KUALA LUMPUR: Prominent social critic Chandra Muzaffar today claimed the previous government deployed Malaysian troops to assist in the Yemen war because of its “cash relationship” with the Saudis.
This follows criticism over the Barisan Nasional administration’s decision to join the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in 2015 to help the Yemeni government, despite saying its role was non-military in nature.
Speaking at a forum during the “Stand with Yemen” event this afternoon, Chandra said it was odd why the decision did not first get the consent of Parliament.
“I would like to call a spade a spade. There is no doubt that the intention from the beginning for stationing the troops… was not (to evacuate)… Malaysian students. That was a farce,” Chandra claimed today.
He was referring to the previous government’s stand that troops were only sent to protect and facilitate the evacuation of Malaysian students during Ops Yemen I in April 2015.
The troops deployed for Ops Yemen II, a second operation from June 2015 to September 2018, were similarly not on active duty or deployed for combat, according to the then defence minister.
Chandra disagreed. “The Malaysian government was clearly siding with Saudi Arabia. We developed a special relationship with Saudi Arabia under the previous government, one linked via money.
“So ‘cash is king’. It was not just employed within Malaysia but also through bilateral and international relations,” he said, adding this was a clear “cash relationship”, one that spiralled into “loans and debts”.
This was a likely reference to reports of Saudi funds being channelled into former prime minister Najib Razak’s accounts and the Saudis’ role in the 1MDB scandal, although Chandra didn’t specify this.
It was a total deviation from Malaysia’s foreign policy in any case, he said, and he trained his guns on the public for being “partly ignorant” and the media for “not giving any coverage” as the issue unfolded.
“We never send troops to support another country but they got away with this because those from the opposition didn’t raise questions. Some of them are now part of the government today,” Chandra said.
Chandra was speaking at a forum at the “Stand with Yemen” symposium and photo exhibition being held at the International Institute of Islamic Civilisation & Malay World (Istac) in Taman Duta, Kuala Lumpur.
He was joined by Yemeni activist Abdul Rahman Al Maamari, terrorism expert James M Dorsey, who is attached with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mujahid Yusof Rawa.
Since 2015, the Saudis have been backing Yemeni government forces against the Houthi rebels, a predominantly Shia Muslim group.
Malaysian troops were deployed in 2015 but recalled after the new government informed Riyadh that the country would no longer be involved in the war.
Critics had warned that Malaysia could be guilty of the mass deaths caused by aerial bombardments of Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.
Earlier in his talk, Chandra said it was a fact that there was a lack of response to the Yemen crisis by non-Muslims in Malaysia because they would generally brand this as an issue only affecting Muslims.
“The reason is obvious to most of us because the way Malaysians respond to a certain crisis or tragedy is based on their conditioning and their response is coloured by ethnicity or religion. It’s the truth.
“There isn’t much empathy at this level except for some individual groups here and there,” he said, adding this is why it is difficult to get non-Muslim Malaysians’ support for the Palestinian cause as well.
Chandra called for Malaysians to stand up for causes like this, saying Putrajaya should have openly taken a stance on the Venezuelan crisis too, which recently escalated into a debate over the rightful president.