From War on Terror to Plain War
From War on Terror to Plain War
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 8 minutes

From War on Terror to Plain War

The Bali bombings on 12 October were not Indonesia's first encounter with international terrorism, but no attack on this scale had happened before, and no Indonesian believed that peaceful Bali would ever be a target. There were ever more urgent warnings from the United States throughout September that al-Qaida operatives were planning attacks in Indonesia, but mostly they fell on deaf ears. Indonesians were very sceptical about the reality of the terrorist threat. The government neither wanted to be seen as capitulating to US pressure, nor to be viewed as returning to the Suharto-era arbitrary arrests of political suspects. There was concern that any move against hardline Muslims, such as the cleric Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, would be politically divisive, when President Megawati Sukarnoputri knew that she needed support from Muslim parties if she was to win another term in 2004.

The atmosphere changed dramatically with the bombings: the cabinet approved a new anti-terrorism decree on 18 October and next day Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, head of the Jemaah Islamiyyah, was arrested. But the impact on Indonesia goes far beyond this. President Megawati has been seriously affected by the events. Before them she was widely regarded as unbeatable in the elections. That has changed. There is a now a serious effort to look for a suitable contender, both from within her Indonesian Democratic Struggle Party (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia Perjuangan or PDIP), and from outside. Her lack of leadership had already made PDIP members unhappy, but her performance after the bombings appalled many. Indonesians saw no effort to direct policy, or to force her cabinet members to speak with one voice. A senior PDIP parliamentarian told us that she had let the country drift, and even after the bombings, there was no sign of focus. She had become a liability: "It used to be that Megawati's name attracted people; now it repels them."

The Indonesian armed forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia or TNI), whose influence had waned with the fall of General Suharto in 1998, could be the major beneficiary of her weakness, even though General Endriartono Sutarto, the TNI commander, has said repeatedly that the military has no interest in a more prominent role; it could, in fact, benefit in three ways.

Since the police were separated from the armed forces in 1999, they have had primary responsibility for internal security. The army, particularly at local level, chafed as the police usurped its role and took the opportunities for graft and corruption that came with it. The poor performance of the police in handling serious violence has intensified the army's resentment. Nowhere was the incompetence of the police more obvious than in Bali, where officers failed to seal off the bombsite and allowed anyone to tramp through it with no concern for forensic evidence.

The new anti-terrorism regulation, adopted on 18 October, gives the military only a small formal role as part of a task force to create strategy to combat terrorism. But under the new law's looser rules of evidence, suspects can be detained on the basis of intelligence reports - and a great fear of the political reform movement in Jakarta is that the role of military intelligence will increase, without effective checks by civilian authorities. Both Sutarto and the army chief of staff, General Ryamizard Ryacudu, are pressing for a new national intelligence co-ordinating body. The need for better co-ordination is not disputed; the concern is how the intelligence will be used.

Indonesians committed to military reform consider that a gradual elimination of the territorial command structure, through which the army has posts at provincial, district, and subdistrict levels, is critical in getting the army out of politics. The structure brings direct influence over local politics: the military commander is near-equal, and sometimes superior, to the civilian executive in local decision-making. When Suharto resigned in 1998, advocates of military reform, even within the army, agreed that the territorial structure had to go.

Over the last two years there has been steady retreat from that position, because of communal, ethnic and separatist violence, and the importance of local commands as a source of revenue for military operations. New regional commands were created in the Moluccas (Maluku in Indonesian) in 2000 and in Aceh in 2001. After Bali, more could follow, and the army has explicitly advocated this so it can be "closer to the people". Since there is insecurity among ordinary Indonesians after the bombings and a new nostalgia for the Suharto era, the army might find political support for the move. This would be a serious blow to political reform and civilian supremacy in a democratising government.

Western governments, whose citizens or installations could again be targeted by al-Qaida, desperately want an effective partner in the war on terror, which could lead to increased funding and training of the TNI. But there are great pitfalls to this: the army is still a highly politicised organisation, and it leaks both information and weapons. Rebel movements still get most of their arms from corrupt soldiers (and police), and the extent of the army's involvement with the criminal world is only slowly emerging. Enforcement of discipline is extremely weak: an attack by soldiers in September on a police post in North Sumatra, in which a ton and a half of marijuana disappeared, is just one of TNI's smaller problems. Trials of army officers for crimes against humanity in East Timor have been farcical, and have undermined, rather than strengthened, any prospect of accountability for soldiers responsible for serious crimes.

