Thursday, December 15, 2005

Indonesia fighting against militant Islam

The editorial in today's Jakarta Post notes the new Indonesian policy to uproot and destroy Islamic terrorism. Apparently the US approves of the steps taken, and has upgraded military ties as a reward.

The piece lists many of the steps taken and the wider geo-political implications of the Indonesia-US relationship.
What has impressed the United States most about Indonesia, leading to the lifting of the ban on military ties, is the unwavering commitment of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono government to fight terrorism. The killing of Azahari Husin, the mastermind of the Bali and other terrorist bombings in Indonesia, was its most concrete and dramatic proof. Noordin Mohammed Top, who is believed to be the top recruiter for potential suicide bombers, might not be able to escape the police dragnet for long.

The Susilo government is engaged in a multi-pronged attack on terrorism. It has decided to involve the military in combating terrorism by activating "the territorial command to the village level..." Its advantage is its vast reach in terms of information and intelligence gathering, thus shrinking the space for terrorists to mingle and hide among the people. Its drawback is that it would have the potential, over a period of time, to degenerate into political witch-hunting and creating a general climate of fear.

On the question of terrorism, though, an encouraging development is the government's decision to co-opt the country's Muslim clerics into fighting terrorism by stripping it of its misplaced religious authority. A task force of prominent clerics, including leaders of Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, two mass organizations with an estimated 70 million members, will undertake to confront terrorism ideologically, including looking into the teaching curriculum of Islamic schools (pesantrens) prone to radical views. As Ma'ruf Amin, the head of the team, has said, "We will clarify these ideas with pesantrens, especially those alleged to have indications of influences from radical terror views." [...]
This is a critical step. Pointing out the fallacies in the terrorists' religious interpretations is a necessary first step in that it completely discredits their raison d'ĂȘtre.

Indonesians have traditionally practice a moderate live and let live form of Islam, so it should be possible to successfully argue their case.
Returning now to the lifting of the ban on military ties by the United States: This is a new development with important implications over time for Indonesia's foreign and security policies. As of today, the primary U.S. objective is to enlist Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, in its fight against terrorism. But it would, in time, have other strategic objectives; chief among them to contain China's expanding regional profile and role.

As South East Asia's largest nation, Indonesia is an important regional country. This gives it added weight in regional organizations like the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) and the upcoming East Asia community (an East Asia Summit is scheduled this month in Kuala Lumpur).

Indonesia will, therefore, figure importantly in the emerging regional power games between China and Japan, and between the United States (with Japan as its ally) and China. According to Sean McCormack, a U.S. spokesman, "The Administration considers the relationship between the United States and Indonesia, the world's third-largest democracy, to be of the utmost importance."

The U.S. will have other expectations from Indonesia, beyond just combating terrorism, in due course of time. How will Indonesia balance its steadily growing relationship with China and its re-energized ties with the United States, would remain to be seen?