Fri, 15 Sep 2000

The usual suspects

The bomb explosion at the Jakarta Stock Exchange (JSX) building on Wednesday has set off another police investigation, which, in all likelihood, will end up going the same way as other investigations into recent atrocities: nowhere. With the police still in the dark about the blast outside the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta on Aug. 1, there is every reason to think that this probe will be just as fruitless and frustrating.

The bombing of the JSX building was yet another act of cowardice designed to instill terror and confusion in a nation already deeply entrenched in political and economic crises.

Terrorist organizations at least have the courtesy to take responsibility for their acts, because their objective is to gain maximum publicity. The people behind the attacks in Jakarta have chosen to remain silent because their objective is to confuse, and, ultimately, keep the nation unstable.

That is how little we know about the perpetrators and it is hardly comforting. The question being widely asked by the public today is not so much "who dunnit?", as "when and where the next attack will be?" The target and timing of the bombings appear to have been picked at random; the next attack could really be anywhere and at anytime.

In the absence of any credible explanation by the police or the government for the explosions, the nation has fallen back on its favorite pastimes of speculating and scapegoating. The usual suspects these days are "supporters of former president Soeharto". This new piece of shorthand replaces "agents provocateurs" or just "provocateurs" to describe the dark evil forces that are stirring troubles across the country. Whereas during the Soeharto regime, the usual suspects were the "remnants of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI)" or just "communists", who between them were blamed for everything that went wrong in the country.

The term "supporters of Soeharto" may be a little more definitive than "provocateurs" but it is not definitive enough for the authorities to take any action. For one thing, the term could refer to just about any person or group not necessarily in the immediate circle of the former president. Second, even if their identities were known, police would still have to come up with evidence to be able to prosecute them.

As faceless and nameless as these "supporters of Soeharto" are, the speculation about their role in bomb attacks in Jakarta and elsewhere in the country is well grounded. They have the financial resources and in all probability the organizational network to conduct such evil operations. They are certainly well trained and highly experienced in these kinds of things. Soeharto's New Order regime was notorious for its covert operations to undermine and destroy its political opponents.

They also have a motive, if their intermediate goal is to keep Indonesia unstable. The last thing they want is for Indonesia to become peaceful and stable, for that will allow its democratically elected government to prosecute Soeharto and members of his regime for the atrocities and corruption committed during the New Order's 32-year rein. They are the only groups in the country to really profit from the chaos that is being created.

As sure as this speculation and these theories may sound however, they are of little use to the police in resolving the cases or in preventing or anticipating further attacks. Police still have to come up with the necessary evidence to bring the perpetrators, who ever they may turn out to be, to justice.

The bomb attacks have once again exposed that the police's investigation and intelligence capabilities to be grossly inadequate. Until the government and the police improve their act, the nation will continue to indulge in endless speculation and theorizing about the usual suspects in these unexplained attacks. And while speculation and theorizing may not solve the problems, they certainly help keep the nation sane in these increasingly insane times.