The growing complexity of counter-terror efforts in Indonesia means the country can no longer centralise its Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiatives in Jakarta. Instead, Indonesia should start by involving local governments in the crafting of sustainable CVE programs.
Civil society organisations (CSO) in Indonesia have always been at the forefront of reintegration programs for former terrorist suspects. Some of their initiatives include integrating ex-terrorists back into society by providing them with the means and training to start small business enterprises. Unemployment does not necessarily lead an individual to commit terrorist acts, but it doesn’t help. It may predispose them to approach radical networks as a source of refuge and counsel.
But in the author’s recent interview with a former terrorist convict, Agus (alias Agus Marshal) revealed that he has never been exposed to CSO initiatives. Agus, a Central Jakarta native, is currently employed as a cleaning supervisor at Sadang-Cikopo Street in Purwakarta Regency, West Java. It is considered quite rare for local governments to initiate integration programs to assist former terrorists. But Agus, and the town of Purwakarta more generally, provide a shining example of the pivotal role that local governments can play in facilitating CVE initiatives in Indonesia.
Agus returned to his wife’s hometown in Purwakarta when he was released from jail in 2015. Dedi Mulyadi, who served as the regent of Purwakarta at that time, offered some start-up capital for Agus to run a food stall at a local market to encourage his reintegration. But Agus did not receive any business training. As a result, his business did not last long.
Mulyadi only found out that Agus’ business had failed in the aftermath of the ‘pressure cooker’ bomb attempt in Bandung in February 2017. Mulyadi met to confirm Agus’ past affiliation with the perpetrator, Yayat Cahdiyat. Agus joined the same pengajian (Quran recital meeting) with Cahdiyat before he was arrested for involvement in a robbery to fund an Aceh military training camp for terrorists back in 2010.
Mulyadi was again willing to assist Agus financially, but Agus turned down the offer — he felt he was incapable of running a business. He told Mulyadi personally that he would rather work as a regular employee as he had prior experience working in a factory.
Former inmates naturally encounter obstacles in securing regular jobs. To apply for a job in Indonesia, applicants are required to submit a police clearance certificate. Most institutions in Indonesia, both public or private, are reluctant to recruit individuals with criminal records. Mulyadi eventually assisted Agus in his job hunt as a cleaning supervisor near his house in Cibening Purwakarta.
Agus also had the opportunity to become a speaker for the Purwakarta Ideology School thanks to Mulyadi. The Purwakarta Ideology School is a flagship program under Mulyadi’s leadership. It was established in 2016 to introduce Pancasila, Indonesia’s national ideology, to local societies. It targets students from junior high schools, high schools and universities as well as teachers, villagers and officials from youth communities in Purwakarta.
Classes are held once a week. The school allows former terrorists like Agus to share their experiences and educate students on the perils of extremist teachings. The classes emphasise a culture of tabayyun or ‘verify and confirm’ among students when it comes to sensitive information and news relating to politics and religion. Other prominent speakers include Islamic scholar Azyumardi Azra and religious freedom advocate Romo Antonius Benny Susetyo.
The Purwakarta government’s initiative is a viable alternative model to reintegrate former terrorists in Indonesia. Authorities often encounter challenges in monitoring former terrorists across the country and cannot depend on the direction of the central government in Jakarta or even CSOs due to their limited outreach.
Indonesia’s National Counter-terrorism Agency (BNPT) does not have representatives stationed in local regions who can regularly monitor the effectiveness of reintegration programs. There is also a limited number of experienced local CSOs. For instance, the Peace Generation CSO based in Bandung had to assist in numerous reintegration programs for deportees in various districts in West Java such as Bandung, Majalengka and Subang. Their resources were spread far too thin across the vast distances between locations.
The local government in Purwakarta is able to provide suitable programs despite the absence of specific guidelines and instructions from the central government. Stigma was largely overcome due to the presence of the Ideology School, which allowed for dialogue to take place between former terrorists and local people.
The local government in Purwakarta also provided financial assistance for Agus. This kind of assistance should be tailored according to the circumstances of the individual. It should not be limited to just small entrepreneurs but also extend to other forms of employment. In this way, the individual is indebted to the local government and the local apparatus can then monitor the reintegration process more effectively.
Despite its merits, the Purwakarta model is far from perfect. The BNPT should work together with CSOs to further refine their initiatives and support the CVE efforts of local governments. The latter still require significant assistance to effectively conduct professional development programs and formulate regular monitoring procedures.
Chaula Rininta Anindya is a Research Analyst with the Indonesia Programme of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
A version of this article was previously published on RSIS.