Thu, 12 Feb 2004

Coordinating needed to fight terrorism

Philips Jusario Vermonte, Researcher, Department of International Relations, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, (CSIS), Jakarta

Two years have elapsed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. During that time, several measures have been adopted in a concerted global attempt to combat international terrorism.

The Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Terrorism that took place in Bali last week, during which President Megawati called for a better international coordination mechanism in fighting terrorism, is just another example (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 5, 2004).

Although some positive achievements have been attained in limiting the room for any international terrorist group to maneuver, we continue to witness tragic occurrences in many parts of the world.

Recent developments in international politics also pose new consequences for the war against terrorism. The war against Iraq -- which was undertaken by the United States without sufficient authorization from the United Nations -- put some countries in an awkward position as while they were previously supportive of the war, the majority of their citizens opposed it.

The war was generally perceived as proof of the U.S.' tendency to act unilaterally, which in turn enhanced resentment toward the U.S. Such a perception could endanger efforts to confront the basic motive as frequently stated by terrorist groups such as al- Qaeda, namely that their mission was to end injustice caused by the only superpower.

There are some encouraging developments in the war against terrorism in the region. Security authorities in some countries in Southeast Asia continue to root out terrorist cells operating within their borders.

For example, within a relatively short period of time, the Indonesian police, with assistance from various countries, especially from the Australian Federal Police, was able to uncover the perpetrators behind the shocking Bali bombings that occurred in October 2002 as well as the bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003. Almost all actors behind the bombings have been detained and trials for these suspects have almost finished. In the Philippines, more alleged members of terrorist network have also been arrested.

It is true that there have been some declarations at the regional level urging for better coordination and stronger commitment in a concerted effort to fight terrorism. It must be noted, however, the realization of these commitments has been very slow. In fact, cooperation between one particular member of ASEAN, for example, with extra regional states or agencies took place in a more concrete way.

At least, it could be seen from the cooperation between the Indonesian police with several international agencies following the Bali bombings. Bilateral cooperation between the Philippines and the U.S. in regard to the Moro issue is just another example. The main reason that can be identified to explain this slow progress is that intra-state coordination is very weak so that it becomes difficult for the countries within the region to implement their agreements.

Also, there is the problem of institutional capacity building in combating terrorism. In this regard, lack of funding as well as lack of political will are two pertinent issues that need to be addressed. Another issue is that states within the region need to ratify all relevant international conventions so that the difficulty in harmonizing the legal instruments of its members in combating terrorism can be dealt with.

There is certainly a fresh new opportunity to enhance cooperation in combating terrorism within the Asia Pacific region coming from the last Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference on Terrorism in Bali. However, one point needs to be seriously discussed.

The war on terror must cover two aspects. One is the "search and destroy" aspect that mainly focuses on the use of legitimate force and security and political cooperation, which have been given necessary attention in many declarations and conferences globally. The second aspect is "winning the hearts and minds" of the people, which seems not to have received sufficient attention so far.

In fact, several studies have concluded that social and economic developmental assistance can be utilized in confronting the root cause of terrorism. A study conducted by the Rand Corporation recently suggested that developmental assistance could be useful in at least two important ways. First, it could weaken local support or reduce the number of constituents for terrorist activities. Second, it could discourage new recruits for terrorist networks.

In this field, developed countries of the Asia Pacific region can play an important role by allocating specific funds aimed directly at antiterrorism. Development agencies should be encouraged to work cooperatively in channeling their assistance to some specific activities.

To date, only USAID and AusAid provide funds specifically designed for antiterrorist activities. However, development itself may not eliminate terrorism. Therefore, any developmental program must be incorporated into the larger strategy of combating terrorism.