Why stabilizing Poso matters to national security
Paper Edition | Page: 6
Whoever is behind the recent brutal killing of four police officers in Poso, Central Sulawesi and the planting of a bomb at a police post in the area, they have an acute hatred of the police as their institutional enemy.
The use of violence by these people means that they are undermining the state’s very sovereignty and denying the fundamental principal of democratic societies.
The quickest response to such incidents by the state usually involves the use of maximum force
by deploying the police and often the military to clean up the mess. But is this hard approach alone enough?
The answer to the above question is of course a big “No”. There must be a combination of hard and soft approaches for several reasons.
First, thousands of residents of Poso are now struggling to deal with the real threat coming from the violent groups and the security mobilization by the state that makes their city seem like a war zone.
This increases the intensity of trauma, especially with the rampant dissemination of unverified SMS text messages provoking terror.
Once a tranquil city with white sandy beaches and mountainous areas, Poso became a security concern after communal conflict between Christians and Muslims broke out in the late 1990s.
This protracted conflict attracted not only local fighters but also international ones, including a number of al-Qaeda operatives. Videos of their training became their propaganda tool to get fresh recruits and more financial and logistical support.
To outsiders, they are terrorists but for locals, they are heroes who protected them during their time of need.
They also provided them with handy skills for defending themselves from the “enemy”, such as martial arts, map reading, weapons training and creating improvised explosive devices.
As part of their strategy, these trainers married locals and established their own shielded community. Such tactical moves have created a new dimension to the conflict, with radicals making Poso their secure base or “qoidah aminah” until this day.
Second, despite massive security operations by the police in 2007 that resulted in the arrests of hundreds of individuals who were linked to terrorism, Poso remains the place where these groups find sanctuary.
Here, through constant communication with group members in prison, they reinforce one another’s values through regular small religious gatherings, production of books, VCDs and also incendiary websites containing a clear message: The struggle must be continued because they are still oppressed by authorities.
Indeed, the state has tried very hard to reach out to some of these former fighters, through massive economic assistance as a way to de-radicalize them.
For some this has worked well but others have been reradicalized by this program, as can be seen by the discovery of terror threats coming from former militants against government officials who are responsible for such public works projects as building roads, schools and markets. These unreformed “formers” allegedly use terror threats such as bombs to win these contracts.
At the same time, the program has also failed to reach out to individuals who are directly linked to current terrorist activities but who operate below the security radar. They are faceless in a small community like Poso, where everybody knows everybody else.
These devious individuals patiently wait for the right moment to attack the authorities and then quickly return to their community to hide and live a normal life.
In this case, three things are taking place at the same time in Poso: the existence of deprived individuals; supporting groups such as Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) and Kompak networks; and justified ideology such as glorifying the killing of police officers as part of jihad.
Portraying the conflict as a purely religious conflict is to take matters out of context. No doubt, militant groups have been hijacking religion as their tool to get more support, but in general, people don’t listen to them anymore. They understand that there is no conflict between them and the government. It is an imaginary conflict that was created and narrated so well by a radical fringe which has tentacles beyond Poso such as in Solo, Medan, Bima and Semarang, who are now still regrouping and working diligently on possible terror attacks.
Therefore, the maxim that “the community can defeat terrorism” must be further developed and quickly implemented by the Indonesian government and beyond. Explaining that ignorance about each others’ communities can easily grow into fear, especially when this is exploited by extremist groups determined to undermine community harmony and foster divisions, is very important.
The physical segregation of housing estates and inner cities comes as no surprise, it is a manifestation of the fact that “separate educational arrangements, community and employment, places of worship, language, social and cultural networks means that many communities operate on the basis of a series of parallel lives”.
Thus, it is also crucial to engage with local actors to counter the narrative that terrorist strategists have created. At the same time, there needs to be a greater collective and individual effort on the part of all sections of the community to improve their knowledge and understanding of each other.
The writer is executive director of the Institute for International Peace Building and CEO at Nexus Risk Mitigation and Strategic Communication.