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Counter-Terror War: Indonesia and Pakistan


By Imtiaz Gul

 Weekly Pulse, March 01, 2013


Indonesia with around 6,000 inhabited islands out of approximately 17,500 islands is a huge country with close to 250 million inhabitants. It has roughly 97 public universities, but the private universities or equivalent institutions are about 3,200. That is why roughly 60 percent of total students study at private universities. The national literacy rate hovers around 90 percent in a country where 83 percent follow Islam.

Indonesia has unique peculiarities, quite different from the situation in Pakistan. It’s a multi-ethno religious society with deeply embedded cultural identities. Currently, it faces three principal threats i.e. communalism, separatism and terrorism.

The reform process after 1998 is called “Reformasi.” Some observers call it the beginning towards reforms that have remained capital centric. The times before 1998 knows as new order of Soeharto kept firm control over all forms of dissent, while the Ministry of Education / Religious Affairs concentrated on indoctrination of nationhood and collective responsibility through Pancasila. 

Although, it broke out of individual autocratic, military rule with the resignation of former president Suharto in 1998, the Indonesian army remains strongly represented in national politics as a result of a broad consensus on their gradual phase-out of politics. In the pre 1998 era, it was known as the dwi fungsi (dual function), but continues to perform this role i.e. security as well as political even today. 

Interestingly, the mighty Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) cannot touch military affairs as yet. While many Politicians/ Senior Police officer are behind bars on corruption related charges, Military continues to enjoy the big brother status. The President, for instance, is an Ex-General, his brother-in-law is the chief of Army, while five dozen generals, though directly elected, also sit in the national parliament. The army, it seems, still reigns supreme, though without directly getting involved in the daily governance. 

Army has maintained its presence in all islands, with a parallel command structure at every level i.e. province, region, district, sub district, village etc. This command structure is in itself complementary to the Army’s omni-presence in almost all spheres of life. The fear of the military is deeply embedded in the Indonesian psyche. Almost all public and private socio-political organizations, Mosques, Madarasahs are under the indirect oversight of the Ministry of Religious Affairs as well as the security apparatus. 

Two moderate credential organizations Nahdatul Ulema and Muhammadiyah constitute essential elements of the state’s oversight of the religious organizations. Both enjoy a following of up to 30 /20 millions respectively. The Jamah Islamiyah – the Indonesian Jamaate Islami -- does not subscribe to either of these organizations, and that is why during Soeharto’s period, the JI leadership went into exile. It was only after Soeharto that different factions of JI began openly working in Indonesia. The JI also doesn’t subscribe to the Pancasila philosophy. Hizbut Tahrir has also made considerable inroads into the Indonesia society, though the 2002 Bali bombing in 2002 and later several attacks on foreigners brought all segments of society including media as well as government on one page. Also, the 2004 deadly tsunami turned the tide on Salafists, who had drawn inspiration from several members of the First Afghan Alumni – a phrase used for those Indonesians who participated in the CIA-sponsored anti-Soviet Union Jihad. They also included Abu Bakr Bashir, a known critic of Pancasila.

Alarmed by the encroaching salafist forces in Aceh and other parts of Indonesia, governments of Australia/US helped Indonesia establish counter-terrorism initiatives, centred around JI/Affiliates, and, therefore, succeeded in eliminating all big names like Hambali, Gun Gun, Dulmatin etc. JI and its splinters were completely eradicated (Individual self-radicalized elements are considered the only form of looming threat). Unanimity and consensus on Threat across all segments (Government/Military/Civil Society Organizations) is the main harbinger of Unity of Purpose in Indonesia. Terrorism/Radical groups are at extreme odds to “Unity in diversity”. The will and the resolve of the state manifests itself in every success story of Indonesian counter Terrorism efforts.

This singular focus on counter-terrorism i.e. preventing the proliferation of the Al-Qaeda-inspired narrative across Indonesia, helped the entire security apparatus in nailing down extremists. That is why the Indonesian National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) Chief Ansyaad Mbai believes that his country should be seen as a model for counter-terrorism. He made this claim last October, citing arrests of hundreds of terror suspects and busting of several terrorists networks through targeted operations. BNPT’s success also included convictions of the infamous Bali bomber trio i.e. Imam Samudera, Amrozi and Mukhlas, major culprits responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, mostly Australians. The last prominent member of their network, Umar Patek, was sentenced to 20 years in jail just a few months ago. Patek had been arrested in January 2011 from Abbottabad and eventually extradited to Jakarta.

Unfortunately, most Indonesians too look at Pakistan as the ground that hosted, facilitated and trained Indonesian radicals many of whom returned to their Islands, dreaming of establishing a caliphate in Indonesia. This bitter fact haunts many a Pakistani not only in Americas, but also in the Far East, where officials often express despair over the fact that Pakistan lacks a real counter-terror strategy. This they believe facilitates the presence and proliferation of the Islamist radicals.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk