3 February 2004

Mistaken aims toward Indonesia

In Singapore and Malaysia, two other countries where Islamic groups linked to al-Qaeda have been active, the governments have detained hundreds of suspected terrorists under security laws introduced by the British in 1948 to counter the rise of communist groups, Bakar said.

However, Indonesia has avoided such draconian practices. Instead, when it captured the ringleaders of the Bali bombing, it placed them on trial.

Over the long term, such actions strengthen the belief in the public mind that 'the rule of law will succeed', Bakar said. Indonesia 'can win the war because of the inner dynamics now being seen'.

Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington and a former official with president Bill Clinton's National Security Council, said the United States has a strong interest in 'beating back the jihadists' but warned against seeing the conflict in Indonesia in black-and-white terms.

'Too many regimes have used the 'war on terror' to put excessive pressure on groups they view as threatening,' he said. 'We shouldn't make the same mistake we did during the last ideological struggle,' the Cold War. 'If so, it will be the blowback phenomenon again.'

Okay, at one level this is just the customary US strategy of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the interest of fighting the War on Terror. It is also incredibly shortsighted. Indonesia elects a new president in April. They will be the first Indonesian president chosen by popular vote (unlike the US they've just abolished their electoral college). This is not the time to risk delegitimising the present government by being seen to be involved with its police and military operations.

In Indonesia, as elsewhere, human rights are the best defence against the growth of terrorism. The Megawati government promised to resolve Aceh within 6 months of the declaration of martial law last May. The conflict continues. The mailed fist has failed. This is a bad time to support the military at the expense of human rights.

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