By Ashwath Komath

Edited by Anandita Malhotra,Senior editor,The Indian Economist

Fighting terrorism is not an easy task. The threat of terrorism varies from region to region. The mindset of terrorists, their tactics, their strengths and weaknesses, their resolve, their aims and their objectives may vary from person to person.

Indonesia was a country which suffered from very rampant terrorism especially by the Jeemah Islamiyah (JI), one of the most prominent and powerful terrorist groups in South East Asia. Indonesia has the highest number of Muslims in the world and fighting Islamic terrorism in the country requires a very fine balance between trying to pacify the fundamentalists and hardliners and at the same time being harsh on suspects.

Active efforts against terrorism in the country actually took place after the Bali bombings of 2002. Terrorism was ruining Indonesia’s image and was damaging tourism, a very important source of revenue in Indonesia.

Indonesia ramped up its counter-terrorism outfits and results were surprisingly effective. Many major suspects were apprehended within three months of the blasts which proved beneficial. And Indonesia didn’t stop there; they took it a step further and added to it.

Indonesia’s counter-terrorism policy lay within strengthening two important elements. One is law and the other is surveillance. It began a new elite counter-terrorism police force called Densus 88. It started conducting operations against the JI immediately. It was a body known for its ruthlessness in dealing with terrorism.

Prevention was the main focus of the Indonesians who enhanced their intelligence by infiltrating mosques and cultivating more informers amongst the upgrading of their other counter-terrorism machinery in terms of equipment to strengthen their signals intelligence. They started surveillance of known terrorist suspects. A very long, drawn-out and extensive surveillance programme managed to get them some very strong leads and eventually led to the arrest of many of the Bali bombing suspects.

But that was not all. The Indonesians didn’t just give up after this. Subsequent monitoring was the key to rooting out the JI network completely. The problem was that the JI was not only in Indonesia but also had bases in Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia, situated in the Muslim-majority areas and planning out attacks in these countries especially targeting Westerners and tourists.

Such a lengthy surveillance programme got about more than just the terrorists, but also weeded out other criminal elements who were in some way were related to terrorism, including drug-lords, arms dealers, financiers, mules and other suppliers. This eroded the kind of base needed for conducting terrorist activities. So by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and other necessities and cutting them off, the Indonesians deprived them of any support. Also with so many arrests, information about sleeper cells and training camps and other associates of the terrorist network just came out with a treasure trove of other information.

To aid this, Indonesia needed a more active judiciary that could prosecute these terrorists as soon as possible and sentence them to jail or to death. They amended laws, made new ones and prosecuted the suspects quickly and efficiently.

The success of this model lies in persistence, consistency and patience. The process of the surveillance was long and it was meant to use intelligence productively, which would lead to not only a drop in the cases of terrorism, but also exposes linkages between terrorism and organized crime. This wasn’t done in haste. It was a planned, coordinated and incessant project. These elements were necessary for the model to succeed.

This a model also for the reason that it showed that terrorism need not be fought solely by large-scale interventions like other countries do like Thailand which nearly declares martial law in Muslim areas of the country whenever a terrorist attack takes place. With persistence and patience, the terrorist organizations would erode and wither out when they are not being able to conduct its activities.

Diplomacy played an important role as well. The anti-terrorism efforts of Indonesia received help from Australia, USA, UK and many other countries in terms of training, equipment and intelligence.

This is a case for strengthening of intelligence and efforts domestically itself in order to fight terrorism.

This doesn’t mean that the model is flawless. On the contrary, there were many flaws. There are a lot of allegations of incidences of Human Rights  violations by the Densus 88, something that generates problems as far as prosecutions is concerned. This has also prompted a discussion amongst Indonesia’s lawmakers as to whether they should end the mandate of the Densus 88. This would be counter-productive. Also, terrorists have now decided to target the police in order to erode their ability to fight terrorism. So the counter-terrorists have become the targets of terrorism.

Furthermore, there is another debate over surveillance and the breach of privacy of individuals. This is a genuine concern and is an important human rights issue that needs deliberation and discussion.

While these are alarming trends, the good lessons that of intelligence enhancements as well as stronger law-making and judicial processes must be imbibed by counter-terrorism forces all over the world in order to fight terrorism.

Ashwath is a graduate in Political Science from Fergusson College, Pune. He is an aspiring diplomat and hopes to join the Indian Foreign Service someday. He enjoys writing about foreign policy, international security and international affairs. When he is not writing or reading, he enjoys playing pool with his friends, watching foreign cinema and listening to instrumental music.

Posted by The Indian Economist | For the Curious Mind