Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 6

This is part 6 of the rebuttal to Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Mr Burhan Gafoor’s “Response to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations”.

Mr Gafoor made sweeping statement that wasn’t true

Mr Gafoor wrote:

That the security operation was targeted at the communists and their supporters – not mere democratic opponents of the PAP – has been affirmed by no less an authority than the CPM secretary-general Chin Peng. He acknowledged in his memoirs that he had expected such a crackdown and had advised his cadres and followers to take the necessary precautions. He expressed regret that they did not do so, as Operation Coldstore, in his words, “shattered our underground network throughout the island”. “Those who escaped the police net went into hiding. Many fled to Indonesia”. Clearly, Operation Coldstore had not targeted innocent, non-communist “socialists”.

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: Chin Peng: My Side of History, page 439]

Mr Gafoor was referring to this paragraph from Chin Peng’s memoirs:

Working from prepared name lists, the raiding parties managed to seize 115 suspects. Among them was James Puthucheary. The Singapore crackdown we had been expecting for almost four years had, in fact, only materialised after strong pressure on Lee from both Tunku and the British. Our deliberations with ECY two years earlier had correctly forecast the event, but had failed to visualise putting in place any form of effective countermeasures. My plea to ‘prepare for the worst’ had been to no avail. Operation Cold Store shattered our underground network throughout the island. Those who escaped the police net went into hiding. Many fled to Indonesia.

Thus, Chin Peng didn’t say that all 115 Operation Coldstore detainees were part of the underground network shattered. Neither did Chin Peng say that the 24 Barisan members seized were part of that underground network. Chin Peng did not say who or how many amongst Operation Coldstore detainees were part of his underground network. Therefore, Mr Gafoor cannot conveniently assume that all 115 Operation Coldstore detainees were part of Chin Peng’s underground network. As long as 1 out of the 115 Operation Coldstore detainees wasn’t part of Chin Peng’s underground network, Mr Gafoor has not right to make the sweeping statement that Operation Coldstore targeted communists or that Operation Coldstore had not targeted innocent non-communists.

The usual fate of communists caught then was either exile or banishment to China. According to this list of Singapore political detainees (http://remembering1987.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/political-detainees-in-singapore-1950-2013.pdf), only 6 out of 123 Operation Coldstore detainees suffered this fate with one more banished to India. Effectively, only 7 out of 123 Operation Coldstore detainees were potentially part of the underground network that Chin Peng mentioned. Thus, the great majority of Operation Coldstore detainees were unlikely to be communists or part of Chin Peng’s underground network. Mr Gafoor was therefore a lot more wrong than right when he said that Operation Coldstore targeted communists who were part of Chin Peng’s underground network.

Furthermore on page 438 of the same book, Chin Peng said:

But neither Dr Lee Siew Chor … nor, I understand it, other prominent opposition figures like the Puthucheary brothers – James and Dominic – had ever been CPM members.

It would be strange for Chin Peng to deny that James Puthucheary was a CPM member on page 438 only to admit on page 439 that James was part of the CPM underground network shattered by Operation Coldstore.

Shattering of CPM underground could mean its complete withdrawal from Singapore

Chin Peng’s words can be better understood by referring to another book that Mr Gafoor referred to where Fong Chong Pik wrote:

By 1961-62, the CPM’s underground organizations in Singapore were feeling it a great burden just to take care of the safety of the cadres who were avoiding arrests. The pressure had become so heavy that it was most difficult to handle. Any person who was not personally involved simply cannot imagine how difficult it was …

It was around the end of 1961, in accordance with suggestions relayed to me from the rest of the working group in Indonesia, that we began the task of withdrawing in small groups a total of more than 50 male and female cadres from the island. The withdrawal was conducted smoothly. Those cadres who were believed to have exposed themselves and whose safety was therefore threatened were taken out on a priority basis. As a result, practically the entire effective strength of the organization was withdrawn. Just think, on such a tiny island cadres would be left whose safety was not threatened? We successfully preserved the cadres, but our struggle in Singapore began to wane and eventually failed.

