(A Story in Many Parts)
By Jonathan Smith
KL will always be my home away from home, and to my mind, Anwar Ibrahim will always be part of it.
Back in the early 1980s, this was a sleepier place, much more laid back. Getting a good beer was fairly easy, and the smell of halal food mixed with the nearby savoury smell of sizzling pork. Gossip was cheap and frequently more right than not.
Anwar was the talk of the town when I first arrived, the young up-and-comer who had put aside his revolutionary ways to join Mahathir’s circle, the Islamist radical who liberally quoted Shakespeare and TS Eliot, and, on occasion, Ho Chi Minh. No one doubted his keen mind or his ambition.
Aside from that, no one knew anything about him. But we’d soon learn.
Those of us in the expat community – Brits, Yanks, Aussies, Canadians, the odd German – had a vested interest in learning more about this remarkable fellow. We figured that any business we did here would run through him eventually. The station chiefs for the CIA, MI-6, and KGB also wanted to know where he’d come from and where his allegiances lay. With Umno, with PAS, with the Saudis? But whatever he’d been before, he was now an Umno man, and he kept his counsel close, and his past as much a mystery as possible.
That didn’t stop any of us from digging, and later on pouring more money than might seem reasonable into finding out. We could all tell that this was a man on the way up, and sleepy Southeast Asia was soon poised to take off. Big time.
Then as now, money loosened tongues. Men and women would talk off the record and on. Some would tell you the unvarnished truth, but most would mix truth and lies to keep you coming back. We all knew the game. Many of us had intel backgrounds, so some of this was familiar territory. Stories had to be checked and cross-checked, rumours run to ground. Even then, a lot of what was out there was speculation and hearsay. Over the years, each of us compiled our own files on the man. Each of us used what we had, and we traded among ourselves, much as we did for other key Umno men who ruled the country. But Anwar’s file was worth almost as much as Mahathir’s, and in time, even more.
When he eventually made his move on Mahathir, we –
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a story of the man without a face, or, if you prefer, the man with many faces, the man who could be everything to anyone, whose every move was calculated to advance his own goals. It is the story as we saw it and as we learned it. It is the story told by documents and eyewitnesses.
It is a personal story, because I lived it, too. I spent decades, off and on, following this trail, through smoke-filled dives in Bangsar, Georgetown, Kuching, and elsewhere; through clandestine meetings in Putrajaya and Singapore and Ankara; through conference rooms and board rooms in Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States.
This is the story of Anwar Ibrahim. We put it together over the years, a group of expats, old hands, if you will, who were good at comparing notes. Much of what is in here is simply documented fact that has disappeared in the mists of time. More is based on in-person interviews with principals and eyewitnesses. Some is hearsay and rumour, unreliable intimations from unreliable sources – but remarkable for how it predicted the world in which we now live, and showed us what Anwar would do and did.
This is the story of the greatest, most nimble, most articulate, and ultimately the most flawed opportunist of our times. A chameleon. A charmer. A brilliant but ultimately tragic persona. What you will read over the coming weeks is the result of collecting these stories, these interviews, these files, into a single work. I’ve always considered these to be the I-Files – though the reason I chose that name would likely surprise you.
How all of this information was gathered – who has the goods on whom, who were the narrators, who the interviewees – is so classified at Langley and at Lambeth and Vauxhall Cross that I didn’t even dare question it. That would have gotten me into far too much trouble. With Malaysia facing Anwar’s last chance at becoming Prime Minister; with the man who put in motion a decades-old plan to radicalise this tolerant and easy-going nation so keen to take power; with so much of his story untold, I knew it was time.
It is high time that this story was told.
Kuala Lumpur, April 2012