US strokes Jakarta’s ego in terrorism fight
AMERICAN CHANGE OF TACK
Softened stance and praise for Megawati’s government are said to be a bid to play good cop’ to get her to do Washington’s bidding.
The United States is fighting the war on terrorism here through a most unconventional strategy – stroking the ego of the Indonesian government.
In the past few months, US officials have softened their demands and are instead heaping lavish praise on President Megawati Sukarnoputri’s nine-month-old administration.
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who was here over the weekend, was the latest of several officials pursuing this approach, which differed significantly from the hardline stance some in Washington adopted after the Sept 11 terrorist attacks.
Mr Zoellick, who met Ms Megawati for talks on Sunday, said: ‘President Megawati’s success is extremely important to the US because she’s a person who is bringing these difficult challenges together, and Indonesia is an extremely important country for the US.
‘I also asked her to thank the people of Indonesia, because after the attacks on Sept 11 there were many expressions of warmth and support from the Indonesians.’
He made no mention of Jakarta’s perceived foot-dragging in cracking down on militant groups, and instead spoke of the ‘tolerant’ nature of Islam in Indonesia.
‘Often people in Washington have to have a better sense of what it’s like here in Indonesia, so I benefited from their knowledge and experience, and I promised the President I would relay this information’ to President George W. Bush, he added.
US Ambassador to Indonesia Ralph Boyce also appeared to take the same line when he said in a recent interview that Ms Megawati had one of the toughest jobs of any world leader.
He said while it was critical for Indonesia to maintain its guard against terrorism, some reports about terrorist activity and terrorist potential in Indonesia were heavy on speculation and light on substance.
Some believe such comments are nothing but an attempt to play the role of ‘good cop’ to get Jakarta to do Washington’s bidding, leaving neighbouring countries the arduous task of playing the ‘bad cop’ by needling the Indonesian government periodically to do more.
It was in the broader US strategic interest to warm up with the Indonesians rather than damage ties with the biggest Muslim-populated nation.
Referring to Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s recent remarks about the presence of terrorist ringleaders in Indonesia, one Western diplomat said that it only forced Jakarta into a corner with a strong chance that it could eventually lose its focus on terrorism.
Said the diplomat: ‘It is very apparent that after Lee Kuan Yew made those comments, the Indonesians spent so much energy focusing on Singapore rather than on the terrorist threat.
‘It might have been better to sympathise with their plight and acknowledge the difficulties that Indonesia faces.’
Privately, Western officials concede that there is evidence of terrorist activity in Indonesia, though it is difficult to identify it and pinpoint its location in the sprawling archipelago.
They also disclosed that several Muslim clerics could have played a role in the Jemaah Islamiah international terror group. A diplomatic source noted that Abu Bakar Bashir, for example, might have played a role in recruiting members for the group, though he said it was unlikely he had an active hand in planning terrorist operations against neighbouring countries.
Tough job for Mega
United States Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who was in Jakarta over the weekend, says President Megawati’s success is extremely important to America and Indonesia is an extremely important country for the US.
US Ambassador Ralph Boyce says that the Indonesian leader has one of the toughest jobs of any world leader.
He also suggests that while it is critical for Indonesia to maintain its guard against terrorism, some reports about terrorist activity and terrorist potential in the country are heavy on speculation and light on substance.