Monday, December 18, 2006

ACEH: A STRUGGLE COMMENCES OVER SHARIA

Date: Monday 18 December 2006
Subj: Aceh, Indonesia: A struggle commences over Sharia Law.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


On Monday 11 December, an estimated 85 percent of Aceh's 2.6 million eligible voters cast their ballots in the autonomous province's first gubernatorial elections since the peace agreement signed in Helsinki, Finland, in August 2005 that ended 30 years of conflict with Jakarta.

The result has implications not only for Aceh (Indonesia), but for the military-backed regime in Thailand which has proposed the "Aceh model" (autonomy with Sharia Law) be considered as a means of ending the Islamic insurgency in Thailand's deep south. (Link 1)

Sharia Law was part of the special autonomy package that President Habibie offered Aceh in 2001 to end the long separatist insurgency. But while virtually all Acehnese wanted Aceh to have special status and autonomy, not all Acehnese wanted Sharia. International Crisis Group (ICG) comments that Jakarta regarded Sharia Law as "something the Acehnese wanted (although how much was debatable - after the Indonesian parliament granted it, one Acehnese called it an 'unwanted gift', and he was not alone)". ICG's detailed examination of the implementation and expansion of Sharia in Aceh, and the repression and division it causes, can be found at link 2.

US-educated Irwandi Yusuf (46) is a former veterinarian doctor and lecturer at Aceh's state-run Syiah Kuala Universty. He became a military spokesman for GAM, writing GAM's media releases, and speechwriting for several exiled rebel leaders.

In 2003 Jakarta charged Irwandi with sedition and sentenced him to nine years in prison. He was freed on 26 December 2004 when the tsunami washed away the jail where he was incarcerated.

In 2005 Irwandi represented GAM on the international Aceh Monitoring Mission overseeing the Helsinki peace process. Whilst associated with GAM he is and always has been primarily an academic, not a gun-toting rebel.

Irwandi Yusuf contested the 11 December 2006 gubernatorial election as an independent. He was the only candidate whose election platform included the promise to re-examine the controversial imposition of Sharia Law in the province. He clearly did not believe this would be political suicide.

Irwandi Yusuf was an outside runner whose presence caused the GAM vote to be split. Despite this, and contrary to all predictions that the race would be tight, Yusuf was the clear winner, polling more than 39 percent of the vote, more than double his nearest rival.

His win is not only a rebuff to Jakarta, it is also a rebuff to the Islamists and unpopular Sharia enforcers. A selection of articles that detail Irwandi Yusuf's election campaign and give some insights into his views on Sharia can be found at link 3.

ISLAMIST CHALLENGE


After his election win Irwandi Yusuf indicated that Sharia would not be his first priority, rather he considered improving living conditions in the tsunami-ravaged province to be far more urgent. Sharia he said is "something we'll talk about later". For Aceh's Islamists however Sharia is clearly their first priority and they want to talk about it right now!

On Tuesday 12 December, the day after Yusuf's election victory, Aceh's Sharia Office published a draft law proposing amputation of the hand as punishment for thieves. The Sharia Office paid for the draft law to be published in an advertisement in Aceh's Serambi newspaper. The advertisement called for readers to submit their comments so the draft law could be reviewed before being put to legislators for debate. (Link 4)

Irwandi Yusuf immediately responded, promising that he would block any such law if it was pushed through before he took office. According to Irwandi, GAM never fought for sharia.

The Aceh situation is making headlines in Thailand. The Bangkok Post reports:

"The incoming governor of Indonesia's strife- torn Aceh province vowed to block a law to cut off a thief's hand, if such legislation is enacted before he takes office, he told a group of visiting German press Saturday night. 'I will stop this,' said Irwandi Yusuf, a former rebel and political prisoner who fought for Aceh's independence.

"The law was being actively pursued by the outgoing government, Irwandi said. Irwandi tried to allay fears that strict sharia law in Aceh might deter much-needed international investment. 'The problem is that sharia law was imposed on us by the central government in Jakarta,' Irwandi said." He went on to express his opinion that Sharia should be less about punishment and more about improving of people's lives. (Link 5)

WILL JAKARTA SUPPORT THE PEOPLE'S CHOICE?

It is to be hoped that Jakarta will uphold peace, autonomy and democracy in Aceh by supporting the people's choice in the face of Islamist pressure and provocation. There are grounds for concern that should unrest erupt (which is always likely when Islamists are challenged) Jakarta may instead choose military intervention and appeasement of Islamist forces.

Times Online reports that former GAM fighters "accuse the government of bolstering the Islamists and using sharia as a method of weakening their consistent demand for a progressive, democratic Aceh, ruled by its own people. 'They are exploiting the religious conviction of many Acehnese to manipulate them,' wrote Aguswandi, a human rights activist, in The Jakarta Post." (Link 6)


Links

1) Indonesia's Aceh as a model for Thailand's south?
WEA Religious Liberty News & Analysis, 13 Nov 2006
WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

2) SHARIA IN ACEH

Islamic Law and Criminal Justice in Aceh
(Asia Report No 117 - 31 July 2006)
http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4295&l=1
Morality police rule Aceh. By Cindy Wockner, 9 Dec 2006
http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,,20898999-5003406,00.html
Aceh wary over new Sharia police. By Lucy Williamson, 8 Dec 2006
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6220256.stm

3) IRWANDI YUSUF'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Hope for moderate in Aceh
Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent. 9 Dec 2006
http://origin.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20896958-2703,00.html
Democracy calling.
Mark Forbes, Banda Aceh, 11 Dec 2006
http://www.theage.com.au/news/in-depth/democracy-calling/2006/12/10/1165685549981.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1
INTERVIEW-Ex-rebel confident of winning Aceh vote
11 Dec 2006, Reuters
http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/SP15253.htm
I need time: Aceh leader
Stephen Fitzpatrick, Jakarta correspondent, 13 Dec 2006
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20919292-2703,00.html

4) Draft law calls for amputation of thieves' hands in Indonesia's Aceh
The Associated Press, 12 Dec 2006
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/12/12/asia/AS_GEN_Indonesia_Aceh_Islamic_Law.php

5) Aceh 'will not have sharia law'
Banda Aceh (dpa) 17 Dec 2006
http://www.bangkokpost.com/breaking_news/breakingnews.php?id=115193

6) Tsunami survivors given the lash
Michael Sheridan and Dewi Loveard, Banda Aceh. 17 Dec 2006
Disaster donations help Islamic vigilante force impose punishments on women
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2508262,00.html

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

PAKISTAN: MUSHARRAF'S MANOEUVRING could see persecution escalate through 2007

Date: Tuesday 12 December 2006
Subj: Pakistan: Musharraf's manoeuvring.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


Pakistan's presidential election is due in late 2007 and national and provincial elections will be held soon after. As such, 2007 will be a year for election campaigning and maneuvering.

In mid-2002 Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup on 1999, announced that national and provincial elections would be held on 10 October 2002. He also announced that there would be changes to the constitution. The proposed constitutional amendment, known as the Legal Framework Order (LFO), would entrench military supremacy over the parliament.

All opposition parties were united in their opposition to the LFO. Musharraf was in desperate need of a partner who could be convinced to enter a marriage of convenience and support his LFO and thus end the political crisis, as Musharraf's PML-Q could not rule outright.

Musharraf also needed to cultivate a climate of fear, a sense of impending peril, in order to legitimise his military rule and secure US support. He knew the Islamists, who are closely linked to the military, could be both a partner and a perceived threat. And so the 2002 elections were rigged to ensure the Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA: an alliance of six hard-line Islamist parties) would be available as a force in parliament which could be both manipulated and portrayed as a great Islamist threat.

So before the elections Musharraf issued a series of presidential decrees that would all but seal the outcome of those elections. Most significant was the decree that only university graduates would be eligible to stand as election candidates. By this decree he effectively ruled out around 98 percent of the population, including half the previous parliament. Even opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were disqualified on this ground, although that was the least of their problems. However, a madrassa education was deemed equivalent to a university education, and there was no shortage of mullahs and Islamists ready to fill the void.

Further to this, electorates were divided to give the desired result. Musharraf's PML-Q won 24.81 percent of the vote and 77 seats, while the secular PPP won 25.01 percent of the vote and only 62 seats. The PML-N won 11.23 percent of the vote and 14 seats, while the MMA won 11.1 percent of the vote, 53 seats and the balance of power. (Link 1)

The sense of horror over what appeared to be a tsunami of political Islam sweeping over strategic Pakistan in the midst of the War on Terror was enough to secure US support for the military regime despite its undemocratic measures.

