Friday, April 23, 2010

Indonesia needs help against home-grown terror

Cooperation between Asean members is essential in eradicating regional terrorism
Indonesia's democracy is taking root and burgeoning quickly. Economic development is strong and foreign investment is pouring in. Economic growth forecasts should be promising in the coming years. However, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Radical political and religious elements are still at large in the world's largest archipelago.

Home-grown groups of terrorists, of various shades, have the potential to disrupt the overall plan.

Following the Bali bombing of 2002 and last July's attempt to blow up a five-star hotel in central Jakarta, the Indonesian security forces have stepped up their operations throughout the country, improving their intelligence networks and increasing surveillance at airports. New immigration procedures and systems that utilise biometric data are now in place at international airports. The authorities in Indonesia want to ensure that the world's third largest democracy is not going to become a second front in the worldwide battle against terrorism. Jakarta is taking the issue of terrorism seriously as never before, as a result of strong criticism previously levied against the security forces for complacency.

The discovery of a Jemaah Islamiyah militant training camp in Aceh early this year sent shock waves throughout the country, as nobody could believe that the existence of such an establishment was possible. It was a wake-up call. The existing radical elements, despite the advanced age of some of their members, are still active. They are there to generate hatred and division among the local population and the authorities, even though peace has returned to the war-torn province.

In 2005, a peace agreement was reached in Aceh that ended the insurgency. But somehow, local discontent continues. It is incumbent upon both central and local governments to work together to heal the wounds in this society that was torn apart by the 30-year conflict. It is a tall order for a nascent democracy.

According to the International Crisis Group, there are new groups of radicals in Aceh that want to capitalise on the situation in Indonesia. One of them is known as al-Qaeda Indonesia, which aims to establish a fundamental Islamic society that is governed by sharia law. This new group will do everything possible to achieve its objectives. One of its methods is to threaten and assassinate elected politicians who object to the imposition of Islamic law.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the other day that the process of democratisation in Indonesia was irreversible. To ensure this, he has to make sure that development benefits everyone and that the income gap between the haves and have-nots is reduced as far as possible.

With its population of 260 million, Indonesia is blessed with a massive human resource base. This is to its economic advantage. But if the government fails to improve living standards across the board, causes for dissension will certainly increase, especially in outlying provinces, where the full benefits of economic development do not reach. Besides Aceh, there are other far-flung provinces, such as Irian Jaya, where there are radical elements that are hostile to the central government in Jakarta.

As the Asean chair next year, Indonesia has already placed its anti-terrorism campaign high on the agenda of the regional grouping. At the moment, there is little else being done in this sphere. The Asean Convention on Counter-Terrorism, which was agreed upon in 2007, has not yet been seriously implemented. The Philippines - another Asean member plagued by terrorist cells, in its southern provinces - and Indonesia, are both expected to push hard for more Asean-based cooperation to tackle the issues.

The convention is the result of growing concern that Southeast Asia has been used as a base for both regional and international terrorist groups. Greater regional cooperation is therefore pivotal to root out sanctuaries used by terrorists and to prevent cross-border attacks. Editorial, The Nation, Bangkok

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