Tue, 26 Aug 2003

Key to win war on terror

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Staff Writer, Ridwan@thejakartapost.com, Jakarta

Unlike Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore seem to have obtained good lessons on social order and legal certainty from their British colonizers. Indonesia, some historians reveal, inherited a corrupt and permissive culture from the Dutch colonial rulers who frequently colluded with the local bureaucracy and Chinese businesspeople to further their political and business interests.

For the people and governments in Malaysia and Singapore, law enforcement and legal certainty is absolutely necessary to maintain social order and achieve advancements while for Indonesia legal certainty still depends on the situation.

The two countries have so far remained fairly safe from any terrorist attacks and they are cautious in taking preventative measures against the increasing terror threat in Southeast Asia. This is not so much thanks to the established formal legal and security system in Malaysia and Singapore, but more because of the people's common awareness of the importance of law enforcement and of public order for their own sake.

Is it necessary for Indonesia to adopt an Internal Security Act (ISA) or to revise the newly enacted Law No. 15/2003 on terrorism? The answer lies in how far Indonesians have a common awareness of security issues, not merely by giving the police or military more power in fighting terrorism, as officials and legislators have suggested.

Basically, the antiterrorism law, to some extent, is better than the ISA in Malaysia and Singapore because it is, in legal terms, lex specialis, one which applies to specific persons. On the other hand the ISA in these countries is a lex generalis that could be abused for the benefit of an authoritarian regime.

This in effect means that the law gives power to security personnel (police, intelligence agencies and attorneys) to arrest suspected terrorists for 20 days, which could be extended for another six months, without any evidence. As it requires strong evidence, the new Indonesian law cannot be abused by the government to arrest political dissidents or to "kill" its political rivals.

Comparably, the ISA gives the authority to the security authorities to arrest all those suspected of disrupting security and political stability or jeopardizing the state -- the interpretation of which lies in the hands of those in power.

The problem is actually not the ISA or the legal system but that Indonesia seems less confident about its own law and in seeking to revise the new law, as always, seeks a scapegoat outside itself.

Building common awareness of national security issues requires the government including the security authorities and the House to empower the existing system by involving as many parties as possible.

Yet adopting the Soeharto model of a military-supported security system would not be the answer; it created stability and security on the surface only, but people were victimized.

While the House is revising the legislation, the government should start deploying people to maintain security and public order by reviving for instance the neighborhood security system that requires visitors to report once in 24 hours when they enter a certain area and/or village. This system was very effective in strengthening the Japanese defense against the allied forces and its three-year-and half occupation in the country from 1942 to 1945.

Under this system, all housing areas and villages are required to have direct contact and coordination with security authorities in maintaining security and public order and providing preliminary information on potential disturbance.

Jamaah Islamiyah's suspected members who were recently arrested by the police would not have been able to rent a house in Semarang, Central Java, if such a security system was in place. Likewise suspected terrorists could be detected if such a system is revived.

In revising the antiterror law, the House should play a strategic and important role to empower the National Police in handling security and public order and not the Indonesian Military.

Terrorism is a serious threat, which falls under police jurisdiction as stipulated by the amended 1945 Constitution. Therefore, the police should be given a larger budget to train terrorism experts and detectives and to purchase more equipment.

The House and the government could lobby the military leadership to discuss a possible transfer of the military's experts and trained personnel who are not fully utilized, to strengthen the police in its counterterrorism program as well as to maintain the military's professionalism.

Such a move was conducted by the United States when a number of its soldiers formerly deployed in the Vietnam war were transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Reinforcing the authority of the police and the military is part of building a civil society. Giving the military more power in handling security, including counterterrorism, could lessen the role of the police and bring the military back into politics, since the security approach could be politicized for its political interests. The House should play a central role in ensuring that the main role of the police in domestic security is strengthened.