Mon, 18 Sep 2000

Solidarity is vital in facing acts of terrorism

Following a number of bombings in the capital, Cornelis Lay, who teaches politics at the Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, shares his views on the acts of terrorism.

Question: What should we do in the face of further constraints to recovery?

Answer: There are only two things we can do. First, the government and the people need to prove they are serious in handling these acts of terrorism. The police and other law enforcers need to show firm law enforcement.

Second, the government must not give up in economic diplomacy. This would be a job for our diplomats in the economic field and our ministers in charge of the economy to convince investors and other outsiders that this phenomena of terrorist acts is only specific, with a limited impact and no direct relation to the security of their investments.

This must be supported with public solidarity and awareness against too much panic. People have every right to be afraid but such terrorism needs to be countered with the awareness that democracy cannot be built if we give into such military-style tactics.

Q: The American embassy has said its government is ready to help Indonesia handle this problem...

A: This is good. The government should not hesitate to ask for help if it wants to show it is serious in handling the issue.

The problem is an interpretation of foreign help as political intervention while aid can be equipment, experts, information etc.

We need to demand the elite's solidarity. Once one of them says "political intervention" when the government decides to ask for outside help then everything falls apart -- (unless) the political elite all agree that foreign help is needed to convince outside investors that we are serious.

Q: Should we ask for foreign help because of our limited police ability?

A: We must be realistic of our limits. Even if the police really wanted to solve cases of terrorism they face the fact that they are far behind the professional terrorists.

Psychologically they also still lack courage to continue an investigation once it reaches certain areas, including that of the military.

Q: How should people react to this "terrorized" civilian government?

A: At the very least, people should realize that the objective of this terrorism is to create mass panic leading to irrational acts such as buying up dollars.

The current condition should make people aware of the importance of solidarity, or else we will continually be manipulated by a very small group benefited by the ease with which people are divided through, among other things, issues of religion, race and ethnicity.

More important, the political elite should realize that this (easy manipulation) is our major problem toward democracy. They must be directly involved with the substance of the process (toward democracy) instead of provoking strife among different groups.

Q: Do you believe the terrorism is conducted by supporters of former president Soeharto, or others with no link to him?

A: It would be too naive if we think the terrorism is only riding on the trial of Soeharto because so far it should not be too difficult to identify those with (related) political interests.

The remnants of the New Order are the remaining ones with very strong reasons to do all kinds of terrorism ...

Potential for such terrorism could at least come from separatist movements with limited scope in Papua (Irian Jaya), Aceh and other areas. But so far, there is no clue that the separatists are using national issues for their political benefit.

Terrorism could not come from right-wing fundamentalists because they have been largely accommodated; they are already represented in political parties ...

Much less potential would come from former communists given President Abdurrahman Wahid's efforts to correct the past.

Marginal groups like workers and peasants do not have strong reasons to conduct terrorism ... given the space now to rally freely on the streets.

I think many affiliated to Soeharto, (including) those affiliated to him as a symbol, have a large potential to be involved in such terrorist acts.

At the very least, the terrorism would involve a combination of four groups: Soeharto and his family; those still coordinating with Soeharto because they would be affected if he was to be found guilty (of corruption charges); those from the military, mainly from intelligence units who feel that what they stood up for is now neglected in the current political discourse; and those from among fanatic Soeharto supporters who think he has done much for them and has been unfairly treated.

Their mechanism could be both well coordinated and (terrorist acts) could be initiated by any one of the four groups.

Q: Why would the Army and intelligence units have strong reasons to carry out acts of terrorism?

A: They are crushed in the public eye, are starting to be cut down economically and have also started to be politically neglected.

More important, the institution underwent a drastic decline at the formal level when the navy appeared as an alternative force and, at the same time the police started to become autonomous (of the military.)

Q: What about the intelligence units?

A: We know how in the 32 years of Soeharto's rule the New Order relied on intelligence units. The well-built cell structure not only involved the military but also civilians, through the (smallest units of) neighborhoods, village security and so forth.

They have had important networks in criminal communities, which have gone on for so long. Imagine this large and strong network suddenly being underused, and getting out of control while it used to be under the hierarchical chain from the Army to Soeharto.

So this terror is part of the continuing political culture of the New Order.

Q: Have there not been "deals" with military groups resisting political reform?

A: Actually, their interests have been widely accommodated. Amid criticism toward them the People's Consultative Assembly agreed to their representation in the body up to 2009. That accommodation was extraordinary.

But the most important measure remains a planned large-scale reorganization of the military, including the "dissolving" of intelligence units in the military, and several special units. Then there should be strict control of military arms ... given the reports of weaponry missing from the PT Pindad (arms manufacturer in Bandung, West Java).

Q: What could tone down the act of suspected terrorists?

A: As Lee Kuan Yew said, as quoted in newspapers today (Friday), it would be a mistake for us to bring Soeharto to trial. I agree that if we still want to try him it is tantamount to telling the bombers to continue.

He did not mention bombs but he said trying Soeharto would make recovery difficult and reconciliation would be impossible.

But our dilemma now is that if charges against Soeharto are dropped, the terrorism may stop but student demonstrations would be everywhere.

So we have to take the risk of continuing Soeharto's trial and also continue every measure toward reconciliation. (Asip A. Hasani)