The weakness of the Philippine state has created the regional equivalent of Taliban-era Afghanistan, providing an area of chaos in which terrorists can muster unhindered. The Jemaah Islamiyah is particularly dangerous because it aims at destabilizing every government in the region and establishing an Islamic state including Northern Australia.
The al-Qaeda terrorist group and Jemaah Islamiah aspire to create an Islamic superstate in South-East Asia, called Daulah Islamiyah, which would embrace Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Cambodia. Last month, the Philippines' national security adviser, Roilo Golez, told ABC's Four Corners that Abu Bakar, with al-Qaeda backing, was trying to include northern Australia in its plans. As secretary-general of the Mujahideen League, the cleric is alleged to have established four territorial groups, called mantiqis, to serve the aim of a pan-Islamic Asian state. One of those covered Irian Jaya and northern Australia.
The main question facing coalition partners USA and Australia is whether to keep working with the Indonesian and the Philippine governments which seem unwilling or unable to face the forces that are slowly tearing them apart; or prepare for a scenario that accepts the failure of these two states. Clearly, a state which cannot even save itself or enforce its authority within its own territory will be of little help in carrying out international agreements. The problem with relying on the dysfunctional regimes in Manila and Jakarta indefinitely is it allows things to go from bad to worse with hands tied out of diplomatic deference to the host "governments". But neither is it feasible to simply await the final collapse or breakup of these two countries before acting. The prudent course would be for America and Australia to develop ways of directly influencing events on the ground by creating structures which bypass the existing and inutile bureaucracies in the capitals. In this respect, both countries will be playing catch-up with Indonesia and Malaysia which have long since created armed groups under their control in Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi. The Balkanization of the southernmost regions of the Philippines began thirty years ago. One of the most familiar sights in "peace negotiations" between Manila and Muslim rebels is the presence of uniformed Indonesian officers by the side of the rebels, with the deceptive title of "facilitators". Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's abject surrender to a handful of Iraqi terrorists has simply demonstrated internationally what has long been evident domestically: that no one respects Manila except the punctilious diplomats in Washington and Canberra.