Should the military be on the list of suspects?
The Age (Australia), October 17 2002
Political leaders should not be too hasty in pointing the finger of blame at al Qaeda.
Alexander Downer has derided the line of suspicion as "silly", but surely some in his entourage – as he did the rounds of Indonesian military and police chiefs in Jakarta yesterday to discuss the Bali bombing – might have wondered how clean were some of the hands they were shaking.
There is a long history of political manipulators within the Indonesian armed forces, or TNI, playing with the fire of Islamic extremism and staging incidents of terrorism, as well as the institution itself carrying out state terror as in Aceh, Ambon and East Timor – directly or through militia proxies.
This immediately was in the minds of some Indonesia experts after the Kuta Beach bombing, as Downer, among others, pointed the finger at al Qaeda and its Indonesian followers.
Journalist David Jenkins recalled (on this page on Monday) the Machiavellian use of former Darul Islam fanatics by the intelligence chief Ali Murtopo during ex-president Soeharto's New Order, leading to acts of terror – such as the 1980 hijacking of a Garuda Airlines jet – that were used to justify political crackdowns.
Deakin University's Greg Barton (again on this page on Monday) cited the more recent bombings that hit Jakarta as attempts were made to bring Soeharto and other New Order figures to account.
These bombings in 2000 included a car-bomb explosion outside the residence of the Philippines ambassador, and a huge car-bomb blast in the underground car park of the Jakarta Stock Exchange, for which two members of the army special forces, or Kopassus, received jail terms.
The explosive used in at least one of these bombings was C4, the charge used in the Bali bombing. That by itself does not prove much. Developed for US forces during the Vietnam War, the plastic explosive is manufactured in several countries and is widely used by armies and terror groups. The al Qaeda boat attack on the destroyer USS Cole employed C4.
Even if the Bali explosive is traced by some chemical signature to stocks held by the TNI, the possibility remains it could have been obtained by al Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiah from sympathisers or corrupt elements within the military.
But the Jakarta Stock Exchange bombing, in particular, should make Australian and other Western leaders hold back from hasty conclusions.
Just two years ago, Indonesian military elements were prepared to cause massive casualties and huge economic disruption in their own capital for the purposes of elite-level politics. Could such minds have been impelled to stage a new incident of horror?
Any one of several present threats to vested interests could provide a motive. Although President Megawati Sukarnoputri often seems to have sold out to her former repressors during the New Order years, her 14 months in office have seen several blows at entrenched New Order or "status-quo" forces.
The heaviest was the four-year jail term recently given to the parliamentary speaker and Golkar party chief Akbar Tanjung, who remains in his posts while his case is under appeal. Another is the constitutional changes that will end the TNI's special representation in the legislature in a couple of years.
Its position threatened at home, the TNI is also shunned internationally and starved of desperately needed equipment, as a result of its involvement in the East Timor terror. Jakarta's failure of accountability for Timor remains a huge obstacle to resumed military ties with the Americans.
The TNI's image is also tarnished by the evident backing of its Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) and other elements for the Laskar Jihad, a force of Islamic fanatics set against the Christian communities in the Moluccan islands and the coastal towns of Papua.
What is emerging as the deliberate staging by Kopassus soldiers of a freedom fighter "ambush" last month near the Freeport mine at Timika, Papua, seems to have been the first deliberate targeting of foreigners. Three schoolteachers, two of them Americans and one an Indonesian, were murdered. The increase in Laskar Jihad activity and the Timika murders follow the posting as Papuan regional military commander of Major-General Mahidin Simbolon, who was shown by leaked Australian intelligence intercepts to have been a key figure in orchestrating the East Timor violence in 1999, from his then position in Bali.
The promptness with which the Laskar Jihad announced on Tuesday it was disbanding and withdrawing from Ambon only serves to illustrate the degree to which it was inspired from above.
The Bali bombing may well have been solely the work of Islamic extremists, rather than an effort by the "status-quo" forces to undermine Megawati or bring American support back to the TNI. But the immediate result will be that Islamic militants in Indonesia experience a crackdown on their activities, and Western governments are back in Jakarta talking about greater cooperation with Indonesian defence and security agencies.
One encouraging result is that Megawati has welcomed foreign investigators, perhaps realising what a threat the bombing represents to civilian democratic rule. We should wait for results from these forensic and intelligence inquiries before jumping to conclusions.
Meanwhile, if foreign support is directed not just to the hunt for terrorists, but to a decisive cleaning-up of the TNI by its so-far equivocal reformers such as Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia and our region will be made more secure.
Hamish McDonald, an Age foreign correspondent, has written extensively on Indonesia.