The House of Representatives has formed a special working committee on Monday (18/04) tasked with revising the country's anti-terrorism laws following the death of a suspect last month while he was in the custody of the police's elite anti-terror unit, Densus 88. (JG Photo/Fajrin Raharjo)

Commentary: How TNI Will Elbow Into the National Police's Anti-Terror Role


JANUARY 20, 2015

Jakarta. The past few weeks have seen the National Police’s anti-terror squad Densus 88 kill or arrest suspected terrorists as part of crackdown on local extremist groups in Poso, Central Sulawesi, and Bima, West Nusatenggara.

Police have said they suspect links between the two groups, although no specific evidence has been offered.

Indonesia’s efforts to prevent terrorism has resulted in at least 1,000 arrests, as well as the deaths of 97 suspects and 34 police officers since 2000, according to former National Police chief Gen. Sutarman.

The peak of terror-related arrests came after the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed more than 200 people.

There are limits to law enforcement’s ability to prevent terror attacks; cops cannot defeat extremist ideologies. So what will?

Shared responsibility

In 2004, the House of Representatives (DPR) enacted the Law on the Indonesian Military (TNI), which added counterterrorism to the military’s mission portfolio once again — as a responsibility to be shared with the police — after having previously been cut out of the prestigious and well-funded domestic counterterrorism game when the National Police were cleaved off as a separate, civilian force in 1999.

The National Police have so far proven themselves capable of handling the threat of terrorism.

But should a situation occur whereby the National Police confront difficulties in combating terrorism and face severe retaliation from terrorist groups, the military should step in.

For his part, Gen. Sutarman, during his tenure as National Police chief, conceded that his force did need to collaborate with other agencies.

There are a few areas where both National Police and the TNI could form an alliance in which both sides perceived themselves as indispensable factors in counterterrorism.

Since the threat of radical jihadists transcends national boundaries, other nations are counting on Indonesia to prevent groups and activities that support terrorism from forming within its borders.

To this end, Joko Widodo reassured US President Barack Obama of his commitment to proactively prevent extremism and terrorist activities in Indonesia.

Changing threat environment

Entrenched grievances such as corruption, injustice and the seemingly slow pace of economic and social development in the country frequently cited as causes for Indonesia’s homegrown jihadist movement continued ability to flourish.

Apart from upholding the rule of law, an area admittedly in dire need of improvement, the civilian state security apparatus’s ability to solve these problems is limited.

While the recent warnings of a security threat in Surabaya by the US and Australian Embassies suggest Westerners remain prime targets, recent terror plots — both those successful, as well as those disrupted — have significantly shifted in their choice of targets, with police officers now sufficing as targets in and of themselves.

It’s possible to read this shift as an indication of the police’s success in counterterrorism operations, which the extremists may now see as a credible, existential threat.

Unsolicited, indiscriminate military repression is definitely the answer. And why not? It got the job done in 1965.

If terror attacks on police escalate, this may provide the military sufficient cover to, on pretext of national security, insinuate themselves into the police’s domestic counterterrorism operations.

If a series of terrorist acts were to occur following the arrest and killing of the alleged terrorist groups in Poso and Bima, the government should waste no time to use national security grounds as justification for employing the military to introduce more decisive and, if necessary, repressive and indiscriminate anti-terrorist measures.

Bantarto Bandoro and Rodon Pedrason are lecturers at the Indonesian Defense University’s School of Defense Strategy in Sentul, Bogor