[Fong Chong Pik: The Memoirs of a Malayan Communist Revolutionary, page 172]

Thus, Chin Peng’s shattering of CPM underground network could refer to the complete withdrawal of the CPM underground from Singapore resulting in the waning and eventual failure of CPM underground in Singapore. There are thus other possible interpretations to Chin Peng’s shattering of CPM underground network. Mr Gafoor cannot be so adamant with his accusations when his evidence can be interpreted in more than one way.

In another book, Chin Peng referred to Barisan members taken during Operation Cold Store as “them” not “us”. Chin Peng thus differentiated Barisan from CPM.

… Lee Kuan Yew seized the opportunity to have the Barisan Socialis leaders arrested in Operation Cold Store (February 1963), branding opponents of Malaya as pro-Indonesian. This harmed them badly at a time …

[Dialogues with Chin Peng: New Light on the Malayan Communist Party, C. C. Chin and Karl Hack, page 320]

Specific examples of non-communists detained during Operation Coldstore

Lim Chin Siong was detained during Operation Coldstore and since Mr Gafoor was so fond of quoting from Chin Peng, he should take note that Chin Peng never regarded Lim Chin Siong a communist:

Chin Peng: I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Lim Chin Siong never admitted he was Communist Party member.

[Dialogues with Chin Peng: New light on the Malayan Communist Party, C C Chin & Karl Hack, page 191]

Dr Lim Hock Siew was taken away during Operation Coldstore when his son was only 5 years old. Why would Dr Lim choose to be incarcerated for close to 20 years when a simple renunciation of communism would have set him free? Dr Lim’s 20 year steadfast stance against renouncing communism because he was no communist in the first place was more than sufficient proof that he was never a communist.

Why Barisan legislative assemblymen spared from Operation Coldstore?

Straits Times reported that all Barisan legislative assemblymen were spared from Operation Coldstore. So if Mr Gafoor was correct, that Operation Coldstore only targeted communists, it would mean that only non-elected Barisan members were communist because only they were caught during Operation Coldstore. On the other hand, elected Barisan members were non-communist since they were spared from Operation Coldstore. That would mean that communist or non-communist laid in the hands of voters. Voters decided who was communist and who wasn’t which would be quite ridiculous. The fact that PAP didn’t touch any Barisan legislative assemblymen during Operation Coldstore showed that this was more than anything else a political operation.

In all, 113 people were rounded up, including 24 Barisan members, 21 trade union leaders, 17 Nanyang University (Nantah) students and graduates, seven members of rural associations, and five journalists.

However, all 13 Barisan legislative assemblymen and party chairman Lee Siew Choh were spared.

[Straits Times, ‘I was interrogated day and night for six months’, 10 Sept 2009]

Conclusion

Mr Gafoor was wrong to make sweeping statements about Operation Coldstore targeting non-innocent communists solely on the basis of Chin Peng’s statement that Operation Coldstore had shattered his underground network. Chin Peng didn’t say that all 123 Operation Coldstore detainees belonged to his underground network. As long as one Operation Coldstore detainee had been innocent, it would be unfair for Mr Gafoor to claim without qualification that Operation Coldstore detainees had been non-innocent communists. It is not difficult to find Operation Coldstore detainees who were innocent, most notable of which was Dr Lim Siew Hock.

Worse still, only a tiny fraction of Operation Coldstore detainees were banished to China, suggesting that the great majority of detainees weren’t communists which in turn implies that Mr Gafoor was probably a lot more wrong than right in making the sweeping statement that Operation Coldstore targeted non-innocent communists.

These together with other evidences show that the basis of Mr Gafoor’s accusations is rather weak and doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of a more robust evaluation of all evidences concerning Operation Coldstore.

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