(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): It is a national relief that the Cabinet yesterday did not take any rash or foolhardy decision such as to ban Rohan Gunaratna’s book “Inside Al Qaeda – Global Network of Terror” or to initiate government legal action against the Sri Lankan terrorism analyst as proposed by senior Cabinet Ministers, which would only redound to the government’s discredit and the nation’s dishonour.
After the Cabinet meeting yesterday, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad conceded that Rohan Gunaratna need not apologise to Malaysia as his book did not link the Barisan Nasional directly to al-Qaeda but to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Mahathir said: “Why should he (Gunaratna) apologise. He did not say that…it was the United Nations’ report which linked the BN to al-Qaeda. The book only said that the BN has some contact with the MILF.” (New Straits Times).
What is shocking is Mahathir’s revelation that he found out that the book did not link BN to al-Qaeda but only to MILF after reading it during the cabinet meeting yesterday morning.
The question is why the other Cabinet Ministers and Barisan Nasional leaders could not have discovered such a simple matter themselves, when I had consistently and persistently pointed out in the past few days that the author had never linked the BN to al-Qaeda.
Mahathir was on an overseas trip when this controversy blew up and may be excused for not reading the book, although in the era of information technology and globalization, he should have no difficulty in getting his hands on the book.
But such an excuse is not open to the other Cabinet Ministers and Barisan Nasional leaders, especially those who went on a rampage against the author without reading what is actually written in the book – like the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, the Information Minister, Tan Sri Khalil Yaakob, the Defence Minister, Datuk Najib Tun Razak and the Minister for Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin,
How can Malaysian Cabinet Ministers, including very senior ones, sustain a media campaign at full throttle for close to a week against the Sri Lankan terrorism analyst and his book on a completely false premise, without gravely reflecting on their competence and professionalism as well as that of the Malaysian government?
On Monday, I had specifically warned in a media statement that the cabinet should maintain its cool and not go overboard to take rash and foolhardy actions such as to ban Rohan Gunaratna’s book which would only create even greater regional and international interest in the book and spark suspicion whether Malaysia has something to hide.
I had shot down the proposal by Rais Yatim that the government should take legal action against Gunaratna “for linking the Barisan Nasional to the al Qaeda terrorist group”, raising the question as to whether the Cabinet should be considering any legal against Gunaratna when the book never linked Barisan Nasional to al-Qaeda and that if anyone is to seek legal redress, it is the BN and definitely not the government or Cabinet!
I do not want to comment on whether the Government should apologise to Rohan Gunaratna for the groundless rampage against the author, but all the senior Cabinet Ministers who had misled the country on this synthetic media rampage do owe an apology to the Malaysian people for their cheap and most irresponsible conduct.
In actual fact, the chart in the United Nations Security Council Second Report of the Monitoring Group Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1363 (2002) and Extended by Resolution 1390 (2002), which sparked off the week-long rampage against Rohan Gunarana and his book, also did not directly link BN to al-Qaeda.
In the chart, there was a line directly linking al-Qaeda with MILF, and arrows linking the MILF with BN and other organizations like PAS and ABIM, but there is no direct line linking the BN with al-Qaeda.
Rohan Gunaratna had consistenly maintained that several individuals from Malaysia’s ruling coalition had links with MILF, once saying that this information was of “gold standard” from a report titled “MILF Linkages With Domestic and Foreign Non-Government and People’s Organisations (NGOs-POs)” from the Directorate for Intelligence of the Philippine National Police and other sources.
As both Mahathir and the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi have denied knowledge of links between individuals in BN with the MILF, this is justification for a commission of inquiry in the matter, where Rohan Gunaratna can be invited to furnish evidence or sources of information.
Be that as it may, the UN Security Council Monitoring Report revealed that Malaysia had failed to comply with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1390 adopted on 13th January 2002 requesting all states to report, no later than 16th April 2002, the anti-terrorist measures they had taken against al-Qaeda networks and activities as provided under the resolution.
UN Security Council Resolution 1390 decided on the measures all states should take with respect to Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organization and sssociated terrorist individuals and entities, including a freezing of assets, a travel ban and an arms embargo.
The government should explain why Malaysia, together with Indonesia and the Philippines in the region, had failed to comply with the UN Security Council resolution to report on its anti-terrorist activities against the al-Qaeda networks, which cannot reflect favourably on Malaysia’s commitment to international efforts to fight terrorism and to make Malaysia a country free from terrorist activities.
*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman