Subject: AT: The U.S.'s Mistaken Aims for Indonesia

Asia Times Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Mistaken Aims Toward Indonesia

By Tim Shorrock

WASHINGTON (Inter Press Service) - The United States is committing a major political blunder in Indonesia by focusing solely on terrorism, according to regional experts on Islam, who suggest that the US should concentrate instead on helping Indonesia build its democratic institutions and revitalize its economy and educational system.

"The USA can help the situation by avoiding the impression that terrorism is the only defining factor" in bilateral relations, said Rizal Sukma, director of studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta and an executive board member of Muhammadiyah, the second-largest Islamic organization in Indonesia. "The public face should be much broader."

At the same time, Sukma said the US should not provide financial assistance to what it considers moderate alternatives to Islamic fundamentalists because doing so would undermine those groups in the eyes of most Indonesians.

"Once accused of following the American agenda, they become irrelevant," Sukma told a Washington seminar on Indonesia in January, which was sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation.

For the administration of US President George W Bush, the agenda includes enlisting Indonesia as a close partner in the "war against terrorism" as well as expanding military, police and intelligence ties to improve the ability of the government of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to counter the rise of Jemaah Islamiya and other terrorist networks.

As a result, US security experts began training a special squad of Indonesian police in counter-terrorism in November, under a US$8 million program funded by the United States Congress. The US military has also supplied Indonesia with high-tech communications, night-vision gear and other terrorism-prevention equipment.

That program has been complicated, however, by the Indonesian government's refusal to prosecute military officers charged by a United Nations tribunal with committing atrocities in East Timor and continued reports of human-rights abuses by the Indonesian military in the restive provinces of Papua and Aceh.

Last month the US State Department placed six current and former Indonesian officers on a watch list of indicted war criminals who cannot enter the United States. Among them is General Wiranto, the former head of the army who may run for president in this year's elections.

Matters were further complicated in January when Congress passed an amendment that bans the Bush administration from providing military training funds to Indonesia until the State Department determines that Indonesia is cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's probe of an ambush of eight teachers in Papua in 2002 that left two US nationals dead and several seriously wounded.

That bill passed with strong support from several key Republicans. But many lawmakers are wary of providing military training to Indonesia simply out of fear that the army itself has been influenced by Islamic radicalism.

"There's enough evidence of this complicity, that to give them any sort of military training, even if it's in the name of the 'war on terror', is sort of an odd concept," said an aide to a senior House Republican who voted for the recent restrictions on military aid.

Sukma is concerned that US military assistance could only exacerbate Indonesia's problems. "I don't think the military is the agent" to oppose terrorism, he said. "You don't need tanks, you don't need F-16s. The key is intelligence."

With parliamentary elections coming up in April and the first presidential primaries in July, military to military aid "could create new problems in this new context", Sukma said. Already, he noted, the Indonesia military has "expressed unhappiness" about US support for the police.

Osman Bakar, a professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University and a citizen of Malaysia, said US intervention in domestic struggles against terrorists could also backfire.

Taking note of the recent deployment of US military troops to the Philippines and US intelligence assistance to Indonesia, he said there is a perception in the region "that local governments are exploiting [the terrorist attacks of] September 11 [2001] and the war against terrorism to stifle" democratic movements.

Bakar said US policymakers would be wise to follow Sukma's advice because Indonesia has made important advances in democracy even after experiencing major terrorist attacks in Bali and Jakarta over the past two years. "In terms of winning hearts and minds, Indonesia is doing better than its neighbors," he said.

In Singapore and Malaysia, two other countries where Islamic groups linked to al-Qaeda have been active, the governments have detained hundreds of suspected terrorists under security laws introduced by the British in 1948 to counter the rise of communist groups, Bakar said.

However, Indonesia has avoided such draconian practices. Instead, when it captured the ringleaders of the Bali bombing, it placed them on trial.

Over the long term, such actions strengthen the belief in the public mind that "the rule of law will succeed", Bakar said. Indonesia "can win the war because of the inner dynamics now being seen".

Daniel Benjamin, a senior fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington and a former official with president Bill Clinton's National Security Council, said the United States has a strong interest in "beating back the jihadists" but warned against seeing the conflict in Indonesia in black-and-white terms.

"Too many regimes have used the 'war on terror' to put excessive pressure on groups they view as threatening," he said. "We shouldn't make the same mistake we did during the last ideological struggle," the Cold War. "If so, it will be the blowback phenomenon again."

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