Thursday, August 27, 2009

Terrorism is here to stay

After a four-year gap, terrorism is now back in our midst. The initial buoyancy the country enjoyed believing it had stopped terrorist attacks, hitting it yearly from 2002 to 2005, turns out to be an illusion. The police have their hands full these days, catching Ali Muhammad bin Abdullah, believed to be a Saudi Arabian, who allegedly funded the July 17 bombings in Jakarta.

This is a sign that terror operatives are getting closer to their targets and of a laxity in community policing. A study by the International Crisis Group suggests the government pay more attention to Jemaah Islamiyah-affiliated schools that offer protection to men like Noordin M. Top, better understanding of terrorism's international linkages and better intelligence.

Improved community policing, for one, implies reform in neighborhood bureaucracy, particularly, on the issuance of identity cards. This boils down to bureaucratic corruption as one can easily obtain a card with a fee. Since curbing this practice takes time, terrorism is here to stay.

The military, on the other hand, seems to find terrorism a convenient piggyback to strengthen its hold on power. With the split of the military and the police in 2001 as a backdrop, it seems to be a good time for the military to legitimize its presence in the civilian domain.

The government is faced with a dilemma: to leave terrorism in the hands of the police or to invite the military to help them. Both measures are legitimate, albeit the second carries a risk of repeating the New Order's violations of human rights.
Thousands were jailed or kidnapped during the Soeharto years, most of whom were never brought to court. Despite the spate of good work the police have done lately, they are still struggling to strengthen their institution building. Speaking at the headquarters of the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) in Jakarta last Thursday, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the Indonesian Military (TNI) should be given wider-ranging powers in the fight against terrorism. Yudhoyono added that the TNI should not repeat what the military had done in the past with their "dark, bizarre" actions, such as the mysterious shooting operations known as Petrus. "Don't let such things happen again. Don't let the Munir case happen again," he said, referring to the killing of the country's most prominent human rights activist. A presidential statement, however, is not a law as Indonesia is not a kingdom. To make Yudhoyono's caveat work he should come up with a ruling that delineates the roles of the military and the police in dealing with terrorism and with a specific time frame.

While it is not fair to put the blame for the mysterious killings on Yudhoyono, as Soeharto himself artlessly claimed to have ordered them in his autobiography, we object to his way of acting like a father scolding his son when he referred to the Munir case. A leader cannot govern by simply saying "don't do this or that" but should be able to deliver. In this case, he should have fulfilled the promise he once made, that is, to bring the case to light. To date, the mastermind of the killing is still at large.

Terrorism cannot be fought by military force alone but by well-coordinated intelligence, elimination of a departmentalism tendency among security forces, continued attention to the government's counter-radicalization program and by cleaning the government house of elements sympathetic to terrorism.
This is an uphill task for Yudhoyono's new government.

Jakarta Post Editorial

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