The naked truth on why non-Malays don’t join Armed Forces

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KUALA LUMPUR: Supporting the call by Armed Forces chief Gen Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor to increase the recruitment of non-Malays into the forces by 10% annually, the National Patriot Association today laid bare the reasons non-Malays are no longer interested.

Patriot president Brigadier-General (Rtd) Mohd Arshad Raji said in a statement the organisation was giving its views as truthfully as possible to “some of these issues that are ultra sensitive”.

Arshad said from the 1960s until the late 70s, non-Malay Armed Forces personnel comprised about 30% of the total manpower. The Navy and Air Force had a higher percentage. Over the years, this figure gradually dropped to around 5% at present.

He said one reason non-Muslims shied away from joining was because there was now a distinctive division along ethnic lines in the armed forces.

Saying the government’s affirmative action policies of the 1980s had seeped into the military administration, Arshad said “strange sayings like ‘orang kita’ had crept into the minds of military commanders”.

“Slowly and surely, the commanders saw some of those under their command as half-brothers or stepsons, unlike all as equal previously. Individuals were not made to feel important and desired. Instead, a feeling as an ‘outsider’ made many feel unwelcome. Thus began an era of individualistic and selfish attitude and behavior among those in the military.”

While many generals were sympathetic and caring towards everyone under their care, the little Napoleons in the ministry of defence – the civil servants with authority – made policies pertaining to promotion and enforced an unwritten regulation and a quota system regarding non-Malays.

“In the late 70s and 80s, any promotion for officers above the Major rank would be considered as political. For military officers and men, politics was an extra-terrestrial creature. Particularly for the non-Malay officers, this strange creature entered their lives and continued to haunt them since the 1980s and left an ever-lasting bitter taste. When these officers left the service in the 1990s, few would speak highly of the organisation.”

Arshad said non-Malays did not mind if their really deserving Malay subordinates got promoted, but “very much undeserving” officers were actually promoted over the years.

“This was followed by having to address them as ‘Sir’ and salute their one- time subordinate, which was another demoralising factor.”

He said there was no recourse for complaint and any form of protest or dissent could be deemed insubordination and an offence under military law.

“Needless to say, a mediocre officer given promotion and command on patronage would breed mediocrity and substandard results. Besides, numerous deserving Malay officers of merit were also adversely affected. Malay officers who were promoted based on their merit earned loyalty and respect from the non-Malays.”

The Patriot president said another reason was the military becoming Islamic religion-centric over the years.

“Starting from the late 80s the military had become increasingly religious-centric and the non-Malays felt more alienated. Officers’ mess life and the lives of soldiers became very much dictated by religious sensitivity. This eventually affected esprit-de-corps and comradeship negatively in multi-racial military units.”

Arshad said these factors not only affected the military but also the police force and other public service organisations.

“The problems faced today are an outcome of the policies and decisions of our government of the past few decades. Right or wrong, it is left to history to determine. But we have a prevailing problem today, i.e., the officers and men who retired a decade or two ago, despite serving our king and country with honour and pride, do not encourage the youths to enrol in the military.

“The problem is endemic, a cause-and-effect of the ‘unwritten’ rules and regulations of the past. To solve the problem, we have to first recognise the problem. The intention here is not fault finding, rather to fully comprehend the grievances from the perspectives of the non-Malays, and help those in position make decisions for the betterment of our country.”

Arshad said politicians were also to blame for outrageous statements questioning the loyalty of non-Malays.

“Patriotism regarding non-Malays, in particular the Chinese and Indians, in the military has never been an issue. In fact, since the pre-independent years, through the first and second emergencies, from the early years of the Home Guard, Templer’s Super 12, the Federation Regiment, the Congo peace keeping mission, the Confrontation, the urban communist terrorism, jungle warfare in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, non-Malay officers and men fought gallantly alongside their Malay brothers-in-arms.”

He noted that the “much cherished success” of security forces against the Communist Party of Malaya and urban terrorists was to a large extent due to the many dangerous and highly classified covert operations of the police Special Branch and military intelligence, many of whom were of Chinese ethnicity.

He said his group would strive to encourage more non-Malays to join the Armed Forces.

Patriot is a non-partisan, multiracial group of retired military and police officers whose stated aim is to see a more harmonious and united nation where everyone feels wanted and contributes his share.