The threat of terrorism is real, yet only a few Muslims are radicals, and even fewer advocate violence. The best-known radical groups - Laskar Jihad, Front Pembela Islam (FPI, Islamic Defenders Front) and the Jemaah Islamiyyah networks - have problems, but not all as a result of the bombings. And the new heightened security may not have much of an impact on radical Islam. Most of these groups are convinced, as are many other people in Indonesia, that the US government planned the Bali attack to bully countries previously reluctant to join its anti-terrorist operations to support a war on Iraq. So reactions against the bombings are not likely to lead to a change in the extent or content of Islamic radicalism in Indonesia.

Who are the Muslim radicals?

The Jemaah Islamiyyah is the only network with significant ties to international terrorism, but it seems to be an elusive coalition of underground groups, rather than a single organisation that can be easily banned or broken up. The danger it poses is unlikely to be much affected by the arrest of Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, one of its alleged leaders, particularly when the man thought to be its operational commander, Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, remains at large.

Laskar Jihad is a militia based in Yogyakarta, known for its violence in the Moluccas and Poso (Central Sulawesi). It was formally disbanded a week before the bombings, a decision announced over Laskar Jihad radio in Ambon on 15 October; departures began the next day. The leader of Laskar Jihad, Ja'far Umar Thalib, is currently on trial for incitement after a violent attack in Ambon in April. One source said Laskar Jihad was torn by internal dissent, short of funds and infiltrated by intelligence. The disbanding of Laskar Jihad is good news for Ambon and Poso, but what will happen to young men recruited locally, and where are the weapons it had?

The Front Pembela Islam (FPI) is known for smashing nightclubs and discotheques and any other places it judges to be dens of iniquity. But most of its members are young thugs with a few Islamic leaders, headed by a cleric named Habib Rizieq, who was detained on 16 October. He was charged with incitement connected with an FPI raid in Jakarta on 4 October; his arrest warrant seems to have been issued before the bombing.

All three organisations used violence, but had fundamental ideological differences. Laskar Jihad and FPI believed that it was forbidden under Islamic law to revolt against a Muslim government, no matter how repressive or wayward. Laskar Jihad was ultra-nationalist, committed to Indonesia's territorial integrity and convinced its mission was to fight Christian separatists because the security forces were incapable of doing it. But Abu Bakar Ba'asyir and the men of the Jemaah Islamiyyah believe that jihad against enemies of Islam is obligatory, even if those enemies are Muslim, and that the only acceptable government is a restoration of the caliphate.

It is too early to assess the economic impact of the bombings, but it will obviously be serious. In the two days after, the central bank had to buy up millions of dollarsworth of rupiahs to prevent the currency's value from plummeting. That staved off a crash, but the bigger issue is the loss of jobs, and the general sense of fear, particularly for foreign companies. As an executive noted, there was not much new investment coming in, and the real question was whether businesses already here would leave. Most were determined to stay, despite non-essential diplomatic staff and dependents being ordered home

Bali is likely to be deeply scarred anyway, economically and socially. Kuta, the centre of the tourist district, is already a ghost town. Within a week of the bombing, the occupancy of hotels dropped from 90% to 27%. The service sector will suffer, and so will exports, as many tourists were small-scale exporters buying handicrafts to retail abroad. These sales accounted for almost half of Balinese exports, according to the local press. Local officials expect the loss of 150,000 jobs and perhaps $20m in tax revenues. Most big foreign tourist agencies have put travel to Bali on hold, and it will take a long time for the industry to recover.

Bali may see worsening communal relations with migrants from other parts of Indonesia, although local leaders are doing their best to ensure this does not happen. Anti-migrant sentiment has been building for years, and because many of the migrants are Muslim, there was a fear that the local Balinese civilian security groups, pecalang, might take their anger out on non-Balinese.

The bombings have temporarily displaced Indonesia's other problems: rebellion in Aceh and Papua, and sectarian conflict in Maluku and Poso, with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people. And there are also problems of decentralisation. But every response of the Megawati government to the bombings will affect its ability to handle other challenges. After initial arrests of Jemaah Islamiyyah suspects the government could make suspected Acehnese guerrillas the next target under the new laws.

The government will have to address the radical Muslim groups not merely by cracking down on them, but by providing alternatives to the way of life they offer. This is not just an economic question, since many of the recruits come from the educated middle class as well as from the poor. If the government does not address the demobilisation of groups like Laskar Jihad, which may be temporary, it may face worse problems in the future. The Indonesian government was already in serious trouble on 12 October: the events in Bali have deepened that.

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