INDONESIA: TNI using 'war on terror' to regain power



On February 26, Australian defence minister Robert Hill told reporters at the Asian Aerospace 2002 conference in Singapore that Canberra wanted to encourage the Indonesian authorities to "combat terrorist groupings within Indonesia more effectively than what they have been able to do to date".

Hill was echoing the sentiments of Singaporean Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew who had alleged, a few days earlier, that "terrorist leaders" were able to move about Indonesia freely. Hill and Lee's statements come in the wake of a series of newspaper reports constantly referring to US concerns that Indonesia was the weak link in the US-led "war against terrorism".

Lee's statements came after the January 11 arrest of 13 alleged members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) who were accused of planning to bomb the US embassy and a US warship in Singapore.

On January 15, Philippines police arrested another Indonesian, Fathur Rahman Al-Ghozi, and charged him initially with possession of arms and explosives, although these charges were later dropped for lack of evidence and he was charged with using a false name. On January 24, Malaysian police arrested another 23 members of the JI. In Singapore and Malaysia there were Indonesians among those arrested.

Al-Ghozi has reportedly stated that JI is a southeast Asia-wide organisation seeking to establish Islamic states in the region.

Since the arrests, Singaporean authorities have been pointing the finger at an Indonesian Islamic cleric, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, as a "key figure" in JI. Ba'asyir runs an Islamic boarding school in the small town of Ngruki in Central Java. Ba'asyir, since interrogated by Indonesian police, denies any involvement with terrorist activity or any connections with the Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

Ba'asyir is an elderly cleric virtually unknown in Indonesian politics. As far as anybody has been able to document, neither he nor his school have been involved in any violent activities. From the views he has expressed on bin Laden, he appears to be typical of a significant body of opinion among a wide spectrum of Islamic groups which see world politics in terms of Western and Jewish "conspiracies" against Muslims.

Real terrorists ignored

So far no other groups in Indonesia have been singled out as a source of terrorism. The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), whose leaders and members go everywhere armed and have a record of attacking and threatening pro-democracy groups have not been mentioned.

The Kabah Youth Movement (GPK), which attacked participants at the June 2001 Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference in Jakarta with swords has also not been targeted. Neither has the Laskar Jihad, which has launched violent attacks in Ambon killing hundreds of people. In both cases, it is an open secret that the groups work closely with elements in the Indonesian armed forces.

Despite the fact that neither the FPI nor Laskar Jihad have been targeted for any anti-terrorist propaganda or police action, it has been the leaders of the main conservative Islamic political forces that have reacted most strongly to Lee Kuan Yew's statements. These include protests by Vice-President Hamzah Haz, who is also chairperson of the largest conservative Islamic party, the United Development Party (PPP), and Peoples Consultative Assembly chairperson Amien Rais, who is head of the second largest conservative Islamic party, the National Mandate Party (PAN).

Both Haz and Rais seek to win the support of Muslim clerics like Ba'asyir as well as the membership of organisations like FPI and GPK. They also seek to maintain close cooperation with the military for whom FPI and Laskar Jihad have been useful tools.

It has been the FPI that has been organising demonstrations outside the Singapore embassy since the statements by Lee Kuan Yew.

The major liberal Islamic political organisation, Nahdatul Ulama (NU), has called for investigations into any allegations of terrorist cells.

For the Indonesian political elite, the US "war on terrorism" creates a number of contradictions. By pointing the finger at an Islamic cleric, the US, Singapore and Australia are seen to be targeting conservative Islam in general. Conservative Islam in Indonesia has been a key ally of the conservative wing of the political elite and the military against the democratic and labour movements. It is therefore not surprising the military and police in Indonesia have taken a strong position claiming there is no terrorist or al Qaeda presence in Indonesia.

The one exception to this was statements made last year by the minister for intelligence, retired General Hendripriyono, that al Qaeda had once organised training camps in the Moluccas.

Hendripriyono has been trying to build a political base separate from the military while also seeking to win support from the US government. But even he has now changed his tune.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri's government as a whole has not thrown itself in any really enthusiastic way into campaigns against alleged terrorists. She too needs to keep the military on side. The whole political elite seeks to prevent the growth of any propaganda or police campaign that might either spread and hit groups like the FPI, GPK and Laskar Jihad.

It appears that even the Bush administration is having second thoughts about making Indonesia a target in its "war on terrorism". The new US ambassador in Jakarta has given interviews in the last week, for example in the February 19-25 issue of Tempo magazine, stating that the US does not think that al Qaeda is in Indonesia. He has also said that reports about terrorist networks in Indonesia have not been substantiated.

Milking 'war on terror'

The Indonesian military cannot milk the "war against terror" for propaganda and tactical advantage too much because it tends towards targeting its own allies. However, it has tried to get what it can.

Soon after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, the Megawati government drafted an anti-terrorism law, which gave security authorities the right to arrest anybody suspected of being a terrorist or the "potential" to be a terrorist. The legislation provided an incredibly broad definition of terrorism, including any agitation that caused a public disturbance.

Under the legislation, media outlets that published statements deemed to cause, or have the potential to cause, a public disturbance could be closed down. Detainees would have no access to lawyers, family or any other outside contacts.

The draft legislation was immediately attacked by all human rights NGOs and pro-democracy organisations. It was seen as being more repressive than the 1959 Anti-Subversion Law that had been repealed after the overthrow of the dictator Suharto. Opposition was so widespread against any return to Suharto-style repression that the legislation has been shelved. A revised bill may be reintroduced at some time, but it appears there are no plans for such a move in the near future.

Although unable to make many gains from the anti-terrorism propaganda so far, the military has still been able to take initiatives in other ways to try to regain the commanding position it had in politics under Suharto.

First, late last year, in defiance of a general sentiment that military regional commands able to interfere in local politics should be phased out, the military has proceeded to establish a new regional military command in Aceh. President Megawati has backed this decision.

Second, the armed forces (TNI) headquarters has refused to allow serving and former officers to be appear before the government appointed National Human Rights Commission hearings into human rights violations under Suharto, including hearings into the 1998 shootings of students in Jakarta. As supreme commander of the armed forces, President Megawati has not ordered a reversal of this decision.

Third, in defiance of the general mood against the reappointment of military officers with known records of human rights violations, TNI headquarters has appointed General Syafrie Samsuddin as chief of the TNI headquarters information office, the main public spokesperson position for the TNI. Samsuddin was Jakarta military chief of staff and then commander between 1996-1998 during the crackdown on the pro-democracy opposition and was a senior officer in East Timor at the time of the referendum in 1999.

It appears that the main instrument of state terror, the TNI, is gaining confidence in its struggle to seize back political power. Maybe that is why the Australian government has decided to resume military cooperation with the Megawati government.

From Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2002.
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