Why Indonesia’s new counterterrorism strategy could be its best yet

Natashya Gutierrez
Why Indonesia’s new counterterrorism strategy could be its best yet
The new counterterrorism chief is using an inclusive government approach that aims to eliminate the root causes of terrorism.

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia is no stranger to terrorism, having had its own share of attacks. Its most recent one in January, which killed 8 people – 4 terrorists, and 4 civilians – was claimed by ISIS, raising fears that the terror group’s spread to Southeast Asia is intensifying.

The new chief of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), Commissioner General Suhardi Alius, is aware of the problem and the risks.

Indonesia, the 4th most populated country in the world, is especially attractive to ISIS. (READ: 4 things you need to know about ISIS in Indonesia)

“Indonesia is their big hope because it is the biggest Muslim country by population in the world,” Ayub Abdurrahman, a former jihadist, told Rappler in January.

So the newly appointed Alius, who took the post in late July, is instituting a technique that involves “17 government institutions to address the roots of the problem of terrorism.”

In an interview with Rappler, Alius explained his approach – which he said will “identify and help reduce the variables of the motivations for terrorism.”

“I will lead, as chief of the BNPT, the task force. I will make it clear what is the role of each ministry, and help coordinate 17 institutions so we can all cooperate,” he said.

His mentality? Terrorism is a much deeper problem with various causes, hence the approach must also be multisectoral.

Multisectoral approach

Some of the institutions included in the anti-terror efforts of Indonesia are the communication and information ministry, religious affairs ministry, justice and human rights ministry, manpower ministry, social affairs ministry, education and culture ministry, home affairs ministry, youth and sports ministry, the Indonesian Defense Forces, the National Police, and the Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center, among others.

TERRORISM. A general view shows the scene of a bomb blast in Jakarta, Indonesia, 14 January 2016.  Photo by Roni Bintang/EPA

While his department is the head agency tasked to fight terrorism, he understands his agency cannot do alone.

Aside from military and police operations to arrest or eliminate terrorists, other ministries are also involved in Indonesia’s “soft approach” to counter terrorism.

The communication ministry is involved for example, to shut down websites that promote radicalization content in Indonesia as well as cyberterrorism and recruitment.

The religious affairs ministry is tasked to spread tolerance, the education ministry must look to prevent radicalization in universities, while the youth and sports ministry must have programs for the youth to deter them from radicalization.

The approach is smart, and one that is proactive rather than reactive.

“If we compare, Indonesia has effectively reduced terror acts. Indonesia has more than 250 million people. Only about 500 have joined ISIS. Other countries which are smaller, have had more than 200 join ISIS,” he said.

“But there is still a need to decrease that 500.”

Regional problem

Aside from a national, comprehensive approach, Alius emphasized that terrorism is “a global challenge.”

“We have to solve the problem, not only for Indonesia but also in other countries, like recruitments,” he said.

In the region, he said the Philippines is a special concern, as it has high potential to be infiltrated by ISIS.

The threat posed by ISIS in Southeast Asia is comparatively small, but real, according to experts, and it has the potential to become larger if not addressed properly. It’s clear that ISIS reinvigorated existing terror networks in the region.

“The Philippines will be a central focus,” he said. “We have to strengthen cooperation with Malaysia and the Philippines on how to strengthen borders, specifically for people to people movements.”

“Our focus is intelligence because without information we cannot do anything.”

In June, ISIS released a video calling on its followers in Southeast Asia to fight for the terror group either in Syria or in the Philippines.

Reuters reported that a man in the video, identified by Malaysian authorities as Mohd Rafi Udin, said in Malay: “If you cannot go to [Syria], join up and go to the Philippines”.

ISIS in February recognized a number of jihadist groups in the Philippines but stopped short of declaring a wilayat or province in the country or in Southeast Asia. Experts have warned the Philippines, which dismissed the video as propaganda, not to underestimate the terror organization.

Right direction

Alius appears to be heading to the right direction in his approach that goes beyond just operations.

“A military solution alone will not be enough to defeat those who want to cause war,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said at the ASEAN Summit in November last year.

“It is the ideology propagated by these extremists that is the cause of this sadistic violence. We must not lose sight of the fact that the ideology itself must be exposed as the lie that it is, and vanquished for it is not Islamic. It cannot be.”

INTELLIGENCE IMPORTANT. BNPT chief Suhardi Alius says it is crucial for countries in the region to exchange intelligence and information on terrorism. Photo by Uni Lubis/Rappler

Ex-jihadist Abdurrahman also told Rappler that a multilateral approach is what’s needed.

“There is a possibility for ISIS to build a province here [in Indonesia]. Of course it can be in the Philippines in Mindanao, but there’s also big potential in Poso (alleged training grounds of extremists in Indonesia) and a huge possibility in Aceh since it already follows sharia law,” he said.

“If the government is not careful about addressing root causes, then it can happen.”

Abdurrahman added that even more important than deradicalization is prevention – addressing the root causes of why individuals become radicalized, like poverty and social inequality or exclusion.

Alius, in his new inclusive strategy, seems to be doing just that. – Rappler.com

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