JEMAAH ISLAMIYAH’S MAS SELEMAT KASTARI EXTRADITED BACK TO SINGAPORE
On September 24, Mas Selamat Kastari, the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Singapore, was extradited back to the city-state after his puzzling February 27, 2008, jailbreak there (AP, September 24). Selamat escaped the detention center where he was being held under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) through a lavatory window and swam across the Strait of Johor to southern Malaysia’s Johor State and remained at large there until being captured in Johor Bahru, Johor’s capital, by Malaysian authorities on April 1, 2009, after over a year at large in Malaysia. Malaysia’s home minister, Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, when asked about the extradition of Kastari, declared, “I was briefed that Mas Selamat [Kastari] was no longer a security threat to our country. He is from Singapore and I had said before that if a foreigner arrested is not a security threat to us, he should be sent back to his country of origin” (Bernama, September 25).
Singaporean security officials are planning a prompt interrogation of Kastari in an effort to understand how he was able to escape the Whitely Road Detention Centre and make the risky crossing to Malaysia undetected, according to home affairs minister Wong Kan Seng (The Straits Times [Singapore], September 26). Kastari was initially detained regarding an alleged plot to hijack an airliner and crash it into Singapore’s Changi International Airport (The Malaysia Star, September 25). After he fled, he hid in the village of Skudai in Johor State until Malaysia’s Special Branch intelligence agents captured him thanks to a tip off from their Singaporean counterparts (AsiaOne [Singapore], September 25).
Many details of Kastari’s personal history remain sketchy. Kastari, 49, was born in either Singapore or Central Java, depending on the source. Malaysia’s state news agency, Bernama, lists him as Singaporean-born (Bernama, September 24) in contrast to many Indonesian and Malaysian media outlets that persistently describe him as an Indonesian-born Singaporean national of Javanese origin (The Jakarta Globe, September 24). In 2001, he fled across the South China Sea to the resort island of Bintan, situated in Indonesia’s Riau Islands Province, where he hid until his first arrest by Indonesian anti-terror police in February 2003 on immigration offenses (AsiaOne [Singapore], February 29, 2008). After serving an 18-month sentence he was rearrested in January 2006 in Malang, East Java Province for carrying forged identity documents (ChannelNewsAsia [Singapore], May 8, 2009). He was sent to Singapore thereafter where he remained until his escape over two years later (Reuters, February 6, 2006). After their initial manhunt, which scoured the island on which Singapore sits, the Internal Security Department assumed Kastari would have returned to Indonesia where he had laid low for so many years rather than remain in the immediacy of nearby Johor. Singaporean authorities are not keen to see Kastari slip through their fingers for a third time. Singapore’s prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, told assembled media, "Now that we have got him back, I think we continue to need the support of Singaporeans to tackle the question of extremist terrorism and keep Singapore a safe society. The problem hasn’t gone away. Mas Selamat is one but there are others out there in the region around us" (ChannelNewsAsia [Singapore], September 25).
KASHMIRI SEPARATIST LEADERS HOLD TOUGH STANCE AMID HEIGHTENING TENSION IN THE VALLEY
Indian-occupied Kashmir’s three most prominent, and divergent, separatist leaders have refused to back down even amid visits by mainstream Indian politicians and mounting civilian casualties in recent months. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik, the oft rivals who make up the troika of calls for separatism or “azadi” (independence/freedom) for the majority Muslim population of the Kashmir Valley, were approached separately by a five-member delegation that arrived from New Dehli after months of un-abating instability in the disputed territory. The sticking point for Kashmiri leaders is that Indian politicians insist that for any sort of talks to go ahead on the future of Kashmir’s political status, azadi must remain off the table (Press Trust of India, September 21).
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of a moderate wing of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), an umbrella organization of various Kashmiri separatist political movements, urged an accommodation between the people of Kashmir as well as known political parties from both India and Pakistan. Seeking to find a democratic settlement of the Kashmir issue at hand while simultaneously easing the intensity of the security presence in the valley, Mirwaiz stated, “Today, we ask not for unilateral political concessions but a joint commitment that guarantees results. This is possible only if serious efforts are made by removing harsh and repressive measures that suppress our fundamental democratic rights” (Times of India, September 26). An APHC spokesman said that Kashmiri leaders were not interested in supplemental political or economic concessions from New Delhi without a resolution of the valid and longstanding political aspirations of the people affected by over six decades of living in limbo (The Hindu, September 27).
The failure by all of the involved parties to resolve the status of Jammu and Kashmir, a chronic predicament which has plagued the Indian subcontinent since its bloody partition in August of 1947, boils over from time to time because of an unending status quo between Delhi, Islamabad, their attendant political and militant proxies along the Line of Control (LoC), implacable Kashmiri irredentists, and the lack of political will among prominent members of the international community who see the status of Kashmir as an internal matter to be resolved within South Asia despite the pleas of many Kashmiris desiring outside mediation.  Syed Shah Ali Geelani, the octogenarian hard-line APHC and Jamaat-e-Islami leader, appealed to his followers not to engage in further violence in August because the demonstrations, which so far have killed over 100, were devolving into mob violence and thus harming the separatist movement by conflating it with criminal destruction (Indian Express, August 4).
Mohammad Yasin Malik, leader of the historically secular Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), issued a statement refusing to meet Indian home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram’s five-person delegation to Srinagar. Malik issued a statement saying, “We choose not to meet all party delegation and will send a joint memorandum to all. We have reiterated our four points for a peace process to begin. We propose talks between parliamentary committees of India and Pakistan” (The Economic Times, September 20). All of the tension regarding Kashmir over the summer, which has yet to cease, is now in danger of escalating with the backdrop of the coming court ruling over the 1992 destruction in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh State of the 16th century Babri mosque by Hindu radicals insisting the Muslim holy place was an architectural interloper over the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Ram, which is leading to Hindu-Muslim tension across India proper. The High Court in Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, announced a complicated verdict to trifurcate the ancient site among a Muslim group and two Hindu groups (NDTV, September 30). The verdict over an 18-year old dispute in northern India could exacerbate existing tension in Kashmir and roil its primary troika of separatist leaders who are angling for genuine progress in the wake of the worst unrest there in decades.
1. Aside from the well-known conflict over Kashmir between India and Pakistan, a third, lesser but notable, player is the People’s Republic of China. Beijing has occupied two slivers of the territory called Aksai Chin and the Shaksgam valley along the Line of Actual Control since 1963 following the conclusion of the of the 1962 Sino-Indian war.