these “old Sulu army” came armed with granade launchers, M16 and whatnot. Assuming he can earn some brownie points before the coming general election, the infamous controversial Home Minister entered the war zone watching from afar armed with military binoculars and inspecting rifles, as if he was Rambo. But after 7 deaths in 2 days alone, Hishammuddin is licking his arrogance and has been quiet ever since, except for the usual “we are in control” stunt.
One has to go back as early as 1658, when the then sultan of Brunei gave away Sabah to the sultan of Sulu, who ruled a western territory of Philippine, in appreciation to the latter’s assistance in helping to quell a rebellion. More than 350 years later, the Sultanate of Sulu is still claiming the ownership of Sabah, now part of Malaysia, due to interpretation disagreement in a contract made in 1878 between the Sultanate of Sulu and the British North Borneo Company. The Sultanate maintains the contract was a “pajak” (just like when you visit a pawnshop when you’re short of cash) so as long as the British Company paid a regular sum of money, they’re free to do whatever they like in Sabah.
However, the British interpreted the “pajak” contract to mean sale, while the Sulu Sultanate was adamant it was a lease. The disagreement was never settled and when the British granted independent in 1957, and later the formation of Malaysia in 1963 which included Sabah and Sarawak, the issue of “pajak” was swept under the carpet. Interestingly and strangely, Malaysia government still pays $1,500 (RM5,000) a year to the Sultanate of Sulu till today, indirectly acknowledges the “lease” of Sabah. Otherwise why would a right-thinking government continues to pay the recipient until the cows come home, if it was not a lease at all?
The final straw that broke the camels’ back could be triggered by Philippine president Aquino’s ignorance – peace deal with Muslim rebel group MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) and MNLF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) but ignored the Sultanate of Sulu’s claims. Even if president Aquino would like do, he couldn’t simply because Malaysia acts as the facilitator in the peace deal and surely Najib administration wouldn’t be happy for the Sabah issue to be brought up. Probably both Philippine and Malaysian governments underestimated the centuries-old Sulu Sultanate’s threat and influence.
The fact that there’re thousands of Tausug people (same tribe as Sulu Sultanate) currently residing in Sabah as Malaysian citizen, thanks to Mahathir’s express “IC Project” to dilute non-Muslim Sabahan, makes the invasion crisis much more complicated. These “Malaysian Tausug” people may secretly help the invaders in any way they can. And we have not even talk about other Filipino settlements spread in other areas that could be Sulu Sultanate potential sympathizers. The usual news blackout by Najib administration does not help rumours and speculations from spreading like wildfire. The latest from Sultan Sulu said it had taken hostage a Malaysian police officer, two soldiers and a government official. The Malaysian news meanwhile said nothing.
Besides rumours and speculations, netizens also share jokes about the Sabah crisis. Many questioned why boy-scout Hishammuddin was sent when this is a national crisis that should involve the army, navy or even the air force. Of course, many questioned why Najib’s Scorpene submarines were not sent into the war area to help the situation. It could be that the submarines’ maintenance is due but nobody knows how to “tukar minyak hitam” (oil change), goes one of the jokes. Maybe they should send it to the nearest Proton Service Center (*tongue-in-cheek*). Some said PM Najib didn’t give free RM500 BR1M to Sulu Sultanate hence the invasion.
The Sabah invasion also attracted political parties and both ruling government and opposition wasted no time in politicising the situation. Opposition parties speculate that the ruling government may be behind the invasion drama as a diversion from Najib administration lack of confidence in winning the next general election. Furthermore, the just released Pakatan Rakyat manifesto has swing many young voters into the opposition’s camp. And since PM Najib is dragging his feats in calling the election, what better way to buy further valuable time than to declare emergency rule using Sabah invasion as the justification?
Needless to say, the current regime countered with PM Najib ordering an investigation into an allegation that opposition was behind the invasion based on a Philippine report that opposition Anwar had met with Nur Misuari, leader of MNLF. This is amusing but did Anwar actually consented to the rebels coming into Sabah and take away the oil-rich territory at this critical hour, moments before the 13th general election? If this is true, then Anwar should be hang upside down, not because of his betrayal but because of his stupidity. Wouldn’t it be easier to put such mouth-watering offer to the United States than to a bunch of old and malnourished Sulu Sultanate soldiers (*grin*).
Tactically, it’s a kindergarten plan by opposition to invade at this hour, since it would help Najib administration to divert attention from Sabah RCI revelation, opposition bombastic manifesto and even the latest revelation that there’s another mistress, besides Altantuya, in PM Najib’s life. It would make more sense for Anwar to activate this invasion plan “after” he fails in his bid to take over Putrajaya, if indeed he has such plan in the first place, no? In actual fact, Najib administration would be the biggest winner while opposition the biggest loser with this intrusion. For the sake of Monday Blues coffee talk, let’s assume one of them is involved in the crisis – who’s the lucky fellow?
Perhaps the answers can be found by studying the various exotic wars committed by US President George W. Bush and his father. It was a known fact that his war campaigns helped him to secure his second presidency term. Didn’t the genius Mahathir swear on his mother grave that the Sept 11 terrorist attack was the job of president Bush himself, and not anybody else? President Bush’s war on terrorist had unite Americans against a common enemy – the terrorist. So, using the same successful model, could it be that US-based consulting firm APCO, had actually advised PM Najib of such option to boost his popularity and unite the voters – by going to war, on a smaller scale?
Maybe there’s no conspiracy after all. The invasion was all about money that Sulu Sultanate is dying for. And since there’s no objection from the United States about Sulu Sultanate’s claim on Sabah, the gamble to bring the ownership of Sabah to World Court would be brighter with an invasion during the auspicious Chinese New Year. Furthermore, what does Sulu Sultanate got to lose considering they’re so poor that even Malaysian Home Minister couldn’t help but made jokes on them. If there’s one thing that Najib and Aquino administration has forgotten – that’s these old chaps are master in guerrillas warfare, something that even the US military would avoid at all cost.
The solution to the crisis – have a round-table talk, instead of exposing more Malaysian police and commandos in a guerrillas warfare that you’re inexperience and cannot possibly win. If war is what you want, send in well-trained and not half-baked army, together with all the military hardwares purchased (if there’s any left). If money can solve the problem, then consider that as an alternative to a peaceful solution. Furthermore, the ruling government is leaking a staggering RM26 billion a year so theoretically, they are specialists in such negotiation (*grin*). To pay RM200 million for the Sulu Sultanate to drop the claims on rich-Sabah is a once in a lifetime fire sales. Of course, Najib administration can always agree to a World Court hearing on the claims, provided they’ve the top brains to argue the case internationally.
Already, the request for AirAsia Berhad’s (KLSE: AIRASIA, stock-code 5099) commercial flights to transport more army into Sabah warzone was a huge embarrassment that goes to show that despite billions of dollars in annual budget allocated for national defence, the country’s military does not have the basic capability in real combat – lack of logistic transportation. Hence PM Najib should not make more jokes of his own administration and should engage the invaders seriously. So much for Mahathir’s proud “IC Project” – what goes around comes around.
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