After the elections Musharraf immediately began negotiating with the wonderfully flexible MMA to secure their support for his LFO. The Islamists agreed to a quid pro quo deal with Musharraf. They supported Musharraf's LFO in exchange for his support of their Islamisation package which advances the Islamisation of Pakistan.

In short: Musharraf secured US support by promising to fight Islamism and promote "enlightened moderation". However in reality he did neither. For four years Musharraf's left hand has presented challenges and offered gifts and incentives to secure US support, while his right hand has been making deals with Islamists and consolidating military control of Pakistan.

The situation in 2007, five years on, will however be quite different. Musharraf will need to play different cards to retain US support for his military dictatorship this time around.

For Musharraf to retain US support now he needs to distance himself from the apocalyptic (oops - I mean apoplectic) Islamists, and legitimise his claim to being an enlightened and moderate reformer and progressive by starting - after four years in office - to make some positive moves in the direction of "enlightened moderation".

However, to remain on as military dictator Musharraf would also need to make sure there is enough insecurity and threat to justify his remaining in military uniform and in power.

Musharraf has begun to distance himself from the Islamists with moves that also provoke their wrath. He no longer needs their support in parliament now the LFO is enshrined in the constitution and military supremacy is entrenched. But that is not to say the Islamists no longer have their uses. A military regime that is prepared to use sectarian violence as an electoral
tool could actually benefit greatly from Islamist agitation, protest, radicalism, persecution and even terrorism.

On 1 December Musharraf signed the Women's Protection Bill (WPB) into law. This law makes minimal but beneficial amendments to the Hudood Ordinance. By this act Musharraf not only won praise from the international community, he also split his opposition! The secular PPP voted for the Bill while the PML-N sided with the MMA and voted against it.

However, Musharraf's signing of the WPB was not primarily about women or de-Islamisation, it was primarily about domestic politics. Had Musharraf been genuinely concerned for women's rights and genuine in his pursuit of enlightened moderation he would have accepted the findings of his own National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW, founded by Musharraf in 2000, http://new.ncsw.gov.pk ) which in 2003 recommended that the Hudood Ordinance be repealed.

The Islamists are unashamedly parading their medieval and misogynistic nature in loud protests against women's rights by decrying the Women's Protection Bill as un-Islamic, thereby alienating virtually all women and all modern, progressive Pakistani men. They have not however resigned from parliament en masse as they threatened to do. They enjoy the perks of power too much for that and they are not ready for early elections.

Further to this, Musharraf is making peace overtones regarding Kashmir. His proposal that Pakistan would forgo claims on Kashmir can be nothing other than absolutely unacceptable to Islamists. This will force the Islamists to protest loudly against peace!

Musharraf's manoeuvres make it more difficult for the PPP to challenge or criticise him and impossible for the PPP to form an opposition alliance with the PML-N. Musharraf is presenting the choice as being between radicalisation (Islamists) and enlightened moderation (himself).

Musharraf's manoeuvres may even provoke the Islamists to increase terrorism and protests - actions that can only work to the benefit of a military dictator seeking to be elected president, in uniform.

While Musharraf's manoeuvres might not signal any genuine commitment to de-Islamisation, they may indicate that 2007 could be a strategic year for advocacy on the blasphemy law. Should Musharraf repeal (or at least amend) the blasphemy law, he would widen the chasm between the PPP and PML-N from crack to crater and further promote himself as an enlightened and moderate reformist worthy of US support. What's more it would send the Islamists ballistic!

There are two main dangers ahead. One is that the US and human rights organisations will doubtless be pressured to make an unofficial (or official) quid pro quo deal with Musharraf: de-Islamisation or at least "enlightened moderation" in exchange for tolerance of Musharraf's military rule and suppression of democracy - a democracy that could provide Pakistanis with a means to pursue genuine reform, progress and liberty. If this sounds like a familiar scenario it's because it is! This would be exactly the same as the understanding struck in 2002.

The other main danger is that if Musharraf does choose to exploit sectarian violence and Islamist unrest and radicalisation for personal political gain, then persecution of women and Christians at the hands of Islamists could seriously escalate.


Link

1) Carnegie Papers
Islam, militarism, and the 2007-2008 elections in Pakistan
By Frederic Grare, August 2006.
http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=18553&prog=zgp&proj=zsa