THE BOMBING of a tourist area on the Indonesian island of Bali has been blamed by Western governments on the Jemaah Islamiah Islamic group with links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qa’ida terrorist network.
This group operates throughout south east Asia and aims to set up an Islamic state to include parts of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. In June an al-Qa’ida operative was arrested in Indonesia and placed in US custody.
Indonesia with its long-simmering national conflicts and ethnic divisions (fuelled by elements of the ruling class who have seen a decline in their power since the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998 and are trying to provoke a new military takeover), has long been the target of pan-Asian Islamists.
In particular they have targeted the current weak capitalist government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, the female head of the world’s most populous Muslim country, and an ally of US imperialism. Megawati’s increasing use of repression has failed to halt the growth of these groups.
Clearly, by targeting the holiday island of Bali one of their aims is to cripple the foreign exchange earnings of the debt-laden and recession-hit archipelago state. Only recently the US agreed to reschedule $500 million of Indonesia’s debts, part of the growing tie-up between Indonesia’s armed forces and the US military.
The Western media have referred to the Bali bombing as the ’worse terrorist event in Indonesia’s history’. But as horrific as it was, it shouldn’t obscure the fact that secessionist violence in the troubled energy region of Aceh (the oil and gas fields are largely owned by Exxon Mobil) has already claimed 800 lives so far this year and some 10,000 during the last 20 years.
Elements of the army are clearly involved in fomenting this violence; often training ethnic or religious based militias to wage communalist pogroms or secessionist struggles in order to pressure the central state to concede more power to the military to put down such movements.
Sometimes the local military simply engage in banditry. Recently, several soldiers were cashiered out of the armed forces after their drug smuggling operation led to a gunfight with police.
Moreover, the 32-year dictatorship of the Suharto clique backed by the US, Britain and Australian governments was responsible for the brutal suppression of the Indonesian Communist Party, trade unionists and other opponents in the 1960s. Some estimates claim a death toll of over 1 million during this period.
In the recent past the world has also witnessed the slaughter of over 200,000 East Timorese (one-third of the population) by the Indonesian army and Indonesian-backed militias. During these bloody days before independence in 1999 Tony Blair’s government allowed the sale of Hawk jet fighters and machine guns to Indonesia, despite Labour’s "ethical" foreign policy and despite these known atrocities.
Last year the Indonesian parliament sacked the ailing and corrupt president Abdurrah-man Wahid and replaced him with vice-president Megawati. However, secessionist wars have continued and poverty is widespread and growing.
The struggles by workers and students in overthrowing the Suharto dictatorship have been betrayed by the capitalist ruling parties. Megawati’s neo-liberal policies have increased the exploitation of workers while attacking their limited democratic rights.
Shadowy armed forces linked to the state have attacked workers’ organisations. Indonesia’s ’democracy’ has a limited shelf life under capitalism.
However, a new united struggle by the working class against these reactionary forces and the government could speed the development of a mass socialist alternative to all the pro-market parties and capitalism as a whole.
Musharraf’s rigged election backfires
PAKISTAN’S RIGGED general election backfired on dictator general Pervez Musharraf as pro-Taliban, anti-US Islamist groups swept the board in Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan which neighbour Afghanistan.
In the first general election since Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup, his favoured Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (the so-called ’King’s party’) failed to gain its expected majority in parliament, winning 77 of the 272 contested seats.
The opposition pro-capitalist Pakistan People’s Party (63 seats) made gains in its traditional stronghold of Sindh. It’s leader, former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was barred from standing, having been previously convicted of corruption charges.
With 45 seats the Muthahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) coalition of Islamic parties has upset Musharraf’s planned ’transition to democracy’. Their vote represents the power of right-wing religious forces previously cultivated by the Pakistani military which include the Taliban and the Mujaheddin fighters in Indian occupied Kashmir.
The Mullahs are incensed by Musharraf’s cooperation with George Bush which has resulted in a clampdown on their activities and the use of Pakistani military bases by US forces. It was their anti-US message that went down particularly well in the areas bordering Afghanistan. Unusually, the voter turnout was higher in these rural areas rather than the urban centres.
Mounting opposition to Musharraf’s rule by Islamic students and religious groups as well as armed ’jehadi’ fighters coupled to increasing military repression are leading to huge instability and ultimately threaten civil war.
Moreover, Pakistan’s weak and divided ruling class is incapable of lifting the mass of people out of their crushing poverty. In the run-up to these elections there has been a series of terrorist attacks on Western foreigners and on Christians as well as shoot outs between armed al-Qa’ida groups and police.
But if the parliament fails to be the tame body that Musharraf expected, then he can dismiss the prime minister and even dissolve the parliament.
The US have endorsed the election. In Washington George Bush’s spokesman, Ari Fleischer, described the election as "an important milestone in the transition to democracy." Yet the European Union’s chief observer, John Cushnahan said the Pakistani military authorities engaged in "unjustified interference with electoral arrangements and the democratic process", ie ballot-rigging.
Clearly, US imperialism and the local capitalist regimes cannot secure democratic rights, alleviate poverty and suffering, nor solve the national, ethnic and religious strife tearing the region apart.
Only united mass movements of the working class and poor can overthrow the despots of the Middle-East and the Indian sub-continent. A socialist movement would struggle to end capitalism, feudalism and domination of Western imperialism, replacing them with a socialist confederation of states.