Terror of infighting


Twenty-four hours after idyllic Bali shuddered from a murderous explosion, another ‘bomb’ went off – this time at an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the tragedy.

Vice-President Hamzah Haz went after Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, blaming him for weak intelligence and poor security measures.

‘Our intelligence should not be NATO – No Action Talk Only,’ he said. ‘Those in charge of security affairs must follow up on any information and detect any threat more accurately.’

General Bambang reminded Mr Hamzah icily that it was he who once said that there were no terrorists in the country – not once but on several occasions.

The angry exchange in Cabinet goes straight to the heart of the problem facing Jakarta as it embarks on its anti-terrorism drive – how long before post-Bali fervour dissipates in the face of rivalry and ill-will among leaders and rival security agencies?

Jolted by the devastation on the resort island, a paper-thin consensus was struck across the political spectrum for Parliament to bestow its blessings on two decrees which broaden search and detention powers in pursuit of terrorists.

The decrees, which allow for a retroactive investigation of the Bali massacre, provide for the death penalty for those convicted of terrorism.

Significantly, two of the largest Islamic groups in Indonesia – the Nadhlatul Ulama and the Muhammadiyah – lent their support, but this was a show of solidarity put on for a horrified world.

Mr Meilono Soewondo of Ms Megawati Sukarnoputri’s Indonesian Democratic Party – Struggle (PDI-P) told Sunday Review: ‘Do we have any choice? We had to support the President. Bali was just too big a tragedy for us to keep quiet. We are doing this mainly to show the West that we are taking steps to fight terrorism on our soil.’

Realistically, support is shaky.

Some, especially Muslim groups, fear that the extra powers given to security forces would resurrect the draconian anti-subversion law of the Suharto era.

The Muhammadiyah issued cautious support. Mr Din Syamsuddin, Vice-Chairman of the 30-million-strong organisation, said: ‘We support it in principle but the powers must not be abused and we must be careful not to be pressured by external powers to do their bidding.’

Democracy is on trial, say dissenting legislators and intellectuals, who note that Britain, Germany, Spain and Israel all have anti-terrorism laws but are still targets of terrorist attacks.

There are two points causing concern, said Dr Hidayat Nurwahid, chairman of the Justice Party, the most hardline Islamic group in Parliament.

First, that police do not need a crime to be committed but can detain suspects on the basis of intelligence information; and second, that suspects can be held without trial for up to six months.

Groups also worry about the judiciary being co-opted into passing judgments in the state’s favour, in the same way that the anti-subversion law was used under Suharto.

However, the Indonesian judiciary is in a worse state than that, said constitutional law expert Dimyati Hartono. The lack of ‘professional commitment’ and sloppy work by practitioners means that many cases which go to court never get justice.

At heart, shaping the views is a deep-seated antipathy towards the West and the United States in particular. Few of Indonesia’s radical groups are likely to change their ideas following the Bali attacks.

Many Indonesians are convinced that Washington planned the bombings to prod reluctant countries into supporting the war on terrorism or a campaign against Iraq.

Muslim hardliners have every reason to be afraid because the new rules are principally directed at them, but say there are two loopholes they could exploit if they wanted to.

First, the principle of retroactivity goes against both established laws and the amended 1945 Constitution. Second, Parliament has the right to withdraw its backing a month from now.

Still, say analysts, from a legal viewpoint, the new regulations provide authorities with a clear and concrete legal basis to act when previously there was none.

But while the police may have more power to act against rogue elements, what they lack is cooperation.

With this in mind, Ms Megawati gave the state intelligence agency BIN overarching authority to coordinate the planning and conduct of all intelligence operations in Indonesia.

But the rivalries among Indonesia’s four intelligence outfits may make this unworkable.

Besides BIN, there is the Military Strategic Intelligence Agency (Bais), and units in the police and Attorney-General’s Office. BIN’s problem will be to transcend the rigid chain of command and the vested political and business interests of each of these agencies.

Just how difficult its job will be can be seen in current efforts to capture the perpetrators of the Bali bombings. BIN, the military and the police are each going their own way in pursuit of suspects.

In an embarrassing gaffe, BIN spokesman Muchyar Yara’s public declaration that his agency had supplied other security units with information was shot down immediately by the police, which said that it was pursuing the investigations independently.

Hovering in the background is Bais, immensely powerful under Suharto, but now a poor third to both BIN and the police. It thumbed its nose at both agencies when it said recently that Bais had known about terrorist activities here for ‘a while’. Army chief Ryamizard Ryacudu was quoted as saying in the local media: ‘Our very strong intelligence network detected terrorist cells in Indonesia a long time ago. We didn’t act because it is no longer within our jurisdiction to do so.’ Analysts here say that BIN will be unable to rein in the factions.

For all his efforts in the anti-terrorism campaign and his popularity with the Americans, BIN chief A.M. Hendropriyono is no favourite with the military or police chiefs, who begrudge him his close links to Ms Megawati and Washington.

Compounding inter-agency rivalry is factionalism within BIN itself, which one Western diplomat likened to a ‘den of snakes’.

A confidante of Mr Hendropriyono noted: ‘He is not getting all the information he needs to advise the President because some of his subordinates do not see eye-to-eye with him on the need to go hard on extremist elements in Indonesia.’

Ultimately, Islamic groups fear a backlash from security authorities re-armed with powers they enjoyed during Suharto’s New Order government.

Said Dr Hidayat: ‘One wonders whether all those who believe in Islam will be made victims here. We have suffered a lot under the Sukarno and Suharto regimes and we must get the assurance from this government that they will not treat us the same way.’

Intense lobbying is going on to quash the rules and put in their place a circumscribed version by year’s end which would shift the burden to the government to produce hard evidence before going after a suspect.

The pendulum may have started to swing the other way since Bali, with the government responding swiftly by putting in place anti-terrorism regulations, the arrest of militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir and the recognition of the Jemaah Islamiah as a terrorist organisation.

But as the protracted standoff with Bashir, together with covert attempts by certain legislators to kill off the new laws and the abounding of conspiracy theories that the CIA bombed Bali, indicates, nothing is ever so simple in Indonesia.

No Action Talk Only? The jury is still out.

In short

The bomb blasts in Bali whipped the Indonesian government into quick action: An arrest was made and new decrees enacted to give the government greater powers in putting terrorists away. But whether the consensus struck across the political spectrum will hold is another matter. It may not survive the political rivalries, weak judiciary or factionalism among Indonesia’s intelligence groups. Muslim groups fear they are really the target of the new laws and are lobbying for a new, kinder version by year’s end